‘Barbie’ vs. ‘Oppenheimer’: The real winner may be the box office

'Barbie' vs. 'Oppenheimer': The real winner may be the box office

It’s a matchup for the ages with Ali vs. Frazier, Hatfields vs. McCoys and Athens vs. Sparta.

Well, let’s not be fooled.

But it’s fair to say that with “Barbie” versus “Oppenheimer,” Hollywood hasn’t captured the popular imagination in quite this way in quite some time. On Thursday night, two absurd Hollywood megamovies arrived in theaters after weeks of Internet meme-ification and questionable marketing alliances. (We’re looking at you, Barbie-inspired Burger King sandwich with what looks like chewed bubble gum on top.) Together, the movies could generate the biggest crowds at North American multiplexes in four years, numbers not seen before the pandemic Gone, said the box office forecasters.

Turner Classic Movies host Dave Karger said, “‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ are basically the perfect enemy at the box office this weekend.” “Yes, they’re technically competitors, but they’re going after vastly different audiences, and the Barbenheimer promotion only seems to be helping both films.”

Greta Gerwig’s candy-coated “Barbie”, which cost an estimated $145 million to make without including marketing costs, has the potential to earn $100 million in the United States and Canada by Sunday, according to audience tracking and to forecast box office performance according to analysts using complex formulas. Christopher Nolan’s heavyweight “Oppenheimer”, which cost at least $100 million before marketing, is expected to bring in about $50 million in domestic ticket sales over the same period.

Citing pre-sales of about $30 million, Warner Bros. said it expected weekend ticket sales of about $75 million for “Barbie”. (Studios do their best to temper expectations.) Studios have booked PG-13 comedies on about 4,200 screens in North America.

Universal Pictures, the studio behind “Oppenheimer,” an R-rated historical drama about the making of the atomic bomb, declined to comment. This will make Nolan’s film appear on approximately 3,600 home screens.

The performance time of “Barbie” is just under two hours. “Oppenheimer” expands to three, allowing theaters to limit the number of weekend screenings. However, “Oppenheimer” has the advantage of playing on large format screens in most of North America, with ticket surcharges of up to $12 in New York. IMAX is devoting it overall footprint Nolan’s masterpiece for the next three weeks (much to the displeasure of Tom Cruise, who had hoped some of it would continue to screen after his “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” opened last week).

AMC Entertainment, the world’s biggest cinema chain, said Monday that more than 40,000 people have bought tickets to see “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” as a double feature, up from 20,000 last week.

Hollywood is in urgent need of a weekend that exceeds – or even meets – expectations. It was the year film production was expected to finally recover from the pandemic, which closed many theaters for months and spurred the growth of streaming services in homes. Eventually, cinemas would regain a status of cultural urgency.

But this year-to-date ticket sales in the United States and Canada (about $5 billion) are down about 20 percent from the same period in 2019, according to comScore, which compiles box office data. Rays of hope, including the strong sales of the innovative “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” and the ultra-violent “John Wick: Chapter 4,” have been eroded by the disappointing results of costly franchise films such as “Indiana Jones and the … The Dial of Destiny, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” and “Fast X.”

The latest “Mission: Impossible” movie came out last weekend with solid results but fell short of what Hollywood was hoping for.

It seems ticket buyers are tired of new installments in decades-old franchises. What is being successful? For the most part, characters that haven’t been onscreen in recent memory (“The Super Mario Bros. Movie”), new chapters in the series that aren’t as good (“Creed III”) and movies that cater to audiences neglected by Hollywood. (“Sound of Freedom,” promoted by the right wing).

During her worldwide dominance, Barbie has never before had a big-budget film of her own. “Oppenheimer” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s 2005 biography “American Prometheus” is based on this. Paul Dergarabedian, a senior comScore analyst, said, “Both studios were working on completely original films directed by notable writers with an interest in detail.” “These are not the tried-and-true bets that are the hallmark of the summer movie season.”

“Barbie” features the major movie stars – Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling – while “Oppenheimer” stars the lesser-known Cillian Murphy in the title role. “Barbie” is aimed at women, while “Oppenheimer” is aimed further at men. One that reflects what many moviegoers hate about Hollywood: movies based on toys. The second was written and directed by one of Hollywood’s most serious cinematographers.

Comedy against drama. The lightest side versus the darkest side of the human imagination. Creating the world, destroying the world.

The contrasts are irresistible.

While rare, such box-office matchups are not without precedent. Just ask Nolan. In July 2008, his sinister Batman film “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.) was released on Universal’s silly, sun-drenched “Mamma Mia!” It was No. 1 that weekend, but both films were huge hits.

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