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The Stories That Helped Us Escape At Home

 The Stories That Helped Us Escape At Home

It’s been a tough year, to say the least. And What We Watched 2020 - this year’s US viewing trends on Netflix - reflects those high and lows. Documentaries, reality TV, romance and stories from outside the US saw some of the biggest gains as people sought love, escape and connection through the pandemic. 

We traveled to different countries from our homes: Viewing of foreign language titles was up over 50% this year (compared to 2019)1. The Platform (Spain), Barbarians (Germany) and Rogue City (France) were the most popular - showing that nothing, not even a stay at home order, can shut down our curiosity about other cultures or countries. K-drama (viewing almost tripled) and anime (up over 100% in the US) were also significant winners. Kingdom S2 and The King: Eternal Monarch were our favorite K-dramas. And Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back - Evolution and Blood Of Zeus  were the anime titles that most piqued our interest.

And this wasn’t just a US phenomenon: Money Heist: Part 4 (Spain) hit the Top 10 in 92 countries, Barbarians  (Germany) in 91, #Alive (Korea) in 90, Ragnarok (Norway) in 89 and Lost Bullet (France) in 89 countries. And while not strictly speaking “French”, Emily in Paris, was one of our most popular comedies of the year - even creating a 340+% increase in searches for Kangol bucket hats.

We escaped the shutdown through the reality of other people’s lives: We spent twice as much time watching documentaries and reality TV this year than last year. Our top docu-series were Tiger King and Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez and our most successful documentary features were American Murder: The Family Next Door and The Social Dilemma. On the reality TV side, Floor is Lava, Love is Blind and Too Hot To Handle  were our most popular releases of the year. 

We loved to love in a year of extraordinary hardship and sadness: We also watched twice as much romance this year as in 2019 - with The Kissing Booth 2, Princess Switch: Switched Again and To All The Boys P.S I Still Love You getting the most love and attention. With IRL dating almost impossible, we turned to Love Is Blind, to help fill the void. We loved the show so much that it stayed in the US Top 10 for 47 days straight after its release in February - the second-longest run of any title behind Cocomelon at 64 days. But unlike pre-schoolers, adults don’t tend to watch the same shows over and over again! The Half Of It and Indian Matchmaking both deserve special shout outs - the first for reminding us how hard it can be to tell someone you love them, and the second as a reminder that dating can be truly awkward.

We laughed to escape - and when that didn’t work, we cried: We saw a huge jump in viewing of stand-up between March and April (compared to February). And October was our biggest month for comedy viewing generally. Perhaps, we all needed a distraction from something … political … happening in November? Hubie Halloween, The Wrong Missy, Space Force, Holidate and Kevin Hart, Zero F**ks Given were the most popular comedies of the year - while Never Have I Ever and Sam Jay: 3 In The Morning drove the most laughs on Twitter.

In early April searches on Netflix for “sad movies” spiked nearly 30% from the previous month. All The Bright Places drew the most tearful reactions on Twitter, and thankfully Miracle in Cell No. 7 was also there to help us tackle our surplus of kleenex. 

We found that necessity is the mother of invention. In March, searches on Netflix for ‘home baking shows’ went up almost 50% over the previous month - and we saw people searching for DIY and home shows. The most popular food and home shows were Get Organized with The Home Edit, Nailed It!, Million Dollar Beach House, The American Barbecue Showdown and Crazy Delicious.

Whether stuck at home on our own or with loved ones, we were reminded of the importance of family. We saw huge audiences for fictional stories about families in all their complexity - with The Crown Season 4, The Queen’s Gambit, Enola Holmes, Ratched, Ozark Season 3,The Umbrella Academy Season 2 and Hillbilly Elegy among the most popular. And when it came to feel-good entertainment for kids and families, The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two, The Willoughbys, The Angry Birds Movie 2, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey and Over the Moon topped the charts.

We distracted ourselves with action and adventure - when both were pretty hard to come by in real life. Action was huge this year, with Extraction, Spenser Confidential, The Old Guard, Project Power and Cobra Kai showing muscle as the most popular action titles of the year. Da 5 Bloods gets a special commendation - an action adventure about African American soldiers during the Vietnam War, a story that had never been told before despite all the Vietnam movies that have been made. 

Most important of all, 2020 taught us to open our eyes. We saw this in the way we embraced My Octopus Teacher (about the importance of nature), Crip Camp (about the disability revolution in the 1970s) and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (about social justice). But it was most obvious in how we responded to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. In the three weeks that followed his death, viewing of titles that helped us better understand the Black experience in the US soared - 13TH was up 5000+%, LA 92 up 1300+%, Dear White People up 700+%, Time: The Kalief Browder Story up 500% and American Son up 270%. And Dave Chappelle’s 8:46 video, which was shared with the world by Netflix is a Joke, became THE top trending video of the year on YouTube. 

Thank you for watching in 2020 and here’s to a more hopeful, healthier 2021. 

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  • All % difference stats are based on total view hours difference between Jan - Nov 2019 versus Jan - Nov 2020 for US Netflix members.
  • All ‘most popular’ title stats are based on titles that premiered on Netflix between Jan 1 and Nov 30 2020.
  • Sentiment on Twitter was calculated by looking at English language tweets from Jan - Nov 2020, which mentioned {title] + {relevant emotion}. E.g. ‘Most tearful’ is calculated by Tweets that (1) mention the title AND (2) contains emotional expressions related to the act of crying in response to strong emotions.