Before Netflix became the streaming service we know and love (or hate, depending on their recent TV cancelations) the company began life as a DVD rental business. It was founded in 1997 and began its online operations in 1998, where the first DVD it shipped was Beetlejuice, which now feels rather prescient given the success of Stranger Things. Almost 10 years later, Netflix launched its streaming capabilities, which played a big part in shaping the landscape of TV and film to come.
After a few years of streaming movies and TV shows from other production companies, Netflix took the leap to create its own show. This first offering was Lilyhammer, a Norwegian comedic crime drama starring Steven Van Zandt of The Sopranos fame. Despite being well-received by those who watched it, there is surprisingly little fanfare around the series which ran for three seasons from 2012 to 2014. It’s not often mentioned among the other heavy hitters from the early era of original shows such as House of Cards or Orange is the New Black.
The same can be said for Netflix’s first original movie, which was once again well-received, but is not often publicized or discussed as an important moment in Netflix’s trajectory. But what was the streaming service’s first original movie?
The First Netflix Original Movie
Interestingly, production was first announced for Netflix’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon sequel, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. In 2014, TIME reported that the movie was in production and would be released to Netflix in August 2015, describing it as “the first of several feature movies it has in the pipeline.” However, things didn’t pan out this way, and this movie didn’t make it into the world until February 2016.
What actually became Netflix’s first original movie was Beasts of No Nation, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. After being screened at several film festivals, it was released to Netflix in October 2015, beating the Crouching Tiger sequel by a few months. Beasts of No Nation is a war-based drama that follows the tragic story of Agu, played by Abraham Attah, a child forced to join the army of a fictional West African country. Despite its fictional location, the movie is dedicated to presenting a realistic portrait of war in all its gore.
Attah is joined by Idris Elba, Emmanuel Affadzi, and Ama K. Abebrese in the cast. The movie is gritty and relentless in conveying the horrors of being a child soldier. It presents us with both intimate, personal detail as well as lofty, grand views of these scenes, reminding the viewer that this might be one child’s story, but the impacts of war go far beyond the individual level. Elba earned a BAFTA nomination for his impressive supporting performance here, in addition to a Golden Globe nomination and a SAG win. Beasts of No Nation is an acclaimed and awarded movie with a lot to say, so it’s a shame that it often goes undersung as Netflix’s first original movie.
What Is the Most Watched Movie on Netflix?
Since Beasts of No Nation in 2015, Netflix has released countless original movies. These range from the Oscar-winning, understated Roma, to romantic comedies such as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, or the fantasy-action hybrid, Bright. Netflix is particular about the information it shares on viewership stats, with box office numbers for its theatrical releases not being publicly available. It does, however, share the number of hours viewed for its top-performing projects, both movies and TV.
The top 10 most-watched movies on Netflix feature a wide spread of genres such as comedy, action, romance, and drama. It’s decided which movies are the best performers by the amount of time viewers spend watching them in the first 28 days of release, so if people decide to turn them off part-way through, that will impact the movie’s ranking. From spots five to two, there is The Gray Man, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Bird Box, and Don’t Look Up. All of these were released after 2020, aside from Bird Box, which came out in 2018. The fact that it maintains the number three position in competition with newer releases is impressive.
The most watched Netflix original movie is Red Notice. This action comedy was released in 2021 and stars Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds. The title refers to an Interpol-released notice about a highly-wanted art thief, Gadot’s “The Bishop,” which finds Johnson, as John Hartley, an FBI profiler, and Reynolds, as Nolan Booth, another art thief, teaming up to catch her. Netflix reports that Red Notice was watched for 364,020,000 hours in its first 28 days on the site. This is over 4 million hours more than the second place movie, Don’t Look Up, and the top two spots are the only Netflix originals that logged over 300 million hours within that time period.