For the first time since 2015, Disney wasn’t at the top of 2023’s global box office. And while there are a few different factors and reasons for the Mickey Mouse empire slipping from first to second, a significant reason for the shift is because of the super-successful Super Mario animated film.
2023’s animated Super Mario Bros. Movie might not be the best film ever made, but that didn’t stop it from racking up a huge $1.36 billion at the global box office. That’s a lot of money, but to put it in perspective, Disney’s highest-grossest film in 2023 was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 with “only” $845 million. For most of Hollywood that amount would be worth celebrating, but for Disney—with expensive films that cost $200 million or more to make— it was the one real bright spot in a slate of pricey sequels and reboots that otherwise underperformed or just outright flopped. Some big stinkers included The Marvels, the latest Indiana Jones film, and the animated misfire Wish.
This is one of the first times in years that Disney was unable to produce a movie that could crack a billion dollars gross, or even make it into the top three highest-grossing movies of the year. That let Mario hop over Mickey and lead Universal to the top spot.
Universal was on a roll in 2023, releasing some big hits, including the aforementioned Mario film, but also the cheap-to-make horror hit Megan—$181 million worldwide gross—and one-half of the ”Barbenheimer” phenomenon with Christoper Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which ended the year as the third highest-grossing film of 2023 with $950 million. Right above in the second spot? The Mario movie. All of this added up to a big year for Universal, with it ending 2023 at a combined $4.907 billion global gross.
Disney still did better than the rest of Hollywood
Of course, Disney didn’t burn out entirely. The company was still second and right behind Universal with $4.827 billion. And both were far ahead of Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony. None of those Hollywood giants cracked $4 billion in total.
So sure, Disney still made money and was still one of the biggest studios in the industry. But not that long ago Disney could pump out three Marvel flicks a year and a handful of animated movies and bank on all of them doing close to or more than a billion globally.
Now, it seems a combination of franchise fatigue, internal shake-ups, oversaturation, and stiff competition has reminded everyone—and possibly some execs at Disney—that nobody stays on top forever. Giants all fall, eventually. Mario would know. He’s taken down plenty of big enemies in his career.