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When Netflix first launched its streaming plan in 2007, it was little more than a novelty.
The company was still firmly in the shipping-DVDs-to-subscribers business, touting its new “streaming” option as a cutting-edge perk to a Netflix membership.
It would be another six years until Netflix produced its first original series, House of Cards. The show would go on to receive 56 Emmy nominations over six seasons, but it changed the landscape even more dramatically than that number illustrates.
In 2020, Netflix is still shipping DVDs and licensing content, but original shows and movies are clearly the future of streaming. Netflix is expected to spend $17 billion on content this year, with 85% going to originals.
As companies like Disney, NBC, and WarnerMedia pull streaming comfort food like Friends and The Office for their own streaming services, Netflix will be forced to rely on its own original content to keep subscribers.
So that left us wondering: Which streaming service actually has the best original content?
How we evaluated original shows and movies on each streaming service
From there, we evaluated each streaming service on three criteria, giving equal weight to each one.
First, we looked at how general audiences received each streaming service’s original shows and movies. To do this, we used both IMDb’s user ratings and Rotten Tomatoes’ audience score, which shows the percentage of all users who rated a title 3.5 or higher out of five. We collected both ratings for every piece of original content, with one caveat: We set a baseline requirement of 100 ratings to be included in our scores.
To gauge how critics viewed each service’s original content, we utilized Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer® score. The metric scores TV seasons and movies once at least five professional critics have weighed in. If an original title had enough critic reviews for a score, we included it.
Finally, we considered how many Emmy, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and wins each service has garnered since 2013, the first year a streaming service was nominated for a major award. (Netflix received four Emmy nominations for House of Cards that year and one for Arrested Development.)
However, we didn’t include every award in our count. Each event gets incredibly specific with their awards, and we didn’t want to give the same weight to “Outstanding Production Design For A Narrative Period Or Fantasy Program (One Hour Or More)” as “Outstanding Drama Series.”
Here is the full list of awards that we included in our count.
Why we didn’t factor volume into our score
Anyone who’s ever scrolled through Netflix for an hour without picking something to watch knows that more isn’t necessarily better. But it does matter to some degree.
For example, Netflix has nearly 1,200 original titles in its library, while Hulu has fewer than 80. The more original shows and movies a service has, the more likely it is you’ll find something you want to watch.
That said, our goal was to determine how good each service’s original content is, not how much it has. Netflix clearly has a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach, and we didn’t want to reward it for sheer volume alone.
What about shows that moved over to streaming services?
For shows like Arrested Development or Veronica Mars that started their initial run on cable or network TV and moved over to a streaming service later, we only used critic and user ratings from the seasons in which they were produced by the streaming service.
Here’s how each streaming service’s original shows and movies compare
|Number of titles||Average IMDb rating||Average Rotten Tomatoes critic score|
|CBS All Access||14||7.0||73%|
Data accurate as of 04/23/20
HBO Max came out on top in our analysis by a significant margin, especially when it came to the response from critics. While it has about half as many original titles in its library as Netflix, they are of a markedly higher quality.
It wasn’t entirely unexpected — HBO finds a way to dominate the TV conversation every year with shows like Game of Thrones and Big Little Lies — but its lead on the other streaming services was still stark.
HBO Max: Best original shows and movies
HBO Max has the second-highest audience ratings from IMDb, it’s the best-reviewed from critics and it’s also won the most awards, by far. It excelled in every metric we used.
HBO Max’s 521 original TV shows and movies earned an average rating of 7.3 from IMDb’s users (behind only STARZ), and it was 2% higher than second-place Disney+ on its average Tomatometer® scores.
That success has translated to the major awards, too. Since 2013, HBO has gotten more Emmy nominations and wins than any streaming service, and it’s not particularly close.
|HBO NOW||Hulu||Netflix||Prime Video|
|Emmy Nominees (2013-2019)||271||26||147||39|
|Emmy Wins (2013-2019)||55||6||21||16|
While Netflix, Hulu and Prime Video have one or two awards hits each year, HBO dominates the Emmys consistently with shows like Barry, Veep, Last Week Tonight and Game of Thrones. If you want to keep up with the most praised shows on TV, HBO Max is your best bet by far.
Netflix: Most Oscars
Netflix ranked in the middle of the pack in all of our categories, but it does stand out in one particular area: highly lauded original films.
Much of that is volume — Netflix actually had a lower average score than HBO Max, Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+ from audiences and critics alike on its original movies — but it’s the only streaming service to show up in a significant way at the Oscars. In 2020, for example, Netflix received 24 nominations in the major categories, and even took home two statues.
|Netflix||HBO NOW||Hulu||Prime Video|
|Oscar Nominees (2014-2020)||53||7||0||11|
|Oscar Wins (2014-2019)||8||3||0||3|
This looks to be Netflix’s game plan going forward. It’s the only streaming service investing significant money in original movies — 257 of HBO Max’s 343 movies are documentaries — and the only one attracting major names like Martin Scorsese, Will Smith and Sandra Bullock to its movies.
If anything, these metrics might underrate the quality of Netflix’s film library — because they don’t typically show them in theaters, most of Netflix’s original movies don’t qualify for Oscars.
Disney+: Best newcomer
Of the three streaming services that have launched over the past year, Disney+ has clearly gotten off to the strongest start. Its 20 original shows have an average Rotten Tomatoes critic score of 87% — higher even than HBO Max’s 83%.
|Number of TV shows||20||18||33|
|Rotten Tomatoes: TV||87%||75%||71%|
|Number of movies||11||5||0|
|Rotten Tomatoes: Movies||78%||88%||N/A|
Everyone knows about the hit Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian, but Disney+ has also gotten a positive response from shows like The Imagineering Story and films like Togo. Of course, these services have produced only a fraction of the original content that services like Netflix and Prime Video have, but the early returns look promising for Disney+.
The bottom line
Each streaming service’s original content has its own strengths and weaknesses, but HBO Max is the clear winner when it comes to both shows and movies. It ranks highest in Emmys collected, critical response and a close second in audience scores. While Netflix has closed the gap in recent years, it still doesn’t produce as many reliable hits as HBO.
The only service that graded out relatively poorly in our analysis was Hulu, and that’s not altogether surprising. Aside from The Handmaid’s Tale, it hasn’t made a major investment in original content. Instead, they’ve focused on licensed shows from network TV.
Originally published on 9/19/2019. Last updated on 4/24/2020.