Barbie beats Mario while Oppenheimer beats expectations too

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“Barpenheimer” didn’t just succeed – it spun box office gold. The social media-fueled merger of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” sent moviegoers back to theaters in record numbers this weekend, vastly outpacing expectations and giving a glimmer of hope to lagging show business, amid the sobering backdrop of strikes.

Warner Bros. “Barbie” took first place with a whopping $155 million in sales from North American theaters from 4,243 locations, surpassing the Super Mario Bros. Movie. (as well as every Marvel movie this year) as the biggest opening of the year and broke the first-weekend record for a movie directed by a woman. Universal’s “Oppenheimer” also lived up to previous expectations, taking in $80.5 million from 3,610 theaters in the US and Canada, marking Nolan’s biggest non-Batman debut and one of the best debuts ever for an R-rated biographical drama.

It’s also the first time that one movie opened with more than $100 million and another with more than $80 million in the same weekend. When all is settled, it has the potential to have the fourth biggest box office opening weekend of all time with over $300 million industry wide. And all this in a market that is increasingly oriented towards a winner-takes-all driven intellectual property market.

The Barpenheimer phenomenon may have started as a good-natured competition between two aesthetic opposites, but as many had hoped, both films benefited in the end.

The only real casualty was Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1, which despite strong reviews and a healthy opening weekend dropped 64% in its second weekend. Overshadowed by the glow of “Barbenheimer” and the blow of losing the IMAX screens to “Oppenheimer,” Tom Cruise’s prequel added $19.5 million, bringing its domestic total to $118.8 million.

Barpenheimer is not just an anti-program either. But while a certain section of avid moviegoers overlapped, the audience on the whole was different.

Women led the historic opening for “Barbie,” making up 65% of the audience, according to PostTrak, and 40% of ticket buyers were under the age of 25 for the PG-13-rated movie.

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” both fared well with critics with scores of 90% and 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively, and audiences giving both films an A CinemaScore. And social media was awash with backlash and “taking” all weekend — good, bad, problematic, and everywhere in between — the kind of organic controversy, cinematography, and watercooler that a marketing budget can’t buy.

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