Barbenheimer fever reaches Mason High School students

Hudson Pitcock | The Chronicle

Barbie and Oppenheimer at first seemed like an odd pairing, but the two movies, released on July 21, 2023, went on to break records at the box office and infiltrated culture.

Despite being put out by different studios (Oppenheimer released by Universal and Barbie released by Warner Brothers) and having different, distinct subject matters, the movies were associated with each other in online discussions because of their shared release date. This is where the term Barbenheimer first arised. Social media users began to debate which movie they would see in theaters first, and the craze spread throughout the internet. Memes, fan-made combined posters, and other posts pushed the films to the front of pop culture weeks in early to mid July, raising the anticipation for their release date.

Senior Elena Hildebrand was one movie goer who recognized the Barbenheimer hype and abundant advertisements online. Hildebrand said the shared release date and competitive marketing increased her excitement for both movies.

“They made me want to see both of them,” Hildebrand said. “Rather than just Oppenheimer or Barbie. I thought it was really funny. Great for the movie business”

Oppenheimer, a three-hour long R-rated historical drama, was one of the summer’s most anticipated movies, mostly based on the reputation of its director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar). Universal gave it the same release date as Barbie to serve as counterprogramming to the light-hearted, family-friendly blockbuster. 

Barbie is the first theatrically released movie based on the iconic toy brand. Kids have played with Barbie dolls since the toy’s release in 1959, and 64 years later the character made its big screen debut, portrayed by Margot Robbie.

The shared release date led many viewers to choose to see the movies on the same day as a double feature. According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, over 200,000 people in North America purchased tickets for both movies in their opening weekend. Hildebrand said that she noticed an increase in energy and enthusiasm around movies when she saw Barbie and Oppenheimer.

“When I went to see Barbie it was pretty long after the movie had come out,” Hildebrand said. “But I still saw a bunch of people wearing pink and the theater was pretty full. And then for Oppenheirmer, I went to see it pretty soon after it came out and it was absolutely packed. And I think that’s really good because I feel like theaters have been kind of going downhill since COVID.”

The films’ shared release date led to many comparisons and debates over their quality and box office performance, but freshman Katie Samol believes that the two movies don’t need to be pitted against each other and should be celebrated for their individual successes.

“I think that they are really hard to compare,” Samol said. “They aren’t even the same genre. Oppenheimer is a biopic about a famous scientist and Barbie is a social commentary/comedy. Oppenheimer you had to really “lock in” to watch it, whereas Barbie was definitely a lighter watch.”

Barbie was a massive hit with female audiences, with 65% of tickets sold coming from women. The film was written and directed by Greta Gerwig, and became the first movie directed solely by a woman to cross a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. Samol said she connected with the film’s message of female empowerment. 

“I liked that Barbie was talking about misogyny and problems with the world,” Samol said. “That really resonated with me.”

Barbie was not just a hit with women, it also had broad appeal. Teenage boys like sophomore Mahad Usman enjoyed participating in the cultural event by dressing in pink to see the movie. The character Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, was a fan favorite and influenced Usman to watch Barbie in theaters.

“I think Ryan Gosling is a pretty cool guy,” Usman said. “He was a big reason why I went to see the movie.” 

As of September 418, 2023, Barbie has earned over $1.4 billion at the global box office and shattered numerous records. It is now the biggest global earning Warner Bros. movie ever, the highest-grossing movie of the year, and the biggest female directed film of all time.

Oppenheimer is tracking to earn $950 million by the end of its worldwide run, which would make it the second-best performing R-rated movie ever behind 2019’s Joker.

Before Barbie and Oppenheimer, the summer movie season had suffered many commercial disappointments. Tentpole films like ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ and ‘The Flash’ bombed, and were estimated to lose their studios $100 and $200 million respectively. 

Despite those financial failures early in the summer, audiences came out in droves to support Barbenheimer. Riding off of the online hype, July 21-23 became the fourth weekend to ever gross over $300 million in combined box office. Usman said that the weekend became a cultural event and is not something he thinks will be replicated anytime soon.

“Barbenheimer advertising has been one of the most influential movie marketing schemes ever,” Usman said. “I don’t think there will be another movie duo that will become as successful as they were together again. They really made history.”