This “Barbie” just scored the biggest domestic opening weekend of 2023.
Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Barbie” debuted in first place at the box office this weekend, earning a whopping $155 million in the United States and Canada. The PG-13 comedy easily defeated Universal Pictures’ “Oppenheimer,” which opened in second place with $80.5 million, according to studio estimates.
In addition to notching the biggest launch of the year — ahead of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” ($146.4 million) — Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” also marks the best domestic debut of all time for a title directed by a woman, surpassing 2019’s “Captain Marvel” ($153 million).
The film industry received a much-needed shot in the arm this weekend thanks to the cinematic, cultural phenomenon that is “Barbenheimer.” For months, people around the world have eagerly anticipated the simultaneous releases of Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” — two auteur-driven studio tentpoles so thematically opposed, movie fans have been unable to resist fusing them in memes, posters, T-shirts, TikTok videos and now, theaters.
“There’s certainly some cross-pollination going on,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at measurement firm Comscore.
“Film buffs will be created this weekend after maybe some people who had no intention to see ‘Barbie’ will now see that. Others who had no intention see ‘Oppenheimer’ — because of ‘Barbenheimer’ — are going to want to see both. And that’s really cool.”
As of Sunday morning, it was clear that many thousands of moviegoers indeed saw both — often back to back. AMC Theaters reported on Friday that more than 60,000 loyalty program members had reserved tickets to see “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” on the same day.
Cinemas across the country were packed with moviegoers dressed in bubblegum pink and/or charcoal costumes to celebrate the movie event of the summer. On social media, fans fervently debated which film they should watch first. (A self-professed Nolan “fanatic,” Dergarabedian opted to start with the bracing “Oppenheimer” and chase it with “Barbie.”)
“It’s so rare,” said Dergarabedian, who couldn’t remember a dual-opening weekend generating this much collective buzz since 2000’s “The Patriot” and “The Perfect Storm.”
“I mean, this is marketing catnip. … To have this situation where you have these two films, linked together in this way … rival studios but yet having this sort of baked-in camaraderie here.”
Undoubtedly boosted by the popularity of the “Barbenheimer” double feature, both the feminist flick about a doll come to life and the historical drama about the father of the atomic bomb over-performed in the United States and Canada. It also doesn’t hurt that both features boast ridiculously stacked A-list casts headlined by Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling (“Barbie”) and Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt (“Oppenheimer”).
The blockbusters’ combined revenue helped secure this weekend a spot in the top five highest-grossing weekends of all time at the domestic box office, according to Warner Bros. It also marks the first time two competing films have opened to more than $100 million and $80 million in the same frame, as well as the fourth time a weekend has amassed more than $300 million.
That’s a huge deal, especially when you consider that — pre-”Barbenheimer” — the domestic box office was lagging 16.1% and 6.6% behind the year-to-date earnings of 2019 and 2022, respectively, according to Comscore.
“This was a phenomenal experience for people who love movies on the big screen,” said Michael O’Leary, president of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, in a statement.
“It was a truly historic weekend and continues the positive box office momentum of 2023. More importantly, it proves once again that America loves going to the movies to see great films. People recognized that something special was happening and they wanted to be a part of it.”
And it’s not just ticket sales that matter in this industry-revitalizing moment.
“If you’re going to see that double feature … you’re going to be at the theater for a long time,” Dergarabedian said.
“That’s a lot of popcorn, a lot of soda, a lot of drinks, a lot of food, a lot of exposure to in-theater marketing and trailers. … It’s like the Super Bowl for movie theaters this weekend. And that’s going to be a really good thing … for the business moving forward.”
It’s worth noting that “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” are more than commercial successes. Both movies also fared exceedingly well with critics and audiences, which in turn bodes well for their box-office futures.
“Barbie” notched a stellar 90% fresh rating on review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, while “Oppenheimer” came in even higher at 94%. Each film received an A grade from audiences polled by CinemaScore.
“We need to look at the long term playability of both of these films, because they’re going to have … very different journeys to their final box-office result,” Dergarabedian said.
“‘Barbie’ certainly will be more front-loaded … But ‘Oppenheimer’ is going to build on it being a different type of summer style movie. This feels like a movie that’s certainly gonna be recognized come awards season. So it’s going to have a very long life in the public consciousness.”
Of course, there’s no point in mentioning awards season without acknowledging the elephant in the room: The ongoing Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes, which will more-than-likely hinder Oscars campaigns for “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” — if not their immediate box-office results.
While the Writers Guild of America has been on the picket lines for weeks, Warner Bros. and Universal lucked out with plenty of time to promote their respective titles before the Screen Actors Guild dropped the other shoe. (Backed by Mattel, “Barbie” had a particularly robust marketing strategy involving viral character posters, custom dolls, a star-studded soundtrack and a real-life Malibu Dreamhouse.)
“They really got in under the wire in a sense, because their marketing message was so strong and so amplified,” Dergarabedian said.
“Not having that message available right now, it’s got a momentum that’s going to go through the weekend. Then the focus is going to shift from the pre-release marketing to the post-release response by the actual fans.”
Opening in wide release next weekend are A24’s “Talk to Me,” GKIDS’ “The First Slam Dunk” and Disney’s “Haunted Mansion.”
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