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Universal Tops Disney at the 2023 Box Office


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The Big Picture

  • Universal surpassed Disney in the yearly box office for the first time in over half a decade, earning an estimated $4.91 billion compared to Disney’s $4.83 billion.
  • Universal had two films in the top three of the year, including The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.
  • Disney had a string of bombs in 2023, but films like Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 and The Little Mermaid remake were successful. Disney also had fewer films overall compared to Universal.


There were a ton of ups and downs in 2023, but the consistent thing was there were a ton of great films to see at the movies. Now, even with it being officially 2024, last year has presented one final box office twist. For the first time in over half a decade (since 2016), someone other than Disney has taken the yearly box office crown. That studio would be Universal.

In a year when Disney was celebrating its 100th anniversary, the House of Mouse grossed a combined $4.83 billion at the global box office, while Universal eclipsed them at an estimated $4.91 billion. Universal had all the momentum going into 2023 with films like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish ending in 2022 with a bang, but so did Disney with Avatar: The Way of Water. That fact alone couldn’t have predicted the insane year both studios would have. Universal had two films in the top three of the year with The Super Mario Bros. Movie at $1.36 billion and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer at $952 million.

Even though those two alone made up almost half of Universal’s earnings, the studio wasn’t top-heavy. They had disappointing performances, like every major studio, the main example of this was Renfield. However, they also had a ton of smaller hits throughout the year. Particularly in horror, the one genre Disney doesn’t see much profit in given their family-friendly identity. Blumhouse led their charge with M3GAN and Five Nights at Freddy’s, making $181 million and $291 million worldwide, respectively. Both films had small budgets, and the latter became Blumhouse’s highest-grossing film in its history.


2023 Was Not the Historic Year Disney Hoped For

Meanwhile, Disney saw a string of costly box office bombs in 2023. This would include Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny ($384 million), The Marvels ($206 million), and Wish ($177 million). While these numbers are nothing to laugh at, all of these films had comparatively high budgets that barely saw them breaking even at the box office. Disney also had some disappointing performances, like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania ($477 million) despite that film’s great opening weekend of over $100 million.

However, Disney still had several smash hits, pushing the studio to place second for 2023. In a year when superhero fatigue was a major point of conversation in the industry, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 made $846 million worldwide. James Gunn’s Marvel swan song reminded us how great this genre can be, but it wasn’t the only franchise that saw a win for Disney. The remake of The Little Mermaid, a film that started its box office run slow, ended up grossing a respectable $570 million worldwide. Word of mouth and Halle Bailey‘s brilliant performance made the film a triumph in areas many of the other previous Disney remakes didn’t.

Another film on that same boat was Pixar’s Elemental, which caught fire this past summer and went on to make $496 million worldwide. The final piece of the puzzle for Disney in 2023 was from 20th Century Studios. There were quite a few successes here — even if some titles garnered underwhelming results — including The Boogeyman, The Creator, and the previously mentioned Avatar sequel. Disney overall had fewer films come out in 2023, 17 versus Universal’s 24.

What Will Disney Take Away From 2023?

A rough year like this could be the humbling experience Disney needs to get back on track. We’re officially in the “new normal” and the aftermath of the pandemic. $200 million budgets aren’t going to guarantee success anymore, and Disney cannot guarantee box office performance on brand recognition alone.

The House of Mouse needs to adapt better to the current movie landscape. That includes focusing less on streaming, an area where they continue to lose money. As for Universal, for film fans, it’s great to see another major studio take the crown for a bit. Universal, like Disney, has so much rich history. In the wake of the strike, hopefully, they’ll continue to experiment and take genre risks.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown with Universal starting their 2024 this weekend with another Blumhouse production, Night Swim. Disney, on the other hand, starts its year with Pixar re-releases of Soul, Luca, and Turning Red. These are films that never got theatrical releases due to the pandemic.

Stay tuned at Collider for further box office updates.

Oppenheimer Poster

Oppenheimer

The story of American scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.

Release Date
July 21, 2023

Rating
R

Runtime
181

Main Genre
Biography

Genres
War , Biography , Drama

Rent or Buy on Prime Video

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