Checking in On the Biggest Streaming Films in Q4 2021

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Entertainment is a hit-driven business, and that seems to be the question for the week: how many hits are the streamers launching? In film, it seems like a bunch. It TV? Not so much.

We’re still catching up on all the ratings and data for the start of December. I’ll review all the new launches, plus my take on the latest Nielsen The Gauge in today’s report.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotes, Top Ten lists, Google Trends and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of November 29th to December 12th.)


Time to check in on Red Notice, Shang-Chi and the other big theatrical movies released at the start of November. They’ve each been out for four weeks, we can fully compare their runs to other past releases.

Through its first four weeks Red Notice is the second most viewed title in my feature film data base with 81.0 million hours viewed, trailing Luca’s 87.5 million hours, but ahead of Soul’s 63.9 million. Like Red Notice has broader reach due to Netflix’s subscriber base, but Luca and Soul had higher rewatch.

According to Netflix’s global data, Red Notice currently has the most hours viewed through the first 28 days the biggest title in the streamer’s history. That said, Don’t Look Up is currently in second place, but it was released on 24-Dec, meaning we don’t have a full 28 days of data yet. Presumably it will pass Red Notice next week. 

Here’s the historical rankings of Netflix’s global releases:

If there is one takeaway from the current top films, it has to be that—on Netflix at least—movie stars still matter. I know, not a ground-breaking insight, but you don’t need a mythical “algorithm” to figure this out. Red Notice had the trio of The Rock, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds. That’s a big three. Don’t Look Back went even further with Leo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and a host of others. Even Netflix’s Oscar-contending films seem to be doing better this year, and they’re all grounded in movie stars (Bruised has Halle Berry, The Unforgivable has Sandra Bullock, The Power of the Dog has Benedict Cumberbatch and The Harder They Fall had a slew of talent, including Idris Elba.)

This stands in contrast to the theatrical box office, where franchises and known IP have largely replaced the A-list star. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, for example, didn’t have any major stars—believe me I wish Awkwafina was A-List, but she’s not yet—and it still set (at the time) pandemic box office records, based mainly off the Marvel brand. The latest Spider-Man film has recognizable stars now, but Spider-Man films have been setting records at the box office since the early 2000s.

As for those Disney films released at the same time as Red Notice, none did as well as that monster title. Through four weeks, Shang-Chi has 47.3 million hours of viewing and The Jungle Cruise had 40.6 million hours, or about 58% and 50% as many total hours as Red Notice. Given that Netflix is about twice the size of Disney+, this makes sense. 

On the other hand, if Disney wants to catch up to Netflix, they’ll need their films to draw in even more viewers. On the other other hand, Shang-Chi and Jungle Cruise both had theatrical and home entertainment revenue Red Notice will never get:

In other words, when it comes to judging which release style is best—straight-to-streaming vs windows—it’s still yet to be decided.

Quick Notes on Film

– To give you a second peek behind the editorial curtain, my first draft of this section went deep into some of Netflix’s Oscar hopefuls, like The Power of the Dog, Bruised and The Unforgivable. But I went too long, so that will be a future article. The quick summary is that none of these recently released films have set the world on fire, ranking 48th, 33rd and 66th in my data set of first run films in their first two weeks. The only caveat is that The Unforgivable looks like it will have “legs”—for a Netflix title—globally, as it’s currently Netflix’s fifth most popular film by total hours viewed in the first 28 days. 

– When we talk China in the entertainment industry, Disney clearly has the most exposure to the whims of that government, since they have two massive theme parks in China. And Disney banks on potentially hundreds of millions in annual box office from the Middle Kingdom. But while theatrical releases get the headlines, the streamers have some exposure to China too, like Netflix.

Take Extinct, an animated kids film released on 19-Nov, as just one example. Extinct is a Chinese co-production. Earlier in the year, Netflix also co-produced Wish Dragon, another Chinese co-pro. And Netflix has acquired some live-action Chinese titles. They also sell their content into China for additional revenue. It turns out streaming has a China problem too.

How have Chinese films on Netflix performed? Eh. Extinct had 5 million hours viewed in its second week of release, then dropped off the list. So not great. Wish Dragon did better, but still lagged Vivo and The Mitchell’s and the Machines.

– In the non-Nielsen rankings, Netflix had a few licensed titles make their weekly top ten lists, including Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway. Peter Rabbit 2 is unique since it’s a rare “Pay 1” film, meaning this is its first window after theaters and home entertainment. Released on 9-Dec, it missed the Nielsen rankings, probably due to the growing number of Christmas films. We’ll see if it pops on in the next few weeks.

– Dog Not Barking of the Week: Kanye With Special Guest Drake: Free Larry Hoover Benefit Concert. Presumably between Kanye and Drake, you could draw an audience. Yet this special, released 9-Dec on Prime Video, didn’t really resonate across any of the metrics I follow. And on the ones that do track it, it did terribly. (For example, it has only 134 reviews on IMDb.) So yes, Prime Video continues its streak of holding onto “dog not barking” award for another week.

The other biggest contender was Disney’s new animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid film, which also failed to launch. If I’m Disney going forward, I’d avoid releasing new films in December if they aren’t explicitly Christmas or theatrical animated features.


We’ll probably debate, until the end of time, whether streamers should release their series all at once (binge) or weekly. (I’m firmly on the more weekly side of that debate.) Netflix has clearly had great success with binge releases and seems committed to releasing scripted series all at once. However for some acquired or reality competition series, they’ve shown some flexibility.

For example, with The Great British Baking Show in the U.S. They release this title weekly when they get episodes from the U.K. Currently on season 12, and released weekly starting 24-September, most weeks we don’t remark on this acquired title because it is “only” viewed about 7 to 9 million hours per week.

But that steady viewership adds up. Right now, viewership since the start of season 12 (meaning it could be any season) is currently 96.3 million hours. For context, that’s higher than The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 (88.8 million hours), 13 Reasons Why season 4 (70.2 million hours), and Lucifer season 7 (78.4 million hours). It would also be higher than all but six season 1 launches since 2020. (Though with 90+ episodes, it has a lot for folks to binge on.)

The big lesson is that volume can be useful in streaming.

Quick Notes on TV

– Netflix released the third season of Lost in Space on 1-Dec, a rare Wednesday release. Lost In Space is another title that has mostly avoided actual ratings scrutiny to date, since season two came out in December of 2019 before the streaming ratings era started. Despite being the top series for the week of 6-Dec, Lost In Space didn’t perform great for a season 3. With 37.1 million hours through two weeks, it lags previous season 3 launches like Cobra Kai (78.6 million hours), You (77 million hours) and Virgin River (59.3 million hours.)

– Did you know that HBO Max won’t let Nielsen release their viewership data? You did? Because I harp on it all the time? Yeah, sorry about that. It’s my thing. As such, we’re a pinch limited on evaluating And Just Like That, the latest entry in the Sex and the City franchise. Given that a character death in the first episode managed to hurt Peloton’s stock price, let’s go ahead and call this a win. Here’s the TV Time ranking for it’s first week:

Even better for HBO Max, we know that it will stay on the TV Time rankings until at least early January. That’s a sign of a good run. Also on the TV Time rankings is Mindy Kaling’s The Sex Lives of College Girls on HBO Max. It had a two week run on the TV Time Rankings, so I’d call it a solid debut for that platform. 

– Disney+ will have some interesting titles going forward that straddle the line between “original” and “acquired”. Take Bluey, the Australian animated title. Season 2 was released on Disney+ in May, and season 3 is currently on the Disney Junior channel and app. (Which is technically separate from Disney+.) For whatever reason, it finally debuted on the Nielsen Acquired charts for the last 3 weeks, and we’ll see if it can get to four. Like Cocomelon, this speaks to the power of kids rewatching content.

– Speaking of kids titles, Netflix released Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous season 3 on 3-Dec, and it netted 5.6 million hours in its first week. Animated titles tend to last about two weeks on the charts and we’ll see if Camp Cretaceous does the same.

– In the middle of our overall top ten this week are three originals from Disney+, Prime Video and Netflix, Hawkeye, The Wheel of Time and Money Heist.

I still think that, in the United States, Money Heist is a disappointment. For the last season of their biggest global title, with 46 episodes available to binge, you’d think it would outpace Hakweye with 4 episodes and The Wheel of Time with 6.  Instead, it has very similar vibes to Goliath and Bosch, two similarly old series that have generally disappointed in their latest seasons. 

As for Hawkeye and The Wheel of Time, both those shows seem to be settling into a weekly average of about 8 to 9 million hours viewership each week.

– Dog Not Barking of the Week: The Expanse season 6. Released 10-Dec, this Amazon Studios co-production with Alcon—rescued from the Syfy channel a few years back—missed the Nielsen charts for two straight weeks. I want to let you know that I don’t want to slam this show; I’m a devoted book reader, as I’ve mentioned before. Yet, the data is what it is, and when it comes to viewership this series just doesn’t move the needle. The two caveats to the Nielsen data being that The Expanse has made the TV Time lists and it’s IMDb score is very strong, an 8.5 on 137K reviews.

The Expanse isn’t the only “Dog Not Barking” of the week. The other huge contender was PEN15 on Hulu, a critically-buzzy series that hasn’t ever really generated huge viewership. Besides a few international series (like Elves and Life) that failed to chart in the U.S., Netflix’s biggest miss is another Tiger King spinoff, Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story. Disney+’s miss was the Will Smith helmed Welcome to Earth. Overall, the Nat-Geo side of the house for Disney+ doesn’t do nearly the numbers as the animated/Star Wars/Marvel side, but of course they cost a fraction to make. Prime Video’s biggest miss was Harlem, a comedy that was binge released on 3-December. Lastly, Peacock spun off its broadcast series Making It into Baking It, with Andy Samberg and Maya Rudolf, and despite a PR push, likely didn’t have high viewership.


Nielsen is out with their latest “The Gauge”, a measure of TV set usage across America, one of my favorite ongoing features to track trends in TV. First, here’s their snapshot in time:

The big news is that Nielsen added decimal points to better track movement month-to-month, which is cool! That means we’ll get a better picture of changes over time. Speaking of, here’s my tracking of The Gauge’s streaming usage over time:

The biggest “so what” from this data is that December showed a drop off for Netflix. After a really strong October and November (powered by Red Notice, Squid Game, You and Maid), the momentum wore off into December, with The Witcher coming too late to really drive usage.

Coming Soon!

In the next issue, besides Christmas films, we’ll look at the first of the big genre releases of December, The Witcher season 2 on Netflix. The Witcher is set to join the “30 million hours viewed” club, quite an honor. 

Along with The Witcher, December still has a few more big releases in store, including some high profile films and events like Don’t Look Up (on track to be Netflix’s biggest global release) and the Harry Potter reunion on HBO Max. And of course, the latest Marvel series, The Book of Boba Fett. According to Google Trends, The Witcher looks like it’s trending well above The Book of Boba Fett:

(As always, sign up for my newsletter to get all my columns, streaming ratings reports, and articles in your inbox.)


The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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