The only thing that’s predictable about the summer movie season is that it’s going to be wholly unpredictable. In the lead-up, it’s easy to pick out what you think are going to be Hollywood’s biggest stories. “Oh, that new Marvel movie is going to kill it.” “Who isn’t going to go see the latest Tom Cruise film?” But when the calendar finally flips to September, it’s extremely rare that even the smartest of experts gets everything right.
We know it’s not summer movie season down under, but it’s just one of those ‘American things’ that we end up abiding by, given, you know, the U.S. market is how these things get created. Anywho…
So for any of you time travelers out there, here’s your Almanac. We’re going to break down the winners (you already know the biggest one) and losers (lots of surprises) of the 2023 summer movie season.
Most people figured Barbie would be a hit. It’s too popular of a brand name to not at least get some people interested. But ever since the neon-soaked first set photos leaked, anticipation steadily built. And by the time solidly positive reviews came out, and the world was obsessed with the whole “Barbenheimer” thing, Barbie took off and never looked back. So yes, most people figured Barbie would be a hit. But no one thought it would be one of the biggest hits of all time. Hollywood will now forever remember the release of Barbie.
Horror is a perpetual winner. Audiences just plain turn out to see horror movies, and their typically lower budgets tend to make them big moneymakers for studios. So this summer, not only can an indie darling like Talk to Me be a hit, a big franchise sequel like Insidious: The Red Door can do numbers on a whole other scale. And while not every single horror movie released this summer crushed it (ahem, The Last Voyage of the Demeter), that’s not enough to move the genre as a whole out of this spot.
The shaky release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania made some people wonder “Is Marvel over?”—but those questions have since died down a bit, as the comic company had the number two and three films of the summer. On the Marvel Studios side, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 lived up to its lofty expectations, both critically and financially, giving James Gunn a poignant send-off to the competition. On the Marvel at large side, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was far and away more successful than its Oscar-winning predecessor. It seems Marvel isn’t over, as long as the Marvel product is good.
The shock of the summer season has to be Pixar, which had basically its worst opening ever when Elemental arrived in June. When that happened, most people wrote the film off. But then something funny happened: good word of mouth, and a need for solid family programming, kept Elemental going. It didn’t fade away, it thrived—and by the end of the summer, it had some of the best staying power of any film that had been released.
This is a fun one that may have missed your radar. But did you know that for a few days this summer, Coraline—yes, the 14-year-old stop-motion animated film—was number three at the box office behind Barbie and Oppenheimer? It’s true. Then, a few months later, a re-release of Jurassic Park also challenged newcomers. Sure, neither did monster numbers, but they didn’t have to. But both show that audiences simply want to come to the movies and enjoy films.
We’re Gizmodo so we focus on sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and genre films. Neither of which applies to Sound of Freedom or Oppenheimer. But, as they will both end up being in the top six films of the summer, they’re obviously worth noting.
Oh boy. You got the sense coming off of Black Adam and Shazam: Fury of the Gods that DC was at a crossroads. And maybe, just maybe, The Flash was the movie to turn the tide. It seemed to have a lot going for it, but also a lot going against it—and when the film finally opened, the latter swallowed up the former. After what seemed like an effective promotional campaign, it was a huge financial failure.
Then, a few months later, despite solid buzz and great reviews, Blue Beetle came out and did okay, but not nearly as well as most would have hoped. It seems that James Gunn’s reboot of the DC Universe is coming at just the right time.
Loser: Indiana Jones
This one stings. As a massive Indy fan (and fan of Dial of Destiny itself), it’s hard to admit, but the new film did not live up to expectations, critically or financially. And maybe it was to be expected considering it’s a sequel to a 40-year-old franchise starring an over 80-year-old man. Not exactly the formula to get those all-important teenagers into theatres.
Loser: Tom Cruise
Last year, we had the Summer of Cruise. His sequel Top Gun: Maverick shattered expectations and records. Most figured, as a result, that would continue this summer with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. However, despite a great critical response, the film didn’t carry over that Maverick heat, and made less than most of the other films in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Not the outcome anyone involved hoped for.
Loser: Classic Disney
Disney certainly had some wins this summer (Elemental, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) but two properties based on its history, The Little Mermaid and Haunted Mansion, did not connect as expected. Haunted Mansion battled average reviews and maybe a lack of brand recognition, while Little Mermaid battled the weight of expectations. A film grossing $US300 million domestically is not usually considered bad, but when other live-action adaptations of classic Disney films do $US500 million (Beauty and the Beast) or $US550 million (The Lion King), that’s a huge underperformance.
Not everything this summer was as black and white as “winner” or “loser.” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem was a solid hit but didn’t quite create the stir the studio probably wanted. Fast X got people into theatres, but not nearly at the pace of the earlier franchise instalments. And Transformers: Rise of the Beasts certainly disappointed financially but seemed to have really struck a chord with fans. All of these were great stories of the summer, but maybe not quite winners or losers.
Want more entertainment news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and DC releases, what’s coming to cinemas in Australia this year, and everything streaming this month across all platforms. Check out our dedicated Entertainment tab for more.