Mid Year Reflection 2023

What a strange year it has been so far. There have been many shocks and surprises, and unexpected turns of events, including the biggest counter programming weekend in history.  Just looking at the top ten highest grossing movies of the year so far, has some surprises itself, because three of the movies on the list are actually flops. These would be Mission Impossible, Ant Man, and Elemental.

How is this possible? The answer is that the movies cost so much to make that even breaking into the top ten wasn’t enough for them to make their money back. And the movies that have actually been the biggest hits were not ones that would have seemed the most obvious, back at the start of the year. Who could have predicted the mega storm that would become Barbenheimer, for exmample, and how those two movies, both released on the same day, completely ran right over the latest Mission Impossible film, as well as everything else in their paths.


The top five highest grossing movies of the year so far are all considered bonafide hits. We’re talking about Barbie, Super Mario Brothers, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, Oppenheimer, and Fast X.

Barbie has been the movie of the summer, and really of the year (it will be dethroning Super Mario Brothers for highest grossing film of the year, very soon.) How in the world did this happen? A movie about pink dolls that is just for girls? Turns out Barbie is none of those things. It’s not about dolls, but about a toy that more or less comes to life. Think of it like Toy Story done as live action. And then add in all of the smart social commentary and fact that the movie is more for adults than kids (although it does work for both audiences, which certainly contributed to its success, making it a four quadrant film.)

Super Mario Brothers, like Barbie, played on nostalgia and worked for both adults (who used to play the games when they were kids, themselves,) and also for kids. It was fun and smart and delivered a solid, entertaining movie. Like Barbie, this was a guilty pleasure film that you could enjoy on a very basic level without having to think too much, (in the case of Barbie, it worked on a thinking level too, with all of it’s messages and subtext, but you didn’t have to get all of that out of it to enjoy the film)





This is where things get tricky. And incredibly ironic. This is where numbers and placement in the top ten of highest grossing films of the year is relative to how much a movie actually cost to make and market. This is where three movies that made it into the top ten highest grossers are actually considered flops.

Let’s begin with a pattern. Believe it or not, superhero movies are hurting. Superhero movie fatigue is setting in. The biggest loser of all has got to be DC movies. They released three movies already this year (a bit much, and even more than Marvel.) And all three of them did poorly. There was Shazam: Fury of the Gods, then The Flash, and now their latest film, Blue Beetle. And one did worse than the next.

There are lots of reasons for why this happened. I suppose they start with the “feud,” if you will, between The Rock and James Gunn. The Rock finally got his Black Adam movie to the big screen. It was something he had been working on for ages. But there was a problem. In fact, quite a few problems. Black Adam is supposed to be a villain. In fact, he is supposed to be the villain to Shazam. But the Rock thought he was too good for that, and wanted his own movie. Which means instead of combining Shazam 2: Fury of the Gods, and Black Adam, the egos on these guys lead to us getting two different movies with no connection. Audiences were smart enough to know when they were being duped and taken advantage of, and so they stayed away.

But then things got worse. The Rock had gotten onto social media and proclaimed there was about to be a “new hierarchy,” over at DC. What he meant was that DC was at such a loss, before Black Adam came out, that they were willing to give the Rock total freedom, and let him dictate decisions being made over there (such as letting him bring back Henry Cavil as Superman, for his Black Adam film.) Well, his words couldn’t have turned out to be more true… only not in the way that he meant. Talk about ironic. Right after Black Adam came out and bombed, DC turned the reigns of their studio over to James Gunn, who promptly decided to reset everything. The Rock was suddenly out. Henry Cavil was suddenly out. And the remaining DC movies that were in the can from before Gunn was hired, were suddenly doomed to be failures. That’s the long and the short of it, in terms of what led to the disastrous box office results with Shazam 2, The Flash, and Blue Beetle. It didn’t help that those movies were all pretty bad, too.

But now let’s talk about some of those flops that actually made it into the top ten of highest grossing movies this year. Here’s where the irony continues. Mission Impossible, Dead Reckoning Part 1, Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Elemental.

Mission Impossible was a mess. First off, it’s title was very pompous and arrogant, expecting that audiences would show up for this movie no matter what they did, and so they could get away with calling their movie part 1, and basically telling audiences up front that the story would not have a conclusion. Big mistake. Two other movies this year (Fast X and Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse,) were unfinished stories that ended on cliffhangers, and yet neither one of them had the audacity to call themselves part 1s (ironically Mission Impossible does not end on as big of a cliffhanger as those other movies.) Aside from the terrible title, however, the movie had lots of blunders, from not enough action to a confusing plot, to a very vague villain (the entity, an AI villain, who is never seen, doesn’t exactly make the cut.)

Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania should have done better. It was a fine movie. Nothing great, to be sure, but nothing terrible either. And yet, for some reason the movie did not do very well. The reason for all of this, most likely, was because audiences were getting tired of Marvel. You see, Marvel cannibalized themselves with the Disney Plus Shows. They started putting out a new show every other month, and many of these collided with the movies they were releasing in theaters. Marvel tried to do too much and overextended themselves, to the point where audiences were just not interested anymore. Supply and demand.

Regarding Elemental, there is no simple answer to why the movie did not do well. Maybe the concept just didn’t appeal to audiences. It seemed fun and interesting enough, but for some reason the audience just didn’t bite.



Between the two of those nostalgic entities from well-known IPs that were popular in the eighties, one can only hope that there is more of this in the future. We will certainly see more video game movies from those older systems (A Legend of Zelda movie, A Mega Man movie, A Crash Bandicoot movie… there are loads of possibilities.) But what else? Will Barbie lead to a Cabbage Patch movie? And is there any hope for a Masters of the Universe or Thundercats movie? Those are harder sells considering the GI Joe movies didn’t do all that great, and this summers new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie only did okay. But one can certainly hope.

While most superhero movies underperformed (everything DC put out, and Ant Man from Marvel,) one has to note that Guardians 3 was the number 3 highest grosser. And Marvel, which is looking for bankable characters to move forward with, needs to look at that. Maybe they make a Star Lord movie on earth (considering how the movie ended, with the tag Star Lord will return, and with where that character ended up.) Maybe they make a The New Guardians of the Galaxy Movie, featuring the new team which now includes Will Poulter as Adam Warlock.


But getting back to patterns for a moment, the general pattern here seems to be movies that work for both adults and kids. Barbie and Super Mario Brothers were two examples, but Spider Man Across the Spiderverse, and even The Little Mermaid, were two others. As always, movies based on existing IP were the biggest hits. The only movie to break into the top ten that did not have a built in audience was Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, and with that one, the director is, in a sense, he star,

It was an interesting summer and year so far, with some very extreme ups and downs. There are lots of takeaways, and clearly the superhero movie genre needs a shakeup in order to keep it afloat, as fan interest is quickly diminishing. But on a positive note, let’s hope to see more counter-programming weekends where both movies share the spotlight and come out on top, like we got with Barbenheimer.. Let’s see more video game character movies, so long as they aren’t rushed, and are given the same level of detail and attention that Super Mario Brothers was. The future is bright, and people are definitely going to the movies again, we just need to give them quality movies to appreciate.