Early box office tracking for the two biggest movies of the year — Barbie and Oppenheimer — suggest that the pink, live-action doll movie would be stealing the show. As per The Hollywood Reporter’s sources which have tracked various polling services, the Christopher Nolan film was initially the favourite, but things soon turned in Barbie’s favour as it became a social media phenomenon, thanks to its ensemble cast, internet memes, and outrageous reports of them causing a pink paint shortage. Both films are budgeted at roughly $100 million (about Rs. 819 crore) as well, which makes this clash all the more exciting.
In recent years, production studios have intentionally steered clear of having their films’ release dates clash with each other, as a means to maximise ticket sales. Some would even go as far as shifting them around — Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two is a solid example of this, having brought forward its release date by two weeks to avoid direct competition with The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which is set for November 17. So you can see why the prospect of Barbie vs Oppenheimer would have fans excited. Even more so, considering the background drama between director Nolan and Warner Bros.
It’s not uncommon for Nolan to pick an American Summer release window for his movies, with Oppenheimer following suit on July 21. As per THR, Warner Bros. originally planned for John Cena’s Coyote vs. Acme to drop around that time, only for it to then pull the film out of the calendar and replace it with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie instead. Rumours surrounding the subject claim that it was a deliberate move by Warner Bros. out of spite, to mess with Nolan’s release. Back in late 2020, Warner Bros. announced that it would release its entire 2021 slate of films simultaneously in theatres and HBO Max. Nolan, who was appalled at that decision, called HBO Max the ‘worst streaming service’ and chose to part ways with Warner Bros. — ending a two-decade-long partnership. His film Oppenheimer was then shopped around to several studios until Universal Pictures stepped in to distribute it.
However, recent reports somewhat dispute this theory of WB trying to sabotage Universal, with Warner Bros. Pictures co-CEO Michael De Luca confirming that they have been trying to mend their relationship with Nolan and bring him back into the fold. In fact, some sources familiar with the situation claimed that Nolan received a seven-figure royalty cheque for his work on Tenet, and he even did some post-production work for Oppenheimer at WB. The box office numbers for the film against Barbie will be interesting to track, for if Oppenheimer turns over a huge profit, Universal Pictures might try to hold onto Nolan and give him all the budget and resources he needs for the future. It’s a battle between studios as well.
The competition between the two movies has inspired several memes, with people online comparing the stark contrast in tones, with Oppenheimer boasting a gritty look (some scenes are even shot in monochrome), focussing on the obsessive father of the atomic bomb. Meanwhile, Barbie is bright pink and cheerful, with everyone’s go-to silent protagonist/ ‘literally me’ actor Ryan Gosling sporting a uniquely goofy appearance. Adding fuel to the flame is Tom Cruise, who is reportedly upset that both Barbie and Oppenheimer have booked most of the IMAX screens in July, essentially sabotaging his Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One film, which is out a week prior on July 12. Yep, there’s a third competitor and its box office revenue is bound to be impacted by the other two films. July is shaping up to be an interesting month for blockbuster movies, in terms of both on and off-screen drama.