As we delve fearlessly into 2024, I think it's important to look back on what changed at the theatrical box office in 2023.

Just a few years removed from COVID, the box office pulled in around $9 billion during 2023. It was driven by titles like Barbie, Oppenheimer, and The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

So, as we embark on this new year, we should take a quick beat to make sure we've learned the lessons of 2023.

Let's clear up where we've been and where we're going.

10 Lessons from the 2023 Box Office

10 Lessons from the 2023 Box Office

'The Super Mario Bros. Movie'


As we reflect on the cinematic journey of 2023, it becomes evident that the films that graced the big screens were a masterclass in the art and science of filmmaking.

We saw four-quadrant entertainment and auteur directors, and we put superheroes to rest.

From compelling storytelling and embracing technology to understanding the pulse of the global audience, the 2023 box office is a goldmine of lessons for anyone passionate about the craft of cinema.

Let's look at 10 lessons.

  1. Importance of Storytelling: Audiences continue to be drawn to films with compelling narratives. Whether it's a unique concept, deep character development, or emotional resonance, the success of a film often hinges on its storytelling quality. Oppenheimer didn't make a billion because it was a biopic, it made a lot of money because it was great.
  2. Diverse Genres and Themes: The popularity of various genres, from action and sci-fi to drama and comedy, shows that there's an audience for different types of stories. Filmmakers can learn the importance of exploring diverse themes and genres to reach a broader audience. Even a weird movie like the Sound of Freedom tapped into people's desire for something new.
  3. The Role of Technology: Advances in technology, such as special effects, high-quality digital cinematography, and immersive sound, play a significant role in enhancing the cinematic experience. But you also saw movies like Mission: Impossible: Dead ReckoningPart 1 taking on the idea of AI in our world.
  4. Marketing and Promotion: The way a film is marketed and promoted can greatly influence its performance. This includes strategic release dates, social media campaigns, trailers, and partnerships. Understanding marketing dynamics is crucial. Who had a better viral campaign than Barbie, which used the line, "She's everything. He's just Ken." This became huge on social media, and the movie spawned many memes from there.
  5. Global Appeal: Films that do well globally demonstrate the importance of cultural relevance and universal themes. Filmmakers can learn the value of creating content that resonates with international audiences. Take the Disney remake of The Little Mermaid, which hauled in over $270 million worldwide, almost as much as it made domestically.
  6. Streaming vs. Theatrical Releases: The performance of films released on streaming platforms versus those released in theaters provides insights into changing viewer habits and preferences. Families largely stayed home when they knew a movie would be available for cheaper within a month, but people still went to see titles like Killers of the Flower Moon and Five Nights at Freddy's, which arguably could have made even more money if it was held from the online platform instead of simultaneously releasing it.
  7. Audience Engagement: Audience reviews and feedback, especially through social media, can greatly influence a film's success. Engaging with and understanding the audience is key. Barbenheimer was maybe the story of the year. You can't control that, but when the audience gets excited, it can make titles take off.
  8. Budgeting and Return on Investment: The relationship between a film's budget and its box office returns offers lessons in financial planning and risk management in filmmaking. Look at flops like Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, which was expensive and just didn't find an audience that connected. I saw it, and it's really fun, but still couldn't find a way to break out, and was expensive. Whereas Skinamarink made a lot of money and was relatively cheap to produce.
  9. Representation and Inclusivity: Films that feature diverse casts and tell stories from different perspectives often resonate with wider audiences, highlighting the importance of representation in cinema. The Color Purple had a huge Christmas because audiences are starving for material geared toward them, and Hollywood continually leaves money on the table because of forgetting this lesson.
  10. Critical Reception: The impact of film critics and festival screenings on a film's box office performance can offer insights into the power of critical acclaim. We saw critics help movies like Godzilla Minus One find traction, and we saw reviews also slow down movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which had trouble breaking out.

As the curtains fall on our analysis of the 2023 box office, it's clear that the world of cinema continues to be a dynamic and ever-changing landscape.

Whether you're a budding filmmaker, a seasoned director, or simply a movie enthusiast, the insights garnered from this year's box office hits and misses offer invaluable guidance for navigating the complex and exciting world of film.

Here's to your success in the new year.

I can't wait to watch what you create.