‘The Super Mario Bros Movie’ Levels All The Way Up To Win Deadline’s 2023 Most Valuable Blockbuster Tournament

Universal and Illumination’s smash The Super Mario Bros Movie finishes No. 1 to make it a wrap on Deadline’s Most Valuable Blockbuster tournament for 2023. While the industry is still coming out of Covid and the aftermath of the strikes, there’s no question about the major motion picture studios’ embrace of the theatrical downstream model; steamers such as Amazon and Apple realize the power of it too.

Last year’s wild ride saw the buckling of superhero movies, though Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse underscored fanboys’ hunger for something different in the genre. The year also showed that longtime box office emperor Disney can lose its clothes sometimes — in 2023 it was its overextension and hasty execution of IP Wish, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Haunted Mansion and The Marvels. Barbie and Oppenheimer, meanwhile, showed that perhaps the biggest box office weekends are best programmed with two tentpoles in the heart of summer.

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More power to the B.O.: When your brand is more than beloved, like in Five Nights at Freddy’s, a big screen is where everyone wants to see it rather than at home watching on a streamer. While the first weekend of summer 2024 was rather dull in The Fall Guy’s less than spectacular $27.7 million start, June, July and beyond will improve things as more movies come into the multiplex with such must-sees as Inside Out 2, Deadpool & Wolverine and Beetlejuice Beetlejuice.


The Super Mario Bros Movie

For a third time in the history of Deadline’s Most Valuable Blockbuster Tournament, Illumination boss Chris Meledandri ascends the ladder to cut the nets, in this case for Super Mario Bros, the animation studio’s co-production with Nintendo. Meledandri won the inaugural tournament in 2014 with Despicable Me 2 and was crowned again in 2017 for The Secret Life of Pets.

You could say that Super Mario Bros is organically a self-fulfilling prophecy at the box office. However, the first big-screen adaptation of the iconic 1980s game failed: 1993’s live-action Super Mario Bros starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo grossed barely $21M at the domestic box office and only $40 million worldwide but cost $50M. By comparison, the 2023’s pic’s first day of domestic ticket sales was $31.7M. The difference between the two movies stems from Super Mario Bros game architect Shigeru Miyamoto being heavily involved the second time around, ensuring a faithful take. Meledandri and Miyamoto first met in 2014 when they were working on their respective Despicable Me and Super Mario parts of the Universal theme parks. Various trips between Kyoto and Los Angeles led to talks about building a partnership and how to care for the characters in a way that wouldn’t shrug off fans but also build them up for a big-screen audience. Example: Princess Peach isn’t a damsel in distress in the movie like she is in the games, though a compromise was made whereby she’s first presented as fans know her in the games, before she becomes a force to be reckoned with onscreen. The movie was also cast up with the biggest names in showbiz including Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Sebastian Maniscalco, Seth Rogen, Charlie Day and Keegan-Michael Key.



Not only is The Super Mario Bros Movie the highest-grossing Illumination movie of all time with $1.36 billion at the global box office, but it’s also the most profitable at $559M, besting Minionsnet of $502M in 2015. The latest film’s $100M production cost was split 50-50 between Nintendo and Universal. While the movie didn’t have a $100M promotional-partner marketing campaign to offset P&A, that would be rare for an animated film. However, there were plenty of partners to knock audiences atop the head with McDonald’s Happy Meals, Shake Shack and 7-Eleven takeovers. Universal blasted off the Super Mario Bros Movie trailer during a New York Comic-Con panel in the fall of 2022 timed with an integration on Nintendo Direct (YouTube digital press conference for the brand), along with a global digital launch. The second trailer dropped in November and was attached to the holiday season’s must-see film, Avatar: The Way of Water. Several spots ran during the NFL championships games, the NBA All-Star Game and last year’s March Madness. On March 10, Nintendo’s Mario Day, movie tickets went on sale for the film’s Easter-weekend release. There were in-game displays for the movie on such kids game sites as Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite. This all resulted in big turnout by Hispanic and Latino audiences at 40%, with the biggest five-day opening of all time at $204.6M stateside and the biggest debut for animated movie around the globe at $377M.

Big thanks to our sources for making this profit series possible and to Deadline Co-Editor-in-Chief Mike Fleming Jr. Rather than rush these figures out at the end of the year, we take time to deep dive with those involved.

Still to come: an epilogue to the 2023 tournament centered on streaming movies, so be on the lookout.

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