2023 Has Been A Weird Year For IP Movies

2023 has been a weird year for IP on the silver screen. It’s Disney’s first non-pandemic year when it has failed to register a billion dollar box office hit, having seven in the club in 2019 alone. The MCU seems to be waning after middling returns, and only has one film – an R-rated comedy threequel in Deadpool 3 – in theatres next year. Star Wars seems to have no real clue what to do next with several cancelled projects, while DC is also figuring things out, though seems to be further along even as the dregs of its old universe are not yet drained. And yet, despite many of the big IP players taking a bath in 2023, it has been a great year for IP in cinemas, and that’s because what is there feels fresh.


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Disney may have gone without a billion dollar hit this year, but 2023 itself has seen two – both of which are huge IPs. At the top of the tree is Barbie, raking in $1.4 billion. Though it offers a more tame and less intersectional version of feminism that its loudest fans would have you believe, it puts forward far more complex ideas than many recent Disney offerings, appealing to a range of audiences as underlined by the Barbenheimer trend.

margot robbie as barbie floating out of her dream house
via Warner Bros.

In second place, with $1.3 billion, is The Super Mario Bros. Movie, second in the all-time animated movie gross list after Frozen 2. Far less adventurous than Barbie with its standard Illumination formula, just the very fact it had a highly recognisable IP that hadn’t been done to death on the silver screen was a huge asset. In time, Mario will get its own universe and may be just like the old guard it offered a change from, but in 2023 at least, it signals a changing of the tides.

Oppenheimer is in third place and is set to break a billion either with its re-release ahead of the Oscars or eventual (and controversial) arrival in Japan. Though not an IP movie, its success suggests audiences are craving new stories prepared to challenge them

While not likely to gross so well as those two, Wonka enjoyed a better-than-expected opening and again, takes a well established story and rather than remake it, tries something new. Origin stories can be cynical cash-grabs, but the fact this is our first venture into Wonka tales and not part of a new universe, plus the uniqueness being a musical offers and the general warmth of Paddington duo Simon Farnaby and Paul King, make Wonka feel far closer to Barbie than Solo.

My favourite movie of the year (and TheGamer’s overall winner) was Bottoms, which had a budget of $11 million – and even that feels high. In 2022, my favourite was X, made on a budget of $1 million – though conversely, that feels low. In 2021, Titane, $6 million – Goldilocks style, that feels just right. I like smaller, less property or profit driven movies, and would love if these dominated cinemas. But I know that it will always be the blockbusters that bust the blocks, and I would rather see fresh versions of IP, where a unique and interesting story is told from the basis of an established character, rather than churned out colour-by-numbers movies where everything links together.

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I have seen every MCU movie in cinemas, although it does feel like I’m maintaining that trend in spite of my own best interests these days. I cried during Avengers: Endgame. I understand that IP can move you, can draw you into something deeper than fan arguments about Rotten Tomatoes scores or box office gains. But in recent years, companies have flown too close to the sun – it no longer feels like certain studios are merely cashing in on a love of their products, but exploiting it. That’s what makes Barbie feel so unique – the premise (at least in boardrooms) seemed to be ‘people love Barbie, make a movie with her in it and they’ll love it’.

But perhaps the biggest IP success story of 2023 hasn’t even hit screens yet. In the wake of canning the Batgirl movie as a tax write-off, Warner Bros. tried the same trick twice, locking Coyote Vs ACME, a Roger Rabbit style half cartoon, half life action court drama in which Wile E. Coyote sues ACME for its defective tools of destruction, in the vault. But this time, animators fought back, loudly rebelling against the decision while studios and producers grew reluctant to work with Warner Bros. if it was merely a pipeline to a tax rebate.

In the end, Coyote Vs ACME was swiftly removed from the vault, and will live to see the light of day in 2024 or 2025. While some of this was down to the power of the animation crew – possibly buoyed by the strike – and the weakened purchasing power it left Warner Bros. with, the public outcry was largely due to the power of IP. People love Wile E. Coyote, and that love for IP can be milked for cash if utilised correctly, but it feels like franchises that have taken its fans for granted have found out the hard way in 2023 that you can only fall short for so long.

2023 has been a great year for movies, and given how badly it has gone for the box office kings of the past ten years, it has also been a surprisingly excellent year for IP. Hopefully, this trend of fresh ideas will continue… although with rumours of Polly Pocket and Ken movies on the way, don’t count on it.

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