Is the ‘Barbenheimer’ effect here to stay?

Image credit: Warner Bros Pictures/Universal Pictures via AP

Has this summer’s biggest movie battle flipped the film industry on its head?

By Rhianna McGhee (she/her)

It has now become a standard to succumb to the phenomenon that is the ‘Barbenheimer’ culture. Whether you have a cheery exterior but an eternally damaged soul, or vice versa, you could say you are under the influence of the ‘Barbenheimer effect’.  

21 July 2023 saw the release of both Barbie and Oppenheimer, two starkly contrasting productions which have caused cinema mayhem across the world. Memes and merchandise flooded in before and after the films’ release and we are now met with a craze that has dominated the media scene. This ‘Barbenheimer effect’ draws on the philosophy of two tonally different film productions being released on the same day in pursuit of appealing to a massive scope of audience. In return, the world responded with record breaking cinema attendance. Vue International reported to have had the biggest weekend for UK cinema ticket sales in four years. Many even went as far as to book the movies back-to-back in an emotional whirlwind double-bill day. 

Both have massively different storylines. We have Greta Gerwig’s comedy about the famous doll, and Christopher Nolan’s biographical thriller depicting physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s role in developing the first atomic bomb. When put together, it seems mad to link the two movies in the same experience. Nevertheless, the people took to the difference as a way of coming together in the modern day way of media memology. I think this is a new beginning for movie production and promotion. Although the method, known as ‘counterprogramming’ is not completely new, it seems, this time round, that the attempt has exceeded the initial intention. With Barbie securing $1.18 billion in worldwide box office revenue and Oppenheimer with $650 million, it is clear that the phenomenon successfully amplified the social experiment.  

If you ask me, the phenomenon is here to stay. In the future you’ll be seeing the release of the latest Star Wars movie coupled with the next version of Sex and the City. The term ‘opposites attract’ will take on a whole new meaning and production companies will attempt to rival the almighty ‘Barbeheimer’. Whether this is a positive or not is hard to say, but the absolute take away is that finally the world of cinema is being revitalised and importantly placed in the social scene of a post-pandemic world. After all, everyone needs a bit of difference in their lives!