Netflix completely redefined the way people watch television. Online streaming became the go-to way to watch television, giving birth to binge-watching. Streaming competitors like Amazon, Hulu, and CBS All Access have emerged since, but it all started with Netflix.
The appeal of Netflix isn't just limited to offering popular movies and television shows when they're no longer in theaters or after the season finishes airing, however. The streaming giant carved out a unique niche for itself by creating original content. Many were skeptical about this content at first. However, now many of the most highly-anticipated television series are Netflix originals. Every year, they are nominated and sometimes even go on to win major awards at the Emmys. The quality of these series tend to be on par if not superior to what's offered on cable television.
Unfortunately, their original movies haven't fared quite as well. The majority have received negative or lukewarm reception from most fans and critics. They aren't part of popular culture like the original series are, let alone consistent awards contenders.
Given that Netflix isn't always revealing how many views it obtains per show or movie, we've determined whether their original series or films are hits or flops by other factors. These factors include critical and fan reception, nominations and victories at the Emmys, and the overall impact on popular culture and the world of television.
With that said, here are the 13 Netflix Originals That Became Massive Hits (And 7 That Completely Flopped).
The Duffer brothers tapped into '80s nostalgia and created a massive hit with a show that can be described as The Goonies meets Stephen King. It has all of the '80s charm of an eclectic group of kids and teens on a crazy adventure. At the same time, it also features the supernatural elements and darkness hidden by the facade of a small town, aspects which are often found in Stephen King stories. Its younger actors, such as Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard, are just as much a treat to watch as the veteran actors like Winona Ryder and David Harbour.
Season 1 was a surprise hit and, thankfully, season 2 managed to keep the spark alive.
The season 2 premiere drew in more than 15 million viewers during its first three days on Netflix.
Daredevil is the Iron Man of the Marvel Netflix universe. It told a compelling origin story that opened the door for more fascinating superhero stories, such as Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Similar to what the Marvel Cinematic Universe did with Tony Stark in Iron Man, Daredevil took the time to properly develop its characters and get audiences invested in Matt Murdock before diving into too many new connecting stories.
Building off of this strong foundation, the series introduced the likes of the Punisher and the Hand, a character and organization that impacted not only Daredevil, but also the other Marvel shows as well. So far, Daredevil has also had the most consistent quality of Marvel’s Netflix shows, unlike the other series, which has included seasons that are starkly different in terms of quality.
Bright had the potential to be Netflix’s breakout original movie. The urban fantasy crime film about human and mythical creatures in Los Angeles was a unique, creative premise. If done right, it could’ve expanded to a rich universe of stories beyond the original movie, especially considering the star power of Will Smith.
The movie was critically panned, though, and currently sits at 26% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Critics felt that the movie was bloated and poorly developed, as it struggled to effectively deliver in its attempts at fantasy, cop drama, and social commentary. Failing to fire all of these cylinders prevented the movie from working well. At the end of the day, Bright was not the game-changer Netflix thought it would be.
The Crown has brought history to life in a compelling way, as it tells the story of Queen Elizabeth from her wedding to the present day. The show does a fantastic job exploring the complexities of Queen Elizabeth as an individual and her relationship with significant figures throughout history, allowing audiences to understand and care about her as a person with issues and problems of her own.
Given the vast timeline it covers, the series also manages to keep things fresh by changing the lead actress heading into season 3, as Olivia Colman takes over for Claire Foy following her remarkable performances in seasons 1 and 2. Beyond the story and the acting, high-production value allows the historical figures and events to consistently feel authentic.
Considering the many popular original series that have manifested in recent years, it’s easy to forget that House of Cards was Netflix’s very first original series when it was released on the streaming service in 2013. Its success created the foundation for the many streaming series that would follow.
Through the stories of ruthless politicians Frank and Claire Underwood, the show had many plot twists and cliffhangers that kept viewers hooked. These ingredients are necessary to create an addictive and proper binge-watching experience. House of Cards was also the first online-only series to receive major Emmy nominations, a fact that is hard to believe given how many shows from Netflix are now consistently nominated.
Coming off the heels of the successful Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Iron Fist was expected to keep the momentum and quality of Marvel’s Netflix universe rolling. However, those expectations fell significantly short, as season 1 was critically panned and poorly received by many fans.
Season 2 managed to fix many of the show’s issues, ultimately setting up a game-changing future for all of Marvel's Netflix shows. Unfortunately, too much damage had already been done by season 1, and many views didn't come back.As a result, Iron Fist was officially cancelled despite the improvements that happened in season 2, making Iron Fist the first of the Marvel Netflix series to be cancelled.
BoJack Horseman did the impossible and turned the story of talking, animated horse into an accurate depiction of manic depression. Audiences connect with BoJack's existential struggle and self-loathing, which is tackled in a surprisingly relatable way that feels both hilarious and soul-crushing.
In a world that is becoming more open to the discussion of mental health, people are drawn to a show like BoJack Horseman, since it fully embraces the conversation surrounding mental health in its own quirky way, not to mention addiction.
Most importantly, the satirical show engages in this conversation without oversimplifying or reducing the complexities to inaccurate or offensive stereotypes. BoJack Horseman was also Netflix's first animated original series, paving the way for more animated series on the streaming service.
With perhaps the exception of House of Cards, no series is more important to making Netflix what it is today than Orange is the New Black. Both shows began Netflix's reign of successful streaming shows. While there have been many political dramas over the years, the story of Orange is the New Black had a more unique story of women and their treatment in federal prisons.
The show has its comedy, but more importantly, it tackles significant social issues and provides important representation to women whose voices often don't get heard. Questions of race, class, and privilege are explored in thoughtful, yet entertaining ways. In a world where too many movies and television series continue to be male-dominated, it's incredibly important to have a largely female-led show like Orange is the New Black.
Netflix original series are cancelled far less than cable television series. This makes it all the more noticeable when a Netflix series is cancelled, especially when the show hasn’t been around very long. This is exactly what happened with Disjointed, which was cancelled after its two-part first season.
Between Misery, Titanic, American Horror Story, and countless other projects, Kathy Bates has proven countless times that she’s one of the most impressive actresses out there. Even she wasn’t able to save Disjointed, though. Critics and fans alike were unimpressed by the show’s unoriginal humor and uneven storytelling. It was not only a disappointment considering that Kathy Bates was the show’s star, but also because it featured Chuck Lorre as co-creator, writer, and executive producer.
Jessica Jones is arguably the most refreshing superhero television show out there. Jessica has impressive abilities, but what makes her stand out is how the show handles her complex character. It's an honest, non-romanticized depiction that many shows are sadly afraid to undertake with their female characters. Season 1 was particularly strong, as it included David Tennant's spellbinding performance as Killgrave, a villain unparalleled in his cunning ruthlessness.
The first season also did a remarkable job at telling the story of an assault survivor in the right way, an important feat that is rarely achieved in television.
Season 2 was received much less favorably than season 1, but it was still better than the critics said, as it continued to put Jessica and her development at the forefront of the story but also gave Jessica's best friend Trish Walker a more compelling arc.
GLOW reeled audiences in with its unique premise, as it focused on the female wrestlers who made up the 1980’s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW). Both fans and critics loved how the show accurately depicts many nuances of its '80s time period. The show’s humor is both silly and smart and thus struck the right note with audiences, which is a testament to the show’s clever writing and talented cast.
These achievements have not gone unnoticed, however, as GLOW received a slew of nominations at the 2018 Emmys, including a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series. Season 1 boasts an impressive 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, while season 2 took it to an even greater level with a 98%.
As a homage to Adam Sandler's longtime manager Sandy Wernick, Sandy Wexler sounded nice in theory. While some felt that it had more charm than many of Sandler's movies in recent years, audiences were already tired of negative to sub-par Sandler Netflix films. The Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over were more than enough to disinterest even the most hardcore Sandler fans, which doomed Sandy Wexler before it even came to Netflix.
Another major issue for Sandy Wexler was that, with the exception of industry insiders who personally knew Sandy Wernick, it's difficult for Sandler's performance to ever resonate with the average audience member. This was not helped by the fact that the movie was underdeveloped for the most part.
With the bitter taste of the disappointing 2004 movie adaptation still lingering in many fans' mouths, Netflix finally did the books justice by adapting them into an original series. The many stylized quirks and eccentricities are captured well in the show.
Patrick Warburton’s deadpan delivery as narrator Lemony Snicket is spot-on. Though Neil Patrick Harris was an unexpected casting choice for Count Olaf, he absolutely nailed the character’s balance of over-the-top theatrics and ruthlessness that pervade Olaf’s countless schemes to secure the Baudelaire fortune. Adapting each book into two episodes was also a smart move. It’s perfect pacing gives viewers enough time to fully explore each book’s story without ever feeling like the arc is dragging on too long.
Though this science-fiction anthology show is bizarre, it manages to be uncanny in the timeliness of its social commentary, especially when it comes to humanity's relationship with technology. Creating a completely different and highly imaginative premise for each episode keeps the series fresh and exciting. Despite each episode having a different set of characters and story, each one manages to deliver surprising yet meaningful and creative plot twists, an element that makes fans constantly eager for more.
Black Mirror captures the imagination and provides thought-provoking material, much like a modern day Twilight Zone.
The episodes "San Junipero" and "USS Callister" were particular standouts, winning five Emmy awards between both episodes, including Outstanding Television Movie.
The premise of Kevin James playing an author mistaken for a criminal was never going to be an award-winning concept. Still, it should’ve been more entertaining than what fans ended up getting. The True Memoirs of an International Assassin is an action-comedy movie, yet it largely fails to be funny or to present exciting action.
If the movie was going to work, it needed to succeed in at least one of these areas, but, unfortunately, it fails spectacularly at both. The poor attempt at humor undercut all attempts to create any kind of engaging suspense. Critics disliked The True Memoirs of an International Assassin so much that it currently sits at 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, a rare feat for even the most notoriously bad movies.
13 Reasons Why certainly isn’t a universally beloved show, but it created an incredible amount of buzz and passionate reaction from dedicated viewers. Though these reactions were divided, they were more than strong enough to make the show a hit. Many critics and fan appreciated how the show tackled its serious and highly sensitive subject matter in season 1 with brutally insightful honesty. However, others were aghast at the problematic messages that the show communicated about these serious issues.
Season 2 had a much more negative reception, but the premiere still drew in a large number of viewers. Even though it wasn’t a hit across the board for all audiences, 13 Reasons Why stands out for how it entered the cultural conversation surrounding serious issues that teens face.
Critics were not shy about their disdain for the action-comedy The Do-Over. The movie's lead characters, played by Adam Sandler and David Spade, fake their demises and assume new identities in order to lead new lives, a pursuit which naturally spins out of control very quickly. The general consensus is that The Do-Over has all the trademarks and tropes of one of Adam Sandler's weaker movies, including raunchy humor that fails to ever land, misogyny toward its female characters, and a formulaic plot.
The movie earned a 5% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Sandler and Spade have at times been excellent comedians, which makes it all the more frustrating to see a movie as thoughtless and lazy in execution as The Do-Over.
Jason Bateman took audiences by surprise with his work in Ozark. The popular comedic actor proved his versatility by delivering a surprisingly nuanced and dramatic performance as financial planner and anti-hero Marty Byrde. He also directed some of the show’s best episodes. Bateman’s work is widely recognized, as he’s received Emmy nominations for his acting and directing on the show.
Ozark has drawn comparisons to critically acclaimed shows like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, building off what those series did to create their own unique story. The premise of a “normal” protagonist involved in a world of crime may feel familiar, but Ozark only uses that as a launching point to take its story and characters in its own direction.
A Netflix original comedy series starring the likes of Keegan-Michael Key, Cobie Smulders, and Fred Savage certainly had promise. The show follows a group of friends who know each other from Harvard, and explores life and relationships while living in New York City.
Unlike popular shows such as How I Met Your Mother and Friends which depicted a close-knit groups of friends in New York City, Friends from College failed to create authentic chemistry between its leading characters.
Tim Dowling of The Guardian captured it best, as he wrote "Each character may be unpleasant in his or her own right, but the sheer charmlessness of the group is hard to overstate. If they were sitting at a table near you, you’d leave the restaurant."
Telling the story of a woman adjusting to life in New York City after breaking free of a small town cult, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is unlike any show offered on Netflix or by all of television.
Eager for a fresh start, Ellie Kemper plays Kimmy Schmidt with an infectious positive attitude and excitement for the little things that most people take for granted. She's easy for audiences to like and root for, and her character works well with the show's quirky humor. Kemper is surrounded by an equally talented cast who all share a natural chemistry that makes the show a delight to watch. In addition to this fun, the series also explores important concepts like female independence and adapting to change.
What's your favorite Netflix original? Let us know in the comments!