2023 The Year in Feature Animation in Review: Distribution Winners and Losers

As we approach the end of the year, we take a look back at the distributors who had a memorable 2023 and those who are looking to turn things around in 2024.

The main takeaway from the past 12 months is that while original films continue to struggle at the box office, major franchises continue to print money. This is reflected in what we know about next year's releases, with many major studios returning to franchises that have proven profitable in the past.

A closer look at last year's animated feature distribution landscape:

Universal Pictures

This year's returning champion is Universal Pictures, which distributes DreamWorks Animation and Illumination films. If Universal had released "Super Mario Brothers Movie" this year, 2023 would have been a success. The film grossed $1.36 billion during its phenomenal theatrical run. But Mario was not the company's only film. Currently, "Trolls Band Together" is the #7 animated feature of 2023 worldwide, grossing $183.6 million. DreamWorks' "Ruby Gilman, Teenage Kraken" grossed only $46.1 million worldwide, undoubtedly hurting the distributor's 2023 record, but the phenomenal success of "Mario" and "Trolls" easily offset its poor showing. Universal plans to release another Illumination film, "Migration," this year, which could further turn things around.

In 2024, Universal is looking forward to another big year with the release of "Kung Fu Panda 4" and "Despicable Me 4" as well as Chris Sander's "Wild Robot."


Indie distributor GKIDS

GKIDS saw its highest grossing film in distributor history, Hayao Miyazaki's "The Boy and the Hare"; GKIDS also released "First Slam Dunk," "The Great Unicorn War" and "Ernest and Celestine": a Trip to Gibberitia, and Blue Giant.

GKIDS' 2024 calendar is more difficult to predict than most other distributors because of the company's focus on foreign acquisitions. We do know that next year the company will release the French sci-fi feature film Mars Express in the US.


In 2022, Netflix is a winner with its top-class catalog, led by Guillermo del Toro's "Pinocchio" and Chris Williams' "Kaiju." While this year's crop is not an awards-season favorite like "Pinocchio" (beware of overlooking "Nimona" as a contender), the original animated feature is one of the platform's most-watched films. The Wizard's Elephant, Nimona, Miracle: Ladybug and the Cat Noir, The Movie, Sun Wukong, Leo, and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget all made the streamer's weekly global top 10 list.

Netflix routinely releases more animated feature films than any other major distributor, and 2024 will be no different for the company. Next year, Netflix will release Orion and the Dark War, Ultraman, In Your Dreams, The Rising, Ultraman: The Rising, In Your Dreams, Saving Bikini Bottom: The Sandy Cheeks Movie," "Thelma the Unicorn," "Spellbound," and "That Christmas."

Sony Pictures

Sony swung to victory with the release of the second film in the Spider-Verse franchise. Across the Spider-Verse was hailed by critics as a step forward for the franchise both aesthetically and narratively, nearly doubling its predecessor's box office haul to $690.5 million worldwide.

Next year, Sony will distribute Alcon Entertainment's The Garfield Movie. The film will be directed by Mark Dindal, who directed the successful commercial films "Emperor's New Groove" and "Cats Don't Dance" and is a major force in the franchise.


Crunchyroll, a Sony-owned company specializing in animation, released Makoto Shinkai's "Suzume" in 2023, which grossed $10, the highest grossing film of Shinkai's career in the US. With $9 million in sales, "Suzume" benefited from Crunchyroll's first mainstream awards season campaign and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Crunchyroll also released "That Time I Was Reincarnated as a Slime: Scarlet Bond the Movie" and "Demon Slayer" also released: Kimezuno Yaiba: To the Village of Swordplay. The latter earned $10.1 million in the U.S., which was impressive since the film only spliced together three episodes of the series.

As with GKIDS, it is difficult to predict what Crunchyroll will do next year, but the company has had much success with large Japanese IPs.

Walt Disney Studios

The house that Walt built celebrated its centennial in disgrace this year. After failing to launch "Elemental" and producing a critical and box office flop like "Wishes," Disney ranked on the losers list for the second year in a row. While "Elemental" ultimately grossed nearly $500 million thanks to strong word of mouth, its debut at Cannes was a nightmare for critics, and its opening weekend was a huge disappointment.

Bob Iger will have his hands full turning things around in 2024. Perhaps the return of "Inside Out" and "The Lion King" will help, but it is hard to have much confidence in either proposition right now. It will be interesting to see what happens with the company's plans for short-term theatrical releases of three popular Pixar films that went to streaming during the pandemic: "Soul," "Luca," and "Turning Red." Disney will also certainly distribute a new Walt Disney Animation Studios film to be announced at a later date. Expect it to do better than the studio's last two feature films.

Warner Bros. Discovery/New Line

Warner Bros.' most successful animated theatrical release this year was "The Mummies," a Spanish film with little marketing and only $4.3 million at the US box office! The film was the most successful theatrical animated film ever released in the U.S. Warner Bros. also very famously censored the fully completed "Coyote vs. Acme" hybrid feature film.

Warner Bros. plans to release at least two animated feature films in 2024, Genndy Tartakovsky's "Fixed" (New Line) and "The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim."

"Fixed" is next year's Fixed" is one of the biggest question marks on next year's theatrical release calendar. Tartakovsky is a rock star in the animation world and one of the industry's best known for his work with children and families. How will fans react to the R-rated film from the director of Hotel Transylvania -

Paramount Pictures

It's been a while since Paramount has released an exciting animated feature film theatrically, but in 2023, the distributor has two animated feature films in their hands. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem and PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie, both of which did well at the box office and, perhaps more importantly for the distributor, helped fuel massive merchandise campaigns for both franchises. Mutant Mayhem earned $180.5 million on a modest $70 million budget, while The Mighty Movie grossed $197.4 million on an even more impressive $30 million budget. [Paramount's problem is that "Under the Boardwalk" was also buried on streaming platforms after an extremely limited theatrical release. The film was originally slated for a full run in theaters. Now Paramount is doing the same with The Tiger's Apprentice, which will be available on Paramount+ beginning February 2, 2024.

The only major theatrical animated feature Paramount has announced for next year is "Transformers One," which will be released on September 13.