“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” are opening on the same date. Why that’s not a bad thing.

Janet Nguyen Apr 13, 2023
"Barbie," set to premiere in July, will go up against "Oppenheimer." While some are rooting for one over the other, there are viewers planning to make the two a double feature. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” are opening on the same date. Why that’s not a bad thing.

Janet Nguyen Apr 13, 2023
"Barbie," set to premiere in July, will go up against "Oppenheimer." While some are rooting for one over the other, there are viewers planning to make the two a double feature. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

This article originally ran on April 13, 2023. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were released theatrically on July 21, 2023.

When the film “Barbie” premieres in theaters later this summer, Charlotte Hryse will be there with a group of friends, likely wearing a hot pink outfit, complete with bright pink heels inspired by the iconic doll. 

The movie’s aesthetics look awesome, said Hryse, a 31-year-old Berkeley, California, resident. “I played with Barbie as a kid. I’m not a super duper girly girl, but it’s fun to kind of just go all in and embody something like that.”  

But the movie, directed by Greta Gerwig, faces competition. It opens on July 21, the same day as “Oppenheimer,” a highly anticipated movie about the creation of the atomic bomb from director Christopher Nolan. The release schedule has spurred light-hearted rivalries on social media, where some people have vowed to support one film over the other. 

However, having two genres of film — in this case, a serious historical drama going up against a comedy based on a popular kid’s toy — can be good for business. It ensures there are options for all types of audiences, said Jared Comess, vice president of marketing and public relations at Paragon Entertainment Group, which owns the movie chain Paragon Theaters.

And having two different genres of movies released on the same date is actually more common than you might think, said Jeff Bock, a senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co.

Bock explained there can be a bit of a cat-and-mouse game between movie studios, where one studio will set a release date for a film, and another will schedule it on the same date to see who will end up rescheduling. 

“Usually if they are in the same genre, one of them eventually will move dates. But in this case, with ‘Oppenheimer’ and ‘Barbie,’ you kind of split those demographics,” he said. 

Back in 2008, another gritty Christopher Nolan film also debuted the same day as a comedy with an ensemble cast featuring sparkly jumpsuits and disco elements. “The Dark Knight” opened up against “Mamma Mia!” and the films went on to earn $1 billion and $610 million, respectively. 

Bock said that in general, “Oppenheimer’s” expected demographic skews more toward an older audience, while “Barbie’s” leans toward a teen, female demographic and will also appeal to families. 

But, of course, these are generalizations. He noted that these movies are still “for everybody,” and will attract other audiences.

In fact, some moviegoers plan to watch both, like Derek Langston a 25-year-old Jacksonville, Alabama, resident. He plans to make the two a double feature on the day that they’re released, and wants to go with his brother, his sister-in-law and two of his best friends. 

“That would be my group, ideally, if I can wrangle ‘em all to go on the same day,” he said. 

The real dilemma here is which movie they should watch first. He created a poll on Twitter, asking his followers what he should do. The verdict: “Oppenheimer,” then “Barbie.” 

Because of how intense “Oppenheimer’s” subject matter is, “Barbie” can serve as a palate cleanser, according to the people Langston spoke to. 

Jeff Bock pointed out that sometimes there are concerns that a big film — like “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” —  can cannibalize other releases, but that doesn’t necessarily prove to be true.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” based on the popular video game series, was released earlier this month, and has already grossed about $240 million domestically and more than $427 million in total. 

“Air” — or “Good Will Jumping” as Bock calls it — was released the same day. The film, which chronicles the origins of Nike’s Air Jordan shoeline, ended up grossing more than $20 million in its five-day opening weekend.

“Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have a pretty decent hit on their hands, despite going up against what looks like to be the biggest film so far of 2023,” he said. 

But it can be an issue when the films being released are too similar to one another. “You wouldn’t want to release two major comedies in the same weekend or two major dramas because you want both to succeed,” Comess of Paragon Entertainment Group said. 

Bock pointed out that it can be hard for people, especially families, to watch multiple movies over the weekend because of their busy schedules. And on top of that, movie ticket prices may also deter people from going to the theater. So if there are two family-oriented films released at the same time, he said usually families will choose one over the other.

“Sometimes studios don’t budge. It is kind of like a showdown in the Old West. ‘Hey, who’s gonna move first?’ And sometimes nobody does. And it really does hurt both films, because as much as we all think we have enough time to see two films over the weekend, that’s just not true,” he said.

Bock pointed out that in 2019, the sequels to “Maleficent” and “Zombieland” opened the same day. While he said there are differences between the two, they have qualities that appeal to teens and families. 

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” opened at about $37 million while “Zombieland: Double Tap” opened at about $25 million. 

“I do think if either of those films had opened just by themselves, they probably would have hit closer to $40-$50 million,” Bock said.

Bock said that the box office has been struggling since the pandemic, although there have been “bright spots,” like the highly successful “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” 

This summer feels reminiscent of the theater industry pre-pandemic, when big films were being released regularly, according to Bock. 

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, said that there were 71 wide-release films in 2022, down from 112 wide releases in 2019. The domestic box office in 2022 grossed roughly $7.5 billion, compared to $11.4 billion in 2019. 

Audiences can tell, too. Charlotte Hryse said it doesn’t feel like that many movies people are excited about have been released lately. 

But this year, we can expect at least 100 wide-releases to hit theaters. 

“Fewer movies mean fewer opportunities to bring in audiences, and that played out big time last year. Actually, it was quite remarkable that we wound up with $7.5 billion,” Dergarabedian said. 

He said the domestic box office will likely pull in more than $9 billion in 2023, possibly more. 

“This year, it’s looking much brighter for theaters,” he said. Figuratively and literally. In July, expect to see a lot of hot pink. 

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