The Barbenheimer phenomenon originated on the Internet before the simultaneous release of two films on July 21, 2023: Barbie – 88%, from Warner Bros. Pictures, and Oppenheimer – 95%, from Universal Pictures. The term is an acronym of the titles of both films. The first is a fantasy comedy about the famous doll Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig, while the second is an epic biographical thriller about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist behind the Manhattan Project, directed by Christopher Nolan. The disparity between the two films generated a wave of memes and merchandise on the Internet, and both were huge hits, but filmmaker Kelly Reichardt recently criticized the glorification of both productions.
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Those who saw the phenomenon as something positive did so because of its ability to fill movie theaters. Additionally, both films received critical acclaim and exceeded box office expectations. Although it began as a joke about the abysmal differences between the two works, some commentators have pointed out similarities, such as the exploration of existentialism and the theoretical notion of the Anthropocene, in addition to having Oscar-nominated directors and screenwriters and being produced by companies run by couples of husbands.
The impact at the box office was significant, driving Barbie and Oppenheimer to a total of 79% of the tickets sold in their first weekend for both films. The Barbenheimer phenomenon has been considered a paradigm shift in the film industry, proving that two films of such diverse nature can coexist and thrive in the market.
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Nevertheless Kelly Reichardtthe director responsible for films like Wendy and Lucy – 85%, Night Moves – 86%, Certain Women – 89%, and First Cow – 95%, he is not part of those who celebrate Barbeneheimer. In a recent interview with the Finnish media Helsingin Sanomat (via World of Reel), assured that neither Barbie neither Oppenheimer They are art, but part of the Hollywood machinery:
They are part of a huge marketing machine, but they are sold as art. And all this is simply celebrated. As a filmmaker, I wonder what effect it will have on people’s expectations of future films.
He then regretted that productions that do not have enormous marketing campaigns cannot be known by the public:
Movies are expensive. Even a low budget means a lot of money for someone. And no matter how tight the belt is, the distributor has to spend money to let everyone know the movie exists.
Barbenheimer’s story also has its origins in a dispute between Nolan and Warner Bros., which led Nolan to sever ties with the company and sign with Universal Pictures. This led to speculation about whether the simultaneous release of Barbie It was an act of revenge by Warner against Nolan. The phenomenon has been compared to other simultaneous releases, such as video games Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal in 2020.
Barbenheimer joins a long tradition of “counterprogramming,” a marketing strategy in which a film with a completely different tone is released on the same day as another major film. The idea is to capture different demographics of the public. As the release date approached, no rivalries arose; instead, it was proposed to watch both films as a “double bill.” Celebrities like Tom Cruise joined the phenomenon, purchasing tickets for both films.
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