Much of Hollywood may now be on strike, but the biggest movie weekend of the year continues to roll on. And he has his own catchy nickname.
Friday, July 21 was long ago dubbed “Barbenheimer” by moviegoers on social media due to the fact that arguably the two hottest movies of the summer, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan Oppenheimershared a release date.
Since then, the term is regularly trending topicT-shirts were made and sold, mashups have been produced and, apparently, tens of thousands of tickets have been reserved for what might be one of the weirdest and most unexpected double-length films of all time. There’s also tasty industrial tea to spill behind.
Read on for everything you need to know about Barbenheimer.
Why did “Barbenheimer” become such a thing?
Like many fads on social media, Barbenheimer started out as a joke. There’s just something inherently fun about two highly anticipated and highly anticipated blockbusters that couldn’t be more different from landing in theaters on the same day.
There is BarbieA apparently foamy comedy of fish out of water at the Elf based on a living, breathing manifestation of the Mattel doll (Margot Robbie) who ventures into the real world, with Ken (Ryan Gosling) of course, in the midst of an existential crisis. (We say apparently because in reality Barbie is much heavier and sociopolitical than its marketing suggests.) Yet the film was billed as a candy-colored popcorn flick full of “Ken-ergy”, disco, pop star cameos, hair bleached blond and tan.
And then there is Oppenheimer, Nolan’s dark and tense three-hour opus about… the man (Cillian Murphy as Robert J. Oppenheimer) who built the atomic bomb. While Barbie was filmed mostly to an instantly iconic hot pink soundstage (with an occasional detour to Venice Beach), Oppenheimer – which will be unveiled in both IMAX and 70mm – did not include a single CGI shot in its $100 million budget and is partly in black and white.
As Variety Put it on, it’s the battle of bomb and bomb — or doom versus darkness — at the box office. Add a concise hybrid nickname “Bennifer” and a phenomenon was born.
How come none of the movies have changed release dates?
Both films have mega hype and major followings, and as disparate as they are, they certainly still have plenty of overlap. Nolan and Gerwig are two of the industry’s most revered and celebrated filmmakers right now, and just five years ago they were competing for the same Best Director Oscar statue (Nolan for DunkirkGerwig for Ladybug) although both ultimately lost to The shape of water director Guillermo del Toro.
So while a deep segment of social media users obsessed over their shared release date, they also speculated as to whether one of the studios releasing them, Warner Bros. (Barbie) or Universal (Oppenheimer) would eventually bow out in what was essentially a game of chicken on release date. And it’s all the more so because, as profitable as the summer movie season is, it’s very rare for two such high-profile releases to go head-to-head, and even more so after COVID and in an era of streaming where studios are releasing usually fewer tent poles in theatres.
Oppenheimerfor example, would have had less competition for screens released on July 7 (when the only major release was tower of joy), while either could easily have ruled the weekend of July 28 (Haunted house) or really any weekend in August.
There may have been a bit of ego and drama (what, in Hollywood? Ever!) behind Barbenheimer’s release date stalemate, too. Nolan, remember, partnered primarily with Warner Bros. since 2002 Insomniathe studio having released eight of its last nine films (2006 Prestige was a co-release with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures while Paramount handled Interstellar in 2014.). But Nolan’s relationship with WB soured amid the pandemic as the studio (or at least its parent company, WarnerMedia) released its 2021 slate simultaneously in theaters and on its brand new HBO Max streaming service. Nolan, ever the champion of the big-screen theatrical experience, made no secret of his displeasure, so it was no surprise when he later jumped ship to Universal for Oppenheimer.
Nolan has long preferred the mid-July release weekend since 2008 The black Knighteven for Oscar counter programming like Dunkirk. It’s driven, ahem, insiders like Initiatedby Jason Guerrasio to speculate that Warner Bros. could even “adopt a form of recovery” on Nolan by inserting Barbie on the Oppenheimer the filmmaker’s favorite release weekend. Nolan was diplomatic when asked by Guerrasio about Barbenheimer, but multiple sources told the reporter that privately Nolan was upset with WB’s decision to suspend his regular weekend.
Has the hype around Barbenheimer really translated into box office sales?
While Nolan may (just) have fears about Barbie And Oppenheimer cannibalizing themselves at the box office, their unexpected Voltroning in Barbenheimer is actually motivating fans to check out the two movies back-to-back this weekend. In fact, last week AMC Theaters announced that more than 20,000 moviegoers have already booked tickets to a Barbenheimer double feature – with that number rising to 40,000 this week and growing even more in the coming days.
“That more than 20,000 moviegoers have already made plans and bought tickets to see Barbie And Oppenheimer same day is a good sign that the growing online conversation around these two incredible films is turning into ticket sales,” said Elizabeth Frank, executive vice president of global programming and chief content officer at AMC Theaters, in a communicated.
As for what order to see them in? We asked this question to a few Barbie co-stars.
“I say see Oppenheimerget all that out of your system, then go see Barbie and just put it back in,” Issa Rae tells us.
“Yeah, the other way around could be a downside,” Michael Cera shrewdly points out.
Of course, it’s Hollywood, and there has to be a winner. It will be easily Barbiewhich is currently targeting a $110 million launch, while Oppenheimer should open around $50 million still very lofty.
The winners, however, when it comes to Barbenheimer? Moviegoers.
Barbie And Oppenheimeraka Barbenheimer, premiering in theaters Friday, July 21.