As 2023 nears its end, we wanted to reflect on the state of animated feature theatrical distribution over the past 10 and a half months by taking a close look at the top 10 highest-grossing animated films of the year worldwide.
This list will look different after all of 2023’s films finish their theatrical runs. Titles such as Disney’s Wish and Illumination’s Migration haven’t hit theaters yet, and Dreamworks’ Trolls Band Together comes out in the U.S. today. Each has the potential to shake up the top 10.
That said, all of the films on our list deserve recognition for what they accomplished this year. Several of the titles on this list feel like surprises, while others always looked like sure things.
Notably, as things stand today, five of the films come from outside the U.S. studio system, three from China and two from Japan.
Here are 2023’s highest-grossing animated films as of November 17, 2023.
1 – The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Global total: $1.36 billion
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Back in January, we predicted that Mario would pass the first Minions movie’s $1.16B lifetime haul and become Illumination’s highest-grossing film ever. That prediction felt bold at the time but looks quaint with the benefit of hindsight. Mario ended up making $1.36B over its theatrical run, good for first among animated films and second among all films behind Barbie.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie, directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, is also the highest-grossing video game adaptation of all time. Given the film’s incredible commercial success, it seems likely that more animated films based on video games will be headed our way in the coming years.
2 – Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Global total: $690.5 million
U.S. Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, Across the Spider-Verse needed to do more than out-gross its predecessor to be considered a step forward for the franchise. Into the Spider-Verse won the Oscar for an animated feature in 2019 and set a creative standard that any future films in the franchise would do well to match. By nearly all accounts, Across the Spider-Verse managed that feat and deserved to be so high up on the box office list. The film will likely figure heavily into this year’s awards season conversation.
3 – Elemental
Global total: $495.7 million
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Who’d have thought that after its historically bad $29.6M opening weekend (domestic), the worst debut in modern Pixar history, Elemental would pull off the comeback story of the year, finishing its theatrical run at $495.7M?
Elemental debuted at Cannes, where critics gave it a mixed reception. There proved to be a significant disconnect between reviewers and audiences, though, as strong word of mouth gave Elemental some of the best legs of any film this year. Further emphasizing the love viewers have felt for the film, Disney says it took only five days for Elemental to become the most-watched title on Disney+ this year and one of the streamer’s top 10 most-watched films of all time. The film is directed by Korean-American Peter Sohn, and has done exceptionally well in Korea, where it’s this year’s second highest-grossing film and the highest-grossing U.S. film.
4 – Chang’An
Global total: $241.3 million
U.S. Distributor: N/A
Chinese studio Light Chaser Animation, producers of the popular New Gods franchise, released director Zou Jing’s Chang’An as the first in a series of New Culture films that will be based on existing stories from Chinese myth and history. If the rest of the series resonates with audiences like the first film has, they’re onto something big.
Chang’An looked like a hit from the start, pulling in an impressive $3.2M in preview sales a week before it launched wide in China on July 8. The film grossed $47.9M over its first weekend and ended its theatrical run at $241.3M.
5 – Boonie Bears: Guardian Code
Global total: $220.2 million
U.S. Distributor: N/A
China’s most consistently successful animated franchise, Boonie Bears, reached new commercial heights in 2023 with its ninth theatrical feature, Guardian Code, directed by Yongchang Lin and Heqi Shao. The film hit theaters on January 22 and posted a massive $56M opening weekend, eventually grossing $220.2M during its time in theaters. The franchise’s nine films have grossed a combined $887.6M.
The Boonie Bears films are spun off from one of China’s most popular children’s series ever. Since debuting in 2012, 11 seasons of the show have been produced by Fantawild Animation, which also makes the Boonie Bears films.
6 – PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie
Global total: $188.9 million and counting.
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies’ PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie opened in first place in the U.S. with $22.8M grossed over its first weekend. Globally, the film has grossed $188.9M. That’s a strong step forward for the franchise; the first PAW Patrol film grossed $144.3M back in 2021.
Cal Brunker directed Mighty Movie, in which the popular PAW Patrol pups are imbued with superpowers that transform them into the superpowered Mighty Pups. Mighty Movie’s commercial impact will be far larger than its box office numbers. By introducing a superhero narrative, the film creates all kinds of ancillary revenue opportunities for the franchise.
7 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Global total: $180.5 million
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Mutant Mayhem’s final global tally of $180.5M is especially impressive since the film hit PVOD platforms just 30 days after its theatrical release. The film opened strong with $28M at the domestic box office and had impressive legs over the next five weeks.
This, and the success of Mighty Movie, represented a much-needed win for Paramount Animation, which hadn’t had an animated hit in a long time. Director Jeff Rowe and his team injected new life into the franchise aesthetically and narratively, which didn’t go unnoticed by critics or audiences.
8 – Deep Sea
Global total: $136 million and counting.
U.S. Distributor: Viva Pictures
Deep Sea is the third Chinese entry on this year’s list and one of the most artistically ambitious films in the top 10. According to its U.S. distributor, the cg-animated film had a massive $80 million budget, making it one of the most expensive animated films ever produced outside the U.S. studio system. So far, Deep Sea has grossed $136M, a figure that will likely increase a bit with upcoming theatrical runs planned in several territories, including the U.S.
Deep Sea premiered at the Berlin Film Festival back in February and screened at several other top international festivals, including Tribeca, Annecy, Fantasia, and Sitges. Directed by Tian Xiaopeng (Monkey King: Hero Is Back), the Mandarin-language film tells the story of a young girl named Shenxiu, who is unexpectedly swept into the sea during a family cruise and stumbles upon a mysterious restaurant under the waves.
9 – Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine
Global total: $106.5 million
U.S. Distributor: N/A
This year’s highest-grossing Japanese animated film, for the time being, is Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine. Directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa, the film is the 26th entry in the Case Closed film series based on Gosho Aoyama’s manga of the same name.
Black Iron Submarine was released in Japan on April 14 in 504 theaters, a record for the franchise. Less than a month later, on May 7, the film passed the 10-billion-yen mark ($66.4M), overtaking The Bride of Halloween as the highest-grossing film in franchise history. The film’s final theatrical gross was $106.5M.
10 – The Boy and the Heron
Global total: $77.9 million and counting.
U.S. Distributor: GKIDS
Hayao Miyazaki’s latest has yet to hit theaters in several of the world’s largest box office markets, including the U.S., but is already tenth on this year’s list.
The Boy and the Heron is undoubtedly a commercial success, but its performance in Japan was surprisingly pedestrian when measured against Miyazaki’s other films. Grossing 8.5 billion yen ($56.4M) in its home territory, The Boy and the Heron is only the sixth highest-grossing Studio Ghibli film ever, according to Nippon.com.
Pictured at top: Chang’An, Elemental, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Boonie Bears: Guardian Code
Box office figures were taken from Box Office Mojo, ENTGroup, and Comscore.