2023 Is A Horrible Year For Movies

The 2023 box office is going to be a historic disappointment, and it looks like nothing can undo the damage.

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

It’s June, halfway through the year, and the blockbuster season has started, yet as of today, it’s been one of the most disappointing years at the box office in recent memory. Marvel started a new phase in its ongoing cinematic universe, DC is closing out a chapter, and going entirely by the names on the marquee, it should be a return to a pre-Covid world. Yet, the biggest film of the year to date was an underestimated video game adaptation, superhero movies are bringing in diminishing returns at the box office, and there’s a good chance there’s only one billion-dollar earner this year.

Low-budget horror has made a comeback, with both M3GAN and Scream VI exceeding expectations, but by their nature, it’s a low bar to clear. Both films brought in under $200 million worldwide and barely $100 million at the domestic box office (all numbers are from Box Office Mojo), yet the return on investment for them is something Warner Bros and Disney would love to have right now.

Super Mario Brothers, with $1.3 billion worldwide and over $500 million domestically, has made three times as much money as Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania and over one-and-a-half times the amount of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 at the box office. Comparing the Nintendo adaptation to this year’s DC films is much worse, but with the amount of big-name films coming out, why is the audience simply not there?

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Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania

It’s not just the superhero movies, as a sure-fire money maker in Fast X was carried by its international box office total, as domestically, it will struggle to break $200 million. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts may be one of the best in the franchise, but it’s underperforming and already showing signs of being pulled from theaters. The numbers so far have come in under expectations, but what’s happening right now, in June, is a series of historic flops the likes of which haven’t been seen since John Carter cost Disney over $200 million dollars.

History is repeating, with The Little Mermaid struggling to break even at the box office and Pixar’s latest film, Elemental, pulling in under $30 million so far against a budget of $200 million (not counting marketing), which might make it the worst box office performance in Disney history since The Black Cauldron. Following Ant-Man 3 underperforming, Disney is, going by publicly available numbers and a rough estimate for marketing costs, already negative $750 million for the year, and again, it’s only June, though they’re not getting the worst of it.

Warner Bros. Discovery, with the back-to-back historic box office bombs of Shazam 2 and The Flash, spent well over half a billion dollars for a total worldwide box office return of under $300 million. For all the jokes made at the expense of the Shazam sequel earlier this year, it’s The Flash that’s on pace to be the biggest flop in history, coming in behind Green Lantern and even Ishtar. Without adjusting for inflation, The Flash beat the opening weekend of the Ryan Reynolds bomb by only $2 million, yet with the adjustments, it’s behind by over $10 million.

Fast X

If even Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Fast X came in far below expectations this year, is there any hope looking at the rest of the release calendar for this year? No, there isn’t, as early word of mouth on Indiana Jones points to another disappointing film, while Mission: Impossible is another in a line of “Part 1” films this year and will likely end up in the $700 million range of the last few sequels.

Barbie is too weird for a general audience but is the most likely candidate to break out and go over $1 billion, while Oppenheimer is an adult-focused historical drama that will likely be a success but has a definite ceiling.

Going beyond the summer months and into fall brings Dune: Part 2, which might be a solid hit after the reception to the first film, Expendables 4, which will be lucky to break $100 million at the box office, and Kraven. That last one may be similar to Morbius, but with an R-rating, it could bring in even less at the box office.

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Shazam: Fury of the Gods

Other superhero movies of the year, Blue Beetle and Aquaman 2, might bring in less than The Flash, while The Marvels could be anything from an Ant-Man disaster to breaking a billion worldwide, making anything possible with that film at the box office. But it’s the uncertainty that only emphasizes how horrible this year has been for movies that should have been absolute hits.

2023 needs $7.2 billion at the box office to match 2019, the last pre-Covid year at the theater, and it’s still $3 billion behind 2022. What’s left that can save the year for movie theaters, and will studios, especially Disney and Warner Bros Discovery, learn from their mistakes? As the days go by, we’ll get the answers to those questions, but no matter what happens from here on out, 2023 was supposed to be a much better year at the box office.