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Barbenheimer, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the box office bombs.

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Barbenheimer, or the cultural event of watching Barbie and Oppenheimer on the same day, is a breath of fresh air. It may be weird to read that, but I can’t remember the last time two films had such viral marketing, much less one. And in my opinion, it’s exactly what Hollywood needed.


It’s a very awkward time for two of the biggest films not only of the year but for the early Oscars race to start, seeing as both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are on strike. I don’t think that’s showcased better than the entire cast of Oppenheimer walking out of the film's London premiere to join the strike. Barbie is a movie that I imagine only works because of the huge stars attached to it. Now both of these huge casts can’t promote what for some of them is the biggest movie of their careers for the foreseeable future. How will studios promote Margot Robbie or Cillian Murphy for Oscar nominations if the actors are too busy walking picket lines outside their headquarters?


As bad as it sounds, there is a silver lining. Both movies releasing in this weird time gives me hope from a very drab box office full of hundred-million-dollar disasters. Fast X, The Flash, Indiana Jones & The Dial of Destiny, I can keep going. All of these movies were giant studio swings that on paper were sure-fire successes. All are part of huge household-name franchises with massive fan appeal. Yet they all failed financially and failed horribly. Now I haven’t seen Fast X or Indiana Jones, but I did see The Flash and most of the other box office failures (Shazam 2, Ant-Man 3). Yet I can tell you exactly why these tentpole films were crushed under their own weight: they were inherently built without any real creative spark.


Don’t get me wrong; I love some of the people behind these movies. James Mangold and David Sandberg are incredible directors, I love Harrison Ford and Paul Rudd, and Keaton’s Batman will forever stand the test of time. But these movies weren’t made for them to make anything; they were only made for the studios to make money. Fast X is as factory built as it gets, Ant-Man 3 was set to be the start of the new mega-storyline of the MCU, Indiana Jones was in development hell until it started gaining traction when Bob Chapek became CEO of Disney, and The Flash… The Flash might be the messiest film production in my lifetime. And keep in mind all of these films’ budgets are upwards of $125 million, with the most expensive being Fast X at $340 million!


Now what does this have to do with Barbeheimer? The fact that I’m writing this article shows what happens when movies made with talent at the forefront succeed critically and financially. I’ll admit Barbie is a massive Mattel project, being the first of 45 Toy-Based films in development (can’t wait for the Uno film, by the way). And it was in development hell until Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach were signed on to write the project. Now it’s arguably the movie of the summer, and it might end up being the movie of the year. When I heard they were writing the film, I seriously thought Barbie and Ken would get a divorce while Barbie has an existential crisis about what it means to be a doll (which still might happen). And Oppenheimer looks to be Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, made in spite of Warner Bros. after the pair split due to their HBO Max day-in-date release decision for their 2021 movie calendar. These two films will most likely be the weirdest, craziest movies we’ve had in a long time, only in league with Everything Everywhere All At Once, which is exactly why it is getting this viral marketing momentum. If Barbie and Oppenheimer didn’t have this wild, creative explosion of energy, there wouldn’t be more than 20,000 people booking a double feature of the two.


To be clear, I am not saying that Barbie and Oppenheimer will make millions more dollars than the other movies mentioned, but it is likely. And I have not seen an audience this excited to watch two movies coming out simultaneously since… well, ever really. SpiderVerse was a massive hit, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Barbie overtakes it, hell maybe Oppenheimer will too. Either way, I hope this recurring rhythm of cookie-cutter blockbusters flopping hard while highly creative and (let’s face it) bizarre films succeed keeps going. As a film fan, I can’t wait to walk through the movie theater hearing Ryan Gosling singing about being a Ken Doll on one side while a nuke goes off on the other.



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