For the first time since the pandemic, there were plenty of reasons to celebrate at the box office in 2022 (“The Batman”! “Top Gun”! “Minions”! “Black Panther”! “Avatar”! “Jurassic”!) — there just weren’t enough of them. Ticket sales were down over 30% from 2019’s pre-COVID benchmark, forcing most theater chains to continue their precarious dance along the precipice of bankruptcy. To put it plainly: Theaters need hits like their lives depend on it, because they do.
So, will 2023 supply enough blockbusters to keep the theatrical business alive? With the release calendar finally stabilizing (for now, at least!), there does appear to be a healthy assortment of options on deck throughout the year, from low-budget horror to colossal superhero epics, mid-budget comedies to adult-skewing dramas, and a movie about a bear that does cocaine. Some of these releases, however, have a much better shot at success than others. Here’s how we see things potentially working out.
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Current Release Date: Jan. 6
Thrill Factor: After a brutal two years at the movies, M3gan (an acronym for Model 3 Generative Android, obviously) is more than the hero that cinemas need, it’s the hero they deserve. The artificial intelligence doll became an instant viral sensation after Universal dropped the first trailer, in which the pint-sized agent of chaos threw down some killer dance moves before unleashing terror on her owners. Blumhouse knows M3gan is the meme that keeps on giving.
Chill Factor: January tends to be a box office dead zone.
Verdict: M3gan (the doll) is an icon, she is a legend, and she is the moment. Don’t expect the modestly budgeted “M3gan” (the movie) to become a chart-topping blockbuster, but it’s destined to be wildly profitable.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Disney)
Current Release Date: May 5
Thrill Factor: Since their debut in 2014, the “Guardians” movies have stood apart within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, transforming Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista into movie stars and writer-director James Gunn into an A-list filmmaker. With “Vol. 3,” Gunn aims to conclude the story of the beloved intergalactic crew of misfits with what he’s promised is his biggest and most emotional film to date.
Chill Factor: Marvel Studios movies have been mere box office home runs lately rather than grand slams? (We’re stretching.)
Verdict: Gunn’s Marvel swan song — it’s his final MCU film before taking the reins at rival DC — will hit it out of the park.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony)
Current Release Date: June 2
Thrill Factor: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was a game-changing sensation, an Oscar-winning animated movie aimed at teens and adults that made the multiverse a thing before Marvel Studios got its hands on it. Five years later, the sequel looks to build on that success with an even more eye-popping adventure, featuring Oscar Isaac as Spider-Man 2099, Issa Rae as Spider-Woman, Daniel Kaluuya as Spider-Punk, and dozens more Spider-People besides.
Chill Factor: People could suddenly decide they’re sick of Spider-Man? (Really stretching here.)
Verdict: “Into” is considered by many fans to be the best Spidey film ever; “Across” could live up to that reputation and then some.
“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (Paramount)
Current Release Date: July 14
Thrill Factor: After “Top Gun: Maverick,” the enduring blockbuster smash of 2022, Tom Cruise has a new legion of fans to get excited about his death-defying stunts. And the seventh entry in the globe-trotting franchise promises Cruise’s most dangerous antics yet. With good reason, there aren’t any movie stars doing it like him.
Chill Factor: Any sequel, especially the seventh installment in a 27-year-old series, is wont to experience diminishing returns.
Verdict: Tom Cruise fever is alive and well, which will take the series to new box office heights. “Dead Reckoning – Part One” could even become the first in the franchise to hit the coveted billion-dollar mark.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Universal)
Current Release Date: April 7
Thrill Factor: There is arguably no more recognizable hero in video games than Mario — Nintendo has reportedly sold over 770 million copies across the franchise’s sprawling ecosystem of titles since 1985. But the company has never sanctioned an animated movie featuring the playful Italian plumber and his coterie of compatriots and adversaries until now. Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto has overseen the film as a lead producer, with hit factory Illumination handling the production.
Chill Factor: The last “Super Mario Bros.” movie was released in 1993, starred Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi, and was a live-action disaster — one of a litany of spectacularly failed feature film adaptations of massively popular video games. The decision to cast notable non-Italian Chris Pratt as Mario has also whipped up the internet into a tizzy.
Verdict: It’s-a me! A huge hit!
“Fast X” (Universal)
Current Release Date: May 19
Thrill Factor: “Fast & Furious” movies have been among the most reliable box office draws for over a decade; there’s a reason the most recent chapter, “F9,” was one of the first movies to bring audiences back to theaters after the pandemic. “Fast X” introduces Jason Momoa as one of the villains (alongside Charlize Theron’s Cipher), Brie Larson as a mysterious new character, and Rita Moreno (!) as the grandmother of Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto.
Chill Factor: Original director Justin Lin left the film a week into production after reportedly clashing with Diesel; Louis Leterrier (“Now You See Me”) quickly swooped in to replace him, but changing directors mid-stream is never a hopeful sign.
Verdict: “Fast X” and a prospective 11th feature are purportedly designed to conclude the “Fast” saga, a marketing hook that could help keep audience interest revved up for this 22-year-old franchise.
“The Little Mermaid” (Disney)
Current Release Date: May 26
Thrill Factor: As Disney has revisited its vault, live-action adaptations of its animated musicals — like “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” — have thrived at the box office agnostic of reviews. And Halle Bailey, who plays Ariel in the new take on “The Little Mermaid,” has the vocal chops needed to revive the anthem “Part of Your World,” while her co-stars Melissa McCarthy and Daveed Diggs should breathe new life into classics like “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Under the Sea.”
Chill Factor: Some of Disney’s most recent remakes missed the mark, with “Mulan” and “Dumbo” failing to resonate despite brand recognition. Plus, films aimed at family audiences have struggled to rebound at the box office.
Verdict: The trolls won’t win, and “The Little Mermaid” will join the pantheon of successful Disney revivals.
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Current Release Date: July 21
Thrill Factor: No offense, M3gan, but Barbie is one of the most famous dolls in the world. With Margot Robbie as the plastic, fantastic toy and Ryan Gosling as her sidekick Ken, along with the stacked cast of Will Ferrell, Simu Liu, Issa Rae and Helen Mirren, and a teaser that parodies “2001: A Space Odyssey,” expectations are high that director Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” will change the world.
Chill Factor: There’s plenty of mystery around “Barbie,” including the plot of the film, and in the hands of two indie favorites and mumblecore icons, Gerwig and her partner and co-writer Noah Baumbach, it’s probably not for children who actually play with the doll. Will parents of young kids be confused by its target audience? Also, Gerwig’s frequent collaborator Saoirse Ronan couldn’t be in the movie due to scheduling conflicts, so that’s a bummer.
Verdict: As long as “Barbie” delivers the goods — and let’s be real, when has Gerwig ever missed? — it’ll be one of today’s rare movies to resonate with older audiences… and all without the help of explosive stunts or superheroes. (Probably.)
“Cocaine Bear” (Universal)
Current Release Date: Feb. 24
Thrill Factor: The movie is about a bear that does cocaine.
Chill Factor: It’s oh, so hard to get people to care about anything that doesn’t involve comic books or Tom Cruise.
Verdict: The movie is about a bear that does cocaine.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves“ (Paramount)
Current Release Date: March 31
Thrill Factor: A winning cast — including Chris Pine, Regé-Jean Page, Michelle Rodriguez and Hugh Grant — and skillful directors in Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (“Game Night”) are adapting the storied role-playing game into what Paramount hopes could be a rousing fantasy adventure franchise.
Chill Factor: Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” famous fans like Joe Manganiello, and popular podcasts like Critical Role have helped to make D&D cool — or at least cool-adjacent. It’s unclear, however, whether that’s enough to cast a spell on audiences beyond the core fanbase; the last attempt at a big-screen, live action adaptation of “Dungeons & Dragons” in 2000 bombed so badly that it relegated the franchise to TV movie and direct-to-DVD purgatory.
Verdict: The cast’s presentation at San Diego Comic Con was an enthusiastic success — and the film they made looks like great fun whether or not you’ve ever played the game. Now Paramount has to convince audiences of the same.
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” (Lionsgate)
Current Release Date: Nov. 17
Thrill Factor: “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” returns audiences to Panem for the first time in nearly 10 years. Plus, Thanksgiving has been prime time to launch the other movies in the $2.9 billion-dollar grossing “Hunger Games” series.
Chill Factor: Without Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, will audiences care about the post-apocalyptic nation and its inhabitants? The prequel story, featuring Tom Blyth as a young Coriolanus Snow and Rachel Zegler as tribute Lucy Gray Baird, takes place over a half-a-century before the girl on fire took the diabolical Hunger Games by storm. It’s always a risk when moviegoers already know how a story is generally going to conclude.
Verdict: The book has generated positive reviews, so the pressure is on director Francis Lawrence — who successfully shepherded the prior installments to the big screen — to recapture the magic. May the odds be ever in his favor.
“Wonka” (Warner Bros.)
Current Release Date: Dec. 15
Thrill Factor: There are few children’s characters more beloved — across many generations — than eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka, from Roald Dahl’s seminal novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” And there are few young stars with a more dedicated following than Timothée Chalamet, who stars in this prequel to Dahl’s novel about Wonka’s early days before opening his magical candy factory, alongside a satisfying and delicious supporting cast including Olivia Colman, Keegan-Michael Key, Rowan Atkinson, Sally Hawkins, Natasha Rothwell and Jim Carter.
Chill Factor: This is a musical with a roughly $125 million budget at a time when execution-dependent family movies have increasingly fraught prospects (e.g.: “Strange World,” “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile”). And, not to put too fine a point on this, but, despite a few examples of shaky-if-confident singing, Chalamet’s best known “musical” performance so far is his infamous 2012 gig as young up-and-coming rap star Timmy Tim.
Verdict: Opening over the holidays seems like a smart play, but even more than “Dune,” “Wonka” will be the biggest test yet of Chalamet’s star power.
“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” (Paramount)
Current Release Date: June 9
Thrill Factor: It’s really fun to see a Transformer turn into a gorilla.
Chill Factor: The “Transformers” movies have been a precipitously diminishing return; the most recent effort, 2018’s “Bumblebee,” earned some of the franchise’s best reviews, and its worst box office returns, with just $465 million globally. “Rise of the Beasts” is attempting to reset those expectations, with a new director in Steven Caple Jr. (“Creed II”), new stars in Anthony Ramos (“In the Heights”) and Dominique Fishback (“Judas and the Black Messiah”), and a new frontier in Transformer mythology with the Maximals, Predacons and Terrorcons — all of which can transform into giant robot animals.
Verdict: But are giant robot animals enough to restore “Transformers” to its former box office glory?
“The Flash” (Warner Bros.)
Current Release Date: June 16
Thrill Factor: Director Andy Muschietti is hot off of the “It” movies, Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck are returning as Batman, and the plot hinges on time travel and multiverses, two of the hottest things going in superhero storytelling. Studio insiders haven’t been this excited for Warner Bros. superhero movie since “The Dark Knight” movies. In fact, almost everything about “The Flash” points to a massive summer sensation. Almost.
Chill Factor: Starting in 2020, “The Flash” star Ezra Miller has been an engine for disturbing headlines, including a video of the actor choking a woman outside a bar, arrests for harassment and assault, and multiple allegations of abuse. In August, the actor issued a general apology “to everyone that I have alarmed and upset with my past behavior,” faulting “complex mental health issues” and noting that they remain in “ongoing treatment.” That may have quelled the immediate storm, but to date, Miller’s “past behavior” is the only thing many people know about the actor — a terrible place to start for a studio that needs to sell its star as an aspirational superhero.
Verdict: “The Flash” was once intended to help launch DC into a new storytelling frontier. With DC’s new leadership preparing a reboot on top of the controversy surrounding Miller, Warner Bros. now has a precarious high-wire promotional campaign ahead of it to get audiences to stop paying attention to its star’s past and focus instead on the movie they’re leading.
Current Release Date: Nov. 22
Thrill Factor: There’s plenty of pedigree behind “Wish,” including “Frozen” masterminds Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck and “West Side Story” Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose.
Chill Factor: For over a year, Disney has struggled, shockingly so, with successfully launching animated fare into theaters — even “Encanto” fizzled until it debuted on Disney+. Moreover, “Wish” tells the story of how the wishing star that so many Disney characters have wished upon came to be. With zero competition, it’s the most confusing logline since “Lightyear,” the origin story of Buzz Lightyear, the intergalactic hero who starred in the movie that inspired Andy’s action figure in “Toy Story.”
Verdict: “Wish” needs a “Let It Go”-esque banger, a song so undeniably catchy that it’ll be on every parent’s Spotify wrapped, to bring families back to theaters again and again.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple, Paramount)
Release Date: Unannounced
Thrill Factor: It’s hard to get more high-profile than director Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemons and Brendan Fraser. And Apple, which backed the $200 million-budgeted film, enlisted Paramount Pictures to distribute “Killers of the Flower Moon” in theaters. As the first Apple production to get an earnest theatrical rollout, the company must have faith in its commercial prospects.
Chill Factor: Even with Scorsese at the helm, few genres are more challenged at the box office than Western crime dramas. And “Killers of the Flower Moon” is one of the most expensive non-superhero films of the year.
Verdict: It’s been 10 years since “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Scorsese’s last commercial winner. To defy the odds, the illustrious director needs to deliver a masterpiece that wows crowds and critics.
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