Were the Movies That Just Got Removed from HBO Max Very Popular?

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This week, it felt like each streamer’s content kinda reflected their overall strategy. Netflix released it all (a YA series, a true crime doc, a kids film and more), Disney released a NatGeo documentary (and a weekly episode of an MCU/Star Wars series, Ms. Marvel), Hulu released a comedy from ABC, Paramount+ added another procedural to its lineup, and of course Apple TV+ released another prestige drama into the world.

In another world, maybe TV would have been the story, but then these two headlines dropped in the middle of the week.

That latter headline especially interests me, since we just wrote about “dogs not barking”, (meaning flops, misses and bombs on streaming) last week. Clearly, if these film titles were generating viewership, they’d still be on HBO Max. So let’s start with that: how popular—as far as we can tell—were the original films that HBO Max pulled from its service?

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report focuses on the U.S. market and compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, TV Time trend data, company datecdotes, and Netflix hours viewed data, Netflix Top Ten lists, Google Trends, Samba TV, and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of July 4th to July 10th.)


To set the table, a few weeks back—when writing about the remake of Father of the Bride—we noted that HBO Max called it their “most successful original launch” on the platform. At the time, I noted that that wasn’t a very big club:

And last week I called out a few of these titles as “Dogs Not Barking” for HBO Max, specifically Moonshot and KIMI. So finding out that one of those two titles have already been pulled from HBO Max feels like big news. So let’s ask, could the data have predicted this?

Maybe…but not really.

IMDb’s data may tell the confusing tale best. The highest rated, exclusive film HBO Max has ever released was 8-Bit Christmas with a 6.7…and that’s average, at best. (Based on past analysis, an average rating is between 6.7 to 7 rating.) But a few of the films that got removed did even worse in the sub-6 “cellar” range, like An American Pickle (5.7), The Witches (5.3) and Superintelligence (5.4). 

Since that graph doesn’t really illustrate what a successful IMDb score looks like, let’s add a title to that graph for a comparison. In this case, since it’s HBO/HBO Max, let’s use The Batman—a “middle of the road” superhero blockbuster—for comparison. 

Here’s what that looks like:

On to the Nielsen ratings, which aren’t much help, Since Nielsen didn’t track HBO Max until very recently, we only have data on one film, Father of The Bride, which had 4.6 million hours in its first week. That’s 106th place out of 207 films in my data set, which is fairly average too. It hasn’t been removed yet. (It’s IMDb score is also pretty poor, at a 5.9.) 

Then it gets complicated. We don’t have a lot of TV Time data for these HBO Max Originals, since TV Time only started releasing data in September of 2021. Of the four HBO Max Originals films released in this time period, all made the rankings for one week. That would indicate some (limited) popularity. But not enough, because Moonshot got cancelled, and it made it up to 5th place in the rankings, above KIMI (which peaked at 7th place).

Samba TV, interestingly, only provided data on five films dating from October-2020 to July-2021. The highest rated was No Sudden Move (500K households in L+3 days) and the lowest was Let Them All Talk (80K in the same time period) and it hasn’t been removed! (The other three were all lowly rated too: The Witches at 320K, Superintelligence at 100K and Locked Down at 170K.

None of these films that got removed from HBO Max were huge hits. And some of the titles that stayed probably aren’t hits either. But for whatever reason—contractual, legal, financial, relational—it was worth it for HBO Max to pull some of these titles in America. (I would add, two of the films were originally produced by Sony—An American Pickle and Charm City Kings—so that may explain some of it.) Overall, though, the lack of clear ratings success is probably why David Zaslav is moving on from making original films.

Quick Notes on Film

– The top new film release this week was Netflix’s Girl in the Picture, a prestige drama about fame and fortune in 1950s Hollywood. I’m kidding! It’s a true crime documentary. The twist is that it’s actually a full-blown Germany production. It netted 9.0 million hours viewed after being released on a Wednesday. Does this violate my strategic opinion that foreign-language titles don’t travel to the U.S.? Not really, because that doesn’t apply when they’re easy-to-dub films like documentaries or animation.

– We’re not done with true crime yet. The Hulu Original—thoughts on that label below—ABC News-produced true crime film Leave No Trace: A Hidden History of the Boy Scouts showed up on the charts a whopping 4 weeks after it was released. I’m not sure if this is the longest a film has taken to show up in the top tens, but it might be. (TV series Ted Lasso had a very long delay, but Nielsen hadn’t been tracking Apple TV+ when it was first released..) 


The rest of this post is for paid subscribers of the Streaming Ratings Report, so if you want to know how well Netflix’s new kids film, The Sea Beast, performed, a quick explainer on what “original” means to me vs. the streamers, some quick thoughts on Apple TV+’s latest “Dog Not Barking”, new numbers on inactive users for streaming services, and more, please subscribe

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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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