For most of America’s businesses, the pandemic was a soul-crushing exercise in frustration, disappointment, anxiety, and–for many–failure. For Netflix, on the other hand, it was all one, big, yearlong streaming party. For Netflix, 2020 meant billions in revenue, hundreds of billions in market cap, tens of millions of new subscribers, and lots and lots of very happy shareholders–and, of course, happy viewers.
Netflix gives its subscribers a reason to smile by continuing to release great movies and series to binge until sunup. Great movies and series, however, star great actors working off of screenplays written by great writers while following the lead of great directors. None of that talent comes cheap. The following is a rundown of the most expensive series and shows in Netflix history.
- Estimated Budget: $150 million
Three things are certain: death, taxes and explosions in a Michael Bay film–and those don’t come cheap. That’s why this film, a story about a vigilante squad taking down the world’s bad guys, had no chance at a low budget. Plus, its leading man, Ryan Reynolds, probably doesn’t work for free.
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- Estimated Budget: $160 million
In 2019, legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese made a mafia movie starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, which, in and of itself, is far from shocking–in fact, that’s kind of what he does. The movie, however, ran the length of a commercial flight to the Canary Islands and debuted groundbreaking new age-defying CGI that made the actors appear much older and younger than they were without having them spend hours in a makeup chair. In the end, it was a love-it-or-hate-it epic that put some of the greatest actors in American history on the same screen at the same time.
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- Estimated Budget: $160 million
Gal Gadot is the world’s greatest art thief. Ryan Reynolds is the world’s greatest con-man. The Rock is a relentless Interpol agent with giant muscles who will stop at nothing to foil them both. Due out some time in 2021, “Red Notice” is billed as an action-comedy. That’s the intense but amicable Dwayne Johnson’s bread and butter. It’s yet to be seen how his co-stars–more famous for their roles as superheroes–will keep up with the big man. Part of the reason for the massive budget might be the litany of production woes the cast and crew endured–and ultimately overcame–while filming in 2020.
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‘The Gray Man’
- Estimated Budget: $200 million
When production was announced in July 2020, Netflix revealed that “The Gray Man” was the streaming service’s most expensive film to date. The Russo Brothers (“Avengers: Endgame”) are directing the espionage action-thriller, which stars Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling. Neither the directors nor Netflix have been shy in stating that the film is designed to spawn a franchise that will continue laying golden eggs long into the future. In late December 2020, Deadline reported that the film’s release was being delayed to the end of January because of pandemic-related production woes. As of Feb. 23, it’s still not available on Netflix.
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- Estimated Budget: $200 million
Though this show about the legendary explorer had a big budget, it couldn’t find its footing with an audience. It was the first of Netflix’s original series to be cut before a third season could be released, a rarity at the time. After two seasons, its 20 episodes cost $2 million.
- Estimated Budget: $216 million
An international show with a globally diverse cast and crew, “Sense8” was canceled after two seasons following its 2015 debut. It was adored by viewers and critics alike, but in the end, the small size of its intensely loyal fan base simply couldn’t match its passion–nor could it justify the show’s sky-high production costs. Sense8 followed a group of strangers around the world who were suddenly connected to each other’s thoughts–and hunted by ruthless forces who deemed their powers a threat. To soothe heartsick loyalists, Netflix concluded the series with a supersized finale. Its 24 episodes cost $9 million each.
- Estimated Budget: $300 million
If you know what it means when Eleven gets a nosebleed, you know that “Stranger Things” was worth every dollar of its massive production budget–and with 25 episodes spread out over three seasons for a grand total of $12 million per episode, quite a production budget it is. Part coming-of-age series, part nostalgic ’80s tribute, part sci-fi horror-mystery, “Stranger Things” remains one of the most beloved and highly rated shows in Netflix history. It’s almost universally agreed that the entire cast of kids is now way too old for the magic to keep working, but strangely enough, a season 4 is in the works.
‘Orange is the New Black’
- Estimated Budget: $364 million
You’d think that a TV show that primarily takes place in one setting (a prison) might be fairly cheap to produce, but you’d be wrong. The show, which ran for seven seasons, cost an estimated $4 million per episode to produce. And at 91 episodes, that total comes to more than $360 million.
‘House of Cards’
- Estimated Budget: $365 million
Before his career was obliterated during the #MeToo reckoning, Kevin Spacey played the lead role in the series that long defined Netflix and established the streaming service as a legit threat in the original content marketplace. Simply put, “House of Cards” put Netflix Studios on the map. Spacey and co-star Robin Wright played a ruthlessly ambitious political power couple who ascend to the Oval Office in the political intrigue drama-thriller, whose 73 episodes cost $5 million each over six years.
- Estimated Budget: $520 million
When “The Crown” first debuted, it was rumored to be Netflix’s most expensive show ever. The series creator said the first two seasons of the show about the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II cost approximately $100 million to make–and things only got pricier from there. Season 4 debuted on Nov. 15, 2020, and now the series is up to $155 million more than Netflix’s next priciest project–its 40 episodes cost $13 million each. The money was well spent, however, as the show remains a critical and commercial success.
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