Netflix Playback Report 2021: This Year’s Top 10 TV Shows and Movies

We recap and review Netflix’s best of 2021

Trevor Wheelwright
TV, Streaming, & Internet Expert
Read More
January 04, 2022
15 min read

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With over 551 unique titles revolving around Netflix’s top 10 during 2021,1,2 it can be easy to miss out on some of Netflix’s best TV shows and movies—especially since Netflix Originals now make up over half of Netflix’s most popular shows in the USA.

Using data from Flix Patrol and Open Movie Database, we’ll break down the most popular Netflix TV shows and movies streamed during 2021. We’ll also give you our quick, spoiler-free opinions on this year’s top TV shows and movies to help you decide what to watch next on Netflix.

Let’s check out America’s favorite Netflix TV shows and movies of 2021!

Netflix’s most popular TV shows and movies in 2021

Many of Netflix’s biggest hits this year were family-friendly, including the top TV show, CoComelon. CoComelon spent 326 days of 2021 in Netflix’s top 10—that’s over three times longer than its closest competitors, Manifest and The Secret Life of Pets 2.


Netflix’s most popular TV shows and movies in 2021
Rank
Show
Days in top 10
Average position
1CoComelon3265.1
2Manifest993.9
3The Secret Life of Pets 2963.2
4Home814.2
5Squid Game734.1
6Ginny & Georgia684.8
7Bridgerton654.4
8The Mitchells vs. the Machines637.5
9We Can Be Heroes623.9
10iCarly594.8

  • Manifest was the most-watched Netflix original series (technically, the show started on NBC, but Netflix revived the series)
  • 51% of all titles that appeared in Netflix’s Top 10 were released before 2021: With pandemic delays on new production, we were more likely to revisit some old favorites or catch up on what we missed from previous years.
  • This year’s top content was family-friendly: one-third of all titles (35%) were rated PG-13 or lower.
  • Aside from CoComelon, the most popular TV shows in 2021 were adult series like the ultra-violent commentary on debt-slavery Squid Game or the disappearing-plane mystery Manifest. Ginny & Georgia’s adolescent-to-adult themes might seem a bit flippant at times, but it’s still a fun show.
  • Top performers: The Secret Life of Pets 2 had the highest average position of 3.2 during its 96 days in the top 10 Netflix titles. Both Manifest and We Can Be Heroes (a family superhero show) earned an average position of 3.9.
  • Longest run at #1: The Mitchells vs. The Machines spent the most consecutive days (14) at number one compared to other movies and earned an average position of 7.5.
Netflix Originals now makes up over half of Netflix’s Top 10 list
  • A total of 551 TV shows and Movies appeared in the Netflix Top 10 list during 2021—and over half were Netflix Originals (54.5%). In the US, Netflix Originals made up 40.5% of all top 10 movies titles and 68.4% of all top 10 TV shows.
  • In 2021, a total of 300 Netflix Originals appeared in Netflix’s top 10, which is 69 more titles than in 2020.

With this kind of output (and plenty of quality shows in it), we can expect more people to sign up for Netflix just to keep up with the exclusive content. We also expect Netflix to greenlight plenty of unique shows like Squid Games or Manifest—and for them to earn multiple seasons under the Netflix Originals umbrella.

Now that we’ve talked about Netflix as a whole, let’s break TV shows and movies into separate groups for a better comparison.

The most popular TV shows on Netflix in 2021

Aside from the kid’s show CoComelon (i.e., the Netflix version of a babysitter), most of the top TV shows this year followed dramatic—if not downright dark—stories meant for more mature audiences. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have some fun along the way.

2021's Most Popular TV Shows on Netflix

To help figure out what you want to binge-watch next, jump to our Netflix’s top TV show reviews.

  • 68.4% of TV titles appearing in the top 10 were Netflix Originals
  • TV shows with the most consecutive #1 days: Despite Squid Game’s massive hype, the foreign language phenomenon only came in third, spending 24 straight days at the top of the list. It was beaten by the daughter-mother team of Ginny & Georgia and the passengers of Manifest.
  • Getting hooked on the drama, laughing, and finding justice: The most popular TV genres were drama (20.7%), comedy (12.8%), and crime (9.5%).
  • Neither bios nor musicals were big in 2021: Most folks would rather commit to a season’s worth of a non-musical or fictional series. The least popular genres were: biography (0.7%), musicals (0.9%), and shorts (1.0%).

The most popular movies on Netflix in 2021

The most-watched movies on Netflix seemed to be dominated by family-friendly animation. Compared to the top TV shows, it’s a lot lighter on the movie side.

It makes sense that parents might return to their kids’ favorite flicks or TV shows repeatedly as an easy distraction and then seek more substantive TV series on their own time. And hey—if they can love the same shows or movies as their kids, all the better.

Check out our reviews for Netflix’s top 10 movies below to learn more about these movies.

  • If you were to watch every single movie that appeared in the Netflix Top 10 this year, it would take you 577 hours (that’s 24 days)!
  • Movies with the most consecutive #1 days: Flicks like The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Red Notice stayed at #1 for nearly two weeks each, but most movies can only hang in the top spot for about a week.
  • Most popular movie genres: We love getting wrapped up in plots and emotions, having a good laugh, and munching popcorn while the action’s packed. Dramas make up 17% of our favorite shows, while comedy and action follow behind, at 13.4% and 12.3%, respectively.
  • Least popular movie genres: Americans are 70 times more likely to watch a drama than a western. Also, reality TV hasn’t become too big in the movie world (most people seem to prefer keeping up with the gossip every week). And war only made four appearances in the top 10 (maybe that’s a good thing?)

Actors who appeared in the most top 10 titles

The performers who appeared the most in 2021, like Jonah Hill or Ryan Reynolds, were able to make up to five starring appearances on Netflix in 2021

The five-hit list includes the sweethearts from Twilight: Taylor Lautner, Kristen, Stewart, and Robert Pattinson.

Actor
Number of appearances
Jonah Hill5
Taylor Lautner5
Kristen Stewart5
Ryan Reynolds5
Robert Pattinson5
Jason Statham4
Russell Crowe4
Kevin James4
Kate Winslet4

Note: This data only includes the top four actors or actresses listed for each title.

Now that we’ve recapped Netflix’s top TV shows and movies, we’ll help you figure out what to watch next. Let’s dive into some quick thoughts on this year’s top hits.

Our reviews of Netflix’s most popular TV shows in 2021

To help you get a better idea of what we think is worth watching on Netflix, we’ve provided ratings, a general premise, and how much we think certain audiences might enjoy the show.

CoComelon (3.5 out of 5)

CoComelon uses music to help kids read and learn about a variety of topics. With exciting hits like “The Bath Song (Baby Shark)” or “Yes Yes Vegetables” paired with vibrant animation, parents can rest assured the kids will stay entertained. (Just make sure to switch it up, so you don’t get the songs stuck in your head forever.)

Manifest (4 out of 5)

After a plane and all its passengers go missing during a flight, they show up years later as if no time has passed at all. Audiences will enjoy guessing at the secrets surrounding supernatural events. If you’re looking for an intriguing blend of mystery, thriller, and sci-fi/fantasy, Manifest has you covered.

Squid Game (5 out of 5 stars)

The South Korean drama is a beautiful but intense depiction of debtors playing childhood games to win large sums of money, with deadly consequences for losing. The cast delivers heartfelt performances, the cinematography is thoughtful and wrought with profound images, and it’s an absolute thrill until the end.

Ginny & Georgia (2 out of 5)

This mother-daughter drama show has fun moments that come with heavier subjects—but it has received criticism for mishandling controversial topics like racism, sexism, and abuse. With season two, we’ll see if Ginny & Georgia can better claim its status as the next generation’s Gilmore Girls-—without the cringe.

Bridgerton (3.5 out of 5)

A drama set in the Regency Era of London, Bridgerton follows a high-society family’s struggle to keep it classy. This is your show if you’re a fan of English accents and spicy romance.

iCarly (3 out of 5)

For those looking to pick up the child-like charm of their youth, the new iCarly is far from a kid’s show. Catering to an aging Millennial audience, the show boasts random humor and character jokes that still could hit home for some folks. For others, it’s a series that’s best remembered rather than rebooted.

Maid (4 out of 5)

Inspired by a memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, the show follows a single mother’s enduring efforts to give herself and her daughter a better life. It’s not without its happy moments of resilience and a subtle sense of humor, but it often leaves you feeling devastated.

Jenni Rivera: Mariposa de Barrio (4 out of 5)

Following superstar Jenni Rivera’s autobiography Unbreakable (and unpublished testimonies), this inspiring and emotional story recounts the singer’s life as she struggles during and after her rise to fame. Following the singer’s death in 2012, this is a must-watch for fans of the singer or those who love a raw, real, and memorable biography.

¿Quién Mató a Sara? (Who Killed Sara?) (3 out of 5 stars)

Álex Guzmán spent 18 years wrongly imprisoned for killing his sister, Sara, but he’s determined to find the real killer and exact his revenge. If you like detective-style storytelling, sexy secrets, and hazy flashbacks, this fun show can keep you guessing.

The Circle (3.5 out of 5)

The Circle pits players in a real-life social media setting where they must message each other, play games, and try to figure out who’s being honest and who’s posing as a catfish (a fake profile). As far as reality TV goes, there’s something strange but sweet about this show.

Our reviews of Netflix’s most popular movies in 2021

2021 was bountiful with animated and colorful features like Vivo and We can Be Heroes—with Army of the Dead, the undead exception—following the pack.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

For families looking for a fun animated film akin to Toy Story, The Secret Life of Pets 2 provides the laughs. It also explores emotional, mental, and behavioral health through pets’ eyes. The show delivers silly bits for kids and a few nostalgic musical moments for parents.

Home (2.5 out of 5)

A fun film for preschoolers, this animated alien invasion flick is full of colors and sounds to keep them endlessly entertained. However, older kids and adults probably won’t stay tuned in for long.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (4.5 out of 5)

A thrill for everyone, The Mitchells vs. the Machines characters feel real, emotional, and authentic compared to some of their more cartoonish counterparts. The humor flows fast and free when a road trip meets the robot apocalypse, but the heartfelt scenes take time to breathe and let you process some emotions.

We Can Be Heroes (3.5 out of 5)

This film is for families who enjoyed Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids or Shark Boy and Lava Girl’s-brand of superhero stories. It may not be as awe-inspiring for fans of Rodriguez’s more mature movies, but who can pass up a Pedro Pascal performance?

Vivo (3.5 out of 5)

Following the delivery of a long-lost love song, Vivo is an aesthetically-pleasing animated story of love, music, and adventure. Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda will enjoy this family-oriented flick filled with toe-tapping tunes.

My Little Pony: A New Generation (4 out of 5)

My Little Pony: A New Generation has been well-received by younger and older fans who enjoy its fun, poppy attitude and heartwarming messages. If you still have the commercial jingle in your head from when you were a kid, you might be curious how the new generation fares for your family.

Trouble (2 out of 5)

Trouble may be an easy, one-time watch with your kids in a world full of animated movies with talking dogs. However, it doesn’t quite have the charm of other family favorites. Some folks might find getting through the movie more trouble than it’s worth.

Wish Dragon (3.5 out of 5)

John Cho voices a wish-granting dragon who guides young Din, the film’s protagonist, to realize what really matters in life. While it may draw comparisons to Aladdin, Wish Dragon brings a new take on the old tale that younger audiences can enjoy.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (4 out of 5)

Madagascar’s third installment delivers another round of fun for the whole family. For fans of the previous movies, the zany adventure will keep you entertained and engaged as you sit with your creature comforts.

Army of the Dead (3 out of 5)

The only movie in the top 10 lineup geared towards adults, this zombie-outbreak movie comes with a Las Vegas heist twist. Depending on how much you like Zach Snyder movies, you could either be disappointed or surprised by Army of the Dead.

What will you stream in 2022?

2021 was filled with a variety of different shows that catered to different folks. The good news is that Netflix seems intent on adding even more to its lineup.

Between original content and TV shows and more movies licensed from third parties, we expect 2022 to be even better for us binge-watchers.

If you’re looking for even more shows to stream or need a better internet connection for all that HD glory, we’ve got you covered:

How does 2021’s Netflix Playback Report stack up against 2020? Check out last year’s results below.

Methodology

We used data from Flix Patrol to gather the top 10 Netflix shows and movies for every day of 2021. Our data was finalized on December 7, 2021.

Additional data about each title was collected from the Open Movie Database.

Sources

Netflix's Most Popular TV Shows and Movies of 2020

The average American spent 612 hours watching Netflix in 2020 (that’s nearly a month!). That amounts to 1.68 hours per day (and if you watched more than that, we understand). Also 93% of Americans reported having a Netflix subscription.

As we looked ahead to 2021’s streaming roster, we dug into the data surrounding Netflix’s top TV shows and movies in 2020 to create our Netflix Playback Report.

2020's most-streamed TV shows on Netflix

With all the options available on Netflix, we were curious which shows could hold onto a top-ten ranking the longest.

Michael Scott and the rest of The Office crew spent 189 days in Netflix’s top 10. Even though The Office ran from 2005-2013, the show remained a nostalgic favorite for many Americans in 2020.

Last year, we all needed those go-to shows—the shows that work whether you’re glued to the screen, browsing social media on the couch, or doing chores around the house.

2020's Top TV Shows on Netflix

CoComelon, a show built for families, features catchy sing-along songs and spent 127 days in the top ten. The colorfully animated show helps kids with learning lessons and socializing—all the better during the pandemic.

The Queen’s Gambit premiered on October 23rd and spent 70 days of 2020 in the top 10. Who knew we all loved chess so much?

Netflix Original Content
Info Box

Netflix knows what it’s doing. A staggering 71% of TV shows appearing in the top 10 were Netflix Originals. If you were thinking about switching to Hulu over Netflix, you may want to stick with your subscription to see what’s coming out this year.

Which TV show captured America’s attention for the longest?

When America went into lockdown, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, captured our attention, and it locked in its #1 ranking for 27 consecutive days. (The world felt weird. We needed a reminder that someone out there has an even wilder life than us. Joe Exotic delivered.)

Following Tiger King’s lead, The Queen’s Gambit spent 22 days at #1 on Netflix. Beth’s cathartic chaos and masterful chess moves won people over across America.

Rounding out the top three is a tie between Ratched, a drama series that follows an asylum nurse, and The Umbrella Academy, which follows a diverse and dysfunctional group of sibling superheroes.

A lot of us enjoyed delving into a bit of darkness to help us process 2020.

What was the most-popular TV Show on Netflix for each month?

The Most Popular TV Show by Month
Month
Title

March

Love is Blind

April

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

May

Outer Banks

June

Space Force

July

Unsolved Mysteries

August

The Umbrella Academy

September

Cobra Kai

October

Schitt's Creek

November

The Queen's Gambit

December

Virgin River

2020's most-streamed movies on Netflix

Despicable Me has been a family favorite since it was released a decade ago. Maxing out at 111 days, the animated movie with loveable minions (and all the memes) took the top spot for America’s most-streamed movie in 2020.

Animated features and likable villains such as Gru and The Grinch stole the spotlight for folks staying in and streaming. Almost all of the most-watched movies were family-friendly, but if you scrolled through the seemingly endless library, you know there’s something for everyone.

That said, we ranked Netflix as the best streaming service for kids.

Netflix Original Movies
Price Tag

About one third (32%) of movies that appeared in the top 10 were Netflix Originals, which is significantly less than in the TV category. We may continue to see Netflix invest more substantially in TV in 2021.

America’s top-streamed movies—ranked by most days spent in the top ten

Movies Ranked by Consecutive Days in the #1 Spot
Rank
Title
Most Consecutive Days in the #1 Spot

1

Spenser Confidential

18

2

Hubie Halloween

14

3

Project Power

13

Adam Sandler’s Hubie Halloween had the second-longest streak with 14 days in the top spot. Project Power followed in third by holding the #1 spot for 13 consecutive days.

Most-Popular Genres on Netflix
Info Box

In 2020, Americans watched comedies, dramas, and crime shows the most. People are also seeking out thrillers, action, and mystery. Netflix’s originals will cover all these bases in 2021, but because of this demand, Sci-Fi, Western, and Musical fans may feel like they’re getting left out with only a handful of originals in those genres.

America’s favorite actors on Netflix during 2020

A familiar face can help you find the shows you want to watch, and America felt the need for some funny folks to laugh within a time of social distancing.

The following actors starred in the most top 10 shows or movies in 2020:
Actor/Actress
Number of Starring Roles in the Top 10

Adam Sandler

7

Kevin James

5

Anna Faris

5

Bruce Willis

4

Gary Oldman

4

Mark Wahlberg

4

Jamie Foxx

4

Will Ferrell

4

James Caan

4

Adam Sandler’s man-child roles garner mixed reactions among critics, but he’s beloved by the people. He proved his range as an actor in films such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love and the relentless Uncut Gems (shoutout to the Safdies). However, don’t expect that Sandler to show up in 2020’s Hubie Halloween. This movie is more of a throwback to Billy Madison or The Waterboy.

The rest of the list features comedy actors such as Kevin James, Anna Faris, and Will Ferrell. A few classic stars round out the list, like Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Mark Wahlberg, Jamie Foxx, and James Caan.

The burning question is, which actors would you like to see more of in 2021?

Reviews of the top movies on Netflix from 2020

Despicable Me (4 of 5)

Gru’s plan to steal the moon with his minions’ help won over many folks worldwide. While Despicable Me might not be “Pixar-quality” in some respects, it continues to be a hit ten years later.

The Grinch (3 of 5)

The Grinch (2018) might not live up to the animated classic’s charm or Jim Carrey’s rendition, but it remains a go-to holiday movie for many families. We think it’s interesting to see fresh interpretations of generational classics.

Angry Birds 2 (3.5 of 5)

Kids may enjoy this slapstick comedy about learning to love your enemies, but it’s loud, chaotic nature may aggravate a few adults.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (4 of 5)

The animated classic’s live-action adaptation has won a place in many people’s hearts, but it does run a little long. However, if you love Jim Carrey’s brand of spastic comedy and quotes, it’s a perfect film.

365 Days (2.5 of 5 stars)

If you’re looking for a Sicilian-mafioso-meets-salesperson romance, this may be your movie. However, a lot of folks found it in the “cringe” category for its spicier emphasis, which left plenty of plot holes.

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (3 of 5 stars)

If you need something to throw on for the kids, this fun adventure will give animal lovers some warm fuzzies.

The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2.5 of 5 stars)

Even if you’re a picky streamer, a Christmas movie is always an easy option. Don’t expect many surprises in this flick, but if you liked the first movie, you might as well go for round two.

Extraction (3.5 of 5 stars)

Following a former mercenary’s rescue mission, Extraction is an action-driven flick starring Chris Hemsworth. It’s less about in-depth character development and more about cool car chases and kickin’ butt. If you liked The Russo Brother’s work with The Avengers, you might dig this militarized movie.

The Willoughbys (3.5 of 5 stars)

The Willoughbys,a comforting animated adventure, is an exciting film for your whole family. This energetic and vibrant flick comes with a sweet, albeit odd and silly, story about the importance of good family relationships.

The Christmas Chronicles (3 of 5 stars)

If you dig Kurt Russell’s appeal as Santa Claus, this is your first stop. It’s an enjoyable holiday movie that doesn’t add much to the slew of familiar favorites, but it’s worth throwing on at least once.

Reviews of the top TV shows on Netflix from 2020

The Office (4.5 of 5 stars)

While some aspects of The Office may not hold up forever, the show’s lasting charm is undeniable. Everyone who watches the show ends up finding a favorite character (and maybe one they love to hate too) and ends up rewatching the comforting show at some point.

CoComelon (4 of 5 stars)

This Netflix show features quality animation and music to help your family connect and learn. Some parents find its repetitive and simple nature better suited as a distraction for their kids while they take some time for themselves.

The Queen’s Gambit (5 of 5 stars)

This coming-of-age story made chess a thrilling experience with its visual beauty and superb acting. With her powerful performance, we’re likely to see more of Anya Taylor-Joy in the coming years.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (4 of 5 stars)

Aang and his friends are back, but this year was the first time viewing this phenomenal show for many folks. The series came out in 2005, but Avatar: The Last Airbender is an excellent pick if you’re looking for a fun, profound, and timeless animated story.

Ozark (4 of 5 stars)

Jason Bateman leads this dark and engaging crime drama, and while critics initially thought it was mediocre, the third season picks up to live up to Ozark’s full potential.

Schitt’s Creek (4 of 5 stars)

If you’re looking for some belly laughs, look up Schitt’s Creek. Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara’s deadpan delivery of decadents thrust into squalor left fans wanting more, but the show ended on its own terms and at its peak.

Outer Banks (3.5 of 5 stars)

This coming-of-age teen tale calls out to those who want romance, adventure, and mystery. If you’re into the melodrama of the OC, but need it to be a bit spookier, this guilty pleasure might be up your alley.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (4.5 of 5 stars)

You still haven’t watched Tiger King? After being released right around the beginning of the pandemic, this wild, wandering-but-wonderful show will shock you at every turn. It might even be worth a re-watch, but a first-time view carries some special surprises.

The Crown (4.5 of 5 stars)

The Crown takes viewers into the life of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, and the rest of the royal family. This high drama is stunning to look at and filled with powerful performances.

The Umbrella Academy (4 of 5 stars)

Following a dysfunctional group of adopted orphans who happen to have superpowers, The Umbrella Academy weaves an emotional web that fans connect with. You’ll get wrapped up in the characters while enjoying gorgeous visuals and wonderful music.

2020 Methodology

We‌ ‌sourced‌ ‌‌Flix‌ ‌Patrol‌ to‌ ‌gather‌ ‌which‌ ‌movies/TV‌ ‌titles‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌daily‌ ‌top‌ ‌ten‌.‌ ‌We collected additional‌ ‌data‌ ‌on‌ ‌these‌ ‌titles‌ from‌ ‌the‌ ‌‌Open‌ ‌Movie‌ ‌Database‌.‌

Additionally, Reviews.org surveyed 316,174 Americans to determine their streaming habits and which streaming services they use. We used this data to determine the percentage of persons with a Netflix account, and the amount of time spent watching the service throughout the year.

Trevor Wheelwright
Written by
Trevor Wheelwright
Trevor’s written about YMYL (your money, your life) topics for over six years across editorial publications and retail/eCommerce sites. His work’s been featured on Forbes, RealSimple, USA Today, MSN, BusinessInsider, Entrepreneur, PCMag, and CNN. When he’s not researching and writing, you can find him around Salt Lake City, Utah, snapping photos of mountains and architecture or seeking out some good tunes and friendly faces.

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