The 10 Highest-Grossing Movies of 2023

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The 10 Highest-Grossing Movies of 2023

2023 saw two movies top the $1 billion mark worldwide. One was based off one of the most popular videogames of all time and the other was based off of one of the most popular toys of all time—though neither of those guarantee success at the box office. With a couple of exceptions, the rest of the list is made up of action and superhero sequels and a Disney remake. So props to both Pixar’s Elemental and, especially, to Christopher Nolan’s historical biopic Oppenheimer for adding some originality to the list.

Here are the 10 highest-grossing movies of 2023 worldwide:

10. Elemental

elementalWorldwide Box office: $496 million
Director: Peter Sohn
Stars: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Catherine O’Hara, Mason Wertheimer, Joe Pera, Matt Yang King
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: PG
Paste Review Score: 7.0

Watch on Disney+

Back in 2009, Peter Sohn directed the Pixar short Partly Cloudy that, for many, is considered among the best the studio ever produced. Cut to over a decade later and Sohn again has his head in the clouds, this time with Elemental, another bold, impressive feat of technical animation prowess with an emotionally rich storyline that runs throughout. At its heart, Elemental is a cross-cultural love story, a tale of immigrant tenacity and struggle, and a movie about the challenges of cultural siloing and the responsibilities to respect the sacrifices of those that came before us. Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis) is a hot-tempered resident of Fire Town. She works at her father’s store, where Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) has spent years waiting for the day to pass it onto the new generation and keep the flame alive. He and his wife Cinder (Shila Ommi) immigrated, and her reticence to accept other elements has made her protective of her community and her daughter’s outlook. When a water element bureaucrat named Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) unexpectedly enters Ember’s life, things truly start to boil as the two of them are forced to cooperate to solve an existential issue for Fire Town. Along the way they are drawn closer despite their obvious differences and encounter other, more earthy and airy characters, with each contributing their own aspect to the greater community. Elemental may not rise to the heights that Up soared to, but the ingredients of Elemental combine in ways that are both satisfying and even moving. It’s a tonally challenging film to get right, and easily could have devolved into something either too straightforward or overly strident in its messaging. Instead, we’re granted a movie that rises and lowers in intensity, flowing along with a confident trajectory that speaks to larger issues without ever drowning in overt messaging. —Jason Gorber


1. Wonka

Worldwide Box office: $508 million
Director: Paul King
Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Keegan-Michael Key, Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, Mathew Baynton, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carter, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant, Natasha Rothwell, Rich Fulcher, Rakhee Thakrar, Tom Davis, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Genre: Comedy, fantasy
Rating: PG
Paste Review Score: 4.9

In theaters

A chocolate factory, especially one overseen by Willy Wonka, is a perfect metaphor for a certain kind of modern filmmaking. An industrial complex that focuses on its magical output and would rather stare at the sun than at the labor that produces it; a business environment whose ingredients include Wonka’s sleight-of-hand salesmanship, eccentric artistry and chocolate cartel villainy. If the chocolate factory represents the making of these movies, then drowning in this chocolate—like Willy Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) and his patronized ward Noodle (Calah Lane) almost do in Wonka’s climax—is watching them. It’s certainly the experience of watching Wonka. It’s all dessert all the time; self-congratulatory cutesy nonsense, its heavy and calculated sweetness weighted by the leaden requirements of IP filmmaking. We’re caught in a decadent mudslide which consumes everything in its path. The debris might be momentarily delicious, crafted by best-in-class artisans with only the most joyous intentions, but overwhelming and monotonous. When you’re up to your chin in thick brown sludge, its taste is irrelevant. Maybe the only remnant of Roald Dahl’s didactic mean-spiritedness is Wonka’s corrupt Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key), a man whose purpose is to don larger and larger fat suits as he is bribed by villains with confections. He—and the decision to make this the film’s main running joke—is at odds with the rest of the sunny, sanitized Wonka world. The author’s scions read the writing on the Dahl, and determined that the most lucrative long-term strategy for their brand was inoffensiveness. —Jacob Oller


8. Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One

Worldwide Box office: $568 million
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Stars: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Hayley Atwell, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, Henry Czerny, Shea Whigham, Greg Tarzan Davis, Cary Elwes
Genre: Action, spy
Rating: PG-13
Paste Review Score: 8.5

Available on demand

A scene in Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One defines all Tom Cruise is and will ever be, arguably charting—in the language of death-defying action and in the voice of Hollywood A-lister beatitudes—the whole arc of contemporary blockbuster franchise filmmaking. Recovering with his team of Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agents following one of the worst catastrophes they’ve yet faced, Ethan Hunt (Cruise, asexual and totemic) admits to a new team member that, while he can’t guarantee he will keep them safe, he can guarantee that he’ll care more about their lives than his own. Not expecting such unmitigated humanity in the midst of such potential worldwide cataclysm, the new agent stares through welling tears. “But you don’t know me,” they say. “Does it matter?” Tom Cruise and Ethan Hunt both respond. Whether Cruise is capable of making a film that doesn’t reckon with his legacy? That’s not this one’s job. Helmed by director Christopher McQuarrie on his third go at M:IDead Reckoning Part One reaches back 28 years to the first film, not only bringing back Kittridge (Henry Czerny) as the head of the IMF, appointed apparently after Director Hunley’s (Alec Baldwin, ejected from the franchise with impeccable timing) murder in Fallout, but culling reverently from De Palma’s penchant for paranoid close-ups and canted angles, for long-held shots obsessed with the creased faces of defiantly sweaty men, studying their buttery eyes for omens. Dead Reckoning Part One’s plot, as convoluted as the best in the franchise, comes together stupendously. Every facet, from sound and set design to Cruise’s sheer athleticism to how McQuarrie knows exactly where to place the camera to embrace that athleticism, coalesces into a very real, often breathtaking sense of peril that’s mostly absent from every other IP that’s lasted this long. Cruise is showing us what kind of death it takes to achieve the immortality cinema promises.—Dom Sinacola


7. The Little Mermaid

Worldwide Box office: $570 million
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem
Genre: Musical, fantasy
Rating: PG
Paste Review Score: 7.1

Watch on Disney+

Following Disney’s usual template, The Little Mermaid is a very faithful adaptation of the 1989 animated adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, right down to meticulously reproducing many iconic sequences from the animated classic. The story also remains the same. Weaving in the Oscar-winning songs by Alan Menken and the late, great Howard Ashman, and by sticking to an already entertaining rendition of the story, The Little Mermaid was already leaning on strong bones for this remake. Smartly, they cast well with Halle Bailey who carries the whole film with her Ariel performance. You can’t help but be taken in by her expressive face, which reflects the wonder of Ariel’s experiences both under the sea and top side. She’s also fin-forward in conveying Ariel’s sense of curiosity as an integral facet of her being. It’s inspirational for kids to see, and comes across as genuine to Ariel’s character in making her a more fully-formed person, which adds some heft to the storybook romance of it all. But for all the good, there’s also plenty that bogs down this adaptation, the primary being its overlong, two-hour-and-fifteen-minute runtime. The visuals are also predictably problematic. In the end, does a live-action The Little Mermaid feel vital? No. It gives fans of the animated original pretty much the same movie, beat for beat, with some slight adjustments that score on the positive side. Bailey is also a joy to watch, and important for kids today to see as a heroine for a new generation. But Marshall should have seen to a much-brisker cut that cuts the overindulgent fat and gets to the good parts quicker. —Tara Bennett


6. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Worldwide Box office: $691 million
Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
Stars: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Jason Schwartzman
Genre: Superhero, Sci-fi
Rating: PG
Paste Review Score: 9.4

Watch on Netflix

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse webs its way into a far more jaded world, one overstuffed with superhero sequels, and specifically, multiverse storytelling. And yet Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse swings in and, yet again, wipes the floor with its genre brethren by presenting a sequel that is both kinetic and deeply emotional. The script by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) smartly builds upon the foundation of its already established characters, their relationships and the ongoing consequences from the first film to further explore the lives of secret teen superheroes Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) a year after the first film. The writers do so with a clear agenda to not only best themselves visually, but by upping the game of the now-familiar multiple-timeline tropes. Together with the talents of directing team Joaquim Dos Santos (The Legend of Korra), Kemp Powers (Soul) and Justin K. Thompson (Into the Spider-Verse), Across the Spider-Verse—across the board—swings for the cinematic fences in the rare sequel that feels like every frame has been crafted with the intention of wringing every bit of visual wonder and emotional impact that the animators, the performers and the very medium can achieve. The hybrid computer-animation meets hand-drawn techniques established in the first films returns with a more sleek execution that’s a bit easier on the eyes, which affords the animators to get even more ambitious with their array of techniques and character-centric presentations. The depth and breadth of the animation and illustration styles are jaw-dropping. There are frames you just want to fall into, they’re so beautifully rendered and conceived. If there’s any critique, it’s that the more action-centric sequences are almost too detailed, so that the incredible work of the animators moves off-screen so quickly that you feel like you’re not able to fully appreciate everything coming at you. As a middle film in the trilogy (Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse is due in theaters in 2024), it’s a joy to be able to say that Across the Spider-Verse stands well on its own, based on the merits of its story and stakes. There’s also a killer cliffhanger that sets the stage for a third chapter that doesn’t feel like it’s cheating its audience like some other recent films have done (cough Dune cough). In fact, repeat viewings of Across the Spider-Verse to bridge the gap until the final installment next year sounds like a great way to savor this film as it so richly deserves.—Tara Bennett


5. Fast X

Worldwide Box office: $705 million
Director: Louis Leterrier
Stars: Vin Diesel, Jason Momoa, Alan Ritchson, Rita Moreno, Michelle Rodriguez, Brie Larson, Sung Kang, Tyrese Gibson
Genre: Action
Rating: PG-13
Paste Review Score: 6.1

Available on demand

If you like fight scenes, fast cars and great actresses appearing for brief periods to give exposition, do I have a movie for you. Fast X asks you to shift your brain into low gear, power over a bumpy road of uneven dialogue, and hang on for some tight turns and incredible leaps—in the air and in logic. A film must be satisfying enough to overcome the demerits of whatever stupidity enables its fun factor. Your mileage will vary greatly depending on your personal appetite for sequel sludge, but if you’re the sort of person considering watching a Fast & Furious movie, you’re probably the sort of person that will enjoy it. Earnest dollars and ironic ones spend the same. Fast X is not an example of tight action cinema, nor is it an expression of how violence can be art. It is largesse in the service of wowing audience members—its greatest feat is the audacity it wields to impress. After expository archival footage, the opening barbecue creates a clearer direct connection between the family and the “Agency” they take missions from, which is soon thereafter severed by the plot. That severing is handled by Aimes (Alan Ritchson) after the family shares a botched mission in Rome with Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russell) former second-in-command Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). They’re set up by Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), the son of the late Río de Janeiro drug kingpin Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), on a revenge mission a decade in the making. Momoa is the star of the show, strutting, chewing scenery and being playful with gender in a way this series desperately needs. Dante is the only F&F character even halfway glancing at not conforming to heteronormativity since Chad Lindberg’s Jesse had painted nails in the first film. Does music from The Nutcracker play after Dante name-checks it? You bet. Is Momoa doing enough of a Joker thing to feel like he was inspired by Ledger and Nicholson without outright stealing from them? Sure is. He’s brilliant, deranged, menacing—the sort of person that would be terrifying to meet in real life. Granted, the story of the film itself grows unkempt from a relatively simple premise, the twists and turns coming from myriad reprises, cameos and double-crosses. While the tone is generally consistent, the franchise’s bloat may serve as evidence that Fast X would have been better with fewer cooks in the kitchen. It is a continuing escalation of the Fast films echoing the “so bad it’s good” vibe of a bygone era of B-movies, augmented by a nine-figure production budget. If you haven’t bought into the franchise by now, this is as good a time as any, which means it’s as bad a time as any.—Kevin Fox Jr.


4. Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3

Worldwide Box office: $846 million
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Will Poulter, Chukwudi Iwuji
Genre: Sci-fi, Comedy
Rating: PG-13
Paste Review Score: 6.7

Watch on Disney+

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, director James Gunn’s final bow before leaving to right a partially capsized DCEU, has a lot going on right now, man. Along with Gunn’s departure, there are plenty of other farewells—officially announced or implicit—from its cast, the requisite seeding of new faces, and the need to wrap up the most traditionally conceived trilogy on the sprawling slate of the MCU. Here previously benign—and even expressly positive—directorial tendencies take on a detrimental shade, as Gunn’s signature pairing of musical hits of yore with onscreen sequences feels more intrusive and, worse, often superfluous. But it’s in a Quantumania-esque breach of ensemble charm where the movie suffers most. (The CGI swarms and formulaic tumult don’t help, either.) Scoff at one-note, broad-strokes characters all you wish, but the first two Guardians films showed how the right notes, in the right sequence, can make for a pleasing, catchy melody. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 shows us that some of those notes—particularly the furry one—were more crucial than others. Vol. 3 finds the heroic crew of the Bowie at rest on Knowhere. As Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) are helping repair their oft-ravaged home base, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is handling emotional turmoil as he always does—badly. The gradual reveal of Rocket’s origin story via flashbacks will be, for many, more than enough to make the latest installment of the trilogy their favorite. It’s inescapably Rocket’s movie, while providing an emotion-filled coda to the found-family theme that dominated Vol. 2. —Michael Burgin


3. Oppenheimer

Worldwide Box office: $952 million
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., David Krumholtz, Benny Safdie, Josh Hartnett, Florence Pugh, Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Paste Review Score: 8.0

Available on demand

For a visionary director of big-budget, big-studio, big-idea sci-fi/fantasy movies, Christopher Nolan has often seemed, if not exactly at war with himself, somehow prone to both methodically ascending his big, obvious building blocks and attempting to take wilder, more ambitious leaps. The real test of Nolan’s mettle is something like the great-man biopic – not because he’s insufficiently reverent (or dad-ish in his WWII-era interests), but because of the temptation to give himself fully to that innate squareness. Is the guy who evoked terrorism, the surveillance state, and Occupy Wall Street in service of Batman-movie plot points really up for a nuanced exploration of the legacy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb? Yes and no. Nolan’s Oppenheimer isn’t so much a great-man biopic as a great-man-but-maybe-not biopic, and at times, the writer-director seems hell-bent on channeling the instinctive, ethereal ambivalence of a Terrence Malick trip. It’s a fascinating spectacle in large part because Nolan isn’t especially Malickian at all (though at least that frame of reference might temporarily ease the overworked, underbaked Kubrick comparisons). Throughout the film, especially as it builds during its first hour, theoretical physicist Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is beset by cutaway visions of stars, waves, and eventually all-consuming fire, fragments of zoomed-in science, blown up to eye-dazzling, seat-rattling IMAX scale. Half the movie feels like a montage and three-quarters of it feels like a thriller; the clandestine elements of the Manhattan Project and the talk of Soviet spies give the movie a feeling of buttoned-up espionage. A showcase piece, of course, is the first atomic bomb test, where bits of nervous comic relief pop up until the blast drops out Nolan’s usually-booming sound mix, leaving only the sound of breathing for a minute or two. It’s an awe-inspiring and discomfiting climax that hurtles Oppenheimer out of his preferred theoretical realm and into a void of reality. As much peripheral stargazing as the movie offers, it’s more interested in wrapping its mind around a 20th century horror that is, for many Americans, both abstract and intensely nightmarish. There is a clenched, impacted sadness to this semi-opaque figure who spearheads the creation of a bomb whose purpose is all too scrutable in the broader historical view. It might seem reductive to relate Oppenheimer’s merging of theoretical physics and practical project management to the way Nolan balances indelible images with practicality, creating an unlikely workmanlike poetry. It does explain, though, where some of that poetry comes from, and why even some of the movie’s more obvious points are able to shake up the audience, not just the premium-large-format multiplex seats. Nolan-via-Oppenheimer offers an explanation for this early in the movie, talking about his chosen field: “It’s paradoxical, and yet it works”—Jesse Hassenger


2. The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Worldwide Box office: $1.36 billion
Director: Michael Jelenic
Stars: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen
Genre: Kids, Fantasy
Rating: PG
Paste Review Score: 5.8

Watch on Netflix

The most tastefully restrained thing about The Super Mario Bros. Movie is that it somehow took nearly 30 years to arrive. The new movie comes from hit factory Illumination, and though Illumination has a clear house style, it’s also apparently amenable to being overwritten with Nintendo’s code—which is to say, yes, the worlds of Mario look pretty much as a fan would picture it, translated into shiny computer animation. The colors mostly pop, the character designs are largely adorable and nothing looks too eerily, uncannily human. Even in the movie’s nominally non-fantastical Brooklyn, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are slightly cartoonier than the family and colleagues who scoff at the idea of two brothers striking out on their own with a plumbing business. While attending to a plumbing emergency, the brothers are sucked into some kind of pipe vortex and separated in a strange new world. Mario lands in the Mushroom Kingdom, where he meets excitable little mushroom guy Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and the brave Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who frets over an imminent attack from the fearsome turtle-dragon Bowser (Jack Black). Luigi has wound up in Bowser’s territory, so Mario, Toad and Peach set off to rescue him while fortifying their defenses against Bowser. In one context, The Super Mario Bros. Movie might seem downright reprehensible: It’s a brand extension with only vacuous and insincere things to say, designed to set children in search of dopamine-hit recognition (was that Yoshi?! Will he be in the sequel?!). In the context of having a seven-year-old daughter who grinned through much of the movie and laughed with me at a silly Jack Black tune, it seems mostly harmless. —Jesse Hassenger


1. Barbie

kids moviesWorldwide Box office: $1.45 billion
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Issa Rae, Hari Nef, Simu Liu, Will Ferrell
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Rating: PG-13
Paste Review Score: 9.1

Watch on Max

Bursting with big ideas on the complexities surrounding womanhood, patriarchy and the legacy of its eponymous subjectBarbie scores a hat trick for its magnificent balance of comedy, emotional intelligence and cultural relevance. The picture begins with a playful homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Dawn of Man sequence. Except, in Gerwig’s prelude, the apes are young girls and the wondrous discovery they make is not a monolith, but a 100-foot tall bathing-suit-wearing Barbie (Margot Robbie), who is there to put an end to Planet Earth’s sexism with her mere aspirationalism. Life is idyllic until Robbie’s Barbie, who refers to herself as Stereotypical Barbie, begins to experience an unprecedented existential crisis. These uncharacteristic anxieties, coupled with the fact that her once-permanently-tippy-toed feet have fallen flat, lead Barbie on a quest to the Real World in hopes of returning back to her normal, carefree self. When her adoring Ken (Ryan Gosling) joins her in her cross-realm voyage, ideologies are swapped, havoc is wreaked and major changes are brought upon Barbie Land. Gerwig is grappling with these heavy ideas of patriarchy and gender, but Barbie always maintains a delightful sense of play and lightheartedness. This is largely due to the pink, campy, absurd and absolutely bewitching set work created by Barbie’s production designer, Sarah Greenwood, and set decorator, Katie Spencer. The incredible sets that we see in the film are real, tangible places whose presence create a nostalgic desire to feel, grab and touch. The believability of the sets—“this is a real Barbie Dream House and Robbie is a real life Barbie doll,” we think—makes for an interesting meta layer for the film. This sense of self-awareness touches almost every aspect of Barbie, from the set design to the campy performances and even its handling of its source material. Writers Gerwig and Noah Baumbach obviously have a soft spot for Robbie’s character, and the beauty of humans in general, but they don’t allow their work with a large corporation like Mattel to prevent them from exploring Barbie’s complicated legacy throughout the film. Like its protagonist, Barbie is all the things all at once. Funny. Sentimental. Entertaining. Confrontational. Celebratory. Heartfelt. Heartbreaking. Kooky. Emotional. And, maybe most interestingly of all, a damn good time capsule for what was exciting and frightening in mainstream culture at this particular societal moment.—Kathy Michelle Chacón

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