Let’s get the honourable mentions out of the way, first.
Rihanna performed at the SuperBowl — and announced a pregnancy while she was onstage. The Beatles released a new song using an old demo from the late John Lennon, featuring additions by Paul McCartney, the late George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as a little help from their friend, artificial intelligence. And the Succession finale sent dedicated viewers of the HBO drama into a tailspin.
But those couldn’t quite top the best pop culture stories of 2023.
Somehow both an unlikely pairing and a match made in heaven, the social media frenzy that surrounded Greta Gerwig’s Barbie — a bubblegum pink, feminist 101 meta-comedy about the world’s most famous doll — and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer — an epically bleak, cerebral biopic of the physicist who invented the atomic bomb — turned their same-day release into the pop culture event of the year.
“Barbie or Oppenheimer?” quickly became a reliable conversation starter as moviegoers pledged their allegiances to one or the other (or both).
With Barbie having cracked $1 billion at the global box office and Oppenheimer not far behind, Barbenheimer became the emblem of a healthy theatrical industry as event-style theatregoing continued to draw people back to plush theatre seats following pandemic lockdowns.
Everything Everywhere All At Once, Canadians win at the Oscars
The multiverse had a strong showing at this year’s Oscars when the absurdist dramedy Everything Everywhere All At Once won seven Academy Awards, including best picture, best actress for Michelle Yeoh and best supporting actor for Ke Huy Quan, whose Hollywood comeback story made him a favourite among award season voters.
But the Canadian stories that emerged from Hollywood’s biggest night are still resonating.
That includes a best actor win for Canadian-American actor Brendan Fraser — who stunned audiences with a transformation for his role in The Whale — and a best original screenplay win for Toronto filmmaker Sarah Polley and her adaptation of the novel Women Talking by Canadian Miriam Toews.
Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour
This was the year that Taylor Swift cemented herself as a pop star-cum-business icon, maintaining the attention of her fans — and those she might call her haters — as she embarked on an expansive concert tour across the U.S. that proved to be so popular it caused a Ticketmaster meltdown.
The Eras Tour was practically designed for TikTok virality, and Swift’s performances were dotted with announcements about re-recorded albums and references to a certain Kansas City Chiefs player.
If that weren’t enough, Swift’s concert film has grossed more than $250 million globally to date, with Swifties flocking to theatres faster than you can say Cruel Summer.
She might even be a boon to the economy; Canadians will find out next year when she makes stops in Toronto and Vancouver for short residencies.
The Hollywood strikes
Hollywood went into lockdown this year when the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild went on strike within two months of each other.
It brought the film and TV industry to a standstill as they renegotiated their collective agreements with the major studios.
Pushing for higher wages, changes to how royalties are earned during the streaming era and for regulations around the use of artificial intelligence, both the Writers Guild (with a strike lasting 148 days) and the Screen Actors Guild (after a strike that lasted 118 days) claimed wins for their tradespeople as the lockouts ended.
Britney Spears releases her memoir
During a year when it seemed like everyone released a celebrity memoir — from Prince Harry’s Spare to Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Worthy — The Woman In Me by Britney Spears seemed to stand out because so many people were actually interested in hearing her story two years after she won a legal battle to end the strictly managed conservatorship that controlled her life and finances for 13 years.
Spears gets into all of the details that you’d want from a celebrity tell-all, from her relationship with pop singer Justin Timberlake to the circumstances that led to her infamous public breakdown in 2007, but the overarching theme of The Woman In Me was of a woman surrounded by controlling men in an industry that enables these behaviours.