Netflix has a new No. 1 movie — but critics and viewers are split

Woman with popcorn bowl holding remote to watch Netflix on television
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Netflix took a big gamble on The Gray Man, its latest blockbuster original movie, but the risky decision to invest $200m into the action thriller appears to have paid off. 

The big-budget movie was released last Friday (July 22) and stormed straight to the top of the Netflix most-watched list. The Gray Man has ranked No. 1 for the last couple of days and its position at the summit of the list is unlikely to be challenged for a while yet. Its success has led Netflix to order The Gray Man 2 and a separate spinoff. 

However, it’s not all been smooth sailing for The Gray Man with the film dividing critics and viewers.  

What is The Gray Man about?  

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame fame, The Gray Man is based on a 2009 novel of the same name written by Mark Greaney. 

The action thriller sees Ryan Gosling play the CIA’s most skilled operative whose true identity is top secret, instead he is known only by his codename Sierra Six. When a seemingly routine mission in Bangkok goes wrong, Six learns incriminating secrets about the agency he works for and swiftly finds himself on the run. 

With Sierra Six now questioning his loyalties a former colleague, Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page), places a bounty on his head and hires a sociopathic assassin, Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), to capture Six and ensure the dark secrets he has unearthed stay buried.

What follows is a global manhunt as Six tries to evade capture and the ruthless Hansen attempts to track him down at any cost. Ana de Armas also stars as a CIA agent who is sympathetic towards Six and agrees to assist him.   

What do critics say about The Gray Man? 

The Gray Man appears to be drawing the attention of plenty of Netflix subscribers but it would seem that critics aren’t quite as convinced. The movie has scored a very mediocre 49% on Rotten Tomatoes, although its audience score is significantly higher standing at a very impressive 90% suggesting a disconnect between viewers and critics. 

Prior to its release Netflix had talked up the franchise potential of The Gray Man, but David Sims of The Atlantic argues this obsession with sequels actually hurts the film. “The film exists to set up sequels, to spend money on fancy location shoots, and to look glamorous and exciting; every harder edge has been sanded down to nothing,” said Sims. 

Ryan Gosling is on a train in The Gray Man

(Image credit: Netflix)

Brain Tallerico of declared “everything here feels so programmatically dull. It’s a silly piece of popcorn entertainment that too often forgets that this kind of venture needs to be fun.” Digital Trends’ A.A. Dowd was similarity cutting, calling the movie “charmless” and labeling it “a veritable tag cloud of keywords adapted into a lump of generic subscriber bait.”

Although not every critic offered a negative take on The Gray Man. Time Out’s Olly Richard called it a “Fast & Furious movie, only with better dialogue and stronger actors delivering it” which is a comparison that is sure to appeal to many. Plus, John Nugent of Empire was similarly positive in a four-star review that called the film “a pacy, ruggedly entertaining romp, with a punchy pair of lead turns from Gosling and Evans.”

Should you stream The Gray Man? 

A difference of opinion between critics and audiences isn’t uncommon, especially when it comes to Netflix original movies, and The Gray Man definitely seems to be a movie that is appealing to subscribers despite its disappointing reviews.  

The film is a cookie-cutter summer blockbuster with two bankable stars and plenty of large-scale action moments that showcase where its sizeable budget was spent. So long as you’re not looking for something with any real depth or originality, then The Gray Man is likely to keep you pretty entertained for two hours. 

Much like 2020’s Extraction, which also stars an Avenger and had involvement from the Russo brothers, The Gray Man is already being touted as a franchise by Netflix. In light of its immediate ascension to the top of the streamer’s most-watched list; expect to see a sequel confirmed sooner rather than later. The Gray Man 2 feels practically inevitable at this point. 

Netflix has struggled over the past few months when it comes to original movies with efforts like Senior Year and The Man from Toronto not quite hitting the mark. But at least in this case the most important camp, Netflix subscribers, seem to be pleased with The Gray Man. That is what will ultimately justify the streamer’s significant investment in this project. 

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Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team. 

  • RG Geiger
    Gave it a view and it is non stop action. Weird watching Captain America as a moustached psychopath. Not sure it deserves number one, but it is what it is.