It’s The First Time Since 2015 That Disney Didn’t Win The Yearly Box Office, And It Wasn’t Spider-Man That Took Them Down

For the better part of a decade, Disney stood tallest and presumably proudest as the highest earning studio in Hollywood, and kept that financially impressive streak going from 2016 through 2022. Now that the final box office tallies have been logged for 2023, however, it looks like no amount of Marvel superheroes, fabled princesses, or grizzled explorers were able to bring the company back to the mountaintop, with one of its biggest rivals stepping up to take the crown. And no, neither Miles Morales nor the Spider-Verse were responsible.

Wait, it’s not a crown at all, but rather a big red plumber’s hat, because it’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie’s home of Universal Pictures that pulled off the somewhat surprising upset by pulling ahead of Disney as the highest-grossing studio of 2023. Which is a mighty feat for a year in which the total U.S. box office blew past $9 billion (via CNN), which eclipsed the past few pandemic-affected years, though didn’t reach where the totals were at in pre-COVID days.

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How Universal Beat Disney

On the one hand, Universal topping Disney across 2023 isn’t the most jaw-dropping surprise, given how wildly popular Mario’s first animated feature was, as it was the second biggest movie of the year domestically ($574.9 million) and globally ($1.36 billion). Not to mention the video game adaptation was soon followed by Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster biopic Oppenheimer, which brought in over $326 million here in the U.S. and $952 million around the globe.

Then to expand from there, Universal had quite a few other noteworthy hits among the whopping 24 films that the studio put out in 2023, such as Fast X ($145.9m / $704.7m), M3GAN ($95.1m / $180m), Five Nights at Freddy’s ($137.2m / $290.9m), Trolls Band Together ($98.1m / $198.6m), Puss in Boots: The Last Wish ($130.4 m / $481.6m) and more.

With 24 movies going out to audiences throughout the year, Universal could afford for at least some of those releases to fall below expectations, which was certainly the case with a few of its less heralded debuts, such as The Exorcist: Believer, Renfield, Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken and others. It helps that the company has always been able to fall back on horror hits, with M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin winning out over the vampiric flick The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Disney Still Earned A Ton Of Money In 2023

Even if Disney didn’t come away with the biggest pot of gold in 2023, the studio still raked in the money with a slew of major releases, which is perhaps all the more notable without any of those releases crossing the all-hailed $1 billion mark globally. The House of Mouse also released around a third fewer films than Universal Pictures did, while still managing to bank four out of the ten highest grossing movies around the world in the same year, which goes against general beliefs that Disney is facing box office issues.

In that respect, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 was the studio’s pride and joy, earning #358.9 million domestically, and $845.5 million worldwide. It was followed by The Little Mermaid ($298.1m / $569.6m), Elemental ($154.4m / $496.3m), and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania ($214.5m / $476m). And while it wasn’t anywhere near the blockbuster giant that execs hoped, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny still held its own with $174.4 million in the U.S. and $383.9 million globally.

Here’s how the global box office shook out when it came to the biggest Hollywood studios, according to Variety:

  • 1. Universal Pictures: $4.907 billion
  • 2. Disney: $4.827 billion
  • 3. Warner Bros.: $3.84 billion
  • 4. Sony: $2.09 billion (estimated)
  • 5. Paramount Pictures: $2 billion (estimated)

With tons of great upcoming 2024 movies to look forward to i, one can only wonder how the box office wars will shake out by next January. Maybe by that point, Universal will finally confirm that Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 is happening.


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