The Secret’s Out: These 12 Older Stars Are Ruling Netflix
AARP cracks the code to reveal our first ranked list of the streamer’s grownup superstars
What makes a Netflix flick or TV show a hit? The secretive streamer just revealed one way to measure popularity: by the number of hours people watched a program in its first 28 days. (They used to announce how many people watched the first two minutes of each show, which was nuts.) AARP applied some of this new information to figure out which stars loom largest on Netflix, and guess what? Grownups rule! By combining Netflix’s recent revelations with our own insights, AARP presents our first list of the top grownup stars ruling Netflix.
No. 1: Sandra Bullock, 57
We always suspected it was Sandra Bullock — and now there’s hard evidence. The star boasts two films on Netflix’s top 10 English-language movies list: the 2018 sci-fi thriller Bird Box (number 2) and 2021’s punishment-and-crime drama The Unforgivable (number 7). In the latter, Bullock looks aptly grim as Ruth Slater, a parolee returning to the outside, where she’s been consigned to a special hell on earth as she struggles to overcome her past.
Watch it: Bird Box, The Unforgivable
No. 2: Meryl Streep, 72
Streep is part of Adam McKay’s all-star cast in Don’t Look Up (2021). The ensemble resembles the disaster-flick casts of yore, but with even more gold statuettes on their shelves. A-listers in this climate crisis satire include Streep as a venal prez, Cate Blanchett (52) as a ratings-hungry news program host and Mark Rylance (62) as a big-tech demigod. The movie cost a pretty penny and holds the streamer’s number 3 spot.
Watch it: Don't Look Up
No. 3: Robert De Niro, 78
Martin Scorsese’s first and greatest muse flexes his muscle as the titular hitman in 2019’s The Irishman, about the rise and “disappearance” of Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, 81). Of the many award-season prestige movies Netflix has greenlit in recent years, this one — and Don't Look Up — has a foothold in the top 10 list. One could argue that at 3 hours, 29 minutes, the movie had an easier shot at racking up streaming hours, but we’d be fools to deny mobster Frank Sheeran and this stellar performer his due.
Watch it: The Irishman
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No. 4: Regina King, 51
It’s good to be King. In her 2020 directorial debut, One Night in Miami, she aimed the camera at four historical figures and was duly lauded. As Trudy Smith, she aims six-shooters in writer-director-composer Jeymes Samuel’s slick shoot-’em-up Western, The Harder They Fall (2021), which is still getting love on the site after being on the weekly top 10 for three weeks.
Watch it: The Harder They Fall
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No. 5: Laura Linney, 57, and Jason Bateman, 53
Here come Marty and Wendy Byrde. The daughter of a playwright, Linney knows how to channel the dark ambitions of Lady Macbeth for the bingeable contemporary tale of greed known as Ozark. No stranger to comedic beats, Bateman does some channeling of his own, bringing dark humor and pitch-perfect timing to his performance as an accountant/money launderer who seems just one step ahead in a catastrophic hustle. Ozark begins its final season Jan. 21, with these two Byrdes a stone’s throw away from disaster.
Watch it: Ozark
No. 6: Ricky Gervais, 60
Gervais is the showrunner and star of the series After Life, where he plays Tony, an unfiltered bloke whose wife died of breast cancer, leaving him even more bitter and miserable. Gervais makes him watchable and, dare we say, lovable. OK, if not lovable, terrifically human.
Watch it: After Life
No. 7: Betty White, forever 99
Tributes poured in from everywhere and everyone when the TV legend died weeks before the century mark. While the upcoming documentary titled Betty White: 100 Years Young has been shelved for now, an earlier film, Betty White: First Lady of Television (2018), made her a Netflix star (and has now moved to PBS).
Watch it: Betty White: First Lady of Television
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No. 8: Dwayne Johnson, 49
OK, the Rock has a few months to go before hitting the 50 milestone (we’ll get you your AARP card on May 2, Dwayne!). Meanwhile three of his movies were in the Netflix top 10 at the start of the month: Red Notice, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Cue Ashford & Simpson, please, ’cause he’s solid, solid as the Rock.
Watch it: Red Notice, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
No. 9: O Yeong-su, 77
A successful stage actor for decades in South Korea, O has found universal — er, global — acclaim playing the oldest contestant in Netflix’s blockbuster series Squid Game, which tops the list for hours streamed. Thus far: 1.6 billion and counting.
Watch it: Squid Game
No. 10: Tyler Perry, 52
You could add the mogul-actor to the roster of Don’t Look Up, in which he plays cohost to Blanchett’s TV monster, but he has his own high profile on the streamer. According to tracking site FlixPatrol, Perry’s 2019 movie, A Madea Family Funeral, climbed the Netflix charts abroad when it began streaming in the fall. The rise might have been because the Atlanta-based multi-hyphenate announced last summer that he’d be pulling his go-to grandma out of her hasty retirement for the 2022 Netflix original A Madea Homecoming.
Watch it: A Madea Family Funeral
No. 11: Dave Bautista, 53
Before Netflix changed its tracking formula, the 2021 zombie-heist flick Army of the Dead was among the most-watched movies on the streamer, with 72 million households in its first four weeks. Army has fallen just barely in the new calculations, but what hasn’t loosened is this former WWE star’s tug on action and fantasy audiences.
Watch it: Army of the Dead
No. 12: Mark Wahlberg, 50
To paraphrase the titular former detective/fresh parolee in Spenser Confidential, “Picture this: dirty cops, drug cartels, some big politicians … and the actor formerly known as Marky Mark old enough to be on this list.” Wahlberg reteams with his go-to director Peter Berg, 57 (Mile 22, Patriots Day, Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor), for this action pic. Rolling Stone critic David Fear wrote, “You might not pay to watch this in a theater, but you’d watch it on your couch in a second.” Or if you’re in the mood to convert the Netflix number 9’s streaming hours: 710,352,000,000 seconds.
Watch it: Spenser Confidential
Lisa Kennedy, a regular AARP film critic, is a former Village Voice editor (1986-96) and Denver Post film critic (2003-15) who writes on popular culture, race and gender for Variety, The New York Times, Essence, American Theatre, the Denver Post, and others.