Why 2023 Was the Worst Year in Movies


2023 was a really lousy year at the movies. Yes, there was the Barbenheimer explosion of summer popularity, that rolled right over the movies that were more par for the course (Mission Impossible 7, Indiana Jones 5,) but if we’re being honest, neither Barbie nor Oppenheimer was especially great. And those two movies were by far the biggest news of the year. Nothing else even landed close.

To figure out what went wrong at the movies in 2023, the best place to start is with what was working every year leading up to this one. Superhero movies. The biggest money making, popularity driven genre in Hollywood. The genre that kept movie theaters alive during the emergence of streaming services, and then the pandemic. Well, it all came crashing down in 2023. To be fair, Marvel has been on the decline for a while now. just last year, we got all kinds of superhero lousiness from the mediocrity of Doctor Strange 2 to Black Panther 2  to Thor 4. But we also got the Batman, the darkest, coolest, scariest take on that iconic superhero, of all time.

In 2023, it was one superhero movie disaster after another. Ant Man and the Wasp Quantumania, The Flash, Blue Beetle, the Marvels, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. It got so bad, that you almost couldn’t imagine it being any worse. Remember when we all thought the Eternals, two years ago, was bad. Well in 2023, Marvel made that movie look like a masterpiece. The Marvels proved, in every way, that things could indeed get worse. A whole lot worse.

And it wasn’t alone. DC made the mistake of announcing they were done with the DCEU Snyderverse, making everything they had left to release irrelevant (four whole movies,) and then releasing in theaters some of their worst movies yet.. Shazam 2, The Flash, Blue Beetle, Aquaman 2. Why not wait until those movies came out before announcing the overhaul to the cinematic universe? You would think that would be common sense. But DC and common sense don’t seem to coexist. Just look at Black Adam announcing that Henry Cavil was back as Superman, only to be dismissed just moments later. 2023 represented an embarrassingly new low for superhero movies, with both DC and Marvel hitting their lowest points ever at the exact same time.

And yes, there were a couple of decent superhero movies, like Guardians of the Galaxy volume 3, but even with those, there were far better versions of the same series made years earlier. For Guardians 3, the movie was fine, but to be truthful, both the first and second Guardians movies were better (the first with its impeccable humor and world building, and the second with its great Yondu storyline.) Spider Man Across the Spiderverse was terrific, and yet it still wasn’t as good as its predecessor, Into the Spiderverse. Chalk that up to the fact that  Across the Spiderverse was a little too long and also lacked an ending.

The trend of there being far better versions of the exact same movie, released years earlier, continued, way past the superhero genre. John Wick 4, was fine, but probably the weakest entry in the series because of its massive length (2 and a half hours,) and also repetitive nature. The Holdovers was good, and interesting, but even with that one, the far better version came out over a decade earlier when the same actor-director team made Sideways. The two movies had lots in common, only instead of being “trapped,” in California Wine Country for a week, now we were trapped in a snowy, lonely, isolated dormitory. Even Saltburn was a lesser version of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

And those were some of the better movies of the year. Reptile, the Benecio Del Torro serial killer detective movie was a lesser version of 27 Bridges, the Chadwick Boseman thriller. And Scream 6 was absolutely awful. A killer movie that was afraid to kill anyone. Worst of all, that movie was made by Radio Silence, the writing-directing team that seemed to be on a roll (Ready or Not, and the far better Scream 5, titled just Scream for some bizarre reason.)

There were movies that were irrationally way too long. From Killers of the Flower Moon, (an unthinkable three and a half hours,) to Oppenheimer to the previously mentioned John Wick 4. Even Saltburn came in at 2 and a half hours. Why? Is two hours really not enough time to tell a story?

The animated movies of the year were fine, (Super Mario Brothers, Nimona,) but they weren’t anything great or unique or even memorable. And then there was a whole batch of slower movies that also were fine, but hardly thrilling. Movies like Air, May December, Poor Things, and Anatomy of a Fall (the last two being some of those movies that were also way too long.)

It’s easy to complain and to look at what didn’t work about movies instead of what did. But when you have a movie like Past Lives, which is being hailed as one of the best movies of the year, simply because of what it didn’t do instead of what it did (apparently it’s a big deal that the husband wasn’t a villain, and that the movie stayed realistic even if this also meant that nothing actually happened,) you know there’s a problem.

And one really just needs to look at this year compared to last, to see where the problem lies. Last year we had The Batman at the start of the year and Knives Out: Glass Onion at the end. We had Everything Everywhere All At Once, a movie so bizarre and wild that there had really never been anything like it before. This year, the closest thing we have to that level of ambition is the weird nutty sci-fi movie Poor Things. Even the B movies were better last year than this one. Last year we got Violent Night, the creative wacky Santa as an action hero movie. This year we got Silent Night – the Joel Kinnaman / John Woo film that is unwatchable. It’s been bad. Real bad. And we need to do better.