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Barbie vs Oppenheimer – Battle of the Blockbusters

Posted 10/23/2023 by Riley Rimkus

A poster created during the release of Barbie vs Oppenheimer that represents the opposing sides even though both movies are important and thought provoking.  photo by Sean Longmore

Two recent movies with unique messages sparked conversations about their lessons in the wider world.

On July 21, 2023, two movies took theaters around the world by storm: Barbie and Oppenheimer. Different audiences and the same release date for the two movies generated a debate around which of the two is superior. 

In terms of money, Barbie has Oppenheimer beat. Globally, Barbie generated $1.38 billion in US dollars while Oppenheimer made $853 million. Barbie has become, according to Dexertro, “the biggest global earning Warner Bros. movie ever, and the highest-grossing domestic movie of the year.” Additionally, Barbie is the highest grossing film with a solo female director. The movie took this title from Wonder Woman, a film from back in 2017 directed by Patty Jenkins. However, it is important to note that Barbie was more accessible to the public; the movie was PG-13 and less than two hours long. Oppenheimer spanned over three hours and was rated R. This makes Oppenheimer available to a smaller selection of people as viewers must be both old enough and possess enough patience and time to see the film.

With that being said, together the two had the biggest weekend at the box office since Avengers Endgame. Over 200,000 people purchased tickets to see Barbie and Oppenheimer on the same day, meaning the movies helped promote each other as viewers wanted to contribute their opinion to the conversations around the movies. Both movies also featured many well known actors and celebrities that fans were eager to watch in the films. Barbie became popular with big names such as Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrel, Micheal Cera, Dua Lipa, and John Cena. Oppenheimer’s cast included popular actors like Robert Downey Jr., Josh Peck, Florence Pugh, and Emily Blunt.

Although these movies appealed to very different crowds, they both illustrated messages applicable to the larger world. Oppenheimer discussed the adult life of Robert J. Oppenheimer and his work on the Manhattan Project to create the world’s first atomic bomb. The film took a look at how history can be changed with just one person. Without Oppenheimer, history could have taken another course and the present day would be quite different. This poses questions around how past decisions shape the future, pressuring viewers to be more aware of their own choices. Additionally, the movie took a deep dive into the creation of the atomic bomb. The characters alluded to mutually assured destruction, the idea that using nuclear weapons against a country would lead the victim to use the weapons against the aggressor, annihilating them both. This thought-provoking movie allows people to understand a complex and important part of history that may not be previously understood. 

Barbie, on the other hand, allowed the audience to witness a girl learn about patriarchy for the first time. Barbie is centered around a woman named Stereotypical Barbie and her journey of self discovery. While discovering the ins and outs of society, she begins to realize that real life isn’t as idyllic as she believed. From the perspective of a female audience, Barbie is meaningful because the movie can be compared to watching one’s younger self come to the realization that the world is filled with inequities for the first time. This movie is also interesting because the message can be interpreted many different ways, allowing women to take an introspective look into how they view themselves in the present world. This movie also explored a different approach to the Barbie doll. At a young age, Barbie is a toy that entertains. As girls reach their teenage years, Barbie is what society pushes to be the ideal appearance, becoming idolized. This results in body image issues and the overall admiration of Barbie’s “perfect lifestyle.” Then, in adulthood, Barbie becomes a symbol of childhood and a longing for the past. The movie aims to let the doll signify these ideas, but also let Barbie be a symbol of limitless potential. Through the acknowledgement of the obstacles every female faces, Barbie is used to empower women to rise above and be who they truly want to be. 

Unlike Oppenheimer, Barbie generated discussion around whether the movie was problematic. Some believed the movie to be “anti-man and too woke”. On the contrary, the director of the movie Barbie, Greta Gerwig, stated that the purpose of Barbie was to “make people feel somewhat relieved of the tightrope. We ask ourselves — not just as women, men too — that we walk this impossible tightrope of being perfect…” Ken, Barbie’s companion, also has a minor story arc. He discovers that he is “Kenough” regardless of his relationship with Barbie, demonstrating individuality and the importance of putting yourself first.

Many trends have arisen from both movies, one being wearing a specific outfit to the movie to coordinate to that theme. For Barbie, this was simply wearing some form of pink to the movie or going all out and wearing outfits that were worn by the Barbie characters in the movie. Viewers of Oppenheimer often wore suits in neutral colors with an occasional suspender. This made people excited to go and see movies again. After years of COVID-19 isolation, many people became comfortable with staying in and enjoying movies from home. This caused theaters to struggle to stay open through the pandemic. However, these two films brought people together to leave their houses and visit theaters. While bonding and having a good time, the public learned important lessons. Hopefully these two blockbusters will assist in keeping theaters open.