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Quantifying the Closure of Netflix’s DVD Service

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In 2020 and 2021, my subscription took on a new role: helping to keep me from going stir crazy during the most cloistered months of pandemic lockdown. The DVD service was particularly handy when I decided to embark on a career-spanning marathon of all Martin Scorsese’s movies. Starting with “Who’s That Knocking at My Door,” I worked my way through the highs (“Goodfellas,” sure, but I ride for “The Age of Innocence”) and the lows (“Boxcar Bertha” — not without its charms).

As the DVD operation wound down and sent its final discs in September, I asked Netflix for some statistics to better understand how viewers used it over its 25-year run, and whether the numbers — distilled from 5.2 billion discs shipped since 1998 — could illuminate my own experience.


Most popular film disc in THE COUNTRY in 2022-23

Washington, D.C., was the exception, with ‘Tár.’


What I found sometimes tracked with my own viewing and sometimes didn’t. The most rented movie overall was “The Blind Side” (never saw it) and the most rented TV show “Dexter” (a video store rental for me in 2010). Other times, the data was just bizarre: During the final year of the service, the Tom Cruise box-office juggernaut “Top Gun: Maverick” was the No. 1 movie rental everywhere but in Washington, D.C., where the winner was, inexplicably, “Tár,” the high-minded classical music drama with Cate Blanchett. (I watched both. Seeing Cruise’s Maverick take a younger pilot under his wing in “Top Gun,” I flashed on a hotshot Cruise being mentored by Paul Newman in Scorsese’s “The Color of Money,” marathon movie No. 10.)

The “Tár” outlier speaks to one of the beautiful aspects of the Netflix DVD. You weren’t bombarded with what was popular or trending — or what Netflix wanted to be popular or trending. You followed your own curiosity.


Most Rented Actor

Followed by Matt Damon and Liam Neeson.


By default, my Scorsese marathon probably makes his longtime collaborator Robert De Niro the actor whose films I rented the most. (Don’t sleep on De Niro’s deliciously unhinged performance in “The King of Comedy.”) For all Netflix DVD users, though, De Niro rests at a healthy but comparatively modest fifth place.


Most RENTED Actress

44.2 million discs rented. Meryl Streep was second, with 42.4 million.


And how about my most rented actress? At first I thought Scorsese didn’t have enough recurring actresses to come up with a name (that’s on him!), but then I remembered that his very charming mother, Catherine, made brief appearances in many of his movies before her death in 1997. So she is probably my most rented actress.


Most Rented Director

His most popular film: ‘Gran Torino’ (2008).


In the director category, Eastwood was followed by Steven Spielberg. And here, Catherine Scorsese has something to brag about: her son Marty was the third most rented filmmaker. (Of Scorsese’s films, “The Departed” was the most rented. It was also the most popular movie featuring either Matt Damon or Mark Wahlberg.)


Disc Titles Available at Netflix’s Peak

U.S. Netflix Streaming Titles according to outside estimates


The figures here hint at a key aspect of Netflix’s DVD service: Unlike those of its streaming counterparts (present-day Netflix, as well as Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+ and the like), the Netflix library wasn’t limited to the movies and TV shows it had the rights to. (Netflix declined to specify how many productions it was currently streaming beyond saying that the figure was in the thousands.)

In this way, the DVD service acted more as an overstuffed old-school video store. You know the type: dingy lighting, out-of-print foreign films jammed behind a cardboard cutout of Catwoman.

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