The opposites of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer set a new UK Ireland box office double debut record this weekend, bringing moviegoers back to theaters in record numbers. The two movies, which have a total contrast in genre and audience, grossed over $23.7 million at the UK and Ireland box office on Friday. Cinema chain Vue said a fifth of its customers bought tickets for both films, a pairing dubbed “Barbenheimer” by social media, and more than 2,000 of the films’ screenings were sold out.
The moviegoers who opted for the unlikely pair were undoubtedly swayed by the fact that both movies have earned tremendous critical praise and acclaim. Both have also attracted audiences that are largely distinct from one another, with women driving the historic opening of Barbie and older males dominating the audience for Oppenheimer, which tells the story of the design of the atomic bomb.
However, the films’ contrasting audiences were united in their appreciation for their respective directors, with both getting their highest ratings. The success of both movies has given a much-needed lift to the lagging exhibition industry, which has struggled to compete with streaming services and the decline in popularity of blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame.
Gerwig’s film about Mattel’s go-getter toy doll and her existential crisis has been a breakout hit for the director, with Margot Robbie winning widespread praise for her performance as the Barbie character. Moreover, Nolan’s movie about physicist J Robert Oppenheimer has raked in over twice as much money as his previous blockbuster Interstellar.
Despite their differences, the movies were a natural pair for audiences, with many fans opting to watch both in a single day. They did so at a rate that has surprised even some of the movie’s distributors. The resulting phenomenon has been dubbed ‘Barbenheimer’ on social media, inspiring jokes and memes and spawning a Barbie-Oppenheimer dance mashup.
However, it is not just a fad or a reimagining of the classic film-going experience. For some, the twin release has led to a spirited debate about the ideal viewing order. Do you start with the dark and heavy Oppenheimer, then ease into a Barbie party of dancing, or vice versa? According to Farhan Mehmood, it is a debate that could help save cinema as we know it. The 21-year-old from Scunthorpe, who watched Barbie at 2.30 pm followed by the more serious Oppenheimer at 5.15 pm with a friend, told PA news agency: “If it gets people going to the cinema, that can only be good. “It is a great thing.”