2023 has witnessed a seismic shift in the consumption of major films and TV shows
The post-pandemic era has altered the fate of many theatrical releases across the globe. While streaming platforms did reportedly witness a significant surge in popularity, blockbuster cinema has been mercurial at best. However, 2023 brought about a cinematic revolution that baffled even the most seasoned box office analysts – Barbenheimer. The cultural phenomenon spawned from the simultaneous release of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie coincided with the decline of Disney and Marvel’s iron grip on the Hollywood market for well over a decade. While Marvel’s rivals DC find themselves in yet another ‘transitional phase’ under new bosses James Gunn and Peter Safran, the nearly unstoppable money-making juggernaut was expected to reign supreme yet again in 2023. But the biggest and perhaps, the most welcome surprise of 2023 has to be the flurry of excellent animated content that dropped across across films and television – even marking a new era in animated films and TV shows.
2023 was stacked with promising films. From Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, Harrison Ford returning for a fifth (and perhaps, his last?) instalment of the Indiana Jones, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio teaming up yet again for Killers of the Flower Moon, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two, and of course, Barbie and Oppenheimer. While Tom Cruise’s most recent turn as IMF agent Ethan Hunt in Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One may not have hit the desired mark in terms of box office numbers, it was well-received by critics and was lauded for its death-defying stunts.
One might argue that Paramount Pictures may have been ill-advised in releasing the summer blockbuster just two weeks before Barbie and Oppenheimer. Regardless, the film did find more success than the highly-anticipated Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny helmed by James Mangold. Ford’s return as the amiable explorer Indie complete with his iconic hat and whip failed to impress both audiences and critics alike, and it became one of the most underwhelming releases for Disney in 2023.
Barbenheimer on the other hand exceeded expectations with the Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling-led Barbie grossing north of $1.4 billion while the R-rated biopic Oppenheimer, starring Cillian Murphy, grossed just shy of billion. Both films were unprecedented successes considering they released on the same day and were backed by competing studios Warner Bros. Discovery (Barbie) and Universal (Oppenheimer). The remarkable pop culture influence of Barbenheimer is a phenomenon that will be studied for years to come.
The dual strikes in Hollywood
The sixth season of Black Mirror premiered earlier this year with the episode ‘Joan is Awful’, starring Annie Murphy and Salma Hayek. Most assumed that the futuristic dystopian story about AI wreaking havoc in residual pay, image, and other rights would be a problem that would arise in the distant future. However, within weeks of the episode’s release writers across Hollywood went on strike, and on the UK premiere of Oppenheimer, the actors followed suit. ‘Joan is Awful’ ended up being an eerie premonition for the immediate future. Major studio executives, Disney CEO Bob Iger in particular, became the villains of the industry. After months of negotiations, both strikes eventually came to an end with favourable outcomes for writers and actors. However, few commentators remain sceptical about whether studios could yet manipulate AI in future films.
The major causality of the strikes was Dune: Part Two, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the multiple Academy Award-winning film Dune. The Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya-led film was initially scheduled to hit theatres in November 2023 but has since been postponed to March 2024. If released in 2023, the film may have been able to piggyback on the Barbenheimer frenzy and turn 2023 into one of the best years for cinema in over a decade. While Dune: Part Two’s absence from this year’s calendar may be disappointing for cinephiles, there was certainly no dearth of quality cinema in 2023. Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower, indie dramas such as Past Lives and Saltburn, and Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things starring Emma Stone are just a few examples of acclaimed film releases this year.
It is no secret that ‘superhero fatigue’ appears to have finally set in amongst audiences. Several auteurs such as Scorsese, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott among others have been critical in the past of Marvel’s ‘theme park films’. The much debated ‘Marvel formula’, which propelled the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as the most commercially successful film franchise of all time, has finally reached its saturation point. Apart from James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, none of the MCU film releases this year (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels) have managed to attract audiences to theatres or impress critics.
Marvel’s biggest disappointment of 2023 is undoubtedly the TV series Secret Invasion. Despite a reported production budget of a whopping $212 million, which is just around $25 million short of the combined budget of Barbie and Oppenheimer, the series ended up being a major letdown. Not even the star-studded ensemble which includes Samuel L Jackson, Emilia Clarke, Ben Mendelsohn, and Olivia Colman was able to elevate the show from its mediocrity. However, the second season of Loki, starring Tom Hiddleston, proved to be one of MCU’s best productions in years. The series has elevated the Asgardian God of Mischief, Loki, from an overrated villain who could only serve as comedic relief, to one of MCU’s greatest heroes. One might even argue that Loki’s sacrifice in the series finale outweighs that of Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame. Much credit for this can be extended to execution.
Marvel’s rivals DC on the other hand had a rather forgettable year. All three DC releases of 2023, Shazam Fury of the Gods, The Flash, and Blue Beetle, tanked at the box office. Blue Beetle may have been the only film on this list to receive positive feedback from some quarters. However, new DC boss James Gunn’s overindulgence to announce his plans to reboot the franchise, before the release of four films from the existing universe, may have sabotaged any chance of success the aforementioned films may have had. It remains to be seen if the Aquaman sequel, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which is scheduled to release on December 21, will even collect a fraction of the $1.1 billion made by the first film.
A new era in animated content
The Academy Award-winning 2018 film Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse received a sequel this year titled Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse. The Sony Pictures production has somehow managed to eclipse its predecessor in terms of quality and commercial success. It wouldn’t be surprising if the franchise sweeps home more Academy Awards next year. The film also set the tone for a groundbreaking year for animated films and TV shows. One must not forget that the animated film The Super Mario Bros. Movie, despite mixed reviews, raked in a whopping $1.3 billion. The year also witnessed a successful reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titled, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, which garnered significant praise.
In television, the second half of 2023 witnessed some incredible animated shows. While Invincible returned for another season with great success, new TV shows such as Scavengers Reign and Blue Eye Samurai, and the Japanese anime Pluto become overnight sensations. Each of these shows has relied on distinctive animation art style and storytelling tools to deliver compelling tales. In fact, Blue Eye Samurai and Scavengers Reign could become widely regarded as among the greatest American animated shows of all time.
TV shows remain as compelling as ever
In The Last of Us, 2023 witnessed the first-ever live-action adaptation of a video game to earn such unparalleled universal praise. The gripping post-apocalyptic drama series by HBO is on course to sweep several top awards next year. The year also produced excellent new shows such as Beef, Silo, One Piece, Dead Ringers, The Fall of the House of Usher, and Poker Face among others. While returning shows such as Succession, The Bear, Ted Lasso, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Happy Valley, and Reservation Dogs continued to deliver excellent seasons.
The title of the best TV series of 2023 could arguably go to Succession after the HBO original series concluded its four-season run in style. Other acclaimed TV shows such as Ted Lasso, Loki, Doom Patrol, Happy Valley, and Sex Education also concluded with their series finales. The success of the aforementioned shows indicates that TV shows continue to deliver riveting stories even though studios like Netflix could get trigger-happy at times and cancel programs prematurely. While this might not be an ideal predicament for most filmmakers, great TV shows appear to have a reasonable margin for error according to recent trends.
The year 2024 also promises to be another excellent year for television with several shows such as House of the Dragon, Stranger Things, The Mandalorian, and True Detective among others expected to return with new seasons. Whereas new shows such as Fallout, Masters of the Air, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zero Day and 3 Body Problem are already building plenty of hype and anticipation. In the case of the films Hollywood is betting big on what has worked – Dune: Part Two, Deadpool 3, Joker: Folie à Deux, and more Ryan Gosling-led projects like The Fall Guy. Several filmmakers could follow Zack Snyder's steps in terms of how Snyder is releasing big-budget productions like the upcoming Rebel Moon films on Netflix – paving the wave for bidding wars between big studios for major projects on streaming platforms.