The Best and Worst Films of 2023

“Disappointing” is a strong word to use to describe cinema in 2023. It certainly was an interesting year. It marked the decline of several tentpole franchises, including the behemoth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Disney as a company took many financial hits as it faced criticism from multiple angles, while the writer’s and actor’s strike put Hollywood into a slumber.

Yet there were also a few breakthroughs. With the art form as a whole previously still struggling to get audiences back into theaters after the pandemic, the phenomenon of Barbenheimer (Barbie and Oppenheimer) saw a definitive end to the pessimistic attitudes towards potential box office returns. Meanwhile, there was a small resurgence in individual IPs, with some from overseas markets making the biggest splash. With entertainment from Asia still remaining devoid of American identity politics, which many lament have plagued modern cinematic storytelling in the West, there has seemingly been a renewed interest in art forms like Anime. Most recently, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron marked a bold return of traditional animation and its values, whilst Japan’s Godzilla Minus One embarrassed Hollywood with how well it could succeed without the need for excessively high production budgets.

Naturally, some films end up being more impactful than others, and the end of the calendar year is a good time to reflect upon which movies left a positive mark, and which ones delivered the exact opposite.

To be eligible for this list, films need to have their major American release from December 23rd, 2022, onwards (to include movies that may have just missed out on last year’s list either due to only being accessible overseas, or because their release date was too late to be properly assessed). Short films are considered, though anything resembling a television episode is not.

So before we take a look at what might be considered this year’s best, let’s quickly scrounge through some of the worst.

Relax! This list is only our opinion.

THE TOP 5 WORST FILMS OF 2023

5

Tyler Hummel

Next Goal Wins:  I must admit that my personal worst list is colored by the fact that I avoided a lot of movies this year that I didn’t care to review, including the likes of 65, The Marvels, Exorcist: Believer, Knock At The Cabin, or Dicks: The Musical. I can only speak to the movies that I saw this year that most annoyed me, and among them was Taika Waititi’s most recent film—which plopped unceremoniously into theaters and proved to be his most unfocused and irritating project yet. It isn’t lower just because I did laugh a few times, but it is remarkable just how completely Waititi has drained enthusiasm for his body of work in just a few years. 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

65: “Disappointing” is not too strong a word to describe 65. With the entire dinosaur sub-gerne dominated by the Jurassic Park/World franchise, people are desperate to see something new regarding this topic that isn’t part of a film series that has outstayed its welcome. Unfortunately, 65 just doesn’t deliver. It’s saved ever-so-slightly by a decent scene here and there, but it’s mostly bogged down with character obstacles of self-sabotaging proportions. Namely, the inability of the two protagonists to communicate with each other. It doesn’t benefit the plot or the flow of the narrative, and its failure was all the more apparent given it was released during the peak of The Last of Us’ popularity. What could have been an enduring drama where a unique bond is formed between two unlikely strangers, instead we were treated with a bland story of two people needing to get to Point B.

See our review here!

2023 brought many disappointing box office returns for a number of blockbuster movies, but 65 was one of the biggest disappointments of the year.

4

Tyler Hummel

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny: Speaking of drained enthusiasm, it is a remarkable thing that we have all lived to see the day that Indiana Jones had a major film release turn into one of the largest box office bombs in history. Despite being one of the most expensive films ever made, with a massive marketing push by Disney, the fifth and final entry in the franchise was met with complete apathy at the box office. This is bizarre, given that the original three films have some of the highest respect and pedigree of any major Hollywood franchise. One can only speculate why the general audience was unwilling to turn out en masse for this final entry. 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts: When I looked at my list, I tried to remember why I ranked Transformers: Rise of the Beasts so low, before I realized that was the reason. It’s bland. Beige. Cardboard cereal cinema. It should have been an exciting introduction to the world of the Beast Wars spin-off series; a franchise which originally revitalized the original cartoon when it started to stall. Likewise, the Transformers films have also mostly died due to criticism at this stage, desperately needing a boost and good kick in a better direction, but alas, they just pulled out the same plot as every other film. In a baffling move, the Maximals are the sidekicks of their own movie, as yet again a human befriends an Autobot. At least this time the human characters are decent and tolerable. But while Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is consistently better than 65, at least the dinosaur flick tried to do something new despite its more obvious flaws. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts on the other hand, kept things safe and boring.

See our review here!

It seems Indiana Jones didn’t have a great destiny after all.

3

Tyler Hummel

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania: I distinctly remember not disliking this film when I saw it in theaters, but how this film has come to embody the general public’s growing disinterest in superhero films is remarkable. 2023 became the year when five major DC films bombed, and the MCU was met with repeated disinterest. Add to the fact that the film’s central villain actor, Jonathan Majors, has been fired by Disney for assault charges, and that Avengers 5 has been indefinitely delayed, and it signals the nearing end of this particular moment in cinema.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Meg 2: The Trench: The Meg was a goofy film, but it was surprisingly fun and delivered what it promised. This sequel though, is a mess. It can’t decide whether it wants to be a horror, action, or comedy, so it aims for all of them and fails hard at everything. The story wildly jumps around (even over a proverbial—and literal—shark at one point), and while this film was never advertised to be a work of art, it still needed to be coherent. Or entertaining. It rushes so much that there’s no engagement from the audience, and nothing for viewers to invest in with their emotions. It’s an untamed blur of CGI, and while we never had high hopes for a sequel to The Meg, it could have been so much better than what we received.

See our review here!

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was one of many stumbles the MCU experienced in 2023.

2

Tyler Hummel

Five Nights At Freddy’s: I’ve been happy for Blumhouse and series creator Scott Cawthon that the long-awaited film adaptation of the popular video games has been the most successful film in the history of the small horror studio. And yet, my reservations about FNAF as a movie remain. It is still an unfocused, atonal, and bizarre film with too much fan service—which is a problem for people who know nothing about all of the games and the complex web of lore they’ve spun. I hope the imminent sequels can clear up some of this and I am glad others are enjoying the film, but it doesn’t work for me.  

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Peter Pan & Wendy: What a drab production. There are just so many mind-blowingly bad creative decisions seen in this film. Disney continued its trend in rounding out its villains—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except they made audiences more sympathetic towards Hook than Peter Pan. Seriously, Peter doesn’t have many redeeming qualities in this version. It doesn’t help that Disney also leaned heavily into growing the roles of the female characters, so Peter ends up being sidelined in his own film. It’s now Wendy’s story, not Peter’s, and the classic tale suffers as a result. Meanwhile, the production design feels uninspired, and Neverland feels dreary and somewhat cold with its weather. Gone is the magic and feeling of wonderment from the original animated film. It’s a poor remake, and that’s before even touching upon the controversies surrounding the film’s casting decisions, although that issue does pale in comparison to some of the larger blunders I’ve already mentioned. For some reason, studios tend to struggle in adapting this story, though Disney’s 2023 remake is one of the worst offenders.

The landscape just screams cold, blustery, desolate isle instead of the island fantasy destination of Neverland.

1

Tyler Hummel

The Creator: I’m generally very annoyed when I go to bat for a film only for it to blow up in my face, and no film this year did that worse than this. Gareth Edwards took all of the clout he gained from Godzilla and Rogue One and used it to make an original science fiction movie, mostly shot on location with prosumer camera equipment. However, the final product is dull, lazy, and appears to be vague Chinese propaganda. There is nothing here that hasn’t been done better in other movies, and the fact that it is an original movie is frustrating as it sets back the cause of convincing Hollywood that non-franchise movies can make money. 

Juliana Purnell

Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey: Decades ago, Disney went to court to extend the period of time of when an intellectual property can fall under public domain, lengthening it from seventy-five to ninety-five years. It’s because they had the foresight to see that deranged and depraved people would exploit mega characters, just like what has occurred with Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. While the concept of turning a beloved childhood novel into something horrific could have been a stroke of genius, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey lacks any such artistic integrity. Apart from the introduction, the film barely utilizes its source material, and becomes a generic, cheaply produced slasher that doesn’t even have the decency to scare the audience. It’s an exploitative cash grab by every sense of the word that unfortunately succeeded enough to embolden the director to keep making more of these terribly conceived films. Won’t be long now till Disney’s fears become true when Snow White enters the public domain and becomes next in line on the chopping block.

See our review here!

Don’t know why we ever thought this soulless version of Winnie the Pooh wouldn’t also be soulless as a production.

Those were our worst picks for 2023. Now onwards to some of the best!

THE TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 2023

10

Tyler Hummel

Godzilla Minus One/The Boy And The Heron (Tie): Yes, I’m cheating by putting these two films together, but it feels appropriate. The final cinematic surprise of 2023 was that the two Japanese films released a week apart proved to be among this year’s most successful movies at the box office. Considering America’s general disinterest in foreign films, that is rare. But good word of mouth has done most of the work in making these films popular and giving them some of the best audience engagement this year. They both feel like a wonderful injection of creative storytelling, powerful imagery, and humanistic optimism coming just at the end of a difficult year.

Juliana Purnell

May December: I didn’t get the chance to see too many independent films this year, due to no longer living near a cinema that provides such content. So, I was keen to check out this highly praised flick on Netflix. It frequently tops the chart of many “Best of 2023” lists out there, though I seemingly didn’t love it as much as other people. It took a while to gain a sense of where this story was headed. From the outset it seemed keen to uproot and challenge unwritten dating rules and boundaries in society, similar to Harold and Maude. Though as the film continued and characters became more vulnerable with each other and the audience, the film’s tone began to change, sliding into something more sinister and disturbing the more time we spent. Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman offer powerhouse performances, though it’s Charles Melton that steals the show. It’s a subtle character analysis flick that isn’t for everyone, but if this is the type of narrative that you enjoy watching, then May December is one of the best uncomfortable, psychological dramas of 2023.

Step aside South Korea! Japanese cinema made a comeback in 2023.

9

Tyler Hummel

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves: 2023 was an impressive year for blockbusters, with the likes of Super Mario Bros, Across the Spider-Verse, and the seventh Mission Impossible film. However, the most interesting one this year was the one that I had no hope for. Coming from the same team as the wonderful comedy Game Night, this high fantasy heist film should have been a cynical cash grab or a poorly conceived movie similar to Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, but proved to be one of the year’s leanest and best-constructed blockbusters. Even as somebody who hasn’t played DnD, I still cannot believe that this film came together as well as it did.

Juliana Purnell

M3gan: Released right back at the start of 2023, M3gan managed to hold a spot in my personal top ten. From the outside it may look like the generic evil doll horror flick, but this one punches above its weight. It offers a scathing commentary on the exploitative nature of children’s advertising and marketing, balanced with some tongue-in-cheek humour about technology and absentee parenting, but it also has some mature things to say regarding the topic of grief. It’s a simple concept told really well, with multiple thematic layers making the most of the subject matter. It’s also just wickedly entertaining. M3gan packs some gore, but if you’re looking for a horror film that’s still light-hearted in its approach and not too dark, with some good messaging thrown in there as well, then give this one a watch.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves had no business being as good as it was. Neither did M3gan.

8

Tyler Hummel

The Killer: I’ve had a few negative thoughts regarding David Fincher’s most recent film, among them being that the film is a work of indulgent self-serious nihilism. That said, it has stuck with me as one of the year’s most impressive works of cinema. Fincher’s formalism and strong visual instincts elevate this from a kitschy revenge thriller into something larger, more speculative, and more worthwhile engaging with than the Liam Neeson knock-off it could have been. It comes close to being an even greater masterpiece about human folly, but it falls just short of that and is merely very good film.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One: While Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick brought people back to cinema after the pandemic, theatre attendance was still rather sluggish compared to the years before 2020. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One was one of the few big releases in 2023 that helped rekindle people’s desire to return to the cinema. The action pieces may have been on a smaller scale compared to what we’re used to seeing in this franchise, but the stakes felt more personal, the motivations were more conniving, and the action was sneakier and more intricate. It may be only half a story so far, but it was satisfying in its own right. It’s a strong franchise that has only gotten better with each passing instalment.

See our review here!

Tom Cruise—one of the last bankable stars in Hollywood these days.

7

Tyler Hummel

Anatomy of a Fall: As far as pure cinema goes, this stands as one of the year’s strongest films. This French drama begins as a whodunnit, turns into a courtroom drama, and slowly unfurls into one of the most thematically frustrating depictions of moral relativism in recent years. It is a masterpiece of postmodern thought, a story about the unknowability of ultimate truth, and the painful realities that come from our inability to reconcile our realities—told from the perspective of a boy who just wants to know the truth of whether or not his mother murdered his father. 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Wonka: Paul King is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors. Helming the marvellous Paddington and its incredible sequel, Paddington 2, King manages to create yet another family-friendly film with Wonka, which feels rare in this current cinematic landscape. There’s no sexual innuendo or fart jokes. Just wide-eyed innocence plastered on screen that’s deliriously fun to behold. Youthfulness works well with the character of Willy Wonka, as while some fans may miss the darker, more mature touches of his personality, Timothée Chalamet makes the figure his own with a contagious sense of whimsy that thankfully lacks the creepiness of Depp’s version. Embracing all the creativity an imagination can behold, the film unapologetically leans into its own sense of magic, forming a tone that’s highly reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s work, and other adaptations like Matilda. The story can be a little generic at times, and while Chalamet can hold a tune, sometimes he’s not vocally as strong as the situation allows, but the film’s flaws are few and far between. If you’re willing to be whisked away to a world of chocolate, Wonka is happy to assist your imagination.  

Anatomy of a Fall is a popular addition on many people’s Best Films of 2023 lists.

6

Tyler Hummel

The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial: The final film of late director William Friedkin was released quietly onto Showtime this October, and should have been a much larger occasion. Despite its small size and cheap production design, the legendary director of The Exorcist and The French Connection delivered one last great work of drama, adapting the stageplay version of The Caine Mutiny into a masterfully tense chamber drama. It also marks one of the last performances of the late Lance Reddick, another great actor who tragically passed away this year. 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Killers of the Flower Moon: It’s long. Yet honestly, that’s seemingly my one and only criticism of this epic story committed to screen. Some stories do need a longer runtime to divulge their details, and Killers of the Flower Moon is one of them. If anything, it’s a firm demonstration of Scorsese’s competence as a director, as he can manage to handle such an immense tale without dropping a beat or allowing the film drag. There are some longer periods where the characters don’t seem to grow or develop, but the narrative remains gripping and tense with its infuriating level of injustice on display. It’s far from Scorsese’s best film, but it’s easy to see his level of passion and the importance of telling the story itself, as it intricately weaves a gut-churning true crime drama. Don’t be surprised if Lily Gladstone wins an Oscar for her role as Mollie.

See our review here!

Don’t be surprised if all the leads in Killers of the Flower Moon are in contention for an Oscar next year.

5

Tyler Hummel

Asteroid City: Many of 2023’s most notable films are stories about unknowability and the angst it creates. Anatomy of a Fall is about the anxiety and stress of unknowability, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is about twisting knowledge for one’s benefit, and The Killer is about embracing the meaninglessness of the unknown. Wes Anderson’s addition to the conversation is to laugh at it, crafting yet another of his excellent dollhouse movies for a story about the emotional unfurling of a small western town as it grapples with the existential implications of an alien visitation. Even as a lesser Anderson film, it captures the amazing foibles and emotions that come from our desire to make sense of the world. 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Creed III: Rounding out a trilogy within a much larger franchise, Creed III beats the odds, providing yet another strong entry to this ever-growing boxing tale. There are a number of fantastic creative decisions made, considering how much could have gone wrong given this is the first film without Stallone’s iconic character. It wisely draws its action inwards, devising a highly personal tale for our protagonist, but one that still holds high stakes. This makes for an emotionally charged and exciting film to watch, rarely missing a beat in its runtime. It remains to be seen whether Jonathan Majors’ personal issues will taint this film’s reputation over time, but as it currently stands, Creed III is a solid film that puts other trilogies and multi-film franchises to shame.

See our review here!

Asteroid City glows with Wes Anderson’s bankable and iconic style.

4

Tyler Hummel

The Holdovers: Todd Payne’s excellent return to cinema marks not only one of his career highlights, and one of the best performances in Paul Giamotti’s career, but also one of the best Christmas movies ever made. While he was somewhat off-put by audiences calling the film cozy, the film does a remarkable job at embracing the subtextual darkness under all Christmas films—telling a warm beautiful story about people who have been cast away from polite society being forced to spend Christmas alone with each other. No film has ever captured the emotional pain of being alone on Christmas so well. 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

John Wick: Chapter 4: Some of its hype has been lost as the year progressed, but John Wick: Chapter 4 still managed to pull together and brilliantly end a story that was previously coming off its rails. Its fictional world of assassins was getting wildly out of hand, but this conclusion to John Wick’s tragic character journey reigned in a lot of the out-of-control lore and stripped the narrative back to a simple, clear goal, resulting a fitting conclusion. Along with featuring several nuanced characters with interesting backstories, the film was packed with incredible action sequences, the likes of which had never been seen committed to celluloid before. It was an epic slog for Wick’s character, and at times the movie itself felt gruelling, but it completed the franchise on a great note.

See our review here!

The final John Wick film gave us the best “car fight” seen in cinema.

3

Tyler Hummel

Past Lives: Given that Guillermo del Toro has already described Past Lives as one of the greatest directorial debuts in history, I’m not sure there is much I can add about this film. Celine Song has begun what will hopefully become a fruitful film career, with the release of one of the most introspective and emotional films of the year. The film’s exploration of two people who felt fated to fall in love, but were separated by circumstance and marriage, remains one of the year’s most powerful looks at the ways our lives are shaped and touched by those around us, and how we carry memories and emotions with us across our entire lives.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Godzilla Minus One: If anything, the worst part about Godzilla Minus One is that it ruins all other Godzilla movies. This film is everything you could ever hope for with this type of story. Normally giant monster movies fail on the human front. They’re needed in the mix, if only because it’s harder for an audience to emote with a giant lizard. But typically, those essential characters are underdeveloped and rather generic in this subgenre. Not only does Godzilla Minus One provide us with an entire ensemble of great human characters, but it also remembers there are three main archetypical characters in this narrative: Godzilla, the humans, and the city. Godzilla Minus One works so well because it brings Tokyo and its surrounding areas to life. No longer do we sit back and gawk at Godzilla destroying a bunch of buildings as a spectacle—while it still is entertaining, Godzilla Minus One ensures that every hit feels gut-wrenching to the hapless citizens, where Godzilla’s mighty breath causes a viewer’s stomach to drop in dread. In this film we’re right beside the characters, fighting for their right to live. It’s engrossing, fully embracing the nature of what a “monster” truly entails. The story doesn’t need to rely on the gimmick of watching two bizarre creatures battling one another, or any ham-fisted tall tales of Godzilla being a god. It’s a simple story that operates as an analogy for the monstrosities and enduring sufferings of war, featuring a highly creative third act as a cherry on top. It’ll be hard for another Godzilla film to top this one.

See our review here!

Past Lives features an exciting directorial debut from Celine Song. What will she make next?

2

Tyler Hummel

Barbie/Oppenheimer (Tie): I am cheating again, but not without cause. The infamous Barbenheimer phenomenon became THE cinematic event of the year, with audiences flooding en masse to both films and turning them into billion-dollar successes. Barbie is now the most successful film in Warner Bros. history and Christopher Nolan has described Oppenheimer as his most successful film to date, with physical copies of the film briefly selling out in multiple stores this past November. Both films feel essential, with both films reflecting on cultures in dangerous inflection points as they grapple with truth, morality, and authenticity in a world gone mad. They are a strange pair, but they have defined cinema in 2023.

Juliana Purnell

Barbie: It was completely unplanned, and mostly a joke, but Barbenheimer ended up being the cinematic event of the year. Naturally viewers were asked to pick a side after watching both; I’m genuinely shocked I ended up supporting Barbie, given I never took much of a liking to the doll in my childhood. Oppenheimer is a decent biographical film, but that last hour just drags as the story changes tack, becoming somewhat self-indulgent. Barbie also has its flaws, and on its shallowest level, it’s a silly story that doesn’t always work. Yet peel back the layers, and this film oddly becomes the most profound piece of cinema in 2023, if not longer, if you understand what Barbie means to people, women in particular. It explores the absurdity of trying to encapsulate femininity within a doll, and the pressure that then surrounds that toy due to the burdensome symbols society has placed on its existence. It’s a complex relationship between creator and creation, and the participants that are targeted as both the recipients and the source of inspiration. Sure, Oppenheimer is another good notch in Nolan’s filmography, but it’s Barbie that will studied for years to come in film criticism and history.

See our review here!

Were you Kenough to watch Barbenheimer? Which film did you end up preferring? Did either make your top ten for the year?

1

Tyler Hummel

Killers of the Flower Moon: There can only be one true masterpiece this year, and I can’t help but give it to the new Martin Scorsese film. At the age of 81, the man has crafted a four-hour $200 million horror western with some of the most impactful, emotionally gutting, and brutal filmmaking this year. It is a movie about complicity, that asks you to stare into the cold reality of human evil as innocent people are murdered in the name of money. It crafts characters so life-like and complex that their horrific contradictions feel honest, showing how loving people can also be monsters. There will never be another movie like this, although one can hope that Scorsese has a few more movies like this left in him.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: Somehow Sony managed to bottle lightning twice. The first animated film became an instant classic, and somehow this sequel managed to improve upon its foundations. It’s a work of art. A celebration of animated styles. Its presentation is also firmly linked in with its storytelling, as the narrative explores the wondrous world of never-ending comic book reboots and rewrites, as iconic characters never truly die, they just get reimagined. So it perfectly scratches that nostalgia itch that satisfied fans in Spider-Man: No Way Home, but takes it to another level, exploring the concept of all the retellings of the Spider-Man narrative from a meta perspective, all while perfectly narrowing in on what exactly makes Miles Morales different from the rest, and therefore what makes this particular version worthwhile. Like Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, it’s not a complete story just yet, but it is still engrossing and satisfying on its own. It’s number one on my list because not only is it a beautiful and intelligent story regarding its construction, but it pulled off creating yet another film about a superhero’s origin tale in a way that still felt fresh and original, in a genre that’s slowly waning. It had a hard brief to fill, and it passed with many gorgeous colours.

See our review here!

It’s a piece of art.

Do you agree with our lists? Which films do you believe should have made the cut? Were there any films this year that you regretted watching? Let us know in the comments!

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

Leave a Reply