‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ Set a New Box Office High

The movie business lives on!

Greta Gerwig’s gender warfare Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s nuclear warfare Oppenheimer sent a clear message to Hollywood, beating pre-release expectations that had already reached stratosphere at the weekend’s box office, with a staggering $235.5 million combined in the United States and Canada. It sent a clear message that if you want to seize culture, you have to offer something new to moviegoers, not just the same old corny series.

“Original storytelling, executed in the right way, succeeded in a truly remarkable way,” said IMAX CEO Richard L. Gelfond, who accounted for 26 percent of the North American audience for “Oppenheimer” and sold out a 4 a.m. screening. “These movies weren’t sequels that looked the same as the last sequel in the long-running series. People could say they noticed.”

Hollywood is finally over the pandemic. Overall, North American multiplexes drew the biggest crowds since Avengers: Endgame opened in April 2019. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” boosted the domestic box office, with weekend ticket sales totaling nearly $302 million, with movies like “Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1” and “The Sound of Freedom” contributing to the balance.

“Barbie,” a feminist manifesto wrapped in hot pink bubblegum, sold an estimated $155 million in tickets in theaters nationwide, according to comScore, which compiles box office data. The PG-13 comedy has raised an additional $182 million overseas. “Barbie” was published by Warner Bros. and had a production budget of $145 million, which did not include significant marketing costs.

Box office analysts used complex formulas to predict ticket sales and expected “Barbie” to fetch about $110 million in the United States and Canada. With several big-budget releases recently, including Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1, Warner Bros. feared the film might underperform at the box office, with a modest $75 million forecast.

The film marks the biggest opening of Gerwig’s career with Moonshot, cementing her status as one of Hollywood’s young “famous” filmmakers, a director recognized by mainstream ticket-buyers as offering an idiosyncratic production. (Jordan Peele is another figure alongside more established peers like Nolan and J.J. Abrams.) Gerwig, who wrote the script for “Barbie” with partner Noah Baumbach, previously directed “Little Women” (2019) and “Lady Bird” (2017). She has been nominated for three Oscar Awards.

It’s also the biggest opening ever for a female director, surpassing Captain Marvel, co-directed by Anna Boden, which earned $153.4 million in first-time ticket sales in 2019.

“Barbie” has emerged as a full-blown cultural event, with thousands of moviegoers dressed in pink for screenings, doll memes flooding social media, and marketers desperate (sometimes awkwardly) to watch the moment. Sixty-five percent of the audience was female. “For a movie this pink, you would expect nearly 90 percent of the audience to be female. There were a lot of male audiences,” said Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. “It was a big-market, small-market, global hit.”

Harrison Hood, 24, arrived at the AMC Kips Bay theater in Manhattan wearing a Barbie regalia.credit…Mansi Srivastava/New York Times

‘Oppenheimer’ helped popularize ‘Barbie’ and vice versa, and its simultaneous release earned it the nickname Barbenheimer, and moviegoers were fascinated by its wild anomalies. Nolan’s film, which Universal Pictures spent at least $100 million to produce, excluding megawatt-scale marketing campaigns, is a three-hour period drama about Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” According to AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest theater chain, more than 60,000 people bought tickets to see the double feature of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.”

According to Universal, the R-rated “Oppenheimer” has collected an estimated $80.5 million in the U.S. and Canada (about 60% more than analysts expected before its release), and an additional $94 million overseas. 62% of domestic viewers were male. Some of his IMAX facilities showing “Oppenheimer” are sold out in the coming weeks, especially those showing in 70mm.

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” received euphoric reviews from critics. Ticket buyers gave each film her A rating in the CinemaScore exit poll.

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