5 big box office shocks in 2023

Chris Tilly
Jason Statham trying to avoid a big shark in Meg 2.

It’s been an eventful year at the global box office, with seemingly surefire blockbusters failing, and movies that weren’t on anyone’s radar hitting big. So we’re looking back on the celluloid ups-and-down of 2023, via the 5 biggest box office shocks.

With the film industry still grappling with the aftermath of the global shutdown – and writer and actor strikes affecting both production and promotion – 2023 has been a challenging year for cinema.

The list of the year’s top-grossing movies is usually filled with billion-dollar movies, but there have only been two thus far, and none of the remaining releases look like they will come close.

But with multiple big releases underperforming, it meant there were opportunities for more unexpected fare to find an audience. With the following five of the biggest surprises at the 2023 box office.

5 big box office shocks in 2023

The following are the celluloid winners and losers of 2023, featuring the biggest movies of the year, the films that seemingly appeared out of nowhere to surprise Hollywood, and a Marvel movie that flopped in spite of a budget of more than $250 million.

But we’re kicking off with the big one, which is the story of two movies that dominated the summer in a way that no one could have predicted…

The Barbenheimer phenomenon

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer and Margot Robbie in Barbie

Based on a beloved toy – and starring global superstar Margot Robbie – Barbie was expected to do big business. Oppenehimer was less of a sure thing. Christopher Nolan movies are usually money-spinners, but his previous effort Tenet flopped. While a film about the atomic bomb – much of which plays out in black-and-white – isn’t exactly traditional blockbuster material.

But the movies released on the same weekend, birthing the Barbenhemier phenomenon, whereby audiences double-billed this disparate duo, and made an event of it, with groups even dressing up for the occasion. The popularity of one drove the other, so much so that Barbie became the biggest movie of the year, with a global haul of $1.4 billion. And Oppenheimer became Christopher Nolan’s second most successful movie, making $950 million in the process.

Skinarmaink surprises everyone

Skinamarink made just over $2 million in cinemas, which pales into comparison to the above. But when you factor in the fact that the film cost just $15,000 to make, that’s a colossal sum. The movie ultimately grossing more than 133x its budget.

And Skinamarink came out of nowhere. Shot on a digital camera in director Kyle Edward Ball’s childhood home, the film has little in the way of a traditional narrative, but received rave reviews at a handful of festivals in 2022. Before becoming a word-of-mouth hit in 2023. So while Five Nights at Freddy’s recently became the most successful horror movie of the year, Skinamarink is the most profitable.

The Meg makes more than The Marvels

Prehistoric shark movie The Meg made $530 million in 2018, so a sequel was inevitable. Meg 2: The Trench arrived at the tail-end of the summer, and while it didn’t make as much as its predecessor, the follow-up – which again stars Jason Statham – grossed just under $400 million. Making this monster movie the 13th most successful film of 2023.

To put Meg’s success into context, it’ll end up making much more money than The Marvels, which has been little short of a disaster. Since hitting screens in early November, the 33rd movie in the MCU has grossed just $187 million. And with customers dropping by 60% over the film’s third weekend of release, The Marvels will struggle to make back its reported $270 million budget, and won’t come close to matching the Meg.

Sound of Freedom is the sleeper hit of the summer

Sound of Fury stars Jim Caviezal as a former government agent who travels to Columbia on a mission to free kidnapped children from sex traffickers. The film was mired in controversy – being described in some quarters as “QAnon adjacent,” and with questions still surrounding the veracity of this supposed true story.

Those issues helped rather than hindered Sound of Freedom, however, keeping the film in the public consciousness throughout the summer. The result was not only the sleeper hit of the season but also one of the most successful independent films of all time, grossing nearly $250 million worldwide, from a budget of just $15 million.

Mario becomes first billion-dollar video game movie

This one is probably less of a shock, and more of a nice surprise, especially if you are a gamer. That’s because video game movies have frequently struggled at the box office, and have often been maligned by both critics and audiences. But that tide seems to have turned over the last few years. Detective Pikachu was a $450 million smash in 2019. While the two Sonic movies have made more than $700 million between them.

Mario is arguably the most famous video game character. But the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie – which starred Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the plumbing brothers – was a catastrophic bomb. A new animated movie righted that wrong in 2023 however, with Chris Pratt and Charlie Day voicing Mario and Luigi in a film that stayed true to the source material. And in doing so, grossed a whopping $1.4 billion globally, making Super Mario Bros. Movie the second most successful film of 2023, and the biggest video game adaptation ever.

That’s it for our box office overview, but head here for a list of 2023’s best-reviewed movies.

About The Author

Chris Tilly is the TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Newspaper Journalism, and over the last 20 years, he's worked for the likes of Time Out, IGN, and Fandom. Chris loves Star Wars, Marvel, DC, sci-fi, and especially horror, while he knows maybe too much about Alan Partridge. You can email him here: chris.tilly@dexerto.com.