‘Barbenheimer’ craze could do something Hollywood hasn’t seen in years

Margot Robbie stars in "Barbie."

(CNN) — Are you going to a double feature of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” this weekend? If so, you’re far from alone.

The “Barbenheimer” craze, which has swelled in popularity over the last few weeks, is all but set to propel the box office to its best weekend in years. BoxOffice Pro, a publication that tracks box office performance, said this week it is projecting a $200+ million weekend at the cinema. That would result in one of the biggest theatrical weekends since the pandemic upended the industry and a big win for Hollywood while writers and actors are on strike. With production at a standstill, it could be the last big blockbuster weekend for quite some time.

The battle of the bombshells playing out in theaters is not the usual runaway box office success story. It is the effect of a viral internet sensation that has flooded social media feeds with jokes and parodies about the opposing films and now looks set to meme its way to record theatrical attendance.

“The anticipation we’re seeing for these two movies is unprecedented, as people are thrilled to go to the theatre and be a part of an exciting cultural event,” Michael O’Leary, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners told CNN. “But it’s not just about the first three days of the box office either. These films will continue to draw fans for weeks to come.”

To be clear, both Warner Bros. Pictures’ Mattel flick (Warner Bros. is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, which is also CNN’s parent company) and Universal’s bio-epic from Christopher Nolan were always projected to do well in their own respective rights. There has been, for some time, high interest around both of the films. Rolled up together, however, they are projected to deliver an even more powerful jolt to the theater industry. The memes are, in effect, juicing attendance.

“This is truly one of the wildest and most unpredictable situations I’ve ever observed at the box office,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice Pro, told me Thursday. “‘Oppenheimer’ and ‘Barbie’ were both destined for probable success on their own terms, but capturing the social media zeitgeist has escalated the phenomenon into what feels like will be one of the biggest moviegoing weekends since 2019. Even those who don’t regularly patron cinemas are aware of ‘Barbenheimer.’ You can’t easily buy that kind of promotion, if at all.”

The “Barbenheimer” meme has been around for some time, dating back to when it was announced the two movies would be released on the same day. It was not lost on anyone how the two films, which could not be further apart in genre and style, would be forced to share the box office on the same weekend. “Barbie” is an upbeat comedy film wrapped in the iconic doll’s signature pink and other cheery colors. “Oppenheimer” is a serious, three-hour drama with dark imagery centered on war and the potential destruction of humanity.

But, as they say, opposites can attract. Tom Cruise helped give life to the phenomenon last month when he posted on social media that he was seeing both films. And the trend has continued to snowball, with legions of posts on social media platforms like TikTok building up a wave that has now washed over the country and into the mainstream.

The irony in the films’ massive draw is that, typically, studios prefer to avoid releasing major box office features on the same weekend as another. That way, movies don’t end up tripping over each other.

“Conventional wisdom in Hollywood has been that you cannot release two big blockbusters on the same weekend, maybe that’s not as true as people believe,” O’Leary said. “This weekend proves that moviegoers love great films and will support them — even in many cases on the same day.”

But in this case, the dual blockbusters are actually aiding one another, building hype for a summer movie event that will bolster receipts for what should be two competing films.

“What started as a perceived rivalry or debate in some circles about which to see has organically turned into a pure celebration of both films and the communal power of seeing them in a movie theater,” Robbins told me. “It’s a win-win for everyone. One for the history books.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up