What Netflix’s Top 10 Lists Say About Streaming Viewership

Kids movies are timelessly popular, while originals see short-term surges

animated cast of avatar: the last airbender
Shows popular among kids, teens and young adults have more staying power in Netflix's top 10 lists than other hits. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Netflix
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

Key insights:

Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped about the information that it releases on the viewership around the shows and movies on its service. In February, though, the streaming service began showing its users the 10 most popular programs each day in an effort to aid content discovery and help users tap into the Netflix zeitgeist, which has offered up a peek behind the curtain as to which shows are resonating on the platform and for how long.

Adweek has been checking and tracking those three top 10 lists—Top 10 in the U.S., Top 10 TV Shows in the U.S. Today and Top 10 Movies in the U.S. Today—on Netflix daily to better understand what programming does well on the service. We’ve previously written that pandemic-related programming surged in popularity on the service in the weeks following the beginning of Covid-19 and noted just how quickly the Netflix docuseries Tiger King became a runaway quarantine hit.

Here are some of the other things we’ve learned from Netflix’s top 10 lists and what it may mean for how different kinds of programming perform on the service:

Shows, not movies, consistently hit No. 1

Anticipated new film releases like Uncut Gems and The Lovebirds, the rights to which Netflix snatched up in April, have hovered in Netflix’s top 10 list since they arrived on the service. But acquired movies are rarely in the No. 1 popularity spot on the service.

It’s far more likely that Netflix original films will take the top spot on its top 10 list. Dangerous Lies, a thriller starring Riverdale’s Camila Mendes, was No. 1 overall on Netflix in the U.S. from May 2-4, while Netflix original comedy The Wrong Missy was most-watched from May 15-18. Action film Extraction was in the top spot for six days, while Spenser Confidential got seven days at No. 1.

Netflix original films, though, rarely live in the No. 1 spot for longer than a week and often drop out of the top 10 list soon after they are no longer in the top spot. Dangerous Lies, for example, fell out of the overall top 10 list entirely by May 8, four days after it had been No. 1. The same can’t be said for Netflix original series, which have more lasting power in the top 10 list overall and more regularly appear in the No. 1 position.

That includes the reality hit Love Is Blind and docuseries The Trials of Gabriel Hernandez, both of which were in the No. 1 spot for six days. Love Is Blind hovered in the top 10 overall titles for more than a month, while Trials lingered for more than three weeks.

The comedy Dead to Me hovered at No. 1 for seven days and is still in the top 10 almost a month later. And Tiger King, of course, was No. 1 on the service from March 23 through April 16, setting the record as the program with the most staying power in the top spot.

This likely happens due to both the sheer amount of time that people can spend watching television series over movies and the release schedule around certain series titles. Netflix has opted to release some reality programs weekly instead of its usual strategy of dumping shows on the service and encouraging binging, which may help buoy certain programs in the No. 1 spot for longer than usual.

There are some exceptions: the animated children’s movie Despicable Me was the only library film to take the No. 1 spot on the service since Netflix began releasing top 10 metrics and was in the top 10 overall list for more than a week.

Animation rules

Despicable Me isn’t the only animated film to find a big audience on Netflix. Animated series for kids are regularly among the top 10 films on the service, underscoring the importance of having children’s programming on streamers, especially now that children are spending more time at home.

Acquired children’s titles like The Angry Birds Movie 2, Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa, The Incredibles 2 and The Grinch joined Despicable Me as some of the most-popular movies highlighted in Netflix’s Top 10 Movies list. Those films are on the charts long stretches of time, compared to movies made for adults, which often disappear out of the top 10 movie lists after their initial release.

Despicable Me has been among the top 10 most popular movies on the service since mid-April, while The Grinch regularly returns to the top 10 movies list. The Willoughbys, a Netflix original animated film released April 22, has been one of the longest-lasting Netflix original films on the top 10 movies list, appearing on the movie top 10 list as recently as this weekend.

It’s a reminder of the differences in viewing habits among children, who can be fickle but are also keen on watching the same program over and over again—as well as watching Christmas movies at any time of the year.

But the popularity of animated titles isn’t restricted to movies. The children’s animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, which originally aired on Nickelodeon, is also hitting peak popularity on the service. It’s been in the top five titles overall on the service since May 19 and in the top four most-popular series in the same timeframe. That’s likely due to a surge in rewatches of the series among young adults who first saw the show as kids, highlighting how some kids animation shows can have an outsize impact.

Teen shows stick around

Like the rewatching of Avatar, there are some shows that linger in the top 10 for long periods of time. Often, they are series that are aimed at or popular among teenage and young adult viewers. Netflix originals like Outer Banks and CW shows like Riverdale and All American all have more staying power than other Netflix originals in the Top 10, indicating the stickiness of finding shows that break through with younger people.

All-American, in fact, became one of Netflix’s most-popular shows despite being one of the broadcast’s lowest rated shows.

That is true for library titles, too, including Grey’s Anatomy, which cleared the top 10 list for about a week’s time, and The Office, which is almost always in the top 10. The popularity of The Office, in particular among teens and young adults, is great news for NBCUniversal, whose upcoming streaming service Peacock will get the rights to stream the show exclusively in 2021.

Most hits are flashes in the pan

Unlike programs for kids and young adults, shows and movies aimed squarely at adults don’t have as much staying power in the top 10 list.

Remember Love Is Blind? That show was No. 1 the first day that the top 10 list was released in late February and was one of the biggest reality hits for Netflix to date. It was in the top 10 list for more than a month, a longer-than-usual time for shows to remain in the top 10, but by April 5, it had fallen out of the list and hasn’t returned.

The same can be seen with Tiger King. While that docuseries was No. 1 from March 23 through April 18, it was out of the top 10 less than a month later.

Other shows average about a three-week window on the Top 10 list, including the reality series Too Hot to Handle, the comedy-drama Never Have I Ever and the drama Hollywood. Some titles, like the documentary Trial by Media, see an even shorter blip, landing on the top 10 for about a week before dropping out.

Even movies that find a major first-release bump can be quick to fall out of the top 10, like Spenser Confidential, which dropped out of the top 10 list 10 days after its last appearance in the No. 1 slot on the service.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.