- 2023 was a mixed year for the film industry, with both big-budget blockbusters and indie films making an impact.
- Superhero movies still have box office clout, with films like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 performing well.
- Godzilla Minus One is a standout film that focuses on character-driven storytelling and uses Godzilla as a metaphor for society and war.
2023 has been another strange year for film. And as it all comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the best cinematic masterpieces that have graced our screens (both small and big). In this article, we’ll delve deep into the 10 best movies of 2023, showcasing the cream of the crop from the last 12 months. Sorry, Shazam! Fury of the Gods. You didn’t make the list.
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As we approach 2024, the compulsion to look back at 2023’s film industry offers a vista filled with contradictions. It was a year of Hollywood’s return from the pandemic’s clutches, yet one where box office numbers stubbornly refused to recapture pre-2020 glory fully.
On the surface, 2023 looked like a triumphant return to form. Movie theatres were filled with highly anticipated blockbusters like Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse and The Super Mario Bros Movie, which exceeded expectations.
2023 heard the constant refrain of superhero fatigue despite audiences watching superhero movies in droves. Blue Beetle, The Marvels and The Flash were duds at the box office, but others, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, produced solid numbers, proving that superhero genres still have box office clout.
It was a year that saw the phenomenon known as Barbenheimer, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, creating film fusion and dominating film conversation online and in the press. It was also a year when tent poles were delayed due to a long writer and actor strike.
Some cracks also appeared beneath the glitz and glamour in 2023, with the total box office revenue stagnating around 75-80% of pre-pandemic levels. These numbers suggest that audiences have become comfortable watching from home, preferring the vast content library on streaming services instead. Still, there was no big Avengers film like 2019’s Avengers: Endgame and its mammoth $2.7 billion revenue.
Many small films played on streaming and in theatres, filling pages written by critics who fawned over arthouse releases like Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City and Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. Overall, 2023 was a mixed bag of big-budget blockbusters and indie films. Each film release shows us that humanity’s yearning for stories continues unabated.
Whether it’s the escapism of superhero adventures, the emotional resonance of character studies, or the intellectual stimulation of challenging stories, movies provide a unique window into the human experience. So, as the curtains close and the credits roll on 2023, let’s look at some of the best movies this past year offers.
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We have a tie for the 10th place on our list of best movies of 2023…
10. Godzilla Minus One
Godzilla Minus One is the sci-fi spectacle no one saw coming. One of this year’s best movies, audiences and critics in Japan and the West have praised the film for its focus on character-driven storytelling alongside spectacular visuals rendered on a tiny budget compared to blockbuster Hollywood releases. The movie’s writer and director, Takashi Yamazaki, tells a dramatic and exciting story that uses the threat of Godzilla as a metaphor for society and the implications of war.
The main character is Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a former kamikaze pilot who, in the final days of the war, refused to carry out his suicide mission. During his subsequent encounter with Godzilla, Kōichi’s fear and hesitation led to the deaths of several of his Japanese comrades.
Plagued by survivor’s guilt, Kōichi returns to Tokyo and struggles to build a life amid the charred ruins of his neighbourhood, devastated by the American firebombing campaign. Despite his initial reluctance, he adopts a homeless woman named Noriko (Minami Hamabe). They adopt a little girl named Akiko (Sae Nagatani), orphaned after the air raid.
Hollywood Kaiju films focus more on visuals and creatures, paying little attention to the human elements in monster films. Godzilla Minus One delves into a more grounded post-apocalyptic war movie atmosphere, emphasizing the cost of human life alongside a destructive force like Godzilla. The film celebrates its well-developed human characters and their emotional journeys amidst the chaos. Godzilla becomes the backdrop to explore themes of survival, resilience, and the fight for hope in a dark world.
10. Asteroid City
Critical darling Wes Anderson is one of the best visual directors of our time. He is known for his eccentric style in films like The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom. Asteroid City is a comedy-drama that features an ensemble cast that includes Matt Dillon, Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, and Jason Schwartzman, to name a few. The film’s whimsical charm, quirky characters, and nostalgic retro vibes captivated audiences as it explored life’s meaning in a retrofuturistic 1950s setting.
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9. Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1
Tom Cruise returns for the seventh instalment of this legendary series about Ethan Hunt and his band of rogue agents. One of the year’s best films, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, finds Hunt fighting a mysterious A.I. called the Entity, which governments worldwide seek to control. Dead Reckoning features a tight script and the usual fast-paced action fans have come to enjoy in the series. Tom Cruise also delivers more exhilarating stunts, which have come to define the Mission Impossible franchise.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
James Gunn’s final film in the Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel’s top film of the year. The writer and director successfully closed the trilogy with a moving film focusing on Rocket and the painful journey he has endured. Gunn fuses elements of comedy, drama, fantasy and action to tell a heart-warming tale that also delves into commentary on the abuse of power and the transforming ability of friendship and family.
7. The Holdovers
Paul Giamatti plays Paul Hunham, a disillusioned classics professor forced to escort holdover students who cannot go home for the holidays. Director Alexander Payne, known for the classic comedy-drama Sideways, returns to form with The Holdovers, telling a story about loneliness and human connection. Paul Giamatti is excellent in the role of Hunham as he moves from a moody, bitter character to embracing and connecting with the most unlikely persons.
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6. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a worthy sequel to the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The first film was brilliant, introducing audiences to Miles Morales, Spider-Woman/Spider-Gwen (an alternate version of Gwen Stacy), and several other captivating characters throughout the Spider-Verse.
It’s hard to believe they could maintain such a high standard, but they did! In the film, Miles goes on an adventure with Gwen Stacy across the multiverse, where he meets a team of Spider-People known as the Spider-Society, led by Miguel O’Hara / Spider-Man 2099.
However, our hero must grapple with these characters over how to confront a new threat, The Spot (a supervillain with the ability to open interdimensional and smaller-scale portals, which he uses to travel long distances instantly and commit crimes).
Throughout the film, everyone is trying to tell Miles what to do and how to do it. He tries to make sense of things for himself and ultimately finds his way, saying, “Nah, I’mma do my own thing.” Powerful stuff showing that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has once again raised the bar on animated storytelling, and ending the film on a cliffhanger only means we can’t wait to see what happens next.
5. John Wick: Chapter 4
John Wick: Chapter 4 does what few movie franchises have been able to do. Even at number four in a line of successful films in the franchise, it stands out as the best yet! This movie was well-received by fans and critics alike, and it’s no mystery why. John Wick: Chapter 4 (also known as John Wick 4 or JW4 and known in Japan as John Wick: Consequences) is the action-packed fourth instalment in the John Wick franchise.
The film stars Keanu Reeves as the title character, of course, alongside Donnie Yen and Bill Skarsgård as the main antagonists, as well as Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shamier Anderson, and Lance Reddick, among others. In the film, John Wick sets out to get revenge on the High Table and those who left him for dead.
The movie is almost three hours long, but fans didn’t care as they marvelled at the ingenuity and intensity of the action scenes and enjoyed the contagious energy we all love in action films. John Wick is a career-defining role for Keanu Reeves. It allows him to show off dramatically and physically and perfectly suits his stoic persona. He delivers some of his best work in this fourth instalment, and it is a no-brainer stand-out film of 2023.
Barbie was not only one of the highest-grossing movies of 2023 but also one of the best. As of November, Barbie has grossed $636.2 million in the United States and Canada and reached a total of $1.442 billion worldwide. Warner Bros. described this as the film “reaching a ‘Barbillion'”. It is also the highest-grossing film ever directed solely by a woman. The film is a fantasy comedy directed by Greta Gerwig adapted from a screenplay she wrote with Noah Baumbach. The movie is based on the iconic fashion doll by American toy and entertainment company Mattel.
There have been several computer-animated films and specials, but this is the first ever live-action film of the beloved character. One of the main reasons for the film’s success could be the worldwide success of the fashion doll itself. Barbie has been part of the toy doll market for over six decades, being first introduced in 1959, and can still be seen on the shelves today. The marketing for the film also played a significant role. The marketing department at Warner Bros. partnered with products ranging from a bright fuchsia Xbox to a $1,350 Balmain cropped hoodie. So, unless you were living under a box, there was no escaping the Barbie movement.
There have been several computer-animated films and specials, but this is the first ever live-action film of the beloved character. The movie stars Margot Robbie in the lead role and Ryan Gosling as Ken and follows the pair on a journey of self-discovery following an existential crisis. The supporting cast includes America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, and Will Ferrell. To her credit, director Greta Gerwig incorporated meaningful themes by commenting on commercialism and the patriarchy.
It’s highly possible that Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling could bag Oscar nominations for playing plastic toys. Stranger things have happened. However, there’s no denying that Barbie is a truly funny, feel-good comedy and a pleasant cinematic experience.
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3. The Boy and The Heron
Mahito, a 12-year-old boy, struggles to settle in a new town after the death of his mother. However, when a talking heron informs Mahito that his mother is still alive, he enters an abandoned tower searching for her, transporting him to another world. The film tackles complex themes such as grief, displacement, and the search for meaning in the face of tragedy.
Mahito’s journey mirrors the struggles of many people who experience significant loss, showing how he copes with his emotions and searches for connection.
The Boy and The Heron is definitely one of the best movies of 2023.
2. Killers of The Flower Moon
Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Leonardo Dicaprio collaborate for this compelling Western crime drama about love, betrayal and greed. Killers of the Flower Moon is based on the 2017 non-fiction book by David Grann. The story is set in 1920s Oklahoma; it focuses on a series of murders of Osage members and relations in the Osage Nation after oil was discovered on tribal land. The tribal members had retained mineral rights on their reservation, and devious opportunists sought to take the tribal members’ wealth.
The film’s lengthy run time can be trying, but critics praised the film’s absorbing tale about the oppression of indigenous people and the stimulating score and visceral cinematography. Killers of the Flower Moon sees Martin Scorses team up again with his star, Leonardo Dicaprio, to deliver another intriguing masterpiece. Lily Gladstone is equally brilliant as the longsuffering Mollie Kyle.
Don’t be surprised if Killers of the Flower Moon sweeps the Oscars. This is definitely one of the best movies of 2023, if not of Martin Scorsese‘s entire career.
It should come as no surprise that Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan‘s latest cinematic masterpiece, is ranked as the number-one movie of 2023. Oppenheimer is a biographical thriller and character study of J. Robert Oppenheimer – the American theoretical physicist known as the “father of the atomic bomb” for his role in the Manhattan Project—the World War II undertaking that developed the first nuclear weapons. It is written and directed by acclaimed director Christopher Nolan and has Cillian Murphy in the lead role.
The film is based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. The movie portrays Oppenheimer’s career, with the story predominantly focusing on his studies, his direction of the Manhattan Project during World War II, and his eventual fall from grace due to his 1954 security hearing.
The film boasts an all-star ensemble cast because who wouldn’t want to work with Christopher Nolan? Emily Blunt plays Oppenheimer’s wife “Kitty”; Matt Damon is cast as the head of the Manhattan Project, Leslie Groves, Robert Downey Jr. as U.S. Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss, and Florence Pugh as Oppenheimer’s communist lover Jean Tatlock. The ensemble supporting cast includes the likes of Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, and Kenneth Branagh.
Oppenheimer is a triumphant work of art depicting powerful themes such as the tension between humanity and science, the inner turmoil of a brilliant mind and a thorough exploration of the eternal question, “Just because we can, should we?”. This film is beautifully crafted, balancing the high-stakes drama of real life with a visually stunning window into the mind of one of the world’s most prolific scientists.
It takes the viewer on a journey of epic proportions (the creation of the atomic bomb) while still managing to capture poignant, intimate moments between the characters. The film had Oscar buzz long before its release, with Cillian Murphy hoping to take the Academy Award for Best Actor, Christopher Nolan for Best Director and, of course, the big one, Best Picture.
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Past Lives, starring Greta Lee and Teo Yoo as Hae Sung; Anatomy of a Fall with Sandra Hüller; Poor Things, starring Emma Stone; Zone of Interest, The Killer by David Fincher, starring Michael Fassbender; May December with Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret with Rachel McAdams, You Hurt My Feelings starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Tell us what you think are the best movies of 2023.