Don’t Look Up is Netflix’s second most popular film debut to date, coming in around 4 million viewing hours short of Netflix’s crown jewel Red Notice.
The new film racked up nearly 360 million hours of viewing during its first 28 days on the service, per Netflix’s Top 10 portal for tracking its most successful titles. Red Notice, meanwhile, tallied 364 million hours during its first four weeks on Netflix, while Bird Box holds third place with 282 million hours viewed.
While it narrowly missed its opportunity to overthrow Netflix’s biggest film success to date — it looked like it still had a chance last week — Don’t Look Up is still a monumental win for the streamer. It’s the second major film release in a matter of months to topple previously held records for hours viewed. Prior to Red Notice coming out in November, the top record had been held for years by Bird Box, which debuted back in 2018.
Some of that viewing boost can be attributed to Netflix’s massive subscriber base now versus when Bird Box premiered (the number has grown substantially in that time to well over 200 million paid accounts). But the back-to-back hits, taken together with the success of wildly popular titles like Squid Game, The Witcher (season 2), and You (season 3) — all of which hold spots on Netflix’s top 10 leaderboards — indicate Netflix knows exactly what it’s doing.
Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, which debuted on Netflix on December 24th, satirizes the politicization of the climate crisis and centers on a fictional comet hurtling through space on a direct path to Earth. Two scientists, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, alert the US government — a clown town operation being helmed by a ridiculous president and her son, played by Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill — about the urgency of an event that could result in mass extinction but are repeatedly disregarded.
Speaking with The Atlantic about tackling the topic, McKay emphasized wanting to use comedy to address such an urgently important issue. “The most exciting idea for me was, it’s funny,” he told the publication. “You realize we’re living in a culture that’s more like a time-share sales pitch than a real system of communication. [As a Hollywood director] I’m right in the middle of it, and part of this movie is generated from me laughing at myself as much as anything.”
But the film was a near-guaranteed hit from the jump. It was written by a brilliant comedic director, stars a stacked group of A-list actors, premiered over the holiday break, and manages to punctuate a catastrophic event with absurdist humor and exceptional improvisation. In other words, as Lawrence noted in an interview about reading the script, it was an “absolute slam-dunk” before it even began filming. While Don’t Look Up enjoyed a marginally better critical response (55 percent versus Red Notice’s 37 percent Tomatometer scores), Red Notice performed much better with audiences and had a 92 percent Rotten Tomatoes audience score as of this writing.
Even still, releasing two record-breaking original films, Red Notice and Don’t Look Up, in less than two months’ time is a massive success for the streamer. One or two hits could be a fluke, sure. But hit premiere after hit premiere is more indicative of a successful content strategy rather than merely throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks.