Highest-grossing genres at the 2023 box office

Genres are a way to organize the kinds of stories we tell one another. This type of categorizing dates back to Aristotle and Plato, who delineated a system of classification for literature: either lyric, drama, or epic. Of course, in our modern times, there are far more than just three genres, and there are also more types of media to categorize.

Genre is incredibly important when it comes to movies in particular, as that categorization can heavily influence both a film’s potential success and the amount of faith that studios, producers, and distributors have in it.

Take, for example, the musical genre: Only six musical films were released in 2023 by early December, as opposed to 76 documentary films. Even though musicals performed six times better per movie on average than documentaries, they don’t receive nearly the same amount of investment. Could that be because documentaries have higher chances of winning prestigious awards? Could it be due to the historical return on investment for documentaries? Or is it because musicals lack the so-called “cool” factor?

To dig into this genre divide a bit further, Casino Bonus CA broke down box office data from The Numbers to determine which movie genres have brought in the most money at the box office in 2023, as of Dec. 4. Some of the results may surprise you, such as the sheer amount of money the top-grossing film of a particular genre made in comparison to the runner-up, or how much a movie made compared to its budget.

The top 10 genres are ranked by their total domestic gross, and supporting data on ticket sales and market share are provided for context. (Note: The Numbers separates comedies into three subgenres, but here, they’re combined into a singular comedy genre.)

Read on to find out the highest-grossing genres of 2023 and the movies that helped them succeed.

Detail of characters in the animated film ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’.
Touchstone Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

#10. Musical

– 2023 domestic gross: $18,213,938
– Tickets sold: 1,729,716
– Market share: 0.22%
– Movies: 6
– Average gross per movie: $3.0 million

Would you believe that one of the highest-grossing musicals of 2023 was a rerelease? That’s right, Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” returned to theaters on Oct. 20, and its box office returns—$10 million—dominated the other musicals released in 2023 as of early December (before the new “Wonka” musical came out). It’s not a huge shock considering how popular “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is. It earned about $50 million domestically when it was originally released in 1993 and has become a Halloween classic.

Meanwhile, the live-action/animated family film “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” (released in 2022) and the raunchy A24 comedy “D—-: The Musical” make up the middle of the musical box office chart with a $1.2 million gap between them, favoring “D—-.” That’s also not a surprise, seeing as the provocative musical counts chart-topper Megan Thee Stallion and “Saturday Night Live” favorite Bowen Yang among its stars.

Still, with only six films in the genre as of early December, the overall gross of over $18 million is impressive. (It is worth noting that after just one weekend at the box office, “Wonka” brought that to almost $62 million as of Dec. 19.)

Sam Pollard and Geeta Gandbhir attend ‘Lowndes County And The Road To Black Power’ premiere during the 2022 Tribeca Festival.
Theo Wargo // Getty Images for Tribeca Festival

#9. Documentary

– 2023 domestic gross: $35,487,150
– Tickets sold: 3,370,067
– Market share: 0.43%
– Movies: 76
– Average gross per movie: $467K

One of the highest-grossing documentary films of 2023—”After Death,” directed by Stephen Gray and Chris Radtke—captured our lurid fears of mortality in an examination of near-death experiences. Right behind it was a documentary with a different kind of philosophical hold: “BTS: Yet to Come in Cinemas,” a film centered on the titular K-pop phenomenon.

Of course, not all docs had the kind of momentum that these two did, but there were plenty of other worthwhile ones throughout the year, like the biographical look at the iconic singer Joan Baez in “Joan Baez I Am a Noise” and the chronicling of the Land Back movement in “Lakota Nation vs. United States.”

Unless a documentary is a particularly big sell, it’s a tougher genre to get audiences into theaters for; after all, even “After Death” only took in an overall gross of $11.5 million. That said, December is a particularly popular month for documentaries looking to gain Oscar attention, so there could be some late-in-the-game swaying of these 2023 numbers.

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Lily Gladstone pose at Cannes.
LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

#8. Western

– 2023 domestic gross: $67,675,894
– Tickets sold: 6,426,958
– Market share: 0.82%
– Movies: 4
– Average gross per movie: $16.9 million

Some would regard Westerns as a dying or dead genre, with many deeming recent Western films as “neo-Western.” Yet, despite only having four movies total in the genre across the entirety of 2023 as of early December, the Western still managed to outgross both musicals and documentaries on average by a mile.

Naturally, this had a lot to do with the return of cinema’s maestro, the great Martin Scorsese. His hotly anticipated “Killers of the Flower Moon” accrued over $66 million at the domestic box office as of early December. Even more formidable, when stacked against the other three 2023 Westerns, “Killers of the Flower Moon” accounted for a massive 98% of the genre’s total domestic gross.

Unfortunately, films like “Outlaw Johnny Black” (a spiritual sequel to the Blaxploitation film “Black Dynamite”), “Go West” (a family-friendly comedy), and “Strange Way of Life” (a short film by Pedro Almodóvar) did not have the theatrical oomph to compete at the box office. Combined, these three films only took in about $1.2 million domestically.

Christopher Polk/Penske Media via Getty Images

#7. Concert/Performance

– 2023 domestic gross: $202,717,725
– Tickets sold: 19,251,441
– Market share: 2.45%
– Movies: 9
– Average gross per movie: $22.5 million

It’s no surprise that two artists dominated the concert/performance film genre in 2023: Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. The combined grosses from their respective films, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” and “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé,” racked up more than $200 million at the domestic box office as of early December. Nevertheless, it was Swift alone who accounted for more than 80% of the total domestic gross for concert films for the year, beating out Beyoncé by nearly $150 million and leaving the rest of 2023’s concert films to eat her dust. (Of course, it’s worth mentioning that “Renaissance” came out on Dec. 1 and Swift’s “Eras Tour” has been in theaters since Oct. 13.)

Trailing Beyoncé by a wide margin was younger pop star Billie Eilish’s “Billie Eilish Live at the O2 — Extended Cut,” a triptych of UFC films, and a filmed performance from the electronic duo ODESZA. Meanwhile, fans of the famed rock band The Talking Heads were elated that the group’s acclaimed concert film “Stop Making Sense” returned to theaters for one week only, and in that short time frame, it managed to surpass box office expectations. (Later in December, “Waitress: The Musical” and “Christmas with the Chosen: Holy Night” also joined the ranks.)

Director Alejandro Monteverde poses during the red carpet for the movie 'Sound of Freedom’.
Alan Espinosa // Getty Images

#6. Thriller/Suspense

– 2023 domestic gross: $422,781,186
– Tickets sold: 40,150,135
– Market share: 5.12%
– Movies: 49
– Average gross per movie: $8.6 million

Film fans who prefer to stay on the edge of their seats certainly had a banquet of thriller and suspense movies to choose from in 2023. At the top of the leaderboard was the controversial but extremely popular “Sound of Freedom,” chronicling the former U.S. government agent Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel) on his mission to rescue children from sex traffickers. With more than $180 million in total domestic gross during its theatrical run, it outranks the second-place Poirot murder mystery “A Haunting in Venice” by roughly $140 million.

As with other genres, foreign thrillers tend to make a smaller dent at the domestic box office, while more mainstream indies fill up the middle of the thriller/suspense chart, like Paul Schrader’s unnerving “Master Gardener” and the erotic thriller “Sanctuary.” However, what’s especially impressive is the Bollywood flick “Pathaan” cracking the top 10, just below films like “65” and “Missing.” Its popularity is a clear indication of North American interest in Indian cinema, particularly since the success of 2022’s “RRR.”

Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, and Florence Pugh attend ‘Oppenheimer’ premiere.
HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images

#5. Drama

– 2023 domestic gross: $829,210,044
– Tickets sold: 78,747,325
– Market share: 10.03%
– Movies: 139
– Average gross per movie: $6.0 million

There’s hardly any competition for the title of top-grossing drama of 2023. That award goes to “Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s über-hyped biographical drama about the titular father of the atomic bomb. Nolan tends to be an easy sell at the box office, one of the last true auteurs who can consistently pull a solid audience; and the runaway success of the “Barbenheimer” meme certainly helped the film reach nearly $1 billion in ticket sales globally and break numerous additional records.

Domestically, “Oppenheimer” pulled in $325 million and accounted for 38% of the total genre gross with the rest of the 2023 dramas merely nipping at its heels. Admittedly, runner-up “Creed III” didn’t do too badly with $156 million, trailing “Oppenheimer” by a little under $200 million. But the margin between “Oppenheimer” and the rest of the drama films’ gross is far wider: Ridley Scott’s epic “Napoleon” (released in late November) took home $54 million and the Air Jordan origin story “Air” brought in $52 million.

Allison Williams speaks before the special NY screening of ‘M3GAN’.
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Universal Pictures

#4. Horror

– 2023 domestic gross: $896,092,279
– Tickets sold: 85,098,958
– Market share: 10.84%
– Movies: 51
– Average gross per movie: $17.6 million

Horror has historically been one of the most reliably lucrative genres at the box office, and 2023 was no different: The genre saw a total domestic gross nearing $900 million with a plethora of popular films in the mix. But the most successful horror film domestically in 2023 was “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” a movie based on an incredibly popular video game that had been in development limbo since 2017. Despite less-than-favorable reviews, the love of the game won out: “Five Nights at Freddy’s” brought in $137 million.

Behind it were the meme-able (and danceable) “M3GAN” and the sixth installment in the “Scream” franchise, each bringing in around $100 million. Eking its way into the top 10 was “Talk to Me,” an Australian horror film distributed by A24. Though the movie ranked #9 for 2023 horror films with more than $48 million domestically and $70 million worldwide, it made back its budget 15 times over and became A24’s highest-grossing horror film ever. Meanwhile, “Saw X,” a long-awaited return to everyone’s good friend Jigsaw, made $53 million in North America and $108 million worldwide against a $13 million budget.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling at the premiere of ‘Barbie’.
Christopher Polk/WWD via Getty Images

#3. Comedy

– 2023 domestic gross: $1,258,998,514
– Tickets sold: 119,562,974
– Market share: 15.23%
– Movies: 62
– Average gross per movie: $20.3 million

The biggest movie of 2023, “Barbie,” unsurprisingly crushed the comedy genre, earning $636 million domestically while working in tandem with “Oppenheimer” as perhaps the most successful, most unlikely double feature in Hollywood history. It was a profitable year for comedies overall, with a much stronger showing than 2022, but “Barbie” blew all others out of the water with over a half-a-million dollar lead between it and the second-highest-grossing comedy of 2023: “Haunted Mansion.” The Disney-ride-inspired movie vastly underperformed compared to its massive $150 million budget, bringing in just shy of $68 million in North America and $115 worldwide.

A surprising third place went to “Cocaine Bear,” the comedy horror film directed by Elizabeth Banks that’s loosely inspired by a real black bear that ingested several kilograms of lost cocaine in 1985. Pablo Escobear is followed very closely by “A Man Called Otto,” an American remake of the Swedish film “A Man Called Ove” starring Tom Hanks.

But box office numbers are never a true indicator of quality, and plenty of comedies that were worth seeing didn’t quite break the box office. “Bottoms,” “BlackBerry,” and “You Hurt My Feelings” were all received warmly by both critics and audiences, with “BlackBerry” becoming a contender in the 2024 awards race, particularly for Glenn Howerton’s performance.

Brian Tyree Henry, Hailee Steinfeld, Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, and Lauren Vélez attend the photocall for ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse’.
Jon Kopaloff // Getty Images

#2. Adventure

– 2023 domestic gross: $1,662,175,979
– Tickets sold: 157,851,458
– Market share: 20.11%
– Movies: 29
– Average gross per movie: $57.3 million

While “The Marvels” may have notoriously flopped at the box office in 2023, another Marvel-adjacent film dominated in the adventure genre: Sony Pictures Animation’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” the sequel to 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” The movie took home $381 million in 2023, making it the #3 domestic box office winner for the year overall.

There was a trio of Disney films that trailed “Across the Spider-Verse” in terms of adventure movies in 2023: the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” (nearly $300 million), Harrison Ford’s last hurrah in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (nearly $175 million), and Pixar’s latest “Elemental” (nearly $155 million)—although the latter two performed poorly against their budgets in the long run.

Overall, animated films made up a lot of the top-performing 2023 adventure releases, including Studio Ghibli’s “The Boy and the Heron,” “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie,” “Suzume,” and another Disney film, “Wish”—all of which sat in the top 15.

Cast of ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ attend a screening.
Amy Sussman // Getty Images

#1. Action

– 2023 domestic gross: $2,867,018,482
– Tickets sold: 272,271,430
– Market share: 34.70%
– Movies: 53
– Average gross per movie: $54.1 million

Action films were the most successful genre overall at the 2023 box office, largely thanks to “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which was the highest-grossing film of the year domestically before “Barbie” fittingly had something to say about it. The animated film based on the video game phenomenon took in $575 million in North America alone (compared to nearly $1.4 billion worldwide).

All of the action films in the top 10 grossed more than $100 million domestically and the top four each brought in at least $200 million. On top of that, at an average of $54 million per movie, films under the action umbrella earned more than any other genre in 2023. That’s no surprise when you’ve got major tentpole films in the genre, like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “John Wick: Chapter 4,” and “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.”

In fact, all of the top 16 action movies of 2023 domestically were sequels or part of a larger franchise. Even James Cameron’s follow-up to his culture-altering epic, “Avatar: The Way of Water” trickled its grosses from 2022 into its 2023 theatrical run to become the third-highest-grossing action film of the year (it earned the #4 spot in 2022).

Data reporting by Luke Hicks. Story editing by Jaimie Etkin. Copy editing by Tim Bruns.

This story originally appeared on Casino Bonus CA and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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