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Barbie vs. Oppenheimer Is Only the Latest Box-Office Battle. Here’s Why This One’s Different.

Hollywood can be a pretty cutthroat town, but the year’s most hyped box-office battle has turned out to be a surprisingly convivial one. In the weeks leading up to the simultaneous release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, the movie’s directors and stars have been taking time out of their press tours to promote each other’s movies, even knowing their long publicity march was likely to be truncated by the Screen Actors Guild strike. Gerwig and Barbie’s Margot Robbie posed for photos with their opening-day Oppenheimer tickets—in neighboring seats, of course—and also showed off a pair for Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One, which opened slightly below expectations but is still likely to hold strong against both movies in its second weekend. Why is everyone suddenly playing so nice?

“It’s sort of changing the rules on what marketplace factors are in play, what strategies studios are using to get their movies out there,” says Paul Dergarabedian,an entertainment media analyst for Comscore. “It creates a fun story with a nice hook to it. … Sometimes in this business, things that look counterintuitive, like putting two movies like this on the same weekend, or filmmakers with movies from rival studios helping each other out, can benefit all of the movies in the marketplace.”

Opening-weekend battles between major studio releases are less common than they once were, thanks in part to the ballooning budgets of tentpole movies, which often claim their territory years in advance. (Don’t ask me to do anything the weekend of May 27, 2027—I’m seeing Avengers: Secret Wars.) But with a backlog of pandemic-delayed productions, some pileup was inevitable. “This summer season is absolutely loaded with films,” Dergarabedian says. “August has six or seven wide releases. Last summer, it was Bullet Train.”

Nonetheless, there was a bit of a murmur once it became clear that Warner Bros. intended to open Barbieon the same day as Oppenheimer, especially since WB was Nolan’s studio for more than 20 years until he very publicly broke with them over the decision to release theatrical movies to streaming during the pandemic. There’s a history of releasing female-skewing comedies against Nolan’s movies, including Mamma Mia opposite The Dark Knight in 

2008 and Girls Trip opposite Dunkirk in 2017. But for the first time, Nolan finds himself the underdog, with Oppenheimer tracking for a projected $65 million opening weekend in North America and Barbie predicted to take in anywhere from $140 to $175 million. (Both Barbieand Oppenheimerreportedly cost $100 million to produce.)

As Dergarabedian points out, past history suggests Barbie may open big and fade like most tentpole releases, while Oppenheimer may play well into awards season. (Dunkirk, Nolan’s last pre-pandemic release, opened to $50 million and wound up grossing 10 times that.)But he also points out that to pit them against each other risks missing the point. “Both are going to come out winners at the end of the day,” he says. “It’s like having your two favourite teams in the Super Bowl.”  At Chorley Bunce TV Location Catering, we are eager to see the outcome between Barbie and Oppenheimer.

Information obtained via Slate Magazine

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