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The CavChron

The student news site of Hollis Brookline High School

The CavChron

The student news site of Hollis Brookline High School

The CavChron

2023: The Year the Movies Made a Comeback

Stereotypical Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) dances in a party scene from ‘Barbie.’ The Greta Gerwig-directed film became the highest-grossing movie of 2023 with $1.44 billion worldwide and broke the record for the highest-grossing female-directed film of all time. “What I think really contributed to the success was the idea of dressing up and going to ‘Barbie.’ Everyone wore pink…it was the summer of girls,” said HB film studies teacher Victoria Flaherty. (Image courtesy of Warners Bros. Pictures)

“We come to this place for magic,” actress Nicole Kidman boasts at the beginning of her infamous AMC Theaters commercial. The advertisement plays at the start of each film shown at the theater chain, describing the wonder of the movies and how audiences connect with them. Although the video premiered in September 2021 and has played in theaters ever since, its sentiment about the influence of movies on our lives and the film industry’s prosperity has only begun to ring true once more in 2023, or, the year the movies made a comeback.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe in 2020, both the domestic and worldwide box office have suffered. 2019 was a major success in North America totaling $11.4 billion, but the pandemic-struck 2020 suffered an 80% domestic drop to a measly $2.3 billion

However, 2023 proved to be a beacon of light for the film industry. The domestic box office surpassed $9 billion in ticket sales during this past year, the best total since the pandemic began. While the year-end numbers still fall short of pre-COVID heights, the growing sum proves that the industry is back on its feet again and full of hope. The question remains, though: what made 2023 such a special year for movies?


A Cultural Phenomenon

When reflecting on theatrical film releases from the past year, it is impossible not immediately to think of the summer phenomenon known as “Barbenheimer.” July 21, 2023, marked a special day for movie-goers as two of the most anticipated films of the year, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, shared a release date. The decision to put out both projects on the same day seemed baffling at first, setting two blockbusters to compete with each other —the former about the iconic doll of the same name and the latter about the creator of the atomic bomb—but the choice ultimately paid off.

Cillian Murphy stars as the titular scientist in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer,’ the third highest-grossing movie of 2023. (Image courtesy of Universal Pictures)

While completely different in tone and subject, the two films became intertwined through organic online discussion due to their jarring differences yet their likeness in coming from two of the most beloved filmmakers in Hollywood (Nolan of Dark Knight and Interstellar fame, Gerwig of Lady Bird and Little Women).

The online anticipation translated to ticket sales, too. While both films were projected to succeed due to their previously existing IP (intellectual property) or highly regarded actors/creatives behind the scenes, their box office totals blew estimates out of the water. Barbie became the top-grossing movie of the year, reaching over $1.44 billion worldwide and achieving status as the 14th highest-grossing film of all time. The film proved to be historic too, as Gerwig’s third feature became the highest-grossing female-directed movie ever.

The R-rated Oppenheimer proved to be a worthy challenger as well, raking in over $952 million across the globe and becoming the highest-grossing biographical drama of all time.

All in all, the “Barbeheimer” phenomenon proved to be essential for theaters’ success in 2023. The popularized double feature of the two films drove ticket sales up, even allowing AMC Theaters to have their most successful admissions week of all time between July 21 and July 27 since its opening in 1920.

“We had the perfect blend of movies this summer to encapsulate a really wide range of interests. ‘Barbie’ was something that could feel light and fun and connect to generations of women together because people have always played with Barbie. Any kind of historical film is going to have a draw. People know who Oppenheimer is, and it’s obviously a grand scale of a historical figure.”

— Victoria Flaherty, HB Film Studies Teacher

While the two film’s quality speaks for themselves, one major factor of their success was the event-like nature of seeing the films in theaters. “What I think really contributed to the success was the idea of dressing up and going to Barbie. Everyone wore pink, it was the summer of the [Taylor Swift] Eras Tour, it was the summer of the Beyonce Renaissance Tour, it was the summer of girls,” said HB film studies teacher Victoria Flaherty.

One unique aspect of the “Barbenheimer” craze is also the translation from box office success to critical reception. While some blockbusters do eventually go on to become critical darlings (i.e. the Avatar films), superheroes and other top-grossing films rarely receive much positive attention. However, this year, both Barbie and Oppenheimer scored Best Picture nominations at the 2024 Oscars (the latter winning the coveted award), proving that both critical and financial success are possible for the year’s biggest films.


Blockbusters & Beyond

While “Barbenheimer” can be attributed to a large number of 2023 ticket sales, it’s not the only success story for this past year’s films. For one, The Super Mario Bros. Movie was the second-highest-grossing movie of the year and became the highest-grossing animated film of all time, second only to Frozen 2. Major studios had other large box office hits as well, including Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Universal’s Fast X and Sony’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Teo Yoo and Greta Lee play reunited childhood lovers in Celine Song’s ‘Past Lives.’ The indie hit made over $10 million and was nominated for Best Picture. (Image courtesy of A24)

In a climate of “superhero fatigue” and disappointing big-budget turnouts, though, indie films managed to break through in 2023, garnering over $1.47 billion at the global box office. A24 is one such independent studio with annual success, releasing 14 films including Best Picture nominee Past Lives ($10.9 million) and horror standout Talk to Me ($48 million). Other key players include Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City—which cleared $28 million for Focus Features as well as the best per-theater average since 2016—and the $184 million grossing Sound of Freedom.

The widespread success of independent films over the past year provides hope not only for the box office but also for the industry at large. With superheroes and other expensive IP movies exploding over the past decade or so, indie movies have been blown a bit out of the water. However, the 2023 critical and audience success of smaller productions can (and should) prove to studios that lower-budget films are worth producing as audiences are willing to pay.


Looking Forward

2023 set a standard for both the state of film and the box office, and 2024 doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The highest-grossing film of the year, Dune: Part Two, has gathered over $260 million at the domestic box office and around $400 million globally in just about a month. The highly anticipated sci-fi sequel, directed by Denis Villeneuve, has also received critical acclaim as the 16th highest-rated film of all time on IMDb and become the highest-grossing film of lead Timothée Chalamet’s career.

Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya band together in the sci-fi epic and most successful movie of 2024, ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Image courtesy of Warners Bros. Pictures)

In terms of other box office hits, franchises and sequels appear to be running the ring. Kung Fu Panda 4 and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire are the second and third highest-grossing films domestically thus far, respectively, and are currently still in theaters. Other smaller hits include the movie remake of the Broadway musical adaptation of Mean Girls (try saying that three times fast) and Paramount’s One Love, a biopic about reggae legend Bob Marley. The quarter-one success across the board hopes to balance out some duds, notably Argylle and Madame Web.

With the hope that “Barbenhemier” and 2023 at large shined across the industry, the future of movie-going and cinema seems to be sound. The cultural phenomenon, as well as some other hits, prove that audiences are hungry for new films post-COVID, whether in the form of big studio productions or independent stories. And with 2024 now in full swing, we are just at the beginning of a years-long return to form for film. So grab some popcorn, take a seat and recline in for the long road.

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About the Contributor
Finn Brown
Finn Brown, Head Editor

Finn Brown ‘25 is a first-year journalism student and is excited to start writing for the CavChron! Finn has served as Class President for two years and enjoys creating fun activities for the HB community. He is looking forward to exploring the world of journalism and experimenting with all types of articles.

Outside of the classroom, Finn enjoys playing tennis and has played for the HB team for two years. Additionally, he has participated as a partner for Unified Soccer for three years and has been a member of the Red Cross Club for two years. In his free time, Finn likes going to the movies, walking, and spending time with friends. Awards: Best of SNO - Maggie Rogers Reflects on ‘Don’t Forget Me’

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