If you had told me back when the Switch came out that Nintendo would release a major Mario motion picture five years later starring Christopher Pratt, I might have believed you, but I wouldn’t have ever guessed it would go on to be one of the biggest box office hits of 2023. I also would never have guessed that it would one day be surpassed by a Barbie meta comedy starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.
But that’s exactly where we find ourselves during this incredibly bizarre moment for global mass market entertainment. Here was the recent top of the 2023 Hollywood leaderboard according to Box Office Mojo:
Super Mario Bros. Movie
- Domestic: $574,245,750
- International: $780,913,000
- Worldwide: $1,355,158,750
- Domestic: $541,907,382
- International: $660,600,000
- Worldwide: $1,202,507,382
Deadline now reports that Barbie has broken 574.2 million domestically, making it likely only a matter of time before it takes the lead worldwide too as Barbie continues its movie theater run in the waning weeks of our nuclear pink Barbenheimer summer. It’s shocking for two legacy companies that have been counted out so many times before to have not only managed to hang around but still somehow dominate the culture zeitgeist through memes, TikToks, and the sheer charisma of a handful of Hollywood stars.
My colleague Germain Lussier over at Gizmodo sees a clear juxtaposition in the two box office dynamos, with Mario Movie on the side of sugary c-suite slop and Barbie on the side of creatives trying to prove box office hits can also be great movies (Mario Movie’s Tomatometer is 59 percent, Barbie’s is 88 percent). “The Super Mario Bros Movie, we think the creatives will eventually win,” he writes. “Barbie is the perfect example of everything this modern era wants, done right.”
I’m not so convinced. I think both movies are saccharine and astroturfed in their own way, while still each being a lot of fun. Maybe it’s my Nintendo nostalgia showing, or the fact that I’ve seen Mario Movie at least a dozen more times since downloading it for my kids, but it rips—as much as any movie designed to keep a four-year-old’s butt in the seat for hundreds of hours can. Barbie is much more clever, and its Easter eggs for pop feminism are no less satisfying to point at while elbowing the person next to you. I can’t wait for the Fortnite metaverse crossover.
Update 8/23/2023 12:03 p.m. ET: Added new info now that the Barbie movie has officially overtaken Mario.