As with a key matchup in the National Football League, both experts and fans months ahead of time had circled this weekend on the studio release calendar. Many have speculated about the reasons why two high-profile titles wound up going head-to-head, which one would come out on top, and whether they would be successful enough to be profitable after a series of this year’s biggest budget movies had failed to do so.
This weekend’s total box office of $302.0M has proven that the media buzz around “Barbenheimer” was much more than hype. The last three days will go down as the biggest box office weekend of this year, and the highest since April 26-28, 2019 when AVENGERS: ENDGAME set the record for an opening weekend with $357.1M, pushing the number for all films that weekend up to $402.1M
Ironically, one of the last weekends when Hollywood delivered a comparable one-two punch of new movies also involved a Christopher Nolan-directed film. From July 18-20, 2008, Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT from Warner Bros. opened with $158.4M alongside Universal’s MAMA MIA which came in second place with $27.8M. This weekend’s duo handily beat that combo.
Warner Bros. and Mattel deserve much praise for the spectacular launch of BARBIE, which earned $155M from Friday-Sunday. This is the best movie debut this year and the biggest since BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER earned $181M from November 11-13 2022. Directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie as Barbie alongside Ryan Gosling as Ken, it is the highest-profile big-screen appearance for the timeless American doll.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with an incredibly high 90% score from both critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes. Barbara Millicent Roberts – a.k.a. “Barbie” – is the #1 selling toy of all time, with more than 1 billion dolls sold since she first appeared in 1959. This works out to three dolls sold every second for the past 64 years! And she’s still going strong with sales of $1.5 billion in Barbie and Barbie-related merchandise recorded in 2022.
Gerwig’s BARBIE is the first live-action movie after numerous animated editions over the years that were mostly low-budget productions and released directly on DVD or streaming. While it now appears to be a slam-dunk decision by Warner Bros. to make the film, the project took many years to come to fruition. Universal was the first to announce a live-action BARBIE movie back in September 2009. Sony acquired rights to the project in April 2014 and began development with a plan to cast Amy Schumer or Anne Hathaway.
In October 2018, rights were transferred to Warner Bros., which later announced that Margot Robbie would play the lead role. In 2021, Greta Gerwig was brought on to direct the project. After three studios and 14 years, the end result was well worth the wait. The creation of the Barbie Cinematic Universe now seems assured, with a bevy of sequels and offshoots in the works and robust toy and merchandise sales as far as the eye can see.
In a bracing point of counter-programming, Barbie’s dream house went up against the apocalyptic vision of OPPENHEIMER, which delivered an incredibly strong second-place finish with $80.5M. This is the highest R-rated opening since JOKER’s $96.2M from October 2-4, 2019. While we’ll be spending hours looking back at the records books to verify it, we suspect that OPPENHEIMER’s $80.5M opening is the highest in Hollywood’s 110-year history for any movie that finished in second place.
Christopher Nolan directs this epic story of the “Manhattan Project,” the code name for the project that developed the first atomic bomb, which helped end WWII while changing the geopolitical landscape forever. The cast is led by Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, with award-caliber support from Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Kenneth Branagh, Florence Pugh, Gary Oldman, and Rami Malek. Critics and audiences love this film, with both giving it a 94% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
While BARBIE’s pink-clad crowds overwhelmed OPPENHEIMER’s during the shared opening weekend, many predict that the epic will hold up better over the weeks ahead, as word spreads about the awesome cinematic experience that Nolan has created. OPPENHEIMER will certainly attract the spotlight as the summer winds down and the industry turns its attention to the upcoming awards season.
Universal and Nolan made the film for a mere $100M, modest by comparison with the expanding budgets of many recent blockbusters that have left little impact on their audiences. Can you say… $340M to make FAST X?
When Warner Bros. announced that it would open BARBIE on the same day as OPPENHEIMER, some saw it as a parting shot against Nolan, who left the studio in a huff after their 20-year partnership. Nolan was upset by the studio’s pandemic-era policy to open all its feature films on streaming, with only certain titles going to theatres and those arriving on the same day when they also became available on streaming.
Ironically, the opening weekend gross for OPPENHEIMER may have been enhanced by its competition with BARBIE, because the unusual juxtaposition of the two films created massive media coverage for both. “Barbenheimer” will be the box office story of the summer, to the delight of everyone involved in both pictures.
The other big story this summer is the continued success of Angel Studios’ SOUND OF FREEDOM. After a third-place finish this weekend with $20.1M, this picture has shot well past the $100M marker with a gross of $124.7M and counting. SOUND OF FREEDOM’s 26% drop was smaller than that for any other film in wide release this weekend. Its studio did not even set its July 4th release date until May. Since then, it has transformed from an “unheard of” status to competing with the blockbusters.
On its July 4th opening day, SOUND OF FREEDOM had a higher gross than INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, which was still in its opening week. Last Thursday, SOUND OF FREEDOM won the box office day with a higher gross than MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING – PART ONE. That continued this weekend when it also sold more tickets than DEAD RECKONING. Its fan following will result in steady sales in the domestic market over the weeks ahead, and in international markets once it begins its global run.
After three years of angst over the dwindling future for small independent films, Angel Studios has established itself in a profitable niche. SOUND OF FREEDOM’s success will almost certainly lead backers to make additional films of the same genre, perhaps even as sequels or prequels with the same characters.
Even Tom Cruise could not withstand the withering blast of this weekend’s competition, dropping down to fourth place with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING – PART ONE earning $19.5M in its second weekend. This was an uncharacteristic drop of 64% from last week’s opening numbers. Ticket sales for the MI7 sequel were expected to drop on Friday when OPPENHEIMER arrived to take off all IMAX screens and most other Premium Large Format auditoriums.
However, the bigger impact came from having to face off against two blockbuster competitors, after only nine days of being top dog at the box office. DEAD RECKONING – PART ONE has grossed $300M worldwide in its first twelve days, slightly more than the estimated $290M Paramount invested in its production.
INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY hung on for fifth place by grossing $6.7M, bringing its domestic take to $159M, which is looking increasingly weak in relation to its production budget of $275M.
All movies playing in theatres this weekend earned $302M domestic, compared with $127M last year when NOPE opened with $44.4M.
WHERE ARE WE AS OF 7/20
The first 28 weeks of 2023 have produced 112% of the box office earned at this same point in 2022, but only 81% compared with 2019.