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Barbenheimer: A battle of the best 

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Featured image: Press © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The Barbenheimer weekend blew up the box office bringing record ticket sales to cinemas all over the globe. The term ‘barbenheimer’ went viral after the reveal that Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer would both be released on the same date. This sparked mass excitement online, building up anticipation for the big weekend. The popularity of the phrase has since resulted in merchandise and huge social media trends.

Much of the hype emerged due to the two very different styles and narratives of each film. Barbie, starring Margot Robbie, follows stereotypical barbie, as she realises that she has not positively impacted the human world in the way she once thought. The comedy film follows her as she tries to find her true identity and save Barbieland from the rise of her boyfriend Ken, who is also undergoing an identity crisis. One which involves a lot of fur apparently. On the other end of the scale, Oppenheimer is a biopic, covering the life of physicist J Robert Oppenheimer, who played a significant role in the creation of the atomic bomb. The intense narrative unravels as the character, also referred to as ‘the angel of death,’ undergoes colossal moral dilemmas amidst World War II.

Though Nolan’s intense and often multifaceted movies are frequent blockbuster hits, Barbie is Gerwig’s first big movie in Hollywood. The two directors both reacted positively to the shared release date, expressing their individual passion for cinema and the importance of such a weekend for the film industry. However, these comments did not seem to affect the anticipated rivalry online.

So, who was the winner? In terms of hard cash, so far, Gerwig’s Barbie, has grossed a massive $1 billion dollars globally, with Oppenheimer currently grossing $550 million. Barbie’s success, however, comes as no surprise. Viewers have been dressing up, flooding cinemas with pink and making it a real event and it has since been revealed that the blockbuster has had the biggest opening weekend for a female director to date. This couldn’t be more fitting due to the films’ feminist themes.

Despite Barbie’s significant profits, the winner is not, however, so clear cut. Since the initial weekend, Oppenheimer has been catching up and it is expected that the two will be on fairly equal ground within a few months. In terms of critics and reviews, Oppenheimer has also just about scraped victory. Rotten Tomatoes provided the film with an audience score of 91% and Barbie with 84%. The close ratings were also similar on Letterboxd with Oppenheimer receiving 4.3 stars and Barbie just behind with 4.1. The reaction to these results has been synonymous with a general understanding that the cinematic experience of Barbie, seemed to be more unique, yet Nolan’s impeccable filmmaking provided a greater portrayal of character and story. All in all, people don’t appear to have left the weekend with a clear winner. 

Despite this, there is a clear understanding of what the weekend has achieved. Since the films’ release, much of the online discussion has steered towards the surprise of such a successful cinematic moment and its prevalence due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strikes. The strikes have raised concerns about the future of cinema if streaming platforms like Netflix are to continue taking the majority of profits for re-runs. Issues like actors being replaced by AI and the threat to authentic creativity have also surfaced. Stars of both Barbie and Oppenheimer have shown their support for the strike with actors like Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy walking out on the London premiere.

The profits and the uproar surrounding the weekend have shown the capabilities of cinema in its true form and have acted as a great asset to the strikes, reinforcing its message. The attention both films have attracted and the subsequent discussions they have generated have ensured that what could have been a head-to-head competition between two box office hits, has instead been a triumph for cinema and has made a strong case for the issues raised by current strikes in Hollywood. What a weekend.

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Phoebe Barks

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