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5 Fascinating Lessons from ‘Barbenheimer’s’ Box Office Romp

'Barbie,' 'Oppenheimer' crush the competition -- Hollywood should take notice

Hollywood just rocked the culture like it hadn’t done in ages.

Two new movies brought audiences rushing back to theaters as if the pandemic and dueling union strikes never happened.

Both “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” over-performed expectations, with the former putting up numbers worthy of the MCU’s golden years. Social media quickly dubbed the duo “Barbenheimer,” a plucky term for the zeitgeist-grabbing films.

Oppenheimer | New Trailer

  • Barbie” – $155 million stateside (final figure: $162 million)
  • Oppenheimer” – $80 million stateside (final figure: $82 million)
  • (For good measure …)”Sound of Freedom” – $20 million stateside

That contribute to the year’s largest box office weekend and the fourth largest … ever.

Hollywood can be slow to learn from its mistakes and glean insight from hits that don’t fit the industry groupthink. Have we seen any “Top Gun: Maverick” clones greenlit in the last year? Are studio executives scrambling to make their own “Sound of Freedom” given that film’s shocking box office numbers?

Likely not.

The industry can still take solace from the “Barbenheimer” one-two punch, assuming it understands the reasons behind the numbers.

If You Build It, They Will (Still) Come

It’s hard not to recall the 1989 baseball classic “Field of Dreams” and its iconic line this weekend. That film featured an unlikely diamond in the cornfield rough, one that turned a modest film into a piece of Hollywood lore.

The message is simple. If Hollywood builds movies that appeal to the American public they will still scramble to see them come opening weekend, streaming be darned.

The trick? Dissecting why these movies mattered so much to audiences.

It’s Not a Movie, It’s an Event

The marketing mavens get some of the credit here. The “Barbie” advertising campaigns proved wildly effective, delivering a slow but steady drip of clips, stills and social media memes that whetted our appetite for the actual movie.

Did anyone know what “Barbie” was actually about? Not really. They saw beautiful stars, colorful sets and knew it all tied into an iconic toy brand.

Voila! A massive opening-weekend haul.

“Oppenheimer” had a different path to success. His name is Christopher Nolan. Once upon a time, a  new Steven Spielberg movie made us woozy with anticipation. The Spielberg of today can’t deliver like he once did. “The Fabelmans” was … fine, nothing more. “West Side Story” retold a tale that didn’t need a makeover.

Does anyone even remember “Bridge of Spies” eight years later?

Nolan movies are an event. He makes a new film every two or three years, so each project feels like an event, something that requires marking your calendar so you won’t miss it. The “Oppenheimer” marketers shrewdly played up his name in the marketing material, and rightly so.

Nolan is one of a kind, a serious storyteller whose films draw blockbuster bucks. An “Oppenheimer” biopic directed by almost anyone else would be lucky to snag a $10 million opening weekend. Maybe less.

We have too many leisure options these days. YouTube. TikTok. Streaming platforms galore. Movies need to be “events” whenever possible, not just titles on a theater marquee.

Bait and Switch Still Works

Marketers may study the “Barbie” effect for years.

Warner Bros. knew Greta Gerwig’s film delivered two hours of clumsy, woke sermons. Studio executives also knew that wouldn’t sell as many tickets as a fun, frilly “Barbie” tribute.

So … they lied. They played up the beauty, laughter and candy-colored sets and buried the film’s anti-men messaging.

Barbie - The Greatest Lie Ever Told

The co-stars did their best to spoil the marketing machine, but audiences absorbed the visuals and clips far more than any one promotional interview.

It’s the perfect bait and switch, and it’s likely the film’s box office momentum will override any sizable objections from ticket holders expecting something very different from the film.

Glamour Gal: Margot Robbie Is Back

The Australian star appeared in not one but two mega-bombs last year. Both “Amsterdam” and “Babylon” arrives with plenty of Oscar buzz and quickly disappeared thanks to middling reviews and audience disinterest.

She’s back in a huge way with “Barbie,” a movie that leans into her natural beauty. Audiences still crave movie-star glamour, and it helps that Ryan Gosling is both her co-star and someone who frequently exposes his physique.

Robbie’s last big film was “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” which also embraced her beauty along with her Oscar-winning co-star, Brad Pitt.

Audiences don’t mind seeing actors get gritty and flex their artistic muscles, but they sometimes crave escapism via glamorous stars. “Barbie” delivered just that.

Mystery Matters

The modern film trailer reveals way too much. Watch any given teaser and you’ll know the heroes, the villains and the movie’s biggest laughs. Some trailers all but explain the story’s arc from start to finish.

It’s maddening. It also makes audiences less eager to see the movie in question. They may feel they already have.

The “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” trailers take a smarter approach. The “Barbie” teasers shared little about the plot in question. They hid the movie’s hard-Left lectures, of course, but also the story’s basic beats.

Mystery. Intrigue. Curiosity. Who wouldn’t want to see what the real “Barbie” was all about?

Barbie | Teaser Trailer 2

The “Oppenheimer” trailer leaned on the sense that Nolan wouldn’t tackle this subject in a traditional fashion. The film’s trailer hinted at the powerful spectacle, the sense of dread behind the scenes and the inscrutable Cillian Murphy in the title role.

We know Oppenheimer cracked the code and created the first atomic bomb. But how, and what were the decisions that led to that historic discovery?

“Oppenheimer” would share it all in a way no history text could match.


  1. Disney Circumvent Actors’ Strike By Casting 7 Random Hobos From San Francisco. Disney To Remove Problematic Kiss From Classic Movie, Snow White Will Now Remain Dead

  2. Ug. The “Barbenheimer” label extends even into HiT. The weirdos now championing Barbie know it’s going to drop like a rock after opening weekend, so they’re trying to handcuff it to a good movie like Oppenheimer. Don’t help them.

  3. I think this column mails it – it’s all about marketing. I wonder how many Barbie viewers had buyer’s remorse when they watched the third act?
    I think Nolan is such a reliable filmmaker that the only marketing his movies need is “This is a Christopher Nolan movie. Enough said.”

    1. @Phil,

      American audiences who saw Barbie on opening weekend gave the film an “A” according to Cinemascore:

      Blockbusters that get “A” scores usually have very strong box office legs. So, Barbie could challenge “Super Mario Bros. Movie”
      ($574 M) as the highest grossing film of 2023.

  4. I figured Barbie would be a hit even with all the leftist messaging. It was a brilliant marketing move. I expect the marketing department was furious with the stars and director blathering about all the feminist messaging. But, in the end, no one noticed.

    Friday and Saturday I noticed a lot of older women wearing bright pink dresses. This movie was made for them. Push hard with the messaging but surround the messages with pretty people and bright colors. Hollywood may have finally cracked the code on how to include leftist talking points in their movies. Expect to see a lot more Barbie like movies in the future.

    1. @Reb

      I’m surprised Christian Toto didn’t note another reason for Barbie’s success: an underserved female audience.

      Summer 2023 has been dominated by male oriented blockbusters. A notable exception is The Little Mermaid, which has shown surprising box office legs thanks to support from girls:

      So, in this environment, is it really a shock that a movie based on the most “girly” toy line out there, Barbie, would attracts millions of girls and women and make lots of money?

      1. bwahahahahaha! Now there’s a source of complete honesty and journalistic integrity. You couldn’t have linked to a more “in the tank” leftist shill site. Good hell, man, you’d have more accuracy if you just wrote your own article based purely off what you could Google.

      2. @Ok Groomer

        Actually, the MSNBC link is reposted an article on Collider, a fan website about sci-fi, fantasy, and action films,

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