Martin Scorsese’s Biggest Opening Weekend Ever Was on Netflix — but There’s a Catch

Martin Scorsese's acclaimed gangster epic debuted November 27 on Netflix, but not a majority of viewers are watching all 209 minutes.
The Irishman Netflix
"The Irishman"

The first viewership numbers for Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” have arrived courtesy of Nielsen. The gangster epic debuted on Netflix’s streaming platform November 27 and watched by 17.1 million unique Netflix viewers in the U.S. over its first week of availability. That number might not be at the level of the Sandra Bullock sensation “Bird Box” (26 million), but it’s an impressive start for an adult-driven, three-and-a-half-hour crime epic.

According to Nielsen’s report (via Variety): “‘The Irishman’ registered an average minute audience of 13.2 million in the U.S. over [its first week], less than ‘Bird Box’ (16.9 million) but higher than Netflix’s ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ (8.2 million)…On its Nov. 27 premiere date, ‘The Irishman’ brought in an average minute audience of nearly 2.6 million viewers and 3.9 million unique viewers in the U.S., per Nielsen. Across its first five days of availability, the film garnered an average minute audience of nearly 13.2 million viewers with a reach of over 17.1 million unique U.S. viewers.”

The Nielsen numbers point to “The Irishman” having a strong debut, and 17.1 million unique viewers in a week easily makes for the biggest debut of Scorsese’s career. The average movie ticket price in 2019 is $9.08, which means had 17.1 million viewers bought a ticket to see “The Irishman” the gross would already stand at approximately $155 million in a single week. That number outgrosses Scorsese’s biggest box office hit “The Departed,” which ended its domestic run with $132 million.

Of course the above comparison is simplistic to a fault, as the catch with Nielsen’s ratings is that they account for viewers who did not finish “The Irishman” to completion. In fact, Nielsen reports that only 751,000 U.S. viewers watched all three and a half hours of “The Irishman” on its Nov. 27 premiere date. That number went up to 930,000 U.S. viewers on November 29, the Friday after Thanksgiving. “The Irishman” runtime is daunting and most viewers appear not to be watching it in a single sitting or finishing it at all.

Netflix does not always release information regarding viewership, and when it does the numbers aren’t necessarily to be trusted. Nielsen’s numbers are widely viewed in the industry as more reliable, although as with everything related to Netflix streaming numbers there are caveats. “The Irishman” is now streaming.

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