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The most talked about new movies and TV shows on 8 major streaming services in 2021

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

HBO Max

  • The data firm Diesel Labs found which new titles drove the most engagement for major streamers last year.
  • Movies that were released simultaneously to streaming and in theaters drove high online engagement.
  • Genre titles like Amazon’s “Wheel of Time” and Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone” were also hits.

Media companies took major steps in 2021 to boost their streaming businesses, making huge reorganizations and experimenting with distribution strategies. 

The latter meant that some movies that premiered in theaters were released on streaming simultaneously. Warner Bros. released all of its movies in theaters and on HBO Max at the same time last year. Other studios, from Universal to Disney, also experimented with select titles to boost their streaming components amid the pandemic.

Many of these movies drove high engagement for their respective streaming platforms, according to the analytics company Diesel Labs. The company released its 2021 streaming report this week, including which titles drove the most online buzz for the eight major streaming platforms.

They include:

  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Apple TV+
  • Disney+
  • WarnerMedia’s HBO Max
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • ViacomCBS’ Paramount+
  • NBCUniversal’s Peacock

Diesel Labs measures audience engagement based on data from social and video platforms Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok.

The company only counted new titles that premiered in 2021. That means popular titles like Apple’s “Ted Lasso,” which aired its second season last year, didn’t make the cut.

It did count movies that streamed simultaneously while playing in theaters, which drove engagement for Max, Peacock, and Paramount+. Disney tried this strategy, too, but its engagement was dominated by new Marvel Cinematic Universe shows.

Warner Bros.’ movie strategy certainly helped drive subscribers as well as engagement last year. Max and HBO ended 2021 with a combined 73.8 million subscribers. WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar told Insider recently that he’d “make the same decision again,” even though the plan angered many in Hollywood after it was announced in late 2020. But in 2022, Warner Bros. plans to release movies with exclusive, but shortened, theatrical windows.

Genre titles also drove engagement overall.

The fantasy series “The Wheel of Time” was Amazon’s top new series last year, according to Diesel Labs. The fantasy show “Shadow and Bone” and the animated “League of Legends” series “Arcane” were hits for Netflix. The big-budget sci-fi series “Foundation” was one of Apple’s top shows. And superhero content drove engagement for HBO Max as well as Disney+.

Below are the five exclusive or original new titles that drove the most engagement for eight major streaming services last year:

Amazon Prime VideoThe Wheel of TimePerrin (Marcus Rutherford) and Egwene (Madeleine Madden).

Jan Thijs / Amazon Studios

  1. “The Wheel of Time” — original series
  2. “Coming 2 America” — original movie
  3. “Cinderella” — original movie
  4. “Invincible” — original series
  5. “The Tomorrow War” — original movie

“The Wheel of Time,” based on the fantasy novels by Robert Jordan, was the biggest premiere for a new series last year in the US, according to the data firm Parrot Analytics, which measures audience demand. In its first 30 days of release, it was more in-demand than other new hit shows like Netflix’s “Arcane” and Disney+’s “Book of Boba Fett.” It bodes well for Amazon’s next major fantasy series, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”

Amazon has also been aggressive in acquiring movies with broad appeal, from Eddie Murphy’s “Coming 2 America” and the Chris Pratt-starring sci-fi action movie “The Tomorrow War.”

Apple TV+Cherry Apple TV PlusTom Holland in “Cherry.”

Apple TV Plus

  1. “Cherry” — original movie
  2. “Schmigadoon!” — original series
  3. “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” — original documentary movie
  4. “Foundation” — original series
  5. “The Me You Can’t See” — original series

Since Diesel Labs’ data only accounted for new titles that debuted in 2021, Apple’s most popular series, “Ted Lasso,” didn’t make the cut. Instead, its Tom Holland-starring movie “Cherry” topped the list.

“Foundation,” the big-budget sci-fi series based on the novel by Isaac Asimov, also made the list for Apple. It’s been renewed for a second season.

Disney+wandavision

Disney Plus

  1. “WandaVision” — original series
  2. “Loki” — original series
  3. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” — original series
  4. “What If…?” — original series
  5. “Hawkeye” — original series

The titles that drove the most engagement for Disney+ last year were, unsurprisingly, all Marvel shows, even as Disney, like other studios, released some of its movies simultaneously to the service with theaters or exclusively on the service (like Pixar’s “Luca”). 

HBO Maxzack snyder justice league“Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

HBO Max

  1. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” — original movie
  2. “Dune” — exclusive movie 
  3. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” — exclusive movie 
  4. “Godzilla vs. Kong” — exclusive movie 
  5. “The Suicide Squad” — exclusive movie

HBO Max’s engagement last year was largely dominated by Warner Bros. movies that debuted simultaneously on the service and in theaters. But the No. 1 title was actually a Max original movie: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” the anticipated director’s cut of 2017’s “Justice League.”

This year, Warner Bros. is movie away from its simultaneous release strategy, but has announced that its movies would have a shortened theatrical window of at least 45 days before the movies move to Max. Before the pandemic, the typical theatrical window was between 75 days and 90 days.

HuluSelena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin on Hulu's "Only Murders in the Building."Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin star on “Only Murders in the Building.”

Hulu

  1. “Only Murders in the Building” — original series
  2. “Nomadland” — exclusive movie
  3. “Framing Britney Spears” — exclusive documentary movie
  4. “Nine Perfect Strangers” — original series
  5. “Reservation Dogs” — original series

Hulu found success last year with breakout comedies like “Only Murders in the Building” and “Reservation Dogs.”

Last year’s Oscar winner for best picture, “Nomadland,” also drove engagement after it exclusively streamed on the service.

NetflixSquid Game guards in their pink hoodies“Squid Game”

Netflix

  1. “Squid Game” — original series
  2. “Shadow and Bone” — original series
  3. “Young Royals” — original series
  4. “Malcolm and Marie” — original movie
  5. “Arcane” — original series

Netflix’s biggest series of all time, “Squid Game,” drove the most engagement for the service last year.

More surprisingly, the movie “Malcolm and Marie” made Netflix’s top five most engaged-with titles, rather than hits like “Don’t Look Up” or “Red Notice.” Perhaps it speaks to the popularity of Zendaya, who starred in the movie.

“Arcane,” Netflix’s animated “League of Legends” series, rounded out the top five. 

Paramount+ru paul's drag race all stars

Paramount+

  1. “Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars” — original series
  2. “iCarly” — original series
  3. “Paw Patrol: The Movie” — exclusive movie
  4. “Clifford the Big Red Dog” — exclusive movie
  5. “The Challenge: All Stars” — original series

The mix of reality and kids content for Paramount+ is what sets it apart from the other services when it comes to online engagement.

Paramount+’s engagement was driven by family movies that debuted simultaneously in theaters, such as “Paw Patrol” and “Clifford.” Its “iCarly” revival of the Nickelodeon series also made the list, further showing that kids and family titles are driving engagement for the service. 

Reality TV is also working for the service with the likes of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars” and “The Challenge: All Stars.”

Peacockhalloween kills“Halloween Kills.”

Universal

  1. “Halloween Kills” — exclusive movie
  2. “The Boss Baby: Family Business” — exclusive movie
  3. “The Real House Wives Ultimate Girls Trip” — original series
  4. “Psych 3: This is Gus” — original movie
  5. “Girls5eva” — original series

Simultaneous releases like “Halloween Kills” and “The Boss Baby” sequel drove the most engagement for Peacock.

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