What You Learn From Netflix's 2021 Top 25 Movies | Screen Rant

Netflix's top 25 movies of 2021 hide unexpected trends and strange quirks, teasing the streaming service's future in 2022. Even before movie theaters closed and the world was forced indoors, Netflix was relishing an upward trajectory, leading the charge of streaming service revolution. Real world events in 2020 accelerated that process, and 2021 can only be considered another banner year for the red brand, with more landmark Netflix originals, more records broken, and the arrival of Tudum - a purpose-built virtual comic-con to announce all the latest news and trailers.

For all those metrics and achievements, however, Netflix will always be judged predominantly on the popularity of its content. And while there have been plenty of high-profile TV releases in 2021 (The Witcher season 2, Tiger King 2, and a little something called Squid Game), Netflix's feature-length content has certainly held its end of the bargain. The top 25 most popular Netflix movies of 2021 include To All The Boys: Always & Forever coming in last, beaten by Sweet Girl at number 18, Minions at 16, and The Mitchells vs. The Machines at number 6. The top 5 reads, from lowest to highest, Army of ThievesWish DragonArmy of the DeadWe Can Be Heroes, and Red Notice.

Related: The Strangest Movie Tropes Of 2021

The full list can be found at Flixpatrol, but just as interesting as the ranking itself are the viewing habits peeking out between the stats and figures. Netflix's top 25 movies show a vastly different emphasis compared to theatrical releases, highlight streaming's key demographics, and tease what there'll be more of in 2022 and beyond. Here's what we can learn from Netflix's most popular movies of 2021.

Everyone from the most die-hard movie geek to your computer-savvy grandma is a Netflix subscriber, so it makes sense to offer content geared for folks across that entire spectrum. Nevertheless, Netflix's most popular movies skew definitively towards the family demographic. The ranking's upper echelons include The Mitchells vs. The MachinesWe Can Be Heroes and Yes Day, then lower down you'll find VivoMinions (still going strong since 2015), My Little Pony: A New Generation, and more. Compared to the top 25 theatrical releases of any given year, Netflix's 2021 hall of fame is rammed with content parents can happily watch alongside their little ones.

Despite Netflix increasingly disrupting Hollywood's status quo, this trend proves the platform's core audience remains casual family viewing - movies that either make for a lighthearted Sunday afternoon popcorn session on the couch, or a virtual babysitter that'll keep kids entertained while parents slink off for a quick break. Minions obviously excluded, none of these easily-consumable movies would rank as highly among regular theatrical releases, proving Netflix's biggest draw remains its convenience and accessibility to the entire family unit.

For 70 years or more, Hollywood relied heavily on star power to put butts in theaters seats. The movie star reigned supreme, and a famous A-list face could reliably carry mediocre movies toward financial prosperity. Sometime around the late 1990s/early 2000s, that concept died spectacularly. Picking the right stories (and marketing them effectively) become considerably more important than casting big-name talent. Heading into 2022, the "movie star" is yet to regain its industry relevance. Names that drew a guaranteed payday 25 years ago are flopping, and even modern stars can't guarantee success if the script isn't up to snuff.

Related: How Red Notice's Rotten Tomatoes Compares To Netflix's Other Top Movies

Those rules don't apply on Netflix, it seems. Many of the platform's top 2021 movies are a throwback in terms of paying big bucks to get household names in lukewarm films, then watching the dollars roll in. Red Notice's power trio of Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot undoubtedly launched the action-comedy to Netflix's top honors, then there's Anthony Mackie in Outside The Wire, Jake Gyllenhaal in The Guilty, Sandra Bullock in The Unforgivable, and Jason Momoa in Sweet Girl. These Netflix originals were marketed heavily on their stars, and though some were better than others, star power certainly boosted their appeal. Perhaps audiences stopped buying movie tickets on the strength of a single actor, but star power can still draw the eye when it comes to picking something on Netflix.

Selling a bad movie at the box office is a notoriously difficult task. Sure, a few stinkers defy the odds to somehow attain theatrical popularity and financial success, but as a general rule, bad movies bomb. And yet there's very little in Netflix's top 25 movies of 2021 troubling critics' end of year honors. Red NoticeOutside The Wire, and Yes Day all rank highly despite enduring mostly torrid reviews, while the likes of Sweet Girl and Kate peddled a mediocre middle-ground. Only The Mitchells vs. The Machines and, to a lesser extent, Blood Red Sky could claim to have made any kind of critical dent in 2021's movie landscape.

Why bad movies perform so well on Netflix is a question only Adam Sandler can answer, but the platform's subscription model surely plays its part. Bad reviews or negative word of mouth are influential when prospective patrons are considering shelling out $10 on a theater ticket, but less so when their Netflix subscription is already paid for. Taking a punt on a "bad" movie is less of a risk for the consumer, and it's easier to click the cross than to walk out of a cinema screening. And where theaters and studios might be reluctant to push movies facing scathing reviews and poor audience response, Netflix's algorithm can do as it pleases, putting Red Notice front and center every time you sign in.

Hollywood has long been consumed by sequels, remakes, and franchises. Original movies are viewed as financial gambles, whereas pumping out tried-and-tested material ad nauseam brings comfort to movie executives seeking stable investment. The 10 highest-grossing movies of 2019 (since the last 2 years are hardly an accurate barometer) consisted of 6 sequels, 2 franchise continuations (Captain MarvelJoker), and 2 remakes. In an unexpected twist, Netflix avoids this pitfall entirely. Only a small handful of 2021's most-watched Netflix releases are sequels or otherwise connected to a larger franchise, with Army of Thieves ranking highest and the likes of Kissing Booth 3 and My Little Pony: A New Generation following behind.

Related: Snyder's Army Of The Dead Universe Is The Opposite Of The MCU

Audiences often bemoan the lack of original content hitting movie theaters, but Netflix is succeeding in delivering fresh, unseen material. Admittedly, the quality isn't always there (see above), but no one can accuse the streaming service of relying too heavily on established properties. Perhaps this focus on originality comes from Netflix's relative lack of tentpoles compared to traditional studios, or maybe promising creativity is how the platform attracts big names (e.g. letting Zack Snyder make Army of the Dead). More optimistically, the popularity of Netflix's non-franchise, non-sequel, non-remake output hopefully signals to bigger studios that audiences are willing to invest in new ideas.

Finding a foreign movie in a western theater is harder than locating a patch a floor that isn't sticky after years of spilled sodas. Unless a foreign-made effort does especially well at the Oscars (Parasite, for example), U.S. box office typically doesn't concern itself with foreign affairs. On the other hand, Netflix's global reach means international markets are bringing in considerable business. While the bulk of Netflix's most-watched movies are still produced in the west, the top 25 is peppered with a worldwide flavor. Wish Dragon (China), Blood Red Sky (Germany) and Major Grom: Plague Doctor (Russia) prove the relative importance of non-domestic movies compared to major studios. Though Warner Bros., Universal, et al cater to the Chinese market more than they once did, those territories aren't the priority, whereas Netflix's fourth most popular movie of 2021 was geared predominantly toward China.

Intriguingly, the data proves domestic audiences enjoy non-domestic movies too. Though not a movie, Squid Game is the ultimate proof of Netflix's cross-border appeal. A true 2021 phenomenon, Squid Game is a Korean production with a script heavily inspired by Korean culture, and a cast largely unknown to western audiences. And everyone still watched it. Though not to the same level, Blood Red Sky experienced similarly broad appeal upon release, and that pattern looks set to continue in 2022. Traditional Hollywood wisdom suggests U.S. audiences hold little interest in foreign-made movies. Netflix's ranking suggests otherwise.

Netflix's most popular movies of 2021 cover a broad range of genres. As mentioned previously, there's a heavier slant on family fare, but the ranking also covers horror, action, thriller and comedy. More surprising is the strong romantic presence. Precious few love stories win hearts at the box office, but Netflix subscribers evidently hold a soft spot for a heartwarming tale. He's All ThatThe Kissing Booth 3, and To All The Boys: Always & Forever highlight streaming's appreciation for a genre that has long been ghosted by theatrical audiences.

Related: How He's All That Compares To She's All That: Differences & Which Is Better

Netflix's aforementioned family-friendly focus may factor into that romance movie boom, since many of 2021's love stories are aimed predominantly toward the teen market. Perhaps Netflix is also tapping into the formula Hallmark made its own before streaming became widespread - the appeal of an easy-watch, feel-good love story you'd watch on TV, but not necessarily pay for at the cinema - especially since romances benefit least from the "big screen experience." We'd love to say these films aren't being played in the background during "Netflix and chill" sessions too, but we'd probably be wrong.

Netflix has vastly increased its original content output over the past 5 years, but that strategy presented great risk. Would subscribers care about the platform's in-house releases, or were they looking for old classics and stuff that was in theaters 8 months beforehand? 2021's most popular movie ranking strongly suggests the former, with the vast majority of Netflix's highest 25 entries comprising originals that dropped in 2021 or late 2020. Minions is the biggest anomaly, but in terms of theatrical blockbusters, Hobbs & Shaw clocks in at 27, The Secret Life of Pets 2 at 33, and Venom sits 44th ahead of Spider-Man: HomecomingSonic the Hedgehog and Shrek.

Evidently, Netflix customers aren't just shelling out for old favorites and movies they missed in theaters; there's a strong and genuine demand for a constant stream of oven-fresh, never-before-seen content. While some raised an eyebrow when Netflix ramped-up its original movies production, 2021 proves the streaming wars will be won by offering subscribers what they haven't seen, rather than relying solely on the greatest hits of years gone by.

More: Red Notice's Success Confirms Netflix Making Bad Movies Doesn't Matter

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