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Opening Weekend 'Barbie' Dominates Box Office and 'Oppenheimer' Achieves Historic Success

by Venus Sanders

The recent release of "Barbenheimer," a social media-fueled fusion of Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" and Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer," has brought moviegoers back to theaters in unprecedented numbers.

This combination of images courtesy of Getty Images: Mega / Contributor "Barbie" left, and Henry Nicholls/Contributor "Oppenheimer" right

Despite the ongoing challenges in the exhibition business and the backdrop of industry strikes, the film has surpassed all expectations, giving a glimmer of hope to the lagging entertainment industry.

Warner Bros.' "Barbie" claimed the top spot at the box office, raking in a massive $155 million in North America from 4,243 locations. Surpassing every Marvel movie this year, it broke records as the biggest opening of the year and marked a significant milestone as the largest opening for a film directed by a woman.

Concurrently, Universal's "Oppenheimer" also performed exceptionally well, earning $80.5 million from 3,610 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. Notably, it became Christopher Nolan's biggest non-Batman debut and one of the best-ever starts for an R-rated biographical drama.

This unprecedented success marks the first time two movies have opened to such massive numbers in the same weekend, with the potential to become the fourth biggest box office weekend of all time, surpassing $300 million industrywide. This achievement is particularly remarkable considering the marketplace's increasing reliance on intellectual property-driven content.

The "Barbenheimer" phenomenon started as friendly competition between two stylistically distinct films, but it turned into a remarkable boon for both movies. While some moviegoers shared their enthusiasm for both releases, the audience overlap was mostly distinct.

"Barbie" attracted a predominantly female audience, accounting for 65% of viewers, with 40% under the age of 25 for the PG-13 rated film. On the other hand, "Oppenheimer" appealed more to male viewers, with 62% of its audience being male and 63% above the age of 25, including a surprising 32% aged 18 to 24.

From left to right: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Florence Pugh premiere for 'Oppenheimer'. Image Credit: Henry Nicholls/Contributor/ Getty Images

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Both "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" received critical acclaim, earning 90% and 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively, and audiences rewarded both films with an A CinemaScore. The films' success sparked organic, lively discussions on social media, creating a buzz and engaging audiences in event cinema experiences that transcend traditional marketing campaigns.

Additionally, "Oppenheimer" had an extensive presence on premium large format screens, with 80% of such screens being dedicated to the film. The film's IMAX 70mm screenings, which Nolan personally prefers, were immensely popular, contributing 26% to the domestic gross and 20% to the global gross. The demand was so high that theaters had to add extra screenings, some as early as 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., which also sold out.

The successful box office performance during this weekend of "Barbenheimer" is a long-awaited comeback for Hollywood since the pandemic. Previous successes like "Spider-Man: No Way Home," "Top Gun: Maverick," and "Avatar: The Way of Water" demonstrated big openings, but the simultaneous success of two films is particularly noteworthy.

However, amidst the celebration, there is an underlying cloud of concern as Hollywood continues to face labor strikes with actors and writers demanding fair contracts. Studios have had to make adjustments to the promotional schedules of films due to the lack of movie stars available for press tours. Some releases have been postponed, such as the highly anticipated Zendaya tennis drama "Challengers."

Margot Robbie, "Barbie": Image Credit Justin Tallis, Contributor/ Getty Images

Nonetheless, the triumph of "Barbenheimer" represents a positive turning point for the industry. The event generated excitement and momentum that may continue for weeks to come, with the possibility of a sequel next weekend.

The success of "Barbenheimer" demonstrates that cinema-going experiences are still highly valued by audiences despite the rise of streaming platforms. Moviegoers recognize the unique charm of theatrical releases and have eagerly returned to theaters to be part of this cinematic event.

As the exhibition business recovers, and with promising box office momentum in 2023, there is renewed hope for the entertainment industry. Although challenges remain, the success of "Barbenheimer" reminds us of the magic of cinema and its enduring power to unite audiences worldwide. Let us relish this moment and celebrate the joyous experience of moviegoing.


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