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Netflix's Bridgerton is big but George Clooney's The Midnight Sky is bigger

Still, neither of them matches the popularity of The Witcher or Bird Box, Netflix's December hits of the previous two years.

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Bridgerton, based on a series of books, was super-producer Shonda Rhimes' first project released by Netflix. 

Netflix

Netflix's Bridgerton is big, The Midnight Sky is bigger, and December was Netflix's biggest one yet -- but neither title could match the popularity of the service's end-of-year megahits that came before.

Both December and the most recent Christmas week were Netflix's biggest yet, by both total hours spent watching and average viewing hours per subscriber. December is typically when Netflix mints some of its biggest viewership numbers of the year -- with its total subscribers expected to have surpassed the 200 million milestone at the end of the year, it's no surprise that last month was its biggest December on record.

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But unlike past years, when Netflix had a single title dominate in popularity, none of the biggest shows and movies last month reached the same levels of popularity of the two years that came before. 

The Midnight Sky, a sci-fi/drama film directed by and starring George Clooney, is on track to be watched by 72 million accounts, Netflix projected for the first four weeks of release. Bridgerton, a soapy drama set in Regency England from uber-producer Shonda Rhimes, is projected to reach 63 million accounts, and We Can Be Heroes, a family film directed by Robert Rodriquez about the children of superheroes saving their parents (and the planet), is projected to hit 44 million accounts. 

But 2019's big December hit, The Witcher series, has them all beat, hitting 76 million accounts in its first four weeks and holding Netflix's record for its most popular series. 

And the biggest December hit in 2018, Bird Box, trumps them all -- the postapocalyptic movie starring Sandra Bullock was watched by more than 89 million households in its first month, according to Netflix. 

For years, Netflix was notoriously tight-lipped about viewership. The creator of House of Cards, which put Netflix's original content efforts on the map, once said the company wouldn't even share viewership metrics with him. But within the last two years, Netflix has grown much chattier about the popularity of its shows and movies to help recruit talent and stoke buzz. 

In addition to sharing viewership stats for top titles every three months as part of its earnings report, Netflix sometimes crows about its viewership numbers while the shows or movies are still freshly released (like now). Netflix also added a top-trending ranking to its service, so people can see what the most popular titles streaming on Netflix in their country are on any given day. 

Netflix's popularity figures need disclaimers. For one, they aren't independently verified, nor are they backed up by detailed data from the company. Netflix is in the unique position that it can cherry-pick highlights, and we don't have much independent data to verify them. Traditional media companies, on the other hand, have their box office performance independently monitored, and they're at the mercy of Nielsen ratings as the barometer for TV shows.

Speaking of Nielsen: Don't compare Netflix's numbers to metrics like Nielsen ratings or box office figures. It's tempting to compare how many people watched a Netflix show versus one on regular TV, or to estimate how much money a big movie on Netflix would've made at the box office. But these metrics aren't even close to comparable because the methods behind them differ wildly.

Last year, Netflix switched to a new viewership metric. Netflix now counts a title as "watched" if you choose to watch it and let it play for just two minutes. With some shows or movies, you can turn them off before you even hit the main title sequence -- and it still counts as a view. 

The following are the latest viewership numbers for Netflix's programs. All the following figures are viewership in a title's first four weeks of release, except in cases when Netflix projected total viewership before the title actually reached the four-week mark (which are noted).

  • The Midnight Sky -- 72 million accounts.
  • Bridgerton -- 63 million accounts.
  • We Can Be Heroes -- 44 million accounts.

Past popularity rankings

So how do those titles stack up against the ones that came before? Netflix's previous viewership stats for past titles are listed below. Again, all the following figures are for the titles' first four weeks of release using the two-minute metric, except for Netflix's projections where noted:

  • Extraction, an action movie starring Chris Hemsworth -- 99 million accounts.
  • Bird Box, a postapocalyptic movie starring Sandra Bullock -- more than 89 million accounts.
  • Spenser Confidential, an action-comedy movie starring Mark Wahlberg -- 85 million accounts.
  • 6 Underground, a Michael Bay explosion-fest starring Ryan Reynolds -- 83 million accounts.
  • The Old Guard, an action-thriller movie -- 78 million accounts.
  • Enola Holmes, a period detective caper film -- 76 million accounts projected.
  • Season 1 of The Witcher, a fantasy series based on an existing franchise of books and video games -- 76 million accounts. 
  • Project Power, a dark superhero movie -- 75 million accounts.
  • Murder Mystery, a comedy movie starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston -- 73 million accounts.
  • Kissing Booth 2, a teen rom-com flick -- 66 million accounts.
  • Season 4 of La Casa de Papel, or Money Heist, a Spanish language heist thriller series -- projection for 65 million.
  • The Irishman, a period epic about the Mafia, directed by Martin Scorsese -- 64 million accounts.
  • Triple Frontier, an action/heist movie starring Ben Affleck -- 63 million accounts.
  • Tiger King, a viral docuseries -- 64 million households. 
  • The Wrong Missy, a romantic-comedy movie starring David Spade and Lauren Lapkus -- 59 million accounts.
  • The Platform, a Spanish sci-fi horror movie -- 56 million accounts.
  • Season 2 of You, a psychological thriller series -- projection for 54 million accounts, based on first weeks' viewing since its Dec. 26 release.
  • American Murder: The Family Next Door, a true-crime documentary film -- 52 million accounts projected.
  • Seasons 1 and 2 of Cobra Kai, a reboot series of The Karate Kid -- 50 million accounts.
  • The Perfect Date, a teen romantic-comedy movie -- 48 million accounts.
  • Season 1 of Ratched, a psychological thriller series -- 48 million accounts.
  • Season 2 of Umbrella Academy, a superhero series -- 43 million accounts.
  • Klaus, an animated holiday film nominated for an Oscar -- 40 million accounts.
  • Season 5 of Lucifer, a fantasy police-procedural series -- 38 million accounts.
  • The Social Dilemma, a documentary about social-media companies -- 38 million accounts
  • Season 1 of Love Is Blind, a dating competition series -- 30 million. 
  • Season 3 of The Crown, a historical drama series -- 21 million accounts (and Netflix said 73 million accounts have watched The Crown since the series launched).

Prior to this year, Netflix counted views differently. Netflix wouldn't start counting something as "watched" until you got through 70% of the first episode of a series or of a film's total runtime. Netflix says the new two-minute threshold is more fair to all titles, regardless of their length. But it also means the new stats have inflated viewership numbers by about one-third compared with the old ones. 

These are previous viewerships stats under the old rules. They're figures Netflix released (or projected, where noted) for the first four weeks of release. 

  • Stranger Things season 3, a retro sci-fi series -- 64 million households. 
  • Umbrella Academy, a superhero series -- 45 million households.
  • Tall Girl, a teen rom-com movie -- 41 million households.
  • Sex Education, a British teen dramedy show -- more than 40 million households.
  • The Highwaymen, a period crime movie starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson -- more than 40 million households.
  • Secret Obsession, a movie mystery about a young wife with amnesia -- 40 million views.
  • Our Planet, a BBC-style nature docu-series -- 33 million households.
  • Always Be My Maybe, a comedy film with Ali Wong and Randall Park -- 32 million households.
  • Unbelievable, a true-crime miniseries about the victims of a serial rapist and the detectives hunting him down -- 32 million accounts.
  • Dead to Me, a dramedy series with Christina Applegate -- 30 million households.
  • Otherhood, a movie about a band of moms visiting their adult sons by surprise -- 29 million households. 
  • When They See Us, a buzzy limited series from creator Ava DuVernay about the Central Park Five case -- 25 million households. 
  • Bodyguard, a BBC-World Productions series that previously aired in the UK -- 23 million member households.
  • FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, a documentary film about the Fyre Fest debacle -- more than 20 million homes.
  • Élite, a Spanish-language high-school soap series -- more than 20 million member households. 
  • Baby, an Italian teen drama series -- more than 10 million homes.
  • The Protector, Netflix's first Turkish original series -- more than 10 million households.