Barbenheimer, Revisited

Barbenheimer awakened normal people to the continued existence of a theatrical window.
Barbenheimer awakened normal people to the continued existence of a theatrical window. Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures & Warner Bros. Pictures
Matthew Belloni
July 24, 2023

Here’s a fun and telling stat: 6 percent of people who saw Oppenheimer this weekend did so because Barbie was sold out, according to a poll by The Quorum. That might not be a huge number, but it’s not nothing. It would mean that about $5 million of Oppenheimer’s huge $80.5 million domestic gross ($174 million worldwide) came directly from people being unable to see their first choice, which went on to gross $155 million domestic ($337 million worldwide)—a clear sign that these two movies didn’t just expand the theatrical marketplace to a Covid-era record $300 million weekend domestic, they actively benefitted each other.  

That’s ironic for a couple reasons: First, the Chris Nolan camp wasn’t exactly thrilled when Warner Bros. dated Barbie on his preferred July weekend in response to his setting up a spite store at Universal after Warners mishandled Tenet (in his view) and began releasing films day-and-date on HBO Max. Universal’s Donna Langley won the Nolan project in part because she agreed to a year-long marketing bonanza, which was unheard of for three-hour talky biopics, and a 120-day theatrical window, which will ensure that Oppenheimer doesn’t make a dime on home video until Thanksgiving. Now Nolan has his career-best non-Batman opening thanks in part to the creative and marketing prowess that his old studio executed on that rival film, Barbie.