Netflix's $200 million gamble pays off... but it isn’t its biggest movie of the year

Chris Evans' Lloyd Hansen looks stoic as he holds a handgun in Netflix movie The Gray Man
(Image credit: Netflix)

The Gray Man, Netflix's hugely expensive new action-thriller, has scored a huge opening weekend on the streaming service. 

The movie, which has cost a reported $200 million to make, is based on Mark Greaney's book series of the same name. It follows Ryan Gosling's CIA agent Court Gentry – aka Sierra Six, a highly-skilled, agency-sanctioned operative, who suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of, and on the run from, the CIA. 

Gentry must try to stay one step ahead of Chris Evans' former CIA cohort Lloyd Hansen, who hunts Sierra Six in a globe-trotting adventure that's sure to test the allegiances of everyone involved. 

Starring alongside Gosling and Evans are No Time To Die's Ana de Armas, Bridgerton's Regé-Jean Page, 12 Years A Slave's Alfre Woodard, and The Matrix Resurrections' Jessica Henwick. 

The Russo Brothers, the men who took charge of Marvel Cinematic Universe megahits Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War, helmed the project.

Despite mixed reviews, the Netflix movie – which we called a "suitably entertaining and tension-filled spy movie that feels like a summer blockbuster of yesteryear" – has been backed by a huge publicity tour. That included TechRadar's own chat with The Russo Brothers and a large marketing campaign, all with the aim of putting as many viewers on couches for the movie's opening weekend. 

Netflix publishes a weekly list, detailing its most popular movies over a seven-day period, since November 2021, allowing everyone to see just how their favorite shows and movies have performed on the service. 

Ranking titles based on weekly hours viewed – i.e. the total number of hours subscribers around the world watched each title between Monday and Sunday of the previous week – Netflix regularly shares four separate lists: two for movies (English and Non-English) and two for TV shows (English and Non-English).

The Gray Man, which debuted on the streamer on Friday, July 22, racked up 88.55 million viewing hours; a huge opening weekend for any Netflix original. 

Those numbers put it above the opening numbers for Adam Sandler's Hustle, hit buddy comedy The Man From Toronto, and ropey but wildly popular erotic-thriller 365 Days: This Day, which all shot to number one within days of release. It is not, however, the biggest opening weekend for any Netflix movie in 2022.

What bested The Gray Man?

The Adam Project

Ryan Reynolds teams up with his younger self in The Adam Project.  (Image credit: Netflix)

Ryan Reynolds. Specifically, family sci-fi adventure The Adam Project, which scored 92.43 million viewing hours in its first weekend on Netflix back in March. 

Remarkably, The Adam Project stayed at top for three further weeks, even doing a further 85.6 million viewing hours in its second week on the platform. Given what it has spent on The Gray Man, Netflix executives will be hoping the action spectacular has the same kind of staying power. 

That said, Netflix must be pretty happy with The Gray Man and its creative team. Yesterday (July 26), it was announced that the movie is getting both a follow-up and a spin-off movie. Ryan Gosling is confirmed to return, as are the Russo brothers, but The Gray Man 2 currently doesn't have an official title or release date. However, it's likely to follow the plot of the second novel in Mark Greaney's thriller series, which is called On Target. 

Meanwhile, the spin-off, which will be penned by Deadpool writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, is set to "explore a different element of The Gray Man universe".

Analysis: Will Netflix be happy with these numbers?

Given they've just ordered a sequel and a spin-off, we'd have to conclude that yes, they are. It's worth saying, however, that these numbers are a long way back from the kinds of numbers that Netflix tentpoles were posting in 2021. 

The Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Gal Gadot-powered Red Notice managed to hook in 148.7 million viewers when it debuted in November 2021, while starry drama Don't Look Up enjoyed a second week on the platform with over 152 million viewers. 

Those notable successes were in the depths of winter – not the height of summer – Covid-19 cases were still spiking. Expectations have shifted since then, so The Gray Man's haul of 88 million viewers in three days is still an awful lot. It's unclear, though, if it'll have the staying powers that its predecessors did.

Tom Goodwyn
Freelance Entertainment Writer

Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…