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Barbenheimer lifts US weekend box office to four-year high

‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ brought out movie fans in droves in the US and Canada over the weekend

A still from 'Barbie'. Image via AP
A still from 'Barbie'. Image via AP

Cinemas finally have something to celebrate. 

Barbie, a comedy about the famous fashion doll, and Oppenheimer, a biography of the inventor of the atomic bomb, brought out movie fans in droves, helping domestic box office revenue more than double this weekend from a year earlier to about $311 million. 

Also read: ‘Barbie’ review: A sweet, safe satire

Warner Bros’ Barbie was the top picture in US and Canadian cinemas, taking in $162 million in ticket sales, researcher Comscore Inc. said Monday. That also gave it the highest-grossing opening of the year, passing the $146.4 million haul from April’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The film made its debut the same weekend as director Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which brought in $82.5 million. 

An estimated 200,000-plus moviegoers bought tickets to see both new releases on the same day at chains such as AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cineworld Group Plc’s Regal, a phenomenon dubbed “Barbenheimer.” The simultaneous releases energised theatergoers, helping cinemas turn in the best weekend since Avengers: Endgame made its debut in April 2019. 

Other notable performers include Sound of Freedom, a film about child sex trafficking, which took in about $19.8 million in its third weekend, according to Comscore. The unlikely summer hit beat out Paramount Pictures’ Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, which fell to fourth place with $19.4 million. 

The weekend was a bright spark in an otherwise difficult summer for the film industry, which has suffered disappointing results from big-budget movies such as The Flash and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Barbie, which was directed by Greta Gerwig and stars Margot Robbie in the title role, was expected to generate between $140 million and $175 million in its domestic debut, according to industry tracker Boxoffice Pro. Forecasts rose sharply in recent weeks as the picture enjoyed a surge in media attention. The movie made an additional $194.3 million in international markets, Warner Bros. said. 

The picture pokes fun at the history of the doll while addressing criticisms about her unrealistic figure and materialistic nature. It follows the character as she breaks out of the perfect world created by toymaker Mattel Inc. and into one with real people on whom the doll has had an impact.

Shares of Mattel closed up 1.8% in New York Monday, while Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. dipped 2.5%. 

Barbie was heavily promoted, even by Hollywood standards, including a life-size replica of her Dreamhouse in Malibu, California, and giant pink boxes in theaters in which fans could have their photo taken. Many cinemagoers, including adults, wore pink or dressed like characters from the film.

Ryan Gosling, appearing as Barbie’s boyfriend Ken, brought a comedic element that likely resonated with fans who might not otherwise have wanted to see a film about a fashion doll, according to Robert Marich, author of Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics. This was evident in trailers and other promotions.

“The Ken marketing was hilarious,” he said.

The success of the picture is also a victory for El Segundo, California-based Mattel, which is seeking to adapt a sprawling roster of toy brands from Hot Wheels to Barney into film and TV properties.

Universal Pictures’ Oppenheimer also had a lot going for it. Director Nolan’s new picture has a three-week lock on Imax theaters domestically. Nearly half of Oppenheimer’s ticket sales in the US and Canada were for so-called premium large format screens, with Imax screens accounting for 26% of the domestic box office performance.

Nolan has traditionally put out his movies, such as The Dark Knight and Inception, on the third weekend of July. A fierce advocate for cinemas, he moved to Universal from Warner Bros. after the latter decided to release its 2021 film slate simultaneously on streaming.

Also read: ‘Oppenheimer’ review: The fragility of an atomic bomb

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