Movie Trend Alert: 2023's Highest-Grossing Films Have This One Thing in Common (Besides, Ya Know, Making Money)

Movie studios are all about nostalgia this year

biggest movie trend 2023-A stylized image made to look like film strips and movie stills of the Barbie movie, The Little Mermaid live action and the Mario movie. Everything is on a pale blue background and there's text that reads 2023.
Dasha Burobina for PureWow

While we love a good Throwback Thursday as much as the next person, has anyone else noticed that the films this year have gotten a liiittle out of hand when it comes to serving up nostalgia? And no, we’re not just talking about the live-action Little Mermaid here.

In what is perhaps the most under-talked-about movie trend of 2023, nearly every one of the year’s top films is playing on our fondness for ‘80s, ‘90s and early-‘00s nostalgia. Think we’re exaggerating? Take a look at the top 25 highest grossing films of the year so far. Nearly all of them have one thing in common…yup, they’re pandering (quite successfully we might add) to our desire for a simpler time, when the extent of our responsibilities involved brushing Barbie’s hair and choosing which character to be while playing Super Mario Bros. 2 on Nintendo.

Obviously, nothing says “remember when…” quite like the highest-grossing film of the year, Barbie, which has brought in more than $1.3 billion and has made star Margot Robbie the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. Then we’ve got the number-two movie, The Super Mario Bros., where non-Italian-citizen Chris Pratt voices Mario himself. This film screams nostalgia for those who have been fans of the OG game since its debut in 1983.

If we skip over the number three movie, Oppenheimer, which certainly counts as a throwback, but probably doesn’t qualify as a “nostalgia-fest,” we then get a whole lot more of this trend. According to Redbook, the fourth through seventh highest-grossing films of 2023 are Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (a film all about mix-tapes and classic rock), Fast X (another entry in the Fast and the Furious universe that first debuted in 2001), Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (ahem, childhood memories) and the live-action Little Mermaid (a remake that plays on our affinity for the 1989 original).

But the trend doesn’t stop there. Also, in the top 25? A new Mission: Impossible (the franchise debuted in ’96), a Shrek spinoff (we first heard Mike Myers say “Donkey” back in 2001), another Transformers (remember the toys and the ‘80s cartoon?!), another Creed (a spinoff of the classic Rocky), another Indiana Jones, another Scream, Dungeons & Dragons…ANOTHER Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Beyond the biggest box office hits, even some of the moderately successful movies of 2023 were throwbacks with another Exorcist, another Magic Mike and a beautiful film version of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Just listing them all has us worn out.

One might think, “This trend is nothing new.” However, a look at last year’s top films reveals there were many more high-grossing movies that weren’t simple nostalgia-plays in 2022 than in 2023: Uncharted, Bullet Train, The Lost City, M3GAN, Smile…With so many of this year’s biggest hits following the same trend, it’s a wonder audiences haven’t grown sick of seeing rehashed franchises and heartstring-pulling childhood throwbacks. But clearly we have not. Based off these numbers, it seems likely that this trend will continue well into 2024 and beyond. Let’s just hope our legs don’t get tired on what is bound to be a very long stroll down memory lane.

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VP, News and Entertainment; 'And Just Like That' Podcast Host; Up-And-Coming Bowler

Philip spearheads PureWow's news and entertainment team. He has 10+ years experience working in entertainment coverage and viral media, previously serving as a writer/editor...