Summer 2023 has movie fans buzzing, and with the unlikely duo continuing to make headlines together, it has us wondering which movie will come out on top.
So far through the 2023 summer movie season, the theater has been just as hot as the temperatures. We’ve seen the return of classic characters, mid-year explosions, some extremely effective scares, a few beautiful love stories and arthouse flicks that could pop back up come Oscar season when the calendar turns. No storyline, however, has boomed quite the way one has, with the most unlikely of pairings in “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” hitting theaters on the same weekend.
It’s not exactly breaking news that a brand-new Barbie film and an epic Christopher Nolan historical drama would be arriving in theaters, but it is surprising that both will land on the exact same day. Furthermore, they’re arriving on the heels of what feels like unprecedented hype for two movies that have simultaneously captured cultural zeitgeist while also falling on such juxtaposing ends of the tonal and thematic spectrums. To live up to this level of excitement would be a feat most productions can’t accomplish, but here we are just a short way away with expectations that both will be critical and financial hits. But which one should you see?
The Case for “Barbie”
Dream houses in Malibu. A worldwide shortage of pink paint. Inescapable billboards, bus posters, social media features and merchandise. If you feel like you’ve noticed an abnormal amount of marketing material for “Barbie,” you’re not alone, and you’re certainly not wrong. Our hats are off to the marketing team for “Barbie” that has masterfully orchestrated not just a strategy but a worldwide takeover in their efforts to sell tickets to this movie. The cast has also done a magnificent job of standing by their art, with stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling making countless media appearances in outfits inspired by the timeless line of children’s toys.
However, it isn’t just the marketing campaign that’s giving us every reason to believe that this movie will be a smash hit. It starts at the top with writer-director Greta Gerwig getting her first crack at a major tentpole blockbuster. In what has been for all intents and purposes a short career behind both the camera and the typewriter, Gerwig has already racked up three Oscar nominations for her two most recent features, “Lady Bird” and “Little Women.” Though “Barbie” is expected to be a different type of movie, there’s no doubt that Gerwig has the talent to turn a story about a plastic doll into a smart, snappy, warm film with something to say.
She also paired with her equally talented life partner, Noah Baumbach, to pen the screenplay. Baumbach is also a three-time Oscar nominee in his own right, most recently for his film “Marriage Story,” and we fully expect the two to be able to give “Barbie” an intellectually and emotionally intelligent edge. The cast surrounding the movie’s megastars is also notable, including names like Issa Rae, Simu Liu, Michael Cera, Will Ferrell, Dua Lipa, Kate McKinnon and more. With a who’s-who cast and a soundtrack to match, those who have already seen the movie have praised its sincerity, creativity and memorability. It certainly looks to be worth checking out.
The Case for “Oppenheimer”
Not nearly as fun but just as effective has been the marketing campaign for “Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s historical drama about the man who changed everything we know about war, international relations and the potential of nuclear weapons. “Oppenheimer” appears to make the case for itself. A fascinating and harrowing story about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, is right up Nolan’s alley, and now three years removed from his previous film “Tenet,” fans are eager to see what he’s been hard at work on. Very few directors in the modern age have been able to capture originality and brilliance at a blockbuster level, and even among those who have, Nolan still sits atop the list, and simply having his name attached lets us know that this movie will be a technical marvel.
Just like “Barbie,” Oppenheimer also comes with an all-star cast headed up by longtime Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy, who you’ve probably seen everywhere since the first look at the film dropped well over a year ago. Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Gary Oldman, Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, Casey Affleck, Josh Hartnett and more are also there for support, making this movie feel destined for Academy Award nominations and wins. From a technical and artistic perspective, it’s difficult to imagine this movie falling flat, especially after the anticipation it has generated and the credibility its cast and crew have established. Add that to comments regarding Nolan practically creating the effects for the atom bomb, and we could have an era and genre-defining movie on our hands.
Again, similar to “Barbie,” first reactions to “Oppenheimer” are virtually all praise with some even calling it Nolan’s most impressive work yet. It sounds like a high bar to clear for the man who has also brought us films like “The Prestige,” “The Dark Knight,” “Dunkirk” and “Inception,” but if any active director can make an immediate masterpiece, Christopher Nolan seems like one of the safer bets. Others who have seen the movie are calling it remarkable, fearsome, astonishing, shattering, audacious, inventive and more, giving us even more reason to be on the edge of our seats when the lights go down in the theater.
The Case for the Double Feature
One day, two movies. Would it be called “Barbenheimer” or “Oppenbie,” and is it necessary to wear a shirt featuring both movies at the same time? Well, to answer the latter question, probably not, but in all likelihood, the two movies will be the talk of the town for the foreseeable future. From parties to watercoolers and everywhere in between, someone will want to know which one you picked, but if you opt for the double feature, you can be prepared for both conversations. It also seems to be a relatively popular idea amongst moviegoers, with Variety reporting that more than 20,000 have booked tickets to both .
With the two movies linked forever in the most mysterious way, the double feature has become a cultural phenomenon we typically only see with major franchises like Marvel, Star Wars or Harry Potter. It also seems like a digestible back-to-back viewing experience. It might be a bit intimidating to walk into two different three-hour war dramas about how the nuclear weapons have the power to plunge the world into an apocalypse, but if you follow one viewing of “Oppenheimer” with “Barbie,” which is sure to have a lighter tone and looks to promise a few laughs, you might leave the theater feeling energized despite having sat in the dark for five hours total. Whether you choose “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie,” both or neither, you’ll certainly be asked for an opinion on the pop culture event of the summer, and we can’t wait to see how the box office and the fan response both shake out.