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February 12, 2024

Top 10 Movies of 2023

Top+10+Movies+of+2023

Let’s be real for a moment. 2023 has been a rough year for the movie industry. This is especially due to the SAG-AFTRA Strike, as we published in our previous issue by our Editor-in-Chief Eisha Feliz. With advertising and marketing being limited, several film and television productions halted until the end of the strike, and even common moviegoers boycotting certain movies distributed by large corporations, thus favoring films made by independent companies (A24, for example). Hence, this explains why most films distributed by Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. Studios have been subjected to multiple box office bombs— on both their 100th anniversaries. Despite all of this, for every miss we’ve had (ones that we either heavily crucified or completely forgot about), there’s always a big hit. Some of which still have people talking to this day. Here’s the list of the top ten films of 2023.

10. The Super Mario Bros. Movie

A victory for gamers once again with the animated adaptation of one of the best selling video game series featuring the most famous video game character of all time. Chances are you’ve heard about this film a lot this year. Well, here it is again. You’re welcome. Produced by Universal Pictures, Illumination, and Nintendo, The Super Mario Bros. Movie presents the origin story of Italian-American plumbers/brothers Mario and Luigi. They were suddenly transported from Brooklyn to an alternate world and became embroiled in a battle between the Mushroom Kingdom, led by Princess Peach, and the Koopas, led by Bowser. From the perspective of Mario fans, especially those who had lived to see the critically panned 1993 live-action adaptation starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, this premise is very promising, and this movie achieved it beautifully. And here comes the “Peaches” song getting stuck in our heads again.

The film received mixed reviews from critics, yet was widely praised by audiences, especially Mario fans. Though the studio’s decision to cast Chris Pratt as Mario remains to divide viewers. The same can be said for the rest of the voiceover cast, but this particular choice received the most discourse even before the trailer came out. Of all the cast members, it was Jack Black who was heavily favored for voicing Bowser, before and after the film’s release.

Regardless, it had grossed $1.36 billion worldwide against a $100 million budget, thus breaking multiple box-office records, including being the highest grossing movie of the year before getting dethroned by Barbie months later. Despite this, it still holds the record for the biggest worldwide opening weekend for an animated film, the highest grossing video game adaptation, the third highest grossing animated film, and became Illumination’s highest grossing film. As of now, there are plans for a cinematic universe of its own solely based on Nintendo games, including a sequel. Though it’s not too official yet, there are possibilities of films based on other games, such as Luigi’s Mansion and Donkey Kong Country, and a spin-off revolving around Princess Peach.

9. Talk to Me

Who would’ve thought a duo of Australian twin brothers would progress from running a successful YouTube channel to writing and directing a widely praised A24 supernatural horror film? Not to mention the fact that this is a full-feature film made by YouTubers and it’s genuinely good. No, seriously. Look back at the 2010s. Talk to Me is written and directed by Danny and Michael Philippou, best known for their YouTube channel RackaRacka, which has over six million subscribers and a total of one billion views. Though unlike their videos consisting of intense and hilarious violence featuring recognizable characters, this film is more personal and vulnerable; with the twins being able to express themselves more than they ever did throughout their YouTube career.

Starring relatively unknown Australian actors, the film follows a group of teenagers who made a party game by using a mysterious severed and embalmed hand to be able to contact spirits. They soon realize that the more they play the game, the further it goes too far. Talk to Me premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival on October 30th, 2022, then the 2023 Sundance Film Festival before A24 Studios acquired the distributing rights for it to be released theatrically in other countries, including the U.S. With the film being given a certified fresh score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics and audiences praised Talk to Me for its story, direction, horror sequences, practical effects, sound design, and performances (particularly Sophie Wilde and Joe Bird). The film’s success became widely respected in the YouTube community. YouTube veteran and co-founder of Smosh, Anthony Padilla, commended the film while interviewing RackaRacka on his channel, calling it “the best horror film of the year,” and might be the best horror film he’s seen in five years. Dead Meat not only complimented the film while reviewing it on a Kill Count video, but also went into more detail on their podcast.

Talk to Me also became a box office success, grossing $91 million against a $4.5 million budget, thus becoming A24’s highest grossing horror film and its second highest grossing film overall, just under Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. As of now, a sequel is currently in development, titled Talk 2 Me. Not only that, but there has already been completed principal photography on a prequel. There, the story would explore the backstory of a deceased character that was introduced in the beginning of the first film.

8. Killers of the Flower Moon

One of the most influential Hollywood movie directors of all time, Martin Scorsese makes yet another return to cinema with this epic western crime drama. Killers of the Flower Moon is based on the 2017 non-fiction novel by journalist David Grann, which centers on a series of murders of Osage members in 1920s Oklahoma. During that time, the tribal members had retained mineral rights on their reservation after oil was discovered on land, and White opportunists sought to gain their wealth. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the greedy and gullible WWI veteran Ernest Burkhart, Robert De Niro as Burkhart’s uncle, William King Hale, and Lady Gladstone as Ernest’s wife, Mollie Kyle.

After premiering at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, it was released on October 20th by Apple TV+ under their Apple Original Films label. It not only premiered on the streaming service, but was also released on IMAX by Paramount Pictures. Despite being unable to break even at the box office, Killers of the Flower Moon received critical acclaim with a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 on Metacritic. The film is dedicated to Canadian musician Robbie Robertson, who passed away two months before its release.

7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

The anthropomorphic quartet erupt from the New York City sewers once again as the production company duo of Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Pictures will be releasing another computer-animated film on the big screen for this expansive franchise. This serves as a reboot of the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series, as well as the first theatrical animated feature based on the property since the moderately successful TMNT way back in 2007.

Exploring themes of family, acceptance, and the desire to fit in, Mutant Mayhem presents a simple premise of the Turtles setting out to win the hearts of New Yorkers through heroic acts after being sheltered from the human world for years. With the help of their new friend April O’Neil (Ayo Edbiri), they take on a mysterious crime syndicate, only to get in over their heads very soon when a dangerous army of mutants is unleashed upon them. This is the first film in the franchise that hired teenage actors to play the role of the Turtles: Nicolas Cantu as Leonardo, Brady Noon as Raphael, Micah Abbey as Donatello, and Shamon Brown Jr. as Michelangelo. Along with Jackie Chan as Splinter, the film features an ensemble voice cast for a variety of the franchise’s most recognizable characters, including Seth Rogen as Bebop, who’s also one of the film’s producers. Inspired by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mutant Mayhem presents a unique animation style, which helps make it stand out from the several cartoons over the last few decades. Provided by Mikros Animation and Cinesite, this particular style was inspired by the film’s director, Jeff Rowe, using sketches he drew in his school notebooks back when he was a teenager. 

Released on August 4th, Mutant Mayhem grossed $180 million worldwide against a $70 million budget. With a certified fresh score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, it was praised for its performances, screenplay, and stylized animation; several critics and fans even considered it the best Turtles film. A follow-up two-season 2D animated television series, Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, is set to premiere on Paramount+, and a sequel featuring the Shredder is currently in development. Lastly, there will be a licensed video game scheduled to be released next year. It will be available for Windows, but hasn’t specified other consoles for the moment.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going through ups and downs these past couple of years, especially with the exhaustingly repetitive pattern of declaring either “the MCU is dead” or “the MCU is back,” we’re beyond thankful that at least our favorite offbeat galactic team of mercenaries ended their trilogy on a high note. Written and directed by James Gunn for the final time before he moves on to hit the reset button on the DC Universe at Warner Bros., this superhero film follows the Guardians on a mission to save Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) from the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) after being critically wounded by Sovereign warrior Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). Meanwhile, it finally reveals Rocket’s tragic and tear-jerking backstory about being experimented on by the High Evolutionary alongside other anthropomorphized animal lifeforms.

With many critics and audiences deeming it as a satisfactory conclusion to the trilogy, Guardians 3 was praised for Gunn’s direction and screenplay, its soundtrack, visuals, action sequences, performances, emotional weight and humor; thus earning a certified fresh score of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. It grossed $845 million worldwide,  meaning not only it became the fourth highest grossing movie of 2023, but is one of Disney’s only commercially successful films of this year, alongside the live action Little Mermaid remake. Lastly, the official soundtrack has been nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 66th Grammy Awards, alongside other soundtracks of widely praised films such as Barbie, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Now many of us current or former MCU fans can put the franchise behind us and move forward into new territory of cinema. Unless we decide to come back for Deadpool 3 next year.

5. John Wick: Chapter 4

Mind you, this all started because of the murder of his puppy. But it was a cute puppy. Why did they kill the puppy? Why? Then again, if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have one of the greatest, most praised action franchises of the 21st century starring one of Hollywood’s most beloved actor/action star/Internet’s boyfriend Keanu Reeves.

Directed and co-produced by Chad Stahelski and written by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch, this fourth installment of the John Wick franchise centers the titular character seeking out revenge on the High Table and those who left him for dead. The neo-noir action thriller also features a variety of old and new characters played by accomplished actors. The list of new characters includes: Donnie Yen as a blind High Table assassin, Bill Skarsgård as the main antagonist, Shamier Anderson as a bounty hunter, Scott Adkins as the head of the German Table, Hiroyuki Sanada as the manager of the Osaka Continental Hotel and Rina Sawayama as the concierge and his daughter, and Clancy Brown as a high-ranking operative of the High Table. There’s also Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and the late Lance Reddick reprising their roles, who tragically died of heart disease eleven days after the London premiere.

Released on March 6th, John Wick: Chapter 4 received widespread acclaim from critics and audiences, earning a certified fresh score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 78 on Metacritic. It was praised for its action sequences, cinematography, visual style, and performances. In addition, it grossed $440.1 million over a $100 million budget, becoming the highest grossing film in the franchise, so far. In the near future, this fictional world of deadly assassins will be expanding. Not only is there a fifth John Wick film currently in development, but the latest example is a spin-off set to be released next year on June 7th titled Ballerina, set between the events of the third and fourth films. Directed by Len Wiseman and written by Shay Hatten, this upcoming action thriller stars Ana de Armas as a ballerina-assassin named Rooney hunting down those who murdered her family.

4. Mission: Impossible— Dead Reckoning: Part 1

Even in his early 60s, Tom Cruise can still achieve the impossible by performing impressive martial arts, dangerous stunts, and managing to save Hollywood and the movie industry. Because he can. It’s no wonder everyone deems him as “the last movie star.” This summer, Cruise revisits the Mission: Impossible franchise as IMF agent Ethan Hunt with its seventh installment. This is the first of the two films that were shot back-to-back, both written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie— who also worked on Rogue Nation and Fallout. In Dead Reckoning: Part 1, Hunt and his IMF team face off against a powerful rogue A.I. known as “The Entity.” Quite convenient timing during the SAG-AFTRA strikes, don’t you think? It’s a plotline that feels so realistic even President Joe Biden was terrified when he watched it for the first time.

As expected, along with Cruise, the film has an ensemble cast of great actors playing a variety of characters, old and new. Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Vanessa Kirby will be reprising their roles once again, along with Henry Czemy as Eugene Kittridge, the former director of the IMF from the first Mission: Impossible film back in 1996. In addition, much like our previous entry John Wick 4, Dead Reckoning introduces a handful of new characters that audiences have immediately connected with. This includes: Hayley Atwell as, in her terms, a “somewhat ambiguous” thief and Ethan Hunt’s new ally, Esai Morales as the film’s main antagonist Gabriel, a powerful terrorist and Hunt’s adversary, and Pom Klementieff as a French assassin who works for Gabriel— based on the late Leonard Nimoy’s character in the original Mission: Impossible television series.

Released on July 12th, the film received widespread critical acclaim with a certified fresh score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and 81 out of 100 on Metacritic. However, despite becoming the tenth highest grossing film of the year, it dealt with the heavy competition of the Barbenheimer phenomenon and other critically acclaimed films that came out the same month. On top of that, with a budget of $291 million, thus becoming one of the most expensive films ever made, it unfortunately resulted in a box office disappointment. I’d say it would’ve had a better chance if it were released later in August. The good news is that a direct sequel is set to be released on May 23, 2025, hopefully with a much bigger box office smash.

3. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Yes, this was released on December 21, 2022. But in fairness to all of us, this animated adventure comedy was a hot topic at the beginning of 2023, and for all the good reasons. Produced by Dreamworks Animation and distributed by Universal Pictures, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is the long-awaited sequel to the 2011 spin-off Puss in Boots, thus the sixth installment in the Shrek franchise. Like Mutant Mayhem, this also took inspiration from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse when it comes to its animation style, specifically giving it a fairy-tale resemblance of the story it’s telling. The story itself took inspiration from Spaghetti Westerns, particularly The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Taking place after the events of Shrek Forever After, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) is set on a personal quest to find the Last Wish of the fallen Wishing Star to restore eight of his nine lives. Teaming up with his previous love interest Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault) and the friendly but naïve therapy dog Perrito (Harvey Guillén), Puss races against other fairy tale characters seeking the same treasure, while a sinister wolf proclaiming himself as Death (Wagner Moura) hunts him down.

A surprising comeback for our feline hero, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish received widely critical acclaim, earning a score of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. One of the film’s largest praises from critics and audiences was its authentic representation of accepting the inevitability of death, as well as an accurate portrayal of panic attacks, which Puss suffered from throughout the film. It was nominated at the 95th Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature Film, but lost to Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. The film was also a commercial success, grossing $484.6 million against a $90-110 million budget, thus becoming the tenth highest grossing film of 2022.

2. Barbenheimer

This might be considered as breaking the rules, but yes. I am putting both Barbie and Oppenheimer in the same spot. Not only because it wouldn’t be fair to place one over the other, but I fear there would be riots from both sides if I did. But this is all thanks to the phenomenon of the summer: Barbenheimer, where two polar opposite films were released the exact same day (July 21st) for reasons unknown. Encouraged by massive media attention, the double feature consisting of an upbeat feminist fantasy comedy based on a girls’ fashion doll and an epic biological thriller following the “father of the atomic bomb” during WWII led to massive box office success, thus breaking records, as well as being widely praised by critics and audiences.

The 3-hour long biopic tale of Oppenheimer is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the film follows the life of American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) during his role in the Manhattan Project and his eventual fall from grace due to his security hearing in 1954. The Manhattan Project is the WWII undertaking that developed the first nuclear weapons, including ones used in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film received critical acclaim, primarily for its screenplay, the performances of the cast (particularly Murphy and Robert Downey Jr.) and the visuals. It has rightfully earned a fresh 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes and an 88 on Metacritic. Much thanks to the Barbenheimer phenomenon, it grossed over $950 million worldwide, thus becoming the third highest-grossing film of the year. Oppenheimer also broke box office records becoming the highest grossing WWII-related film, surpassed 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody for the highest grossing biographical film, and is now the second highest-grossing R-rated film under 2019’s Joker.

Of course, there’s also Barbie. And he’s just Ken. Directed and co-written by Greta Gerwig, the most fabulous summer blockbuster of the year stars (and is co-produced by) Margot Robbie as the titular character and Ryan Gosling as Ken. It follows the characters on a journey of self-discovery following an existential crisis, with Barbie searching for the child playing with her in the real world while Ken learns a thing or two about the patriarchy— and horses. Again, thanks to Barbenheimer, the film not only received critical acclaim and massive praise from audiences of all ages with an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, but also grossed $1.44 billion worldwide, replacing The Super Mario Bros. Movie as the highest grossing movie of the year. And much like Oppenheimer with its own achievements in breaking box office records, Barbie became the highest grossing film made by a solo female director, and beat the record for the fastest billion-dollar film released by Warner Bros., surpassing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 after twelve years.

1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Saving the best for last, we witness the return of the Spider-Verse series with a larger scale of characters, universes, action, storytelling, and much, much more than anyone could imagine. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, and written by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse explores the idea of a shared multiverse further than ever. And this being a Sony Pictures animated film, you know it will take complete advantage of it, much like the first film brilliantly did.

With Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld reprising their roles, Miles Morales/Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman go on an adventure across the multiverse where he meets a team of Spider-People known as the Spider-Society. Morales soon comes into conflict with their leader (and the Internet’s new favorite angsty crush) Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) over handling a new threat in the form of the Spot (Jason Schwartzman).

Similar to the success of its predecessor, Across the Spider-Verse received wide acclaim from critics and audiences, with a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 86 on Metacritic. It was praised for its stylized animation, visual style, story, action sequences, voice acting, score, and writing. It also earned $690.5 million at the box office (double the box office of the first one) over a $100-150 million budget, thus becoming the sixth highest grossing film of the year. As of now, there are two more films that are currently in development: its next sequel, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, and a female-centric spin-off titled Spider-Women, featuring Spider-Gwen, Cindy Moon/Silk, and Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman. 

With the SAG-AFTRA Strike coming to an end this early November, we’re hoping 2024 will become a better year for the movie industry. Though there’s no doubt that will start off incredibly slow and even dull, for the most part. But we’ve learned a lot from this year, even if the majority of Hollywood chose not to. For every soulless cash grab lazily labeled as a blockbuster, we will show our support with independent projects. And yes, the majority of the films on this list are part of long-lasting franchises distributed by large corporations (one from Disney and one from Warner Bros.). But these films were praised by many because they legitimately put in the effort to explore new ideas, treat their writers and vfx artists/animators respectfully, and actually leave a memorable impact for its audience with poignant themes and unique storytelling rather than wave keys at them for two hours with generic computer-generated action sequences and clichéd zingy one-liners. Will next year take a turn for the better, worse, or just remain the same? At this point, at least we’re thinking hard on which movie company we’re willing to spend our money on.

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About the Contributor
Emma Christiansen, Media Critic
Emma Lee Christiansen, contributing writer, liberal arts major, from West Sayville. Christiansen will graduate from SCCC in the spring semester, plans on continuing her higher education at Stony Brook University, and would like to major in creative writing and minor in film making/film studies. Christensen enjoys drawing, watching movies, and playing video games in her spare time.

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