The Real ‘Knives Out’ Mystery

‘Glass Onion’ director Rian Johnson with stars Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson and producer Ram Bergman.
‘Glass Onion’ director Rian Johnson with stars Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson, and producer Ram Bergman. Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images for Netflix
Julia Alexander
January 3, 2023

Netflix’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is officially a Top 10 title, with 209.4 million hours streamed since its Dec. 23 debut, beating out The Kissing Booth 2. As it stands, it needs an additional 10 million or so completed views (24 million hours) to beat The Adam Project and become a Top 5 title of all time. So while its somewhat muted debut of 82.1 million hours paled in comparison to other major titles—including Don’t Look Up, Red Notice, and The Gray Man—its second week proves why it’s often unfair to judge a Netflix film based on its opening weekend, like we do with traditional box office movies. 

Naturally the big question some may still have is whether the one-week theatrical release hindered the Glass Onion performance on Netflix. It grossed about $13.3 million in its limited, 650-screen domestic run—about 1.3 million seats, using the national average of $10 a ticket. Taking into account that you can’t do apples-to-apples math here—there are about 3.5 viewers per Netflix “household stream,” co-C.E.O. Ted Sarandos has said—the answer is that theaters probably didn’t hurt streaming. 

Glass Onion’s debut of 82.1 million hours represents the third strongest Friday film debut for Netflix in 2022. Domestic demand for the film’s premiere on Netflix was also higher than its demand at the time of its theatrical release, according to Parrot Analytics, where I work. With a 93 percent audience score, it’s also one of the highest-rated films on Rotten Tomatoes. Google Trends data suggests it’s on par with other major Netflix franchise entries, including The Witcher: Blood Origins

The domestic theatrical release didn’t make a real dent largely because Netflix is such an international business, and Knives Out has international appeal. Two thirds of Netflix’s subscriber base is international, including 33 percent in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; 18 percent in Latin America; and 16 percent in the Asia-Pacific region. Glass Onion was the top title in the U.S. this week, but it was also the top title in 84 other countries, including nearly every single territory in Europe and Asia. Demand for Glass Onion was also slightly higher worldwide than in the U.S., according to Parrot.

If the debut week numbers came in weaker than desired, there are some likely extenuating circumstances. The original Knives Out isn’t available on Netflix in the vast majority of countries, including the U.S. Viewers also traditionally like a tune-up on the source material before watching a sequel. (There’s a reason the original Game of Thrones spiked on HBO Max ahead of, and alongside, the debut of House of the Dragon. Both series topped Nielsen’s weekly streaming chart.) A number of breakout queries on Google Search over the past week have been variations of “Where to watch Knives Out?” or “How to watch Knives Out?” according to Google. The answer was a more traditional offering: renting the movie from Amazon, Apple, or Google for $4. 

Plus, many of Netflix’s most-viewed films have experienced strong growth before eventually tapering off between the third and fourth weeks. Purple Hearts, for example, jumped from just over 48 million hours viewed in its debut to more than 102 million hours viewed by week two. Don’t Look Up jumped from 111 million hours viewed to more than 152 million hours viewed. With limited competition in theaters (it’s really just Avatar), and not many hot films on Netflix and SVOD rivals, Glass Onion has a clear runway to grow further. 

The larger question is whether Glass Onion’s performance will justify the high cost. The reported $13 million box office revenue is less than the estimated $50 million to $60 million that analysts have suggested the film could have made if it was in theaters longer. Heavily saturated markets like the U.S. are unlikely to see massive bumps in subscribers (either new or returning), and top searches for the film are in well-developed Netflix markets, including Ireland, the U.K., and Australia, according to Google. 

What Glass Onion does have going for it, and what may matter just as much to Netflix executives, is quality on top of an engaged audience—something that Netflix films have lacked. Netflix hasn’t found its big film franchise as it has in TV with Stranger Things or La Casa de Papel, but film chief Scott Stuber told Bloomberg that Netflix wants to be in the business of quality originals, “like Elvis… or A24.” Knives Out certainly fits that bill. Now the math just needs to line up with those ambitions.