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Saturday, February 24, 2024

‘Operation: Barbenheimer’ – the Cinematic Event of the Century?

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Last Friday, two movies hit theaters that would forever change the history of Cinema: Oppenheimer, by Christopher Nolan, and Barbie, by Greta Gerwig. 

The release of these two movies back-to-back has sparked a phenomenon called “Barbenheimer,” which refers to seeing both movies as a double feature. Some variants of this include dressing in all pink in honor of Barbie, while others will have viewers dress up in suits and fancy dresses to celebrate such a magnificent showing. 

Releasing two major movies in the same weekend is usually avoided because of the concept of opportunity cost. This makes sense, as most people don’t want to spend the time and money seeing two separate movies at the theaters during the same weekend. While most studios will try to deliberately and delicately plan their releases to maximize the potential viewership of their blockbusters, some will even go as far to release movies at the same time as other studios’ major releases as a form of corporate warfare to diminish their opponent’s box office profits. 

Though it’s generally true people tend to avoid seeing multiple movies over the course of a weekend, “Barbenheimer” seems to be an outlier to this trend. This could potentially be due to the concept of counterprogramming, which, in simplest terms, is releasing a film that doesn’t compete with the audience of another film released around the same time. 

Barbie is a campy, fantasy comedy that satirically deconstructs both the Mattel doll upon which it’s based and the society in which we currently live, while Oppenheimer is a historical thriller based on one of the darkest scientific moments in human history, the creation and usage of the atomic bomb. With films as diametrically opposed in style and substance as these two, there’s no way there could be potential audience overlap… right? 

That’s where conventional wisdom gets thrown out the window. I’m not sure who was the first to have the idea to make it a double feature. I’m not sure who coined the phrase “Barbenheimer.” And I’m not sure whose idea it was to make us all dress in pink for the occasion. That’s the beauty of the movies— all it took was two films from opposite extremes to share the same theatrical release date for them to subsequently become forever entwined. 

Dressing in all pink to watch Oppenheimer, and then Barbie, is, in no uncertain terms, absurd. 

Yet it was all the rage this past weekend across the globe, and especially here on the homefront at AMC Stony Brook Loews, as far as a friend group of 11 who partook are concerned: 

“As for the viewing experience, the viewing order; seeing Oppenheimer first, then Barbie, was like enjoying a rich meal then a sugary dessert,” said local filmmaker Frank Hufnagel, 22, of Hauppauge. 

The entire concept of Barbenheimer is absurd, which is what makes it fun. 

I also had the privilege to see Barbenheimer this past Sunday, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the greatest experience I’ve ever had going to the movies. 

I went in that Sunday afternoon with tempered expectations. I expected to enjoy Oppenheimer, but I wasn’t expecting Barbie to be that enjoyable for someone like me. I was correct in my assumptions that I would enjoy Oppenheimer. “Enjoy” might even be an understatement, since I believe Oppenheimer to be the best film I’ve seen in theaters since Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). I was absolutely wrong on Barbie, though. Barbie was fantastic. The writing, the acting, the directing, it all blew me away. There were countless times that I had to catch my breath due to how hard I was laughing at certain parts. 

I would be lying if I said that Ryan Gosling’s rendition of his now-deservedly viral musical number “I’m Just Ken” isn’t stuck in my head right now as I’m writing this. 

I’m not the only one to have enjoyed both Oppenheimer and Barbie; the films garnered a 94% and 90% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes. With Barbie earning over $400 million, and Oppenheimer earning over $200 million in just their opening weekend, it seems that moviegoers far and wide are all about the hype train– with a good bulk of them seeing both in the same weekend, or the same day… 

Is calling Barbenheimer the “Cinematic Event of the Century” a bit hyperbolic? Maybe. Nonetheless, Barbenheimer is a must-see for anyone who just likes to go out to the movies, whether you’re dressed in pink or not. But what do I know? I’m just Tom.

Eleven friends posing with ‘Oppenheimer’ leading man Cillian Murphy after partaking in a ‘Barbenheimer’ double feature at AMC Stony Brook Loews this past weekend. (Photo credit: Shannon Benson)