In the age of endless streaming services, the average film fan faces a collection of carefully curated recommendations based on algorithms and automatically analysed data that will allow you to watch whatever you desire from the comfort of your home. As a Londoner, I have to admit when you look out the window and see grey skies accompanied by a downpour of torrential rain, the last thing on your mind is leaving your house to go and watch a film on the big screen and herein lies the problem.
The undeniable impact that COVID had on the film industry was unprecedented and unforeseen before 2020, the movie business was completely flipped on its head as it had no other option but to shut down with no one knowing exactly when or how it would recover. During the lockdown streaming services saw a sudden surge in viewership as people had nowhere else to go, whilst this was to be expected the bigger concern is what happened post-COVID. The slow climb to pre-pandemic success has stunted the growth of the film industry, although numbers are on the rise there is no doubt that the entire industry is feeling the effects ‘of long covid’. With cinema juggernauts, such as Nolan and Scorsese, stressing the significance of the art form in a post-pandemic world, could anything save cinema and get people excited for original content in a world of streaming and sequels galore?
Enter Barbenheimer. The release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer on Friday 21st July would lead to a theatre revival that ruled the summer. As it currently stands, the same-day release of these films has gone on to become the 4th biggest box office weekend in history, breaking several records on the way such as Barbie becoming the largest opening weekend ever for a female director, Oppenheimer receiving the biggest opening ever for a biopic and many more. These two summer blockbusters have reinvigorated the wider world of cinema, with more casual moviegoers partaking in the pop culture phenomenon that is Barbenheimer. So, how exactly did they do it?
If anyone were to receive an award for the success of Barbenheimer, it would surely have to go to the marketing team of Barbie. Warner Bros put their full commitment into the marketing of the movie, spending an eye-watering $150 million on the pretty in pink promotion, eclipsing the $145 million budget of the actual movie. Warner Bros’ gamble on such a big marketing budget looks to have paid off as the film has already brought in $356 million at the global box office, and has been catapulted into the upper echelon of social media virality, further extending it’s reach. Warner Bros are thought to have purposefully scheduled the release of Barbie on the same day as Nolan’s Oppenheimer in a petty attempt to spite their former collaborator who jumped ship to Universal for his latest epic. Despite Warner Bros’ best attempts to spoil Oppenheimer’s opening, the film has gone on to ‘shatter expectations’ and collect $174 million in its opening weekend.
The Barbenheimer meme took over social media and led to the two biggest movies of the summer becoming entirely inescapable, the sheer magnitude of Barbie’s PR campaign inadvertently helped its counterpart to completely clean up at the box office, as Oppenheimer had effectively no notable marketing outside of the expected press junkets. The collaboration of these opposing titles has proven to be a triumphant win for the film industry overall. They have injected a much-needed boost of momentum into a business that was struggling to find its way back to full strength.
Looking to the future, we have to be realistic and accept that this summer’s success may not become a regular occurrence, but it does show that there is an audience there who will show up for original and engaging cinema.