Streaming services have invested some serious dough in recent years to attract new viewers with high-caliber shows. Amazon, for example, has reportedly set aside a budget of more than $1 billion (yes, with a “B”) for five seasons of its upcoming Lord of the Rings series, or $200 million per season. Sometimes, these services are willing to pay top dollar to retain the streaming rights to popular legacy series: Netflix reportedly paid $100 million to keep ‘90s sitcom Friends through 2019.
Moves like this could be part of the reason that Netflix recently hiked its subscription pricing once again, but Netflix has also been dropping massive coin for its own roster of original series and films in the past few years. As such, we’ve put together this list of the most expensive Netflix original series to date. Note that these figures are based on how much Netflix purportedly spent per season for these series, not necessarily per episode. Enjoy!
Chris Rock Stand-Up Specials
Netflix has made an incredible investment in comedy as of late, and the service paid through the nose for access to two stand-up comedy specials from Chris Rock, to the tune of $40 million. At about an hour each (Tamborine, which was released last year, has a runtime of 1 hour, 4 minutes), that’s the equivalent of $20 million per “episode.” The deal marked Rock’s return to stand-up after an eight-year hiatus, during which he focused on movies and other projects. Netflix is clearly on a mission to up its game in the stand-up comedy space, and is willing to spend as much as it does on a full season of a series to attract top comedic talent.
Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist
This is a tough one to quantify since it isn’t a single series, but rather a deal with Marvel. Netflix had a reported budget of $200 million to produce these series, which would equate, if evenly distributed, to about $40 million for each one. Yet Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Daredevil were all canceled last year. The second and third seasons of The Punisher and Jessica Jones, respectively, are filming and both will stream this year. From a sheer economic point of view, the cancellations were puzzling given that Daredevil was reportedly one of the streaming service’s most popular shows, but the fact that Marvel’s parent company is about to launch its own competing streaming service, Disney+, likely played heavily into the decision.
At $45-$50 million for the 13-episode first season, or about $4 million per episode, this horror series about strange happenings in a fictional Pennsylvania town was not very well received, though it reportedly got more viewers than House of Cards for its opening weekend. It did manage to last three, albeit very expensive, seasons.
Orange is the New Black
This might be the investment that has paid off the most for Netflix, as the series about a rough group of ladies in a women’s prison has been one of the most successful for the streaming service, winning multiple awards and being well-received by viewers and critics alike. It has run for 6 seasons, and the upcoming seventh will be its last. But through its run, the drama/comedy has cost $50 million per season, or about $4 million per episode — mere peanuts compared to the massive budgets for series like The Crown.
Dave Chappelle Stand-Up Specials
Like the Chris Rock specials, this isn’t a series, per se, but Netflix reportedly paid a whopping $60 million for rights to three exclusive stand-up comedy specials from the Chappelle, which marked his return to Hollywood after a 12-year absence. That would equate to $20 million per “episode,” though Netflix presumably felt it was worth it for the publicity and subscribers he would bring in.
House of Cards
This political drama was one of Netflix’s most popular series, recently debuting its final season (minus original star Kevin Spacey). In its heyday, the series six-season show cost $60 million per season or about $4.5 million per episode. Add to that the cost of the episodes that were scrapped after reportedly being written and, in some cases, filmed for season 6 — due to Spacey’s controversial departure — and the series total cost may have been even higher.
It only lasted two seasons, but this pricey 13th-century drama had a reported $90 million budget for its first 10 episodes. Another period piece that required expensive sets and costumes, this one didn’t resonate as well with viewers and reportedly left Netflix with a more than $200 million “loss” however that’s quantified.
Despite fan outcry about the cancellation, this series from the Wachowskis was simply too expensive to produce, costing about $108 million per season or $9 million per episode. The show, which centered around a group of eight characters from around the world who are mentally and emotionally linked to one another, was often shot on location, including a total of 16 cities and 13 countries over the two seasons. After a fan petition, Netflix did end up airing a two-hour series finale special to bring some closure, along with a two-hour Christmas special.
The Get Down
This series only lasted one season, which was divided into two parts and reduced in numbers from what was originally intended. A large part of it being short-lived is likely due to the exorbitant cost, running a reported $120 million that was well over its initial budget. Production issues even led to some writers jokingly calling it “The Shut Down.” Set in the 1970s and cenetered around a group of teens in the Bronx, it required tons of costumes and hip-hop musical numbers. In the end, the ballooning budget, production delays, and shifting direction meant the show could not go on.
The elaborate costumes (including a $35,000 replica of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress), top-billed actors, and a life-size replica of Buckingham Palace were presumably worth the money, as this show has been widely lauded for its accurate representation of the life of the Royal Family and a young Queen Elizabeth. That said, the critical acclaim came at a serious price, ammounting to a reported $130 million per season, or about $13 million per episode. That means The Crown is not only the most expensive show for Netflix to date, but it’s also among the most expensive series ever made.