Last month, a genuinely wonderful moment of cultural unity took place on July 21 when Barbie and Oppenheimer, two completely separate movies, were released into theaters at the same time. Instead of obsessing over which movie will “win” the weekend, many audience members rallied to see both on opening weekend, and thus “Barbenheimer” was born, the rare instance of mainstream movie obsession in an increasingly fragmented cultural landscape.
By the end of the weekend, Barbie had grossed over $150 million and Oppenheimer had raked in more than $80 million. The totals gave Barbie director Greta Gerwig the distinction of having achieved the largest domestic opening for a female-directed film and Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan his third-highest grossing weekend ever, behind only The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.
Both movies are marvels in and of themselves: Barbie is a Mattel co-production that Gerwig made into a personal statement about femininity and gender roles in modern society, likely launching the Lady Bird and Little Women director into a new stratosphere of Hollywood filmmakers. Meanwhile, Oppenheimer is a 3-hour long biopic about the scientist who fathered the atomic bomb that Nolan made into a feast for the senses and a truly compelling piece of cinema that continues his career trajectory of being one of the few directors in the world who can reliably put butts in theater seats.
And those forces turned out to combine to equal the fourth highest-grossing weekend at movie theaters ever. Theaters were swarming with pink-clad Barbie attendees and black-clothed Oppenheimer viewers, parking lots were jam packed, and some people were struggling to find tickets for the movies all together. It was a genuine monocultural moment where critics, audiences, and your neighbors down the street were all singing the praises of the same things at the same time… and it made a compelling argument to Hollywood that when they allow great artists to pursue their passions and make the movies they want to make, incredible movies and box office results can be the reward.
I’m Evan Rook.