‘Barbenheimer’: the double film event of the summer

Margot Robbie as Barbie and Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the two unlikely titans of the summer box office. ‘Barbie’ Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, ‘Oppenheimer’ Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

In the old, golden days of Hollywood, the double feature was a staple of the movie theater experience. The studios ran the system, forcing theaters to block bookings — whether that was a short film or a newsreel in tandem with the feature, or the two-handedness of the A and B movies. As that system began to crumble, theatrical releases became more about competition and counter-programming; two different studios would be hesitant to release movies on the same day, let alone one studio release two movies.

Box office concerns have nearly killed the dual feature concept, but there’s been a resurgence of sorts this summer, thanks to two very different and highly anticipated films. Greta Gerwig Barbie has been hyped since it was announced, with set photos from last year sending the internet to a pleasure. Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer promises a remarkable major change for the director, appearing to be more of a drama than his usual high-concept fare. Both filmmakers have their ardent fans, and on July 21, many of those fans will be forced to choose which movie to see. Unless, of course, they’re both watching.

Margot Robbie as Barbie. Thanks to Warner Bros. Pictures

‘Barbenheimer’: a strange summer double film

When multiple films are released in theaters on the same day, they are often deliberately planned opposites. Think of a gory action film versus a children’s animated film, or a blockbuster versus a small-scale romcom. It’s all in the counter programming, or responding to different demographics, often broken down by age and/or gender. Barbie And Oppenheimer seem to fall pretty neatly on either side of the line (i.e. the former targets younger and is aimed more at women, the latter shoots at older men), but there’s more to it.

Yes, one is bubble gum pink and the other is partially black and white, but Barbie And Oppenheimer compete for a crossover audience. Nolan is a name brand director, bridging the gap between elite cinephiles and the general public. Gerwig, with hits like Lady Bird And Little women under her belt, makes the same impression. Both filmmakers make films with broad appeal; both make films that are universally loved.

Christopher Nolan directs Cillian Murphy Oppenheimer. © Universal Studios. All rights reserved.

It’s no wonder people are eager to see both movies. The novelty comes with the inexplicable virality of the dual-function idea. When people realized the movies came out the same day, memes and crazy t-shirt ideas distributed online. What started as an in-joke for the cinema savvy grew into a pop culture phenomenon: Barbenheimer. Each movie has the qualifications to be a hit in its own right, but the outrageous contrast between the two ties them together. The buzz is not limited to the internet either: according to theater chain AMC, approximately twenty thousand of Stubs rewards program members have already booked tickets to see both on the same day.

The industry is responding

In light of this shared success, the film industry is encouraging this strange double feature. Actor and cinema champion Tom Cruise went viral for his after about the summer film slate. “I like a double feature, and it doesn’t get more explosive (or pinker) than one with Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie,” he noted. Gerwig and Margot Robbie took advantage of the star’s shoutout and showed their own excitement on the Barbie movie’s official Instagram account.

The Barbie team is more than happy to treat the shared release date as a tag-team event. “It’s all love – double, double twice,” Gerwig said of her films world premiere. “I think you have to see what the experience is, Barbie Than Oppenheimer, Oppenheimer Than Barbie. I think you should make all the trips. Issa Rae (who plays President Barbie in the movie) said she likes the “solidarity” between the two. On the heated debate of viewing order, she has a hard attitude: “Of course you have to watch Oppenheimer first and then cleanse your palate with Barbie.”

As regards Oppenheimersaid star Cillian Murphy in a recent interview about his excitement over the doubled release date. “I can’t wait to see Barbie. I love Margot Robbie, I love Ryan Gosling, I want to see them now!” he said, adding: “My advice would be for people to go see both on the same day. If they are good films, the cinema wins.”

A still of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. © Universal Studios. All rights reserved.

A historic box-office battle

Christopher Nolan is no stranger to sharing summer release dates with female-fronted movies. Back in 2008, The dark knight took on the hit musical Mama Mia!and that of 2017 Dunkirk had the comedy with an R rating girls trip to bounce off. Nolan won the box office both times, but this summer looks set to be different. estimates for Barbieopening weekend are as high as $100 million, with Oppenheimer looking for a respectable $50 million. It’s a shift in the box office dynamic, a feminine, femininedirected movie that takes the top spot about one of the biggest names in the industry, and its dueling movies will fuel the fire in some studio feuds. Regardless of what the totals end up being, it’s sure to be a successful weekend for movie theaters (and a fun weekend for moviegoers).

'Barbenheimer': the double film event of the summer

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