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2023 Box Office: Disney Cedes Global Marketshare Crown to Universal After Years of Domination

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Universal‘s film empire is taking a major bow after placing No. 1 in marketshare at the 2023 global box office, a feat no studio has been able to pull off since Disney rose to dominance in 2016.

The 24 movies released by Universal generated an estimated $4.91 billion in worldwide ticket sales, compared to an estimated $4.83 billion from the 17 titles released by Disney in what made for a relatively close race both in North America and at the foreign box office. Even a week ago, no one in Hollywood was sure Universal would prevail, especially overseas.

Universal’s total haul included $1.94 billion in domestic revenue, while Disney’s domestic tally was $1.9 billion. Internationally, Universal prevailed with $2.97 billion. Disney’s offshore revenue was $2.92 billion.

The transfer of power is a big win for Donna Langley, who is chairman of NBCUniversal Studio Group and chief content officer. She is known for her close ties to top filmmakers, and had the necessary skills and standing to lure Christopher Nolan into the Universal fold when he grew upset with Warner Bros. after it announced plans to release its 2021 slate day-and-date on streaming.

Nolan’s R-rated Oppenheimer led Universal’s top-grossing films of 2023 with an astonishing $952 million in global ticket sales, a record sum for a biographical drama and Nolan’s best showing outside of his two Dark Knight movies, not adjusted for inflation.

“Universal seems to have found the perfect balance of franchise films, animation, horror and everything in between — and these assets are given every possible advantage with a pitch perfect strategy that combines great filmmaker relationships, fantastic marketing and a rock solid distribution plan,” says Comscore chief box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

Universal’s slate includes titles from Universal Pictures proper, specialty division Focus Features, Illumination and DreamWorks Animation. Illumination is home of Super Mario, which earned $1.36 billion globally (it ranked No. 2 for the year behind Warners’ Barbie). The film shattered numerous records, including becoming the No. 2 animated film of all time behind Disney’s Frozen. And 2023’s Fast X delivered $704.9 million in box office grosses to give Universal three of the five top-grossing films of the year globally.

Langley, who also keeps Blumhouse CEO Jason Blum close, has always insisted on a diverse slate of films in addition to franchise fare. Blumhouse’s Five Nights at Freddy‘s scared up $290.9 million against a mere $20 million budget.

“In 2023, Universal once again found success at the box office with our eclectic slate of films. Our slate featured blockbusters like Christopher Nolan’s epic Oppenheimer and Illumination’s record-breaking The Super Mario Bros. Movie, horror hits including Blumhouse’s breakout hit M3GAN, comedies, dramas, and family films from two of the biggest names in animation, Illumination and DreamWorks Animation,” Jim Orr, Universal Pictures president of domestic distribution, said in a statement.

From 2016 to 2022, Disney placed first in global marketshare (it lost the domestic race to Sony in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 box office collapse). Universal hasn’t ranked No. 1 on a worldwide basis since 2015, when the studio’s revenue reached a then-record $6.9 billion.

Ceding the crown to Universal caps an especially difficult year for Disney, one in which Marvel Studios and the company’s animation studios stumbled badly. In recent weeks as The Marvels and Wish collapsed in their box office runs, Disney CEO Bob Iger didn’t try to gloss over the missteps. “We lost focus,” the exec declared on a Nov.8 earnings call, where he promised investors that the company is putting effort into quality versus quantity.

If there’s any solace, it’s that the marketshare contest wasn’t a rout, and that Disney — like Universal — was far ahead of the other major studios. And it has ranked as one of the top two studios for the past nine years, including seven at No. 1.

Other highlights: Disney released four of the top 10-grossing films globally in 2023, the most of any studio; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (one of the few superhero titles to work), The Little Mermaid, Elemental and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Domestically, Disney claimed three of the top 10 films, likewise the most of any studio; Guardians, Little Mermaid and Quantumania.

Warner Bros. — home of Barbie, the year’s top earner with $1.44 billion in worldwide ticket sales — was No. 3 in global marketshare with $3.84 billion, including $1.43 billion domestically and $2.4 billion overseas.

Sony came in No. 4 with $1.09 billion, including an early domestic estimate of $1.01 billion and $1.08 overseas.

Paramount’s global revenue came in at $2.03 billion in 2023, including $842 million domestically and $1.18 billion offshore.

Jan. 2, 1:20 p.m.: Updated with Sony and Paramount marketshare estimates.



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