Greta Gerwig’s pink romp Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s dark historical drama Oppenheimer released in the theatres on Friday (July 21)

‘Barbieheimer’: Everything you need to know about the cinematic phenomenon

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Two movies from two vastly different schools of filmmaking. Greta Gerwig’s pink romp Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s dark historical drama Oppenheimer are set for an epic face-off at the theatres on Friday. While the first, a fantasy comedy based on the iconic toy doll, promises a bubbly, fizzy and giddy sugar rush, the second, delves into the creation of nuclear holocaust by theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer — the man known as the father of the atomic bomb. While one unleashes colourful chaos, another offers intense introspection.

Barbie features Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie-Land expats venturing into the real world on a quest for self-discovery. Its visual feast embodies the very essence of the colour pink, delighting audiences with its unapologetic embrace of all things bright and dreamy. The brooding Oppenheimer, on the other hand, stars the formidable trio of Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., and Emily Blunt; from the early reviews, we know that it will leave audiences pondering life’s deeper questions.

The ‘Barbieheimer’ phenomenon

The contrasting themes of the two films have sparked curiosity and intrigue among moviegoers like no two films have done ever before. Social media users have eagerly contributed to the excitement around what has come to be known as the Barbieheimer (a portmanteau of the films’ titles) phenomenon, with memes, mashups, and plans for back-to-back viewing parties. The unexpected synergy between the two films has proved to be not just a marketing ‘gimmick’ but a marketing ‘gift,’ benefiting both movies in terms of heightened awareness and engagement.

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If you are a cine buff, you will have no doubts that it is a memorable moment in the history of cinema. The simultaneous release of the two seemingly incompatible films might seem like a recipe for disaster, but it has surprisingly become the catalyst for an internet sensation, unleashing a tidal wave of creativity and anticipation among fans. Most shows of both the films in India’s metros, for instance, are already sold out. According to reports, even the costliest tickets of Oppenheimer (Rs 2,450, excluding taxes) have already been booked, including those of the 3 AM shows.

In the United States and Canada, theatres have jumped on the bandwagon, amplifying the delirium by offering pink beer and setting up Instagram-worthy ‘Barbie’ photo-ops in the lobby. For those venturing to watch Oppenheimer, theatres have even considered providing cigarettes and black coffee, a nod to the unhealthy trifecta that fuelled J. Robert Oppenheimer during his time at Los Alamos. Perhaps a martini might be a more fitting addition to help cope with the weighty themes of the film. Shaken, not just stirred.

A tale of two films

Many cinephiles attribute the Barbieheimer frenzy to the unwavering loyalty that both Nolan and Gerwig command from their dedicated fanbases. Nolan, known for blockbuster hits like The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014), possesses a rare ability to draw audiences based solely on his name. On the other hand, Gerwig, the indie darling behind Oscar-winning Lady Bird (2017) and Little Women (2019), has a devoted following among youth who value her unique storytelling and quirky sensibilities.

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Interestingly, Oppenheimer, which uses the physicist’s 1954 trial and cross-examination as a narrative device, marks Nolan’s first film outside of Warner Bros., the studio backing Barbie. The director’s departure from Warner Bros. came after the turbulent release of his mind-bending thriller Tenet in 2020 and the studio’s controversial decision to simultaneously release its entire 2021 movie slate on HBO Max. Thus, the stage was set for a daring experiment in counterprogramming as Warner Bros. planted its most-hyped blockbuster against Nolan’s latest venture.

‘Barbieheimer’ vs ‘Oppenbarbie’

Fans have taken the competition between the two films to new heights, comparing their marketing strategies, projected box office revenues, and presumed content differences. Barbie, a PG-13-rated film, stands in stark contrast to Oppenheimer, an R-rated movie featuring intense scenes of atomic destruction and explicit content. The clash between Barbie and Oppenheimer highlights the ongoing tension between studios and directors, as well as the ever-evolving landscape of cinema distribution. While some speculate on the implications for Nolan’s career, others view the battle as a means to assess the current state of cinema’s soul.

Some have raised concerns that the intense focus on the meta-commentary surrounding ‘Barbieheimer’ has overshadowed the individual merits of each movie. People are discussing the order in which they should watch the films, with some believing that using ‘Oppenbarbie’ indicates watching Oppenheimer first, while ‘Barbieheimer’ suggests seeing Barbie first. However, the significance of the order remains uncertain, and the distinction has become blurred amidst the buzz surrounding the two movies.

Whether it will indeed save cinema as we know it remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the clash of the two films has generated a fervour that reverberates far beyond the silver screen. The true magic of cinema lies in its ability to unite and inspire. As Barbie and Oppenheimer hit the screens together, they beckon us to embrace the beauty of diversity, to revel in the joy of imagination, and in different cinematic universes. So, grab your popcorn and get ready for a showdown like no other, because ‘Barbieheimer’ is coming to a theatre near you.

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