Barbenheimer: Historic weekend as ‘Barbie’ takes box office crown

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Barbie has become the US and Canada’s biggest film of the year so far, and is on track to become the biggest film of 2023. Collectively, ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ are enticing film lovers back to the cinemas after a moviegoing slump during the Covid pandemic.

The Barbenheimer phenomenon may have just saved cinema, with the fourth-biggest overall weekend in box office history.

What started out as good-natured competition between two very different aesthetic opposites has delivered box office gold, as the two films – both released on Friday 21 July – brought moviegoers back to the theatres in record numbers this weekend.

More than that, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer vastly outperformed projections and have given some hope to the lagging exhibition business, amid the backdrop of writers and actors strikes in the US.

Warner Bros.’ Barbie claimed the top spot with a massive $155 million (approx. €104m) in ticket sales from North American theatres, surpassing The Super Mario Bros. Movie (as well as every Marvel movie this year) as the biggest opening of the year and the largest opening weekend for a movie based on a toy – surpassing Transformers: Dark of the Moon ’s $115.9m

It also broke the first weekend record for a film directed by a woman, outstripping Captain Marvel ‘s $153.4m, and marking the largest domestic opening for Greta Gerwig as a director, the largest domestic opening for Margot Robbie and the largest domestic opening for Ryan Gosling.

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Universal’s Oppenheimer also soared past expectations, taking in $80.5 million (approx. €72m) in the US and Canada, doubling expectations and marking Nolan’s third-highest grossing opening weekend ever, both global and domestic, after The Dark Knight Rises and The Dark Knight. It stands as one of the best-ever starts for an R-rated biographical drama and the biggest global day & date opening weekend ever for a biopic, surpassing Bohemian Rhapsody.

It’s also the first time that one movie opened to more than $100 million and another movie opened to more than $80 million in the same weekend. When all is settled, it will likely turn out to be the fourth biggest box office weekend of all time with over $300 million industrywide.

“It’s just a joyous time in the world. This is history in so many ways,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution. “I think this marketing campaign is one for the ages that people will be talking about forever.”

“The ‘Barbenheimer’ thing was a real boost for both movies,” Goldstein said. “It is a crowning achievement for all of us.”

International numbers and Tom Cruise’s nightmare

Internationally, Barbie earned $182 million (approx. €164m) from 69 territories, fuelling a $337 million (approx. €304m) global weekend. Oppenheimer did $93.7 million (approx. €84.5m) from 78 territories, ranking above Barbie in India, for a $174.2 million (approx. €157m) global total.

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In the UK, Vue International has said it had the biggest weekend for UK cinema ticket sales in four years following the release of both films. Rival chain Odeon reported on Thursday it had sold more than 200,000 advance tickets.

The main casualty was the disappointing Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, which fell 64% in weekend two. Overshadowed by the Barbenheimer glow as well as the blow of losing its IMAX screens to Oppenheimer, the Tom Cruise vehicle added $19.5 million (approx. €17.6m), bringing its domestic total to $118.8 million (approx. €107m).

Strikes continue

This is the comeback weekend Hollywood has been dreaming of since the pandemic. There have been big openings and successes – 2022’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water – but the fact that two movies are succeeding at the same time is notable.

However, in the background looms disaster as Hollywood studios continue to squabble with striking actors and writers over a fair contracts. 

Barbie and Oppenheimer were the last films on the 2023 calendar to get a massive, global press tour. Both went right up to the 11th hour, squeezing in every last moment with their movie stars. Oppenheimer even pushed up its London premiere by an hour, knowing that Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Cillian Murphy would have to leave to symbolically join the picket lines by the time the movie began.

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Without movie stars to promote their films, studios have started pushing some fall and year-end releases, including the high-profile Zendaya tennis drama Challengers, which was set to open the Venice Film Festival this year, and Dune Part 2, also starring Zendaya.

The box office intake continues and the Barbenheimer craze looks set to break further records in the weeks to come.


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