3 Body Problem is a galactic misfire for Netflix, but its season 2 chances are far from over

Thomas Wade and Jin Cheng look shocked as Sophon watches on in Netflix's 3 Body Problem TV show
3 Body Problem failed to capture the imagination of Netflix's global userbase. (Image credit: Ed Miller/Netflix)

The viewing figures are in for 3 Body Problem – and, well, the future doesn't look good for Netflix's latest big-budget TV epic.

Revealing the latest viewership data on its in-house Top 10 website, Netflix confirmed that the mind-melting – and costly – sci-fi series failed to attract audiences in its first five days on the platform. 3 Body Problem only debuted at number 2 on the streaming giant's weekly TV chart, amassing a less-than-impressive total of 81.7 million hours streamed. That represents a paltry 11 million total views; a figure calculated by dividing the number of hours streamed by season 1's total runtime of seven hours and 24 minutes.

For comparison's sake, Netflix's live-action adaptations of two of the best anime ever made – One Piece and Avatar: The Last Airbender – were smash hits, despite their equally expensive outlays. The latter racked up 21.2 million total views (153.4 million hours viewed) in its first five days post-launch, while the former amassed 18.5 million views (140.1 million hours streamed) three days after its Netflix debut.

See more

The bad news doesn't stop there for 3 Body Problem, which was developed for Netflix by Game of Thrones' TV creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff alongside True Blood showrunner Alex Woo. Indeed, the TV adaptation of Liu Cixin's best-selling book series finished runner-up to Guy Ritchie's The Gentlemen, which earned 700,000 more views than 3 Body Problem. That's in spite of The Gentlemen being available on the world's best streaming service for the past three weeks. 

Now, The Gentlemen isn't a terrible show – it's pretty good, in fact – but, considering that Netflix expected 3 Body Problem to perform much better than it did, being beaten by a three-week-old series is not a good look for its latest TV spectacle.

I'm not overly surprised that 3 Body Problem failed to capture viewers' attention. In my review of 3 Body Problem, I labeled it "a cleverly constructed and sweeping epic... [that] has the makings of an HBO-style prestige drama", but said its "reductive plot threads and storytelling deviations will irritate fans... [and] its more cerebral elements and plot pacing might baffle others". It seems that audiences had similar issues, judging by the reactions I've seen online.

We might invite you to play again

Saul and Auggie look shocked as they stare at the night sky in 3 Body Problem on Netflix

Will we get a second season of 3 Body Problem? (Image credit: Ed Miller/Netflix)

In light of 3 Body Problem's subpar performance, we don't have a more concrete answer to our most pressing question: will Netflix renew the series for a second season?

Netflix is notoriously difficult to read when it comes to potential show renewals, with the streaming titan taking a number of factors into consideration before it decides whether to continue with or cancel a show. That hasn't stopped 3 Body Problem's creators from working on season 2, but I suspect they might want to put a temporary pause on their pre-production plans ahead of the series' underwhelming debut display.

So, what are the chances of Netflix greenlighting 3 Body Problem season 2? I'm going to divide opinion here by ironically sitting on the fence and saying there's a 50:50 chance it'll be renewed. There are two big reasons – one for each side of the argument – for my reluctance to commit.

See more

On the 'case for renewal' side, 3 Body Problem has actually performed better than other Netflix TV Originals that'll return for second seasons. Per What's On Netflix, it outpaced The Diplomat, My Life With The Walter Boys, Unstable, Survival of the Thickest, and That 90s Show in the viewership stakes. All of those series are coming back for more installments, so why wouldn't 3 Body Problem do likewise?

There's a simple answer to that question, though: cost. According to The Wall Street Journal, 3 Body Problem reportedly cost $20 million per episode. Cumulatively, that means Netflix splurged at least $160 million on season 1, an outlay that makes it one of the streamer's most expensive TV Originals yet. While we don't have financial figures to compare its development costs to the aforementioned quintet, it's highly unlikely that any of them were as expensive as 3 Body Problem was.

There's still time for 3 Body Problem to prove that it's worth a second season. Some Netflix shows live or die by word of mouth – just look at Stranger Things and Squid Game, whose popularity grew as more people talked about how good they were, as evidence of that. It's possible, then, that 3 Body Problem could follow a similar trajectory, and perform better in the weeks ahead.

If it struggles to make an impact in the days to come, though, Netflix has a big decision to make. Does it throw more money at its newest TV extravaganza by greenlighting season 2, despite its poor showing? Or does it pull the plug early, and ask Benioff and Weiss – who signed a first-look deal with Netflix, don't forget – to come up with another idea for a potentially successful series? Forget the impending alien invasion that humanity has to prepare for in the show – it's the next seven days (at the time of writing) that'll be pivotal to 3 Body Problem's survival.

You might also like

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.

Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.