‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ clash in ‘Barbenheimer’ box-office smackdown

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Barbenheimer' (Part 1)

“Barbenheimer” is officially upon us as “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” both open in movie theaters.

Moviegoers nationwide now face a cinematic conundrum affectionately known as “Barbenheimer.”

Which movie are you more excited to watch this weekend in a surefire box-office smackdown?

The storylines couldn’t be any more different. One movie is a delightful comedy fantasy about the popular Mattel doll Barbie, who begins to question her plastic existence and ventures outs to explore the real world. The other film is a historical thriller about the true story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist who invented the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project in a race against the Nazis during World War II.

You can’t go wrong with the casts, which are both stellar. Oscar nominees Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”) and Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) are perfectly cast as Barbie and Ken with devoted fans from “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “The Notebook.” However, Harley Quinn better bring her baseball bat to face the Scarecrow from Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” as Cillian Murphy plays Oppenheimer with the support of his wife Kitty (Emily Blunt).

Best of all, both of these films feature two of the most dynamic filmmakers working today. “Barbie” is ironically helmed by indie darling Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird,” “Little Women”), who brings a quirky sensibility to the shiny pink packaging, while “Oppenheimer” is directed by the masterful Nolan (“Memento,” “Inception,” and “Dunkirk”), who switches from color to black-and-white throughout the film (see it in 70 mm IMAX if you can).

Life in plastic is fantastic, but life in nuclear is explosive, so which should you see? Why choose? The film industry is hoping folks will choose to make it a “Barbenheimer” double feature. AMC Theatres reports that AMC Stubs members have already purchased 20,000 tickets to the double feature for a total runtime of 294 minutes.

Area movie theaters are getting in on the fun by offering an array of themed promotions.

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in Northeast D.C. and Crystal City, Ashburn and Woodbridge, Virginia, are hosting a special Slumber Party Screening for folks to wear pink pajamas, as well as a “Barbie-core” screening with a costume contest for fans dressed like Barbie and Ken. A selfie wall will make for perfect social media posts.

The Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax, Virginia, and Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market in D.C. are offering free popcorn to anyone who buys tickets to the double feature. The former will also serve Pink Perfection Kettlecorn, Shrimp Couture Flatbread, Strawberrylicious Ice Cream Sundaes, Beachy Keen Cocktails and Think Pink Mocktails.

Meanwhile in Maryland, Warehouse Cinemas in Frederick and Baltimore are fittingly serving pink popcorn for “Barbie” and a Smoked Manhattan Project drink with “smoking gun” bubbles for “Oppenheimer.” Enjoy!

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Barbenheimer' (Part 2)

REVIEW UPDATE: #BarbieTheMovie is so much fun. The film is way deeper than its superficial pink packaging. Filmmaker Greta Gerwig cleverly comments on the complex gender dynamics of a popular toy brand that has so many inherent contradictions, but Gerwig (co-writing with life partner Noah Baumbach) addresses these issues right from the jump, calling out stereotypes and ideals to create a more just society. Colorful costumes/sets embrace the artifice of classic Hollywood backdrops (Gerwig has cited the British work of Powell & Pressburger, namely “The Red Shoes,” as inspiration). Margot Robbie & Ryan Gosling are perfectly cast with hilariously rigid body movements like dolls (the film could have used more of this, honestly). The opening homage was a riot, America Ferrera gives one heck of a monologue, and narrator Helen Mirren jumps in with a great fourth-wall break late in the film (I would have been fine if they sprinkled her narration more throughout). The ending feels a tad abrupt, no doubt confusing kids, but it’s a zinger that adults will appreciate. Folks, this movie is going to be MASSIVE because it intrigues the cinephiles with Gerwig’s indie credibility while inviting mainstream folks to flock to the theater (the “Barbenheimer” marketing has been brilliant). Listen closely and you’ll hear the box office shouting: “Closer I am to fine!” Can’t wait to see “Oppenheimer” next.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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