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The Barbenheimer release date “snafu” was designed to do one thing: annoy Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros was trying to screw over Nolan’s Oppenheimer by scheduling Barbie for the same release date. I’m not sure WB planned out what would come next: a months-long viral campaign for both films and millions of dollars worth of free media and publicity. At the end of the day, Barbenheimer was a huge success by any metric – Nolan’s Oppenheimer was his biggest non-Batman opening ever, and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is breaking all kinds of records for woman directors, non-comic-book movies and on and on.
Over the weekend, moviegoers turned out in force for Greta Gerwig’s neon-coated fantasy comedy “Barbie,” which smashed expectations with $155 million to land the biggest debut of the year. But they also showed up to see Christopher Nolan’s R-rated historical drama “Oppenheimer,” which collected a remarkable $80.5 million in its opening weekend.
Hundreds of thousands of ticket buyers refused to choose between the two seemingly different auter-driven blockbusters with sprawling casts and twin release dates. So they opted to attend same-day viewings of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” turning the box office battle into a double feature for the ages.
The cultural craze known as “Barbenheimer” worked to fuel the biggest collective box office weekend of the pandemic era, as well as the fourth-biggest overall weekend in history. It’s worth noting the top three weekends of all time were led by the debuts of sequels in massive franchises (“Avengers: Endgame,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”).
In the end, though, it wasn’t a competition as “Barbie” loomed large over box office charts, thanks to an inescapable marketing campaign, as well as quality to match the stratospheric hype. At the international box office, the film added $182 million for a stunning global tally of $337 million.
The $145 million-budgeted movie, backed by Warner Bros. and Mattel, dominated the zeitgeist in the weeks leading up to its debut (even reportedly causing a shortage of the color pink) to a degree that’s rare for original fare. (Yes, Barbie is perhaps the world’s most famous doll, but the movie isn’t a sequel or part of a pre-existing film franchise.)
“We have a pink unicorn here,” says Jeff Goldstein, the president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. “We thought it would be $75 million for the opening weekend. Nobody saw $155 million coming. This doll has long legs.”
While I’m happy for Nolan and the Oppy team, I’m beyond thrilled for Gerwig, for Margot Robbie, for what this hopefully means for women directors and women producers and female-led stories. Women are a huge market and an underserved market – give them original summer films, give them fun marketing campaigns and we will rush to the theater. I know Gerwig and Mattel will get a lot of well-deserved credit for what they did, but don’t discount Margot’s amazing contributions here. She was the producer and her company, LuckyChap, pitched this to Mattel and hired Greta to write and direct. Margot has had so much success as a producer already, even before this, but this success should get LuckyChap all kinds of deals. Also, shout-out to the Barbie marketing team and Margot’s stylist – y’all did incredible work.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid, Cover Images and Warner Bros/Barbie.