2023 Box Office Preview: Universal Pictures

© 2022 Nintendo and Universal Studios

In a year defined by a lack of titles being made available to cinemas, Universal bucked the trend by bringing 19 titles to theaters in 2022. Its specialty division, Focus Features, distributed an additional 12 titles to theaters. All in all, it was the studio with the busiest output of the year. 2023 will bring another strong, superhero-free Universal slate to theaters—headlined by a new Christopher Nolan title, the launch of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and the latest installment in the Fast and the Furious franchise.

2023 Preview

High Expectations

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

April 7, 2023

One of the gaming world’s most recognizable characters has a strong shot at box office success with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, hailing from Illumination Entertainment. Illumination gave Universal two successful family-friendly movies in 2022 (see Minions: The Rise of Gru and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, below), a year that for the most part saw family titles fail to meet box office expectations. Aside from Minions: The Rise of Gru‘s $123.2M domestic haul and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish‘s $88.1M and counting (including grosses earned in 2023), comps include live action/animation hybrid video game adaptations Sonic the Hedgehog ($148.9M), Sonic the Hedgehog 2 ($190.8M), and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu ($144.1M). – Rebecca Pahle

Fast X

May 19, 2093

It’s been diminishing returns for the Fast & Furious franchise at the domestic box office since 2015’s Furious 7 peaked with a $353M theatrical run. The last entry in the franchise, F9: The Fast Saga, released in a pandemic-stricken market in April 2021, topped out at $173M domestically—the lowest tally since 2009’s Fast & Furious. The franchise still has gas left in the tank for an overseas run, and international audiences should help determine the future of the franchise. – Daniel Loria

Oppenheimer

July 21, 2023

Christopher Nolan’s first film to hit theaters since Tenet led the theatrical reopening effort in August 2020. That title wouldn’t be a fair comparable for Oppenheimer, and neither are similar action epics like Inception. Instead, 2014’s Interstellar ($188M) may prove to be the most accurate benchmark before we see more from this title’s marketing campaign. – Daniel Loria

Migration

December 22, 2023

Little is known about this holiday season family release—though the fact that it hails from animation powerhouse Illumination Entertainment (see: The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish) speaks well for its chances at the box office. Migration marks the English-language debut of director Benjamin Renner, who served as a co-director on 2017’s The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales and the 2012 critical favorite Ernest & Celestine. – Rebecca Pahle

Breakout Contenders

M3GAN

January 6, 2023

Universal started 2023 on the right foot with the first over-performer of the year. M3GAN exceeded expectations over its opening weekend with a $30.4M bow—the highest-grossing opening weekend for a PG-13 horror title since 2021’s A Quiet Place Part II. – Daniel Loria

Knock at the Cabin

February 3, 2023

M. Night Shyamalan directs this horror thriller about a family whose vacation is interrupted by a mysterious quartet who claim to have knowledge about an imminent apocalypse. The mid-aughts saw Shyamalan direct a string of commercial and critical flops, including 2013’s After Earth ($60.5M) and 2010’s The Last Airbender ($131.7M); since then, his films have boasted lower budgets but higher levels of critical acclaim. Comps here include Shyamalan’s The Visit (2015; $65.2M), Split (2016; $138.2M), Glass (2019; $111M), and pandemic release Old (2021; $48.2M). – Rebecca Pahle

Renfield

April 14, 2023

In terms of comps for Renfield, there aren’t too many classic-horror-literature-reimagined-as-comedies films to choose from. Director Chris McKay’s previous theatrical release, the animated The LEGO Batman Movie, grossed $175.9M, an unreasonable benchmark for Renfield, his third feature. In between Batman and Renfield in McKay’s filmography sits 2021 actioner The Tomorrow War, which was sold to Amazon Prime during the pandemic.

Book Club: The Next Chapter

May 12, 2023

2018’s Book Club earned $68.5M domestically; other recent movies geared towards older female audiences include 2019’s Poms ($13.1M), 2011’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($46.4M), and 2015’s The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($33M). Jane Fonda, who appears in Book Club and its upcoming sequel, has a similar movie hitting theaters in 2023 with Paramount’s 80 for Brady, out in February.– Rebecca Pahle

Strays

June 9, 2023

The closest comp for animated comedy Strays has to be 2016’s Sausage Party ($97.6M), which was also aimed at adults. Strays director Josh Greenbaum’s 2021 release Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar had its planned theatrical run scuttled by the pandemic and instead debuted on Hulu. – Rebecca Pahle

Exorcist

October 13, 2023

Blumhouse and director David Gordon Green are teaming up again to relaunch another legacy horror franchise in theaters. Not much is known about Exorcist at this point; the most obvious benchmark will be the $159.3M take of 2018’s Halloween, but only if Universal manages to avoid a simultaneous release on Peacock. –Daniel Loria

Trolls 3

November 17, 2023

The first Trolls movie enjoyed a successful (if fairly innocuous) theatrical run when it was launched in November 2016. The original’s $154M was good enough to greenlight a sequel, a title that went on to achieve infamy among exhibitors. Trolls 2 – World Tour became the first major studio title to skip theaters altogether during the pandemic, opting instead to debut on Premium Video On-Demand (PVOD). Can the third title in the series become a cinematic event? Or will audiences opt to wait and watch it at home? – Daniel Loria

Universal Pictures / Focus Features 2023 Theatrical Release Schedule

M3GAN | January 6

Distant | January 27

Knock at the Cabin | February 3

Of an Age | February 10

Cocaine Bear | February 24

Inside | March 10

Champions | March 24

The Super Mario Bros. Movie | April 7

Renfield | April 14

Polite Society| April 28

Book Club: The Next Chapter | May 12

Fast X | May 19

Strays | June 9

Asteroid City | June 16

Oppenheimer | July 21

Last Voyage of the Demeter | August 11

The Exorcist | October 13

Trolls 3 | November 17

Migration | December 22


2022 Recap

Jurassic World: Dominion

Domestic earnings in 2022: $376.0M

Released: June 10, 2022
It’s hard to consider a film which will likely finish as the year’s #5 title a box office disappointment. But it’s happened before—see 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which was the lowest grossing film of the trilogy and underperformed compared to pre-release projections. Something similar happened here, as Dominion finished -42% below 2015’s Jurassic World ($652.3M) and -10% behind 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($417.7M). – Jesse Rifkin

Minions: The Rise of Gru

Domestic earnings in 2022: $123.2M

Released: July 1, 2022

The fifth installment in the Despicable Me / Minions franchise proved the highest-earning yet, squeaking by at +0.3% above 2013’s Despicable Me 2 ($368.0M) and +10% above 2015’s original Minions ($336.0M). – Jesse Rifkin

Nope

Domestic earnings in 2022: $123.2M

Released: July 22, 2022

The highest-grossing “original” film of 2022, not based on a preexisting IP or true story, it feels wrong to say Nope came in below expectations. Perhaps writer-director Jordan Peele had set the box office bar too high with 2017’s Get Out ($175.8M) and 2019’s Us ($175.0M). – Jesse Rifkin

The Bad Guys

Domestic earnings in 2022: $97.2M

Released: April 22, 2022

Among animated titles, few would have projected prior to release that Guys would earn +3% more than DC League of Super Pets ($93.6M) and only -17% off from perpetual animation juggernaut Pixar with Lightyear ($118.3M). – Jesse Rifkin

The Black Phone

Domestic earnings in 2022: $89.8M

Released: June 24, 2022

Among horror releases, Phone earned +10% more than January’s Scream ($81.6M), a film that Boxoffice PRO ranks in its year-end recap as having exceeded box office expectations. – Jesse Rifkin

Sing 2

Domestic earnings in 2022: $86.3M, of $162.7M total

Released: December 22, 2022

The animated sequel with an all-star cast of both actors and non-actor musicians ended up -39% behind 2016’s original Sing ($270.3M). – Jesse Rifkin

Ticket to Paradise

Domestic earnings in 2022: $68.0M

Released: October 21, 2022

The romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney did decently well. Although it’s not a genre comparison, Paradise looks poised to finish about +65% above 2016’s Roberts and Clooney-starring thriller Money Monster ($41.0M). – Jesse Rifkin

Halloween Ends

Domestic earnings in 2022: $64.0M

Released: October 14, 2022

Released day-and-date simultaneously in cinemas and streaming on Peacock, Ends slashed a low box office, -59% below 2018’s theatrically exclusive Halloween ($159.3M) and -30% behind 2021’s Halloween Kills, which was also released day-and-date ($92.0M). – Jesse Rifkin

Violent Night

Domestic earnings in 2022: $38.4M

Released: December 2, 2022

David Harbour starred as Santa Claus who’s tasked with taking down a group of mercenaries in this R-rated action comedy. Box office expectations were modest and roughly met, although Violent Night looks poised to finish below such other adult-themed holiday movies as 2017’s A Bad Moms Christmas ($72.1M), 2003’s Bad Santa ($60.0M), and 2016’s Office Christmas Party ($54.7M). – Jesse Rifkin

Beast

Domestic earnings in 2022: $31.8M

Released: August 19, 2022

Starring Idris Elba as a man trying to survive against a lion in the wilds of Africa, Beast earned +5% above Elba’s 2017 survival thriller The Mountain Between Us ($30.3M). – Jesse Rifkin

Marry Me

Domestic earnings in 2022: $22.4M

Released: February 11, 2022

Timed to Valentine’s Day and released day-and-date simultaneously in cinemas and streaming on Peacock, this romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson stalled at the box office. It earned -42% less than Lopez’s 2018 Second Act ($39.2M), itself something of a box office disappointment. Compared to other Valentine’s Day romantic comedy releases, it was also -59% behind 2019’s What Men Want ($54.6M) and -52% behind 2016’s How to be Single ($46.8M). – Jesse Rifkin

Ambulance

Domestic earnings in 2022: $22.3M

Released: April 8, 2022

Compared to other action thrillers from director Michael Bay, Ambulance earned -57% below 2016’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi ($52.8M), -55% behind 2013’s Pain & Gain ($49.8M), and -37% below 2005’s The Island ($35.8M). – Jesse Rifkin

The 355

Domestic earnings in 2022: $14.5M

Released: January 7, 2022

A team of women armed with weapons, at least one of whom is played by an Academy Award nominated or winning actress, kick some butt. This variation on the theme, starring Jessica Chastain and Penelope Cruz, earned -65% below 2018’s Widows starring Viola Davis and -82% behind 2020’s Birds of Prey starring Margot Robbie ($84.1M). – Jesse Rifkin

Easter Sunday

Domestic earnings in 2022: $13.0M

Released: August 5, 2022

Universal’s struggles with comedies at the 2022 box office began with Easter Sunday, a seasonal title released in the middle of the summer. – Daniel Loria

Bros

Domestic earnings in 2022: $11.6M

Released: September 30, 2022

Billed as the first same-sex romantic comedy from a major studio, Bros failed to connect with viewers and finished the year as one of the most disappointing releases on the market. – Daniel Loria

Firestarter

Domestic earnings in 2022: $9.5M

Released: May 13, 2022

Released day-and-date simultaneously in cinemas and streaming on Peacock, the horror film based on a Stephen King novel finished -36% below 1984’s original Firestarter – and that’s without adjusting for ticket price inflation. – Jesse Rifkin

Redeeming Love

Domestic earnings in 2022: $9.2M

Released: January 21, 2022

This faith-based romance drama set during the California gold rush of 1849 was unable to find an audience in a lackluster January. – Daniel Loria

The Fabelmans

Domestic earnings in 2022: $9.1M

Released: November 23, 2022

Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film had low box office projections in the first place. But its -43% sophomore weekend drop was lower than for many Spielberg titles, including 1998’s Saving Private Ryan (-23%), 2015’s Bridge of Spies (-26%), 1997’s Amistad (-28%), 2002’s Catch Me If You Can (-30%), 2004’s The Terminal (-31%), 2005’s Munich (-33%), 2017’s The Post (-39%), and 2011’s War Horse (-40%). However, it was a milder drop than for 2012’s Lincoln (-48%) and 2021’s West Side Story (-65%). – Jesse Rifkin

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Domestic earnings in 2022: $55.6M

Released: December 21, 2022

2011’s original Puss in Boots earned $194.2M in its theatrical run. While that benchmark may have always been out of reach for the sequel, a solid run during the holiday period put the title on track to cross $100M, a rarity among family films at the 2022 box office. Daniel Loria

She Said

Domestic earnings in 2022: $5.8M

Released: November 18, 2022

Compared to other journalism films, She Said is poised to earn about -87% below 2015’s Spotlight ($45.0M) and -81% behind 2019’s Bombshell ($31.7M). – Jesse Rifkin

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