Barbie, a comedy about the famous fashion doll, brought out movie fans in droves this weekend, delivering the kind of blockbuster that theaters and Hollywood studios used to routinely expect from their summer films.
The Warner Bros. release was the top picture in US and Canadian cinemas, taking in $155 million in ticket sales, the studio said in statement Sunday. That also gave it the highest-grossing debut of the year, edging past the $146.4 million haul from April's The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
The film made its debut the same weekend as Oppenheimer, director Christopher Nolan's biography of the inventor of the atomic bomb, which brought in $80.5 million, according to Universal Pictures.
An estimated 200,000-plus moviegoers bought tickets to see both new releases on the same day at chains such as AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cineworld Group Plc's Regal, a phenomenon dubbed "Barbenheimer."
Movie buffs energised
The simultaneous releases energised theatergoers and likely added to one of the best weekends for cinema in years. Warner Bros. estimated the weekend box office for all films topped $300 million.
The films are a bright spark in an otherwise difficult summer for the film industry, which has suffered disappointing results from big-budget movies such as The Flash and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Barbie, which was directed by Greta Gerwig and stars Margot Robbie in the title role, was expected to generate between $140 million and $175 million in its domestic debut, according to industry tracker Boxoffice Pro. Forecasts rose sharply in recent weeks as the picture enjoyed a surge in media attention.
The picture pokes fun at the history of the doll while addressing criticisms about her unrealistic figure and materialistic nature. It follows the character as she breaks out of the perfect world created by toymaker Mattel Inc. and into one with real people on whom the doll has had an impact.
Barbie was heavily promoted, even by Hollywood standards, including a life-size replica of her Dreamhouse in Malibu, California, and giant pink boxes in theaters in which fans could have their photo taken. Many cinemagoers, including adults, wore pink or dressed like characters from the film.
Ryan Gosling, appearing as Barbie's boyfriend Ken, brought a comedic element that likely resonated with fans who might not otherwise have wanted to see a film about a fashion doll, according to Robert Marich, author of Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics. This was evident in trailers and other promotions.
"The Ken marketing was hilarious," he said.
The success of the picture is also a victory for El Segundo, California-based Mattel, which is seeking to adapt a sprawling roster of toy brands from Hot Wheels to Barney into film and TV properties.
Oppenheimer also had a lot going for it. Director Nolan's new picture has a three-week lock on Imax theaters domestically, likely taking business from Tom Cruise's latest Mission: Impossible film, which was released on July 12.
Nolan has traditionally put out his movies, such as The Dark Knight and Inception, on the third weekend of July. A fierce advocate for cinemas, he moved to Universal from Warner Bros. after the latter released his film Tenet simultaneously on streaming in 2020.