The Origin of Barbenheimer: The Summer’s Top Internet Movie Clash

by Gabriel Martinez

The online clash between Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” aptly dubbed as “Barbenheimer,” kicked off with a common date: July 21.

Film studios frequently schedule contrasting films on the same weekend to attract diverse audiences. However, the stark differences between the thought-provoking depiction of the atomic bomb’s architect in “Oppenheimer” and the vibrant, whimsical portrayal of the iconic Barbie doll, quickly went viral.

The term “Barbenheimer,” derived from this unusual pairing, hasn’t yet found a place in the AP Stylebook but for this article, we’ll adopt it anyway.

The passionate and highly active online fanbases of both Gerwig and Nolan were quick to participate in the growing frenzy. The overlap of fans between the two films only amplified the meme production, fan alliances, and fun merchandise.

The two films’ popularity online often spikes whenever new promotional material is released. It’s every marketing department’s dream scenario – high levels of awareness, loud conversations, and no official reviews to sway opinions yet.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for analytics firm Comscore, commented, “‘Barbenheimer’ is a marketing boon created by social media, which I think is advantageous for both films. It creates a deeper awareness and interest than if the films were released on different weekends.”

Indeed, the hype is so strong that AMC Theaters reported that 20,000 of its AMC Stubs members have already bought tickets for a double feature of the two films. Even stars like Margot Robbie and Tom Cruise have been mulling over their ideal “Barbenheimer” day.

Robbie suggested at the London premiere of her movie, “I think start your day with ‘Barbie,’ then dive straight into ‘Oppenheimer,’ and finish off with another round of ‘Barbie’.”

Every aspect of the marketing for both films has been scrutinized and compared, revealing their distinct strategies. The “Barbie” campaign’s bright, sparkly photo ops and imaginative brand collaborations contrast sharply with the mystery and gravitas of the “Oppenheimer” marketing.

There are rumors that this showdown could be a jab from Warner Bros. at Nolan, who had a history of releasing summer blockbusters with them, but defected to Universal following Warner Bros.’ controversial streaming strategy. However, inciting a box office war doesn’t seem logical for a studio rumored to be trying to win back Nolan.

In Hollywood, it’s frowned upon to publicly criticize a rival studio’s film. The general consensus is that increased attention for one movie can benefit others. This is particularly true in this digital age where movie stars can also participate, as evidenced by Tom Cruise, who, despite losing IMAX screens for “Mission: Impossible” to “Oppenheimer,” supported all three films on social media.

However, despite the camaraderie, everyone wants to take the top spot. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” both have reported production costs of $100 million and there is speculation about which will take the lead. Box office tracking currently suggests “Barbie” may win, but “Oppenheimer” could enjoy a long, steady run towards awards season.

The last time Warner Bros. and Universal had a similar showdown was back in 2008, when “The Dark Knight” faced off against “Mamma Mia!” This summer’s “Barbenheimer” showdown is placing a lot of pressure on both films to succeed and boost the struggling summer box office, especially amidst larger issues such as the actors joining the writers on strike.

But even with just over a week to go, the clash continues to entertain. Even “Barbie” co-star Will Ferrell added to the playful rivalry at the London premiere. “I think the world maybe wants to see ‘Barbie’ a bit more right now,” Ferrell teased.

London-based AP journalist Sian Watson contributed to this report.

Q&A: Robert Downey Jr. discusses the nuanced portrayal of the Manhattan Project in ‘Oppenheimer’
Vietnam bans ‘Barbie’ movie over controversial territorial claim illustrated in the film
Christopher Nolan shares his preferred ways to watch a movie, ahead of his ‘Oppenheimer’ release

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Barbenheimer

What is “Barbenheimer”?

“Barbenheimer” is the online term coined to describe the online showdown between Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” The term was born from the internet frenzy caused by the simultaneous release of the two highly contrasting films.

Who are the directors of the “Barbenheimer” films?

The “Barbenheimer” films are directed by renowned filmmakers Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan. Gerwig directed “Barbie,” while Nolan directed “Oppenheimer.”

Why was there an online clash between “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer”?

The clash began when both films were scheduled to release on the same date. Given the stark contrast between the films – one being a vibrant, whimsical portrayal of the iconic Barbie doll, and the other a serious depiction of the atomic bomb’s architect – the situation quickly went viral, creating an online showdown now known as “Barbenheimer.”

How has the “Barbenheimer” clash affected the marketing of the films?

The “Barbenheimer” clash has inadvertently served as a massive marketing boost for both films. The high levels of online engagement have significantly increased public awareness and interest in both movies, even before any official reviews were released.

What is the expected box office performance of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer”?

Current box office tracking suggests “Barbie” might have an edge, with forecasts indicating a potential opening above $90 million in North America. “Oppenheimer,” on the other hand, is tracking in the $40 million range. However, “Oppenheimer” might still enjoy a long, steady run towards awards season.

More about Barbenheimer

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PinkFanatic July 15, 2023 - 12:48 pm

Barbie all the way!! I’m not missing the chance to see Margot Robbie as Barbie, Oppenheimer can wait.

FlickChick July 15, 2023 - 1:16 pm

Got tickets for both!!! Can’t decide which one to watch first though…

Cinephile333 July 15, 2023 - 8:13 pm

Really Warner Bros? You couldn’t have picked another weekend for Barbie? Such a weird clash.

GoldenAgeCinema July 15, 2023 - 9:40 pm

This is the best marketing strat i’ve seen in years! Both films will benefit greatly from the buzz. Props to the teams behind this.

Nolanite July 15, 2023 - 11:48 pm

nolan’s film has a serious theme, hope it doesn’t get overshadowed by the Barbie hype.

MovieLover21 July 16, 2023 - 3:56 am

I’m all for Oppenheimer. Nolan never disappoints. Can’t wait for this one!!!

CandyCrush July 16, 2023 - 6:19 am

Margot Robbie as Barbie?!?! I mean, who wouldn’t wanna see that! Barbie ftw!


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