2023 Year in Review: celebrating franchise feats, fish out of water and furious jumpers

Illustration by Julie Olivi. 
Illustration by Julie Olivi

Box-office blockbusters dominated your highest-rated and most popular films of 2023, but fearless directorial debuts claimed their space within the web of superheroes, scientists and feminist fantasies as we returned to cinemas. 


Huge thanks to the Letterboxd community. It’s an incredibly moving and touching experience to know that something we have made together mattered to anyone.

—⁠Justin K. Thompson, co-director of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Happy new year, Spider-Punks. The 2023 Letterboxd Year in Review has been inventoried, and cinema is back! Again!! Settle in for all the highlights, trends and themes, new categories, crew credits, filmmaker thank-yous and the lowdown on how we calculate the results.

First things first: the highest-rated film for 2023 is Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson and Kemp Powers from a script by Dave Callaham, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, it’s the third Spider-Man film to top our Year in Review after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse took the 2018 number one and Spider-Man: No Way Home made a late-breaking run at the 2021 top spot.

“This is legendary, honestly!” the film’s lead Shameik Moore tells us. Director Powers adds: “The fact that people actually showed up for this film the way that they did, man, I really hope that opens the doors for more people to take these kinds of big swings.” Likewise, fellow director Dos Santos, thanking the Letterboxd community, says: “Every vote of confidence in a piece of art like this allows other artistic types to have the opportunity to tell their stories.” Hailee Steinfeld and writer-producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller also weigh in with their gratitude:

The second highest-rated film is Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things, which also claimed the highest-rated comedy, fantasy and sci-fi film genres. Oppenheimer takes the third highest-rated slot along with highest-rated drama and second most-popular film, with director Christopher Nolan taking the most watched director crown for the third time (his previous coronations were in 2012 and 2020). Oppenheimer cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, delighted with this high placing, says: “Thank you so much, that means a lot, it’s great. That’s a wonderful honor… Any time you get an award it’s a big motivation. It’s like fuel, you know, to get some sort of a token of appreciation.”

Oppenheimer, of course, was one-half of the movie event of the year alongside Barbie; the ever-reliable Nolan continuing to make the case for big screen supremacy after a pandemic’s worth of scarce audiences. While the noise around Barbenheimer was cacophonous, let’s not forget that it was accompanied by the tireless WGA and SAG strikes, and combined with cost-of-living concerns and other factors, made it still a low-profit period for theaters and a difficult year for film workers.

And while streamers have supported many of the year’s major titles from greats including Martin Scorsese and David Fincher, the big screen is where the work is best first appreciated and where the case is made to keep creating film art at scale. So it’s on audiences to keep showing up to multiplexes and art houses alike (and why our new showtimes feature joins our existing streaming notifications in helping to keep audiences as active as possible).

The top three: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Poor Things, Oppenheimer.
The top three: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-VersePoor Things, Oppenheimer.

Which is what we did for Barbie. For the first time in Letterboxd Year in Review history, a woman takes a spot in the most watched director field as Barbie writer-director Greta Gerwig leaps into second place behind Nolan. Not a statistic to be proud of, but worth celebrating nevertheless. Directors enter this category as a result of overall activity on their films, so for Gerwig that means your Lady Bird and Little Women rewatches counted.

But mostly Barbie, which becomes the most popular film overall and most obsessively rewatched film for the year, with Letterboxd review after Letterboxd review recounting excited group screenings. As Ruth Pan writes in her recent review: “This movie is beautiful and powerful. It makes sense to be the one that brought audiences back to the movies. Feel-good movies are cultural moments in the zeitgeist.”

Barbie producer Margot Robbie makes her debut at the top of the most watched actress category—largely through her lead-Barbie role, but also thanks to early-2023 viewings of late-2022 release Babylon and her scene-stealing moment in Asteroid City. Her co-star in the latter film, Jason Schwartzman, takes the most-watched actor crown for the first time, pipping Ryan Gosling at the post thanks also to his roles in 2023 films Across the Spider-Verse, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and Quiz Lady. (Your 2023 viewings of their back-catalog films also count.)

Your most watched actors, together: Margot Robbie and Jason Schwartzman in Asteroid City.
Your most watched actors, together: Margot Robbie and Jason Schwartzman in Asteroid City.

Looking at the world of cinema in 2023, we took a moment to reflect on the knowledge that this is a global film community, while Hollywood’s marketing machine still means western films tend to dominate year-end best-of lists. So this year for the first time we’ve rejigged our international feature category by expanding to six continent categories: Oceania, Africa, Europe, Asia, North and South America. This is where you’ll find 2023 stunners like Moroccan box office hit (and Un Certain Regard winner) The Blue Caftan, Goran Stolevski’s beautiful Aussie romance Of an Age, Laura Citarella’s Argentine epic Trenque Lauquen and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s non-monstrous Monster.

World of cinema: Perfect Days, The Blue Caftan, Of an Age. 
World of cinema: Perfect DaysThe Blue Caftan, Of an Age

Widening our cinematic focus in this way also allows for first-nations stories to bubble up in the Year in Review. The Oceania section has Indigenous and Pacific Islander-led films like Uproar and Red, White and Brass. This is something we like to highlight year-round, and Killers of the Flower Moon, Fancy Dance and The Unknown Country star Lily Gladstone has noticed, telling us: “I remember some of the first little sparks of support that I saw in my career were coming from Letterboxd. Indigenous excellence is no surprise to anybody from our communities but the fact that over the last ten years our stories have been resonating with people in such a deep and fresh and just effortless way, I think... a lot of that compass may have changed a little bit because of Letterboxd. We collectively owe a lot to you guys.”

Another category that encourages global film discovery is the annual Ones to Watch section, which reveals the ten highest-rated films that fell below our ratings minimum. Simón, about a Venezuelan freedom fighter, tops the list, and the beautiful MIFF opening-night film Shayda is also in there. While we were pulling all these categories, we noticed that it had been a particularly excellent year for Canuck cinema, so we’ve given Canada a special spot in the 2023 edition. Look forward to more country spotlights in years to come.

Canadian faves: Riceboy Sleeps, Red Rooms, I Like Movies.
Canadian faves: Riceboy Sleeps, Red Rooms, I Like Movies.

We’ve added a few other new sections this year. Most Hearts to Views calculates the film with the highest ratio of hearts-to-watches. Whether one hundred or one million people watched a film, this ratio tells us you really, really loved it. Naturally Spidey made the top five. And Godzilla Minus One—we all love kaiju! But neither of them took the number one spot.

That went to a sweet and smart Indonesian film directed by Yandy Laurens, called Falling in Love Like in Movies (Jatuh Cinta Seperti Di Film-Film). It’s got a solid 3.8 rating, but more tellingly, everyone who sees it pounds that heart button—and once our team managed to watch it, it’s easy to see why. On topping this new category, Laurens tells us: “I feel deeply moved to learn that the movie can contribute to evoking a certain emotional response within people.”

His metatextual script toys with genre and expectation so much so that stars can feel like they’re not enough (to leading man Bagus’ despair, one imagines). Val The Movieguy writes “Christopher Nolan literally wishes he made a non-linear movie this good.” Other comparison points might include Ruby Sparks and Adaptation. (and Meet Cute, but better)—soulful, bittersweet slices of meta-fiction that wrestle with the ego and insecurity of every writer who just wanted to really feel love. Just like in the movies. Who can’t relate?

You fell in love with Falling in Love Like in Movies. 
You fell in love with Falling in Love Like in Movies

We have divided up the documentary and music documentary categories, and given concert films their own dedicated category, alongside a new one for TV movie or special. This way, non-music documentaries don’t have to compete against the unstoppable legions of stan armies that tended to dominate the past years in review. (No shade, we are also the stans.)

Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé was your one of one, number one, the only one—don’t even waste your time trying to compete with her 4.6-star average rating. Unless you’re Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, of course, following close behind with 4.3-out-of-five. But Swifties, stay fearless: Eras was much more popular, racking up 173,000 watches compared to Renaissance’s 35,000.

The Flashback section revisits the past lives of the Letterboxd community by updating the top films list from the 2013 Year in Review. After a decade of refreshed ratings, Denis Villeneuve’s crime-thriller Prisoners is now in the top spot with a 4.3 average star rating, relegating the previous winner, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, to fourth place. In between are Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and the breakout indie sleeper hit Short Term 12, helmed by a pre-Shang-Chi Destin Daniel Cretton and grounded by an all-star cast of Brie Larson, Rami Malek, LaKeith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever and John Gallagher Jr. (who also joined Letterboxd this year!).

Holding on tight in The Boy and the Heron and Past Lives. 
Holding on tight in The Boy and the Heron and Past Lives

Each year has its own unexpected links between stories and across borders—a kind of In-yun sewn into the very fabric of cinema. In the multiverse of 2023’s humanity, we looked back in Past Lives, The Boy and the Heron, All of Us Strangers and Talk to Me—all stories about people reaching across the divide to work through loss in their own genre corners. Spider-Man, too, is always chasing that shadow of pain down, and there’s dear Augie of Asteroid City, to whom Midge Campbell declares: “We’re just two catastrophically wounded people who don’t express the depths of our pain because... we don’t want to.”

Barbenheimer was the obvious cultural phenomenon of the year, but what about the feminininomenon of Barbie and Poor Things, or, Frankenbarbie? Margot Robbie’s titular role and Emma Stone’s Bella Baxter are blonde and brunette mirror images of each other: both initially represent innocence, have their entire perspectives challenged by their permeating the real world, embark on an epic adventure across realms and ultimately fight back against the chauvinism of their male oppressors. And they both serve look after look while doing it, thanks to costume designers Holly Waddington and Jacqueline Durran.

Not to mention the fact that Gerwig, Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos all told us they cited the imaginative world-building of Federico Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On as visual inspirations for their respective fantasy films. Of note as well is that Robbie and Stone made these movies through their own production companies (LuckyChap and Fruit Tree), effectively manifesting Barbie’s quote, “I want to be a part of the people that make meaning, not the thing that is made,” into reality.

Rye Lane brought rom-com and popcorn back to cinemas in 2023.
Rye Lane brought rom-com and popcorn back to cinemas in 2023.

We lucky chaps were also treated to fresh fruit from the trees of grandmasters Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon), Hayao Miyazaki (The Boy and the Heron) and Wim Wenders (Perfect Days). All were deeply contemplative meditations infused with the core themes of the filmmakers’ decades-long careers, with the former two grappling with the shattering effects of real-world violence.

Scorsese tells us, upon hearing that his latest film made the top ten highest-rated of 2023 (and fourth highest-rated drama): “I’m very pleased. You know, you make a film like this, there are times you realize ‘what am I doing, where am I going?’. Suddenly you realize you just have to get through it and make it. For me, I’m glad that people are reacting to it, that people are going for it, you know. It means something to some people, which is great.”  

Oppenheimer also examined man-made horrors, as did Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest and year-end surprise Godzilla Minus One. Calling the times we’re living through “turbulent” is a major understatement, and these films—as well as highly rated wartime documentaries In the Rearview and 20 Days in Mariupol, both following how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine impacts vulnerable civilians—shine a blacklight on the current state of the world, revealing the dirty fingerprints of those who dragged us here.

But good things happened, too! With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem and Nimona, we embraced the controlled chaos of hand-drawn animation. With Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. and Monster, we remembered the childhood friendships that counteracted the hardships of growing up. And with Rye Lane, Fingernails and Fallen Leaves, we found love in a hopeful place: the movie theater.

Three women fighting for their freedom in Bottoms, Barbie and Anatomy of a Fall.
Three women fighting for their freedom in BottomsBarbie and Anatomy of a Fall.

The highest-rated film directed by a woman was Past Lives by Celine Song, followed by Anatomy of a Fall by Justine Triet. Both narratives probe the disconnect between personal identity and public perspective, speculating on what exactly makes for a compelling story.

Next on this list is Paola Cortellesi’s There’s Still Tomorrow, a dramedy set in postwar Italy about a housewife garnering the courage to leave her abusive husband; “QUESTO È IL MIO BARBIE ITALIANO,” writes Vanessa in one of several Italian-language reviews from members comparing Paola’s movie to Greta Gerwig’s (which, of course, also made this list at number five). Hovering right above Barbie in fourth place is Jeanne Herry’s All Your Faces, a French drama centering on a restorative justice programme that provides a supervised space for honest dialogue between offenders and victims.

As for the women-directed documentary realm, Sally Aitken’s Hot Potato: The Story of The Wiggles celebrates the feel-good story of four men who climbed into their toot, toot, chugga, chugga, big red car and brought music to the tiny masses, while battling demons of their own and learning to diversify their kiddy-friendly empire. Multiple Sundance winners (Beyond Utopia, Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, The Eternal Memory and Kokomo City) fill out the rest of the category.

Finally, we bring it back to Barbie for the most popular films by women directors section. She’s cheer captain at number one, while PJ and Josie of Bottoms are on the bleachers at number three. Sandwiched in between are Oliver and Felix of Saltburn. Innocent or not, misguided or magnificent, each character has kept us company and become, well, family. As Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks) says in Asteroid City: “In my loneliness, and perhaps because of it, I’ve learned not to judge people, to take people as I find them, not as others find them. And most of all, to give complete and unquestioning faith to the people I love.”

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood: the ice plunge we need after finishing the Year in Review. 
Smoke Sauna Sisterhood: the ice plunge we need after finishing the Year in Review. 

We have so much gratitude for those who brought this Year in Review closer to fine: to NEON for partnering with us once again to support this retrospective, and to MUBI for supporting our personalized “wrapped” emails (coming your way in the next day or so, if you logged ten or more films in 2023 and are opted-in to emails from us). To Julie Olivi for 2023’s illustration and Cressa Maeve Áine (aka Beeragon) for the Godzilla animation.

This is our annual opportunity to smother praise on the Letterboxd crew, all of whom influence and contribute to the Year in Review in pivotal ways, both directly and indirectly. Commence the credit roll!

Hayden and Mike for design finesse. Mia for copywriting and carpet excellence. Brian, Mitchell, Slim, Sophie, Ella and Noreen for vital editorial and production work. Aaron and Flynn for impeccable social creative direction. Samm, Zack and Marcie for crucial content input. Editors AJ, Lowe and Richard for the supercuts and Ben for putting things in motion. Larkin and Brendan for TCB and Brett for keepin’ it scary. Courtney and Tyler for repping us hard. Our beautiful contributors and stringers (including Dominic, Adesola, George, Julia, Thom, Annie, Leo, Katie, Jenni, Rafa, Alicia, John, Kambole, Christian, Jocey, Iana, Jay, Cody, Lauren, Corey, Felipe and so many more) for excellent conversations with and about filmmakers, always. Mihir and the many Letterboxd list-makers whose year-round attention to detail helps us endlessly. 

To Karl, David, Tom, Sam, Hyung, Catherine and Rochelle for keeping the home fires burning, and most of all to Jack, Matthew and Gemma for keeping the Year in Review bus above 50mph throughout its journey.

Finally, three groups of folk without whom all this would not exist: the filmmakers; the behind-the-scenes heroes who work closely with them to bring these films to the world; and our community, for sharing your lives in film year-round. You are the reason. All the stars and hearts!

The Year in Review is calculated from the Letterboxd community’s combined ratings as of January 1, 2024. Eligible films are those that had a first national release in any country between January 1 and December 31 2023, and received a minimum of 2,000 ratings following release (minimum ratings requirements differ in some categories with lower overall viewership numbers).

Films that had direct-to-streaming releases, TV movies, and films with limited theatrical releases are included, while films with film festival screenings but no national release yet are not (they are included in the Year in Review relevant to the year in which they receive a national release).

The main narrative and documentary categories exclude short films, TV shows and specials, filmed concerts and stage shows, visual albums and straight-to-video films; where appropriate, they have their own categories.

As on the platform, Letterboxd differentiates between popular films (a measure of the activity a film receives regardless of rating) and highly rated films (computed from a weighted average of all ratings cast by members during the period).

Here’s a last little treat for those who made it to the end-credits: our favorite needle drops of 2023. See you on the dance floor, and in cinemas more in 2024!

Written by Gemma Gracewood and Mia Lee Vicino with additional reporting by Ella Kemp and Julia Barrett-Mitchell

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