The 12 most popular movies of the year, ranked from worst to best

The 12 most popular movies of the year, ranked from worst to best
  • Many highly anticipated movies and sequels came out in 2023. Some were better than others.

  • "John Wick: Chapter 4" and "Across the Spider-Verse" were the best of this year's highest-grossers.

  • The third "Ant-Man" movie and "The Meg" sequel were big letdowns.

The most popular theatrical releases of 2023 included superhero movies, sequels, and video-game adaptations.

To determine the most popular movies of the year, Insider looked at the top 20 performers at the worldwide box office. We then selected 12, and ranked them from worst to best.

Keep reading to see our favorite highest-grossing films of the year.

12. "Meg 2: The Trench" should've been a Jason Statham banger.

Jason Statham warding off a shark
"Meg 2: The Trench" should've featured more of Jason Statham fighting sharks like this.Warner Bros.

The first "Meg" was a riot with Jason Statham punching an ancient shark in the face. Its sequel spends less time with the dangerous sharks and more time consumed by an uninteresting plot to backstab the team researching megalodons as Statham's Jonas Taylor gets trapped 25,000 feet below sea level.

While there are some fun shark gimmicks near the end with Statham on a jetski, the sequel waits until its final 30 minutes to get the party started.

The movie should've let Statham do what audiences came to see him do from the start — fight his way past sharks to glory.

11. "Five Nights at Freddy's" is pretty boring.

"Five Nights at Freddy's" animatronics.
Foxy, Chica, Freddy Fazbear and Bonnie in "Five Nights at Freddy's."Patti Perret/Universal Pictures

Based on the popular video game series, Josh Hutcherson plays a security guard, Mike, at an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese-like establishment where the animatronics come to life and kill people.

Hutcherson is enjoyable to watch as a troubled man haunted by the disappearance of his younger brother years ago, but the movie fails to deliver on the game's scares.

"Freddy's" spends too much time on a wacky subplot with Mike's aunt trying to get custody of his little sister when it should focus on a deeper dive into its well-designed murderous animatronics or its clever addition of a "Scream" actor in a pivotal role.

Audiences didn't seem to care though as the adaptation had one of the largest opening weekends of the year with $80 million.

10. "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" was a skippable Marvel entry.

Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania
"Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" barely featured a lot of time with Evangeline Lilly's Wasp, instead focusing on Michelle Pfeiffer's version of the character. Marvel Studios

The lowest-rated MCU movie on Rotten Tomatoes, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), and her parents Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) get sucked into the Quantum Realm in the third "Ant-Man" outing.

But it's a plot that feels too easily contrived for folks who should be smarter than to get tricked into a microworld.

The ensuing adventure plays like a one-off "Doctor Who" episode with the heroes searching for a way home.

An endearing father-daughter story between Scott and Cassie feels manufactured for melodrama since the two previously had a loving relationship in the past.

Visually, the third installment loses what made the "Ant-Man" franchise unique by not utilizing the shrinking and growing Pym Particles. Instead, every character seems thrown onto a lifeless green screen with clunky visual effects because of the time constraints VFX artists worked under.

Fans can easily skip this Marvel outing while still understanding the rest of the MCU.

9. "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" was a relatively safe and cookie-cutter adaptation.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie
"The Super Mario Bros. Movie" became the first movie of 2023 to cross $1 billion worldwide, but that didn't mean it was superb.Nintendo/Universal

Let's all agree it was downright weird to hear Chris Pratt's voice come out of the iconic Italian plumber.

Though a vibrant spectacle, Mario's romp through the Mushroom Kingdom to save his brother, Luigi, and prevent Princess Peach from marrying Bowser is bland and unfunny.

At a breezy 92-minutes, it's easy enough to sit through (which is why it was likely a popular choice for parents and kids), but it's mostly jam-packed with attention-grabbing video game references and fan service to cover for the movie's thin plot.

Jack Black's commitment to playing Bowser and his music video for the song "Peaches" were the only highlights.

8. Jason Momoa was the best thing about "Fast X."

Fast X Dante, Jason Momoa
An antithesis to Dom, Jason Momoa's Dante Reyes is the MVP of "Fast X."Universal Pictures

Revisiting the best movie in the "Fast" saga, Dante Reyes (Momoa) seeks to destroy Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew for the death of his father.

Momoa's mesmerizing performance as an eccentric, vengeful villain who's dementedly chaotic and wildly unpredictable is the biggest reason to watch.

But the 10th installment of the "Fast and Furious" saga suffers from separating Dom and his extended family for the sequel's majority, instead pairing him with new additions to the saga's ever-expanding crew.

Its cliffhanger ending, which was disappointingly revealed in trailers, feels derivative of "Avengers: Infinity War."

7. Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy were the best parts of "The Little Mermaid."

Halle Bailey as Ariel in "The Little Mermaid."
Halle Bailey as Ariel in "The Little Mermaid."Walt Disney Studios

Halle Bailey is a perfect Ariel, building upon Jodi Benson's original performance, making the character stronger, bolder, and wiser than the original's lovesick protagonist who was caught up in pursuing a kiss simply to break a spell.

And Melissa McCarthy makes a deliciously evil Ursula who's all too eager to take advantage of Ariel's infatuation with Prince Eric.

The remake does a much better job at pacing Ariel and Eric's relationship, forging a bond of friendship between the two over common interests to make their love story more genuine.

Fantastic performances and a few smart updates aside, director Rob Marshall largely delivers the same paint-by-numbers story in a longer movie. The movie's additional 40 minutes of runtime should've expanded on Ursula's backstory and connection to King Triton's family instead of wasting time on forgettable new songs.

6. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" was a heartfelt send-off to the franchise without any real stakes.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3
Chris Pratt and the Guardians bid farewell in "Vol. 3."Jessica Miglio/Marvel Studios

Director James Gunn's final installment of "The Guardians of the Galaxy" franchise centered around Rocket Raccoon's (Bradley Cooper) origin to tell an emotional story about respecting and loving yourself for who you are and finding purpose in the world.

A one-shot hallway battle during the third act is among the best action sequences in this year's crop of hero flicks.

While "Vol. 3" neatly delivered a satisfying conclusion for each of its characters, it was an incredibly safe ending that didn't take any risks by killing off anyone in its large ensemble when it had the chance.

It also could've done without a mean-spirited Gamora, who Gunn considered killing off earlier in the MCU.

5. Christopher Nolan delivered a masterpiece with "Oppenheimer."

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in "Oppenheimer."
Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in "Oppenheimer."Universal Pictures

A must-see on the largest IMAX screens, Nolan's epic biopic follows the father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), as he comes to terms with building a weapon of mass destruction for his country — only to see it utilized to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Japan.

A master of building suspense, Nolan's execution of the Trinity test is an incredible moment of filmmaking. Meant to be witnessed in a packed theater, a white, blinding silence floods the room when the bomb initially goes off before giving way to a thunderous explosion. The unnerving score adds to the tension.

Otherwise, Nolan does a really good job of parsing through the circus of Oppenheimer's ensuing security-clearance hearing even if some of the film is a dramatization. Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. give award-worthy performances.

4. "John Wick: Chapter 4" provided some of the year's best action scenes.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in "John Wick: Chapter 4."
Keanu Reeves as John Wick in "John Wick: Chapter 4."Murray Close/Moviepix/Getty Images

Keanu Reeves returned as the beloved Boogeyman who's on the run from every assassin in the franchise's fourth outing. The sequel lets Wick do what he does best: Fight.

Whether Reeves is hopping across Paris traffic like Frogger in a deadly shoot-out or going head-to-head with Donnie Yen's blind hitman, every action sequence contains masterful choreography. The overhead camerawork in one fight feels like you're watching a video game come to life.

Hopefully, this isn't our final time watching Reeves as Wick.

3. Tom Cruise reminded us, yet again, why we go to the movies with "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One."

Tom Cruise jumping off a cliff on a motorcycle
Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One."Paramount/Skydance

We go to the movies to see Nicole Kidman's AMC ad and to watch Tom Cruise partake in insane, death-defying stunts in each new "Mission: Impossible" sequel.

Cruise didn't disappoint in the franchise's seventh installment, as he fought an assassin in a claustrophobic alleyway, escaped falling train cars, and rode a motorcycle off a cliff all while navigating a timely narrative about how artificial intelligence threatens society.

The only letdown is how the series continues to kill off its female leads to set Cruise's Ethan Hunt up with a fresher face.

2. "Barbie" is the biggest surprise and delight of 2023.

Margot Robbie as Barbie in "Barbie."
Margot Robbie as Barbie in "Barbie."Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.

The idea of a Barbie movie originally seemed lazy and desperate when it was first announced over a decade ago, but director Greta Gerwig gifted us a beautiful existential film about feminism, toppling the patriarchy, and wanting to be seen.

Ryan Gosling's performance as a himbo Ken in which he delivers a scene-stealing '80s-inspired ballad, "I'm just Ken," was worth the price of admission alone.

1. "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" is one of the year's best movies.

Miles Morales/Spider-Man (voiced by Shameik Moore) in "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse."
Miles Morales/Spider-Man (voiced by Shameik Moore) in "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse."Sony Pictures Animation

The sequel to 2018's Oscar-winning "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" is just as good as the original.

Delivering more impressive and immersive visuals than the first, it's like watching a comic come to life as the movie seamlessly transitions between art styles, blending gorgeous hand-drawn 2D and 3D animation.

But it's the sequel's unexpected exploration of what it truly means to be Spider-Man that makes it stand apart from other superhero flicks.

When Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Black and Puerto Rican Spidey, is told he was never supposed to receive his web-crawling abilities, it leads him on an emotional journey to discover his place in the Spider-Verse without being told who Spider-Man can and cannot be.

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