The dual cinema launch of Barbie and Oppenheimer delivered a record box office in the US and Canada movie theatres this weekend.
Warner Bros’ Barbie claimed the top spot with $155m in ticket sales from North American cinemas from 4,243 locations, surpassing The Super Mario Bros Movie to become the biggest opening of the year.
The movie, which stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken, also broke the opening weekend record for a film directed by a woman (Greta Gerwig).
Meanwhile, Universal’s Oppenheimer also overcame expectations, taking in $80.5m from 3,610 theaters in North America. This was British director Christopher Nolan’s biggest non-Batman debut.
Despite being very different in content, the idea of watching both movies as a double feature took off on social media prior to their shared opening weekend, hence the epithet “Barbenheimer”.
Whether this was an unprecedented organic popular movement or clever marketing wheeze seeded on social media, the result would have wildly exceeded Warner Bros Discovery and Comcast’s expectations. It’s the first time that one movie opened to more than $100m and another movie opened to more than $80m in the same weekend. It may be as big as the fourth biggest box office weekend of all time in North America, with takings surpassing $300m.
The success of Barbie, in particular, was driven by women, who made up nearly two-thirds of the the audience, according to PostTrak, and 40% of ticket buyers were under the age of 25.
But therein lies the rub. For many people across the world, this weekend was the only time they could go to the movies and say “I saw Barbie on opening weekend,” or “I did ‘Barbeinheimer'”.
While this proves cinema can still deliver big cultural moments in a way that few media channels can, it’s a pretty high bar to clear regularly. And it doesn’t solve the medium’s longer-term problems, such as how consumers are increasingly happy to wait out cinema release windows to watch a movie on a streaming platform at home, while younger consumers are increasingly watching short-form content on social media.