I wanted to dedicate this weekly editorial space to something other than today’s highly anticipated global release of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.” My intention was to write about another fierce duo riling up the entertainment business, the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, whose ongoing strike will likely cause massive disruption for cinema operators in the near future. That will have to wait until next week, for like everyone else these days, I am choosing to enjoy the cultural moment which could finally bring some much needed economic relief to theater operators.
It might have started out as counter-programming to have writer/director Gerta Gerwig’s light hearted feminist live-action take on a popular toy doll open in movie theatres on the same day as filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s weighty biopic about the renowned physicist who helped create the first nuclear bomb, but the incongruity between the two films that has helped raise the public awareness of both. What started out as a box office rivalry between the two films simultaneous release has, as everyone now knows, generated an internet phenomenon dubbed with the portmanteau “Barbenheimer.”
It’s hard to say where or how “Barbenheimer” first started (though I’m sure someone will now tell me), but the idea is to see a double feature of both movies on the same day rather than choosing to see just one. Mainstream media outlets seem to have entire news desks dedicated to churning out news stories on “Barbenheimer” the New York Times running their first piece as far back in late June before picking up the pace last week and ultimately focusing on potential box office outcomes. The Guardian looked back in time at other competing movie releases. Both the Los Angeles Times and Vanity Fair believe “Barbenheimer” is coming at the perfect time for Hollywood. Collider takes up the much heated debate about whether to see “Barbie” or “Oppenheimer” first. CNN provides a guide on how to comfortably take in both movies on the same day.
Even those that have nothing to do with either movie or reporting on the cultural impact of “Barbenheimer” are getting in on the action. The Graham Norton Show posted a montage of clips on YouTube featuring past appearances on the talk show of actors from both movies. Publishing giant Hachette Book Group has some reading recommendations for “Barbenheimer” aficionados. There are more than a few unofficial posters with my favorite so far being the one created by Sean Longmore. Amazon is selling “Barbenheimer” t-shirts. There is even a movie trailer for “Barbenheimer” which arrived just in time for opening day, and to add a little meta to the meme, it was created using artificial intelligence.
The good news is, if all these news reports are correct, it appears “Barbenheimer” is actually working to attract infrequent moviegoers who haven’t returned to cinemas since well before the pandemic. Over the last few days my email inbox has been filled with exhibitors wanting to Celluloid Junkie know about their blockbuster ticket presales for both films. Even before “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” bowed in cinemas, AMC Theatres reported that 20,000 members of its loyalty program purchased tickets to see “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” on the same day. Vue in the United Kingdom said last week that 19% of customers purchasing tickets to “Oppenheimer” also bought tickets for “Barbie.” Then came word that Cineplex in Canada had sold 345,000 advance tickets to the films.
I stopped counting after the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) sent over their figures. “According to our estimates, we project that more than 200,000 moviegoers in North America will be enjoying an exciting same-day double feature of ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer,’ in addition to the millions of worldwide moviegoers who are planning to see both films on different days this weekend,” said Michael O’Leary, President and CEO of NATO.
Starting Thursday afternoon photos of moviegoers decked out in pink dresses, suits, ties and tuxedos started dominating my social media feeds. This may explain the raging debate on websites such as Reddit over the perfect “Barbenheimer” outfit. Not to mention the thread on which perfume will work best for the occasion. Perhaps all those Gentleminions who flooded movie theatres last summer to see “Minions: The Rise of Gru” were ahead of their time.
On Thursday evening, at the grand opening of Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas Inglewood IMAX at Hollywood Park in Los Angeles (which is really nice and worth checking out), half the attendees were wearing pink. Indeed, I ran into the contingent from NATO, all of whom looked dashing in their pink attire. Apparently I didn’t get the memo and was wearing blue. I told anyone who asked I was dressed as Ken.
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