The Top Streaming Films in 2023

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(Welcome to the Entertainment Strategy Guy, a newsletter on the entertainment industry and business strategy. I write a weekly Streaming Ratings Report and a bi-weekly strategy column, along with occasional deep dives into other topics, like today’s article. Please subscribe.)

I’ll say this: 

It’s way more fun to write about winners than losers. 

While it’s really important to write about the films and TV shows that flopped, bombed, or missed (find those article here and here), it’s still an inherently a negative exercise to call out the bombs, especially knowing that a lot of very talented people worked on these projects.

That’s why I’m so excited to write about hit movies today, and to recap the most popular films in 2023, specifically looking at what films made all the various top five, ten, fifteen or twenty-five lists. (Plus people tend to not complain if you said that a show did really well…) And I’m rolling out all the data sources I can. I mean everything, including…

  • The US box office
  • Nielsen’s weekly streaming charts
  • Nielsen’s 2023 “Streaming Unwrapped” report
  • Samba TV’s 2023 Wrapped Top Five Lists
  • Samba TV’s weekly streaming charts
  • Showlabs by Plum Research’s 2023 Wrapped Top Five Lists
  • Just Watch’s Top Ten List
  • TV Time 2023 weekly charts
  • IMDb’s Best of 2023 list

(Quick data aside: if you want to know what companies are leading the streaming analytics game, it’s the companies that regularly release streaming ratings data, especially weekly data. For everyone else, I might ask why they’re not releasing their data publicly…)

Also, this isn’t just a list of the winners. I will include some data cuts (like the release window, genre, type of IP and more) that you won’t find in other recaps.

Some caveats before we begin. First, films that came out earlier in the year tend to do better on “annual” lists that add up total viewing in a given year, since they have a longer time to rack up minutes viewed, unique viewers, reviews, searches and so one. Plus some “Best of 2023” lists came out in the beginning of December. (One Netflix film was particularly harmed by these data cuts, so that’s why I’m going to try balance this view out with some other data cuts.)

Second, this is a US-only look.

Third, I color code titles by streamer/studio. As a quick reminder, here’s that key:

Finally, you might say, “Oh my, it’s already February and you’re just now getting to the top titles of 2023?” Yes. And the TV shows article is coming early next week. Nielsen has a four week delay before they report data, and I’ve been reviewing the data. Do you want your data fast or accurate? I opt for the latter.

Okay, on to the data and over 21 visuals!

Top 25 at the US Box Office

Wait a second, the sub-header for this article says “streaming content”…so why am I starting with theaters?

Yeah, I usually focus on streaming ratings, and I’m mostly going to focus on streaming ratings, but I think that’s the wrong way to look at the movie industry.Since most films can make more money if they go to theaters first and they end up with more streaming viewership, I’m going to start with theatrical domestic box office. The value of a movie starts in theaters, whether a film went to theaters or not.

Here’s the top 25 films, sorted by a few key genres:

And now here’s the same image, sorted by studios:

Some Thoughts:

  • When it comes to genre, action still rules at the box office. Considering that superhero films are also action films, and actually so are the sci-fi/fantasy films included above, action films make up eleven of the top 25. If you included Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse, that’s over half the list. Now that’s a conclusion I didn’t read in ANY recaps of 2023’s box office and, believe me, I read a bunch of them.
  • I think there’s a narrative that original storytelling/non-franchise films were back in 2023, but fourteen of the top 25 films were a part of a franchise, and six of the other films were based off of really popular IP or reboots, like Barbie, The Super Mario Bros., Five Nights at Freddy’s, Wonka, Taylor Swift, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Earlier this year I defined “IP” by five categories, and here they are:

  • Lumping together types 1, 2 and 3 as films that have a leg up, here’s the updated box office chart:

  • The original, non-IP, non-sequel films in the top 25 at the US box office were Oppenheimer, Sound of Freedom, Migration and Elemental. 
  • I saw a few headlines noting that Universal had finally displaced Disney at the box office and that is a true fact. But the margins were pretty small. Disney only had $1.9 billion in domestic box office to Universal’s $1.94 billion. So just $40 million in difference, and Disney was firmly in second place.

Nielsen’s Weekly Film Charts Winners

Each week, Nielsen publishes three top ten lists for…

  • Film
  • Original TV shows
  • Acquired TV shows.

I’ve been collecting these titles (and a bunch of associated meta-data) going back to 2020. Given that the bulk of a new-to-a-streamer film’s viewership comes in the first four weeks, I think this chart does a better job of capturing what films were hits in 2023 than Nielsen’s 2023 “Streaming Unwrapped” report (which I cover next). After all, only 25 out of the 131 films that made the weekly streaming charts in 2023 made it to a fourth week on the Nielsen charts.

Even more incredibly, not a single “first run” streaming film made the Nielsen top ten charts after their fifth week! 

That’s a good reminder to define “theatrical windows”. 

  • A “first run” film comes to streaming first, without a theatrical run (or a very limited run). Five Nights at Freddy’s is the only “day-and-date” title—meaning it landed on streaming and in theaters simultaneously—on the charts, and I categorize it as “first run”. Same goes for streaming films that get limited releases with no publicly-reported box office count as “First Run”.
  • A “Pay 1” film goes to theaters, then comes to streaming between 45 days to a year later. If a film switches streamers, we call that a “Pay 1b” window, and we see that with major studios sending films to Netflix or Prime Video. (For example, The Super Mario. Bros. Movie.)
  • Lastly, some films come to streaming before 45 days, and I call those “early”. I usually lump these in with “Pay 1” titles since it’s usually just a matter of timing.

Got it? Time for the data. Here’s the viewing in the first four weeks:

We’re just getting started with this deep dive in the “Best of” 2023 streaming charts, but the rest of this article is for paid subscribers of the Entertainment Strategy Guy, so If you’d like to find out…

  • The biggest surprises to make year end charts…
  • What Netflix films should have gone to theaters.
  • What Pixar movie Hollywood owes an apology to (fine, it’s Elemental)
  • Whether or not “superhero” films are dead, and what could replace them…
  • What genre does surprisingly well on the straight-to-streaming charts, and what “bankable” genre did not…
  • A ton more data from Plum Research, TV Time, Samba TV, IMDb, and more.
  • Nearly twenty more visuals. 

please subscribe! We can only keep doing this great work with your support. If you’d like to read more about why you should subscribe, please read these posts about the Streaming Ratings Report, why it matters, why you need it, and why we cover streaming ratings best.

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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