Stop trying to make Barbenheimer happen

Universal Pictures/Youtube Movie fun/Youtube

Your attempt to make Barbenheimer happen again won’t work

The latest attempt to replicate Barbenheimer? Exorswift.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 31, 2023

With Thursday’s announcement that Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour would get its own concert film, many moviegoers already have their plans for October 13 (or later, depending on when you got your ticket) set. But it’s not the only movie coming out that day, prompting the creation of a new portmanteau-fueled double feature, the latest attempt to recreate a true cinematic phenomenon.

Because, as Swifties descend into movie theaters on the 13th of October, Blumhouse is also releasing The Exorcist: Believer, a direct sequel to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Soon enough, we had a new double feature on our hands: Enter Exorswift.

In a sense, Exorswift fits within a similar mold to the summer’s top phenomenon, Barbenheimer: The movies are essentially polar opposites with seemingly no natural crossover among audiences (although there are certainly Swifties who like horror and vice versa). The memes of people dressed for Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour heading into a horror movie about demonic possession practically make themselves.

It’s not the first time since Barbenheimer—the Barbie and Oppenheimer double feature made possible through the films’ shared July 21 release date—that some entity has tried to create a new Barbenheimer. Studios have tried it and are leaning into it, press outlets are using it to entice people to click on articles, and regular people on the internet are hopping on the trend to combine any two movies released on the same day, no matter the size of the releases, how well the films pair together as a double feature, or how widely available they might be.

Maybe you remember seeing Saw Patrol, the proposed Saw X and Paw Patrol double feature, becoming a whole thing because both films will be released on Sept. 29, a movie largely rejected because it came off feeling like a forced marketing stunt. (Saw X’s social media managers are still leaning into it, while Paw Patrol’s are less amused.)

Or, upon the release of the trailer for the sci-fi drama Foe, which had the same opening day as Killers of the Flower Moon, the idea that those two movies might pair together when they were set to both come out on Oct. 6. (KOTFM has since ditched its gradual rollout for a wide release on Oct. 20, effectively canceling “Killers of the Flower Foe.”)

Even the exact same date is seemingly no longer required for suggesting a new Barbenheimer, as the aggregation Twitter account @FilmUpdates put KOTFM and The Eras Tour side-by-side after the latter’s announcement.

We don’t doubt that some viewers might try pulling off some of these double features in theaters. But so far, the effort to manufacture a new Barbenheimer isn’t working in part because it’s blatantly obvious enough that the efforts to make Barbenheimer happen are being met with an insistence of the opposite: Stop trying to make fetch happen.

“It’s so strange that the success of Barbenheimer has somehow led to people just suddenly forgetting that two movies opening on the same day is a normal thing that happens literally every single week,” Alex Burley wrote.

Barbenheimer was a collision of several factors—including one that many imitators might be forgetting

Yes, Barbie and Oppenheimer had the same release date, but it wasn’t the only thing that led to their tango with box office glory.

The shared release date wasn’t a scheduling quirk. Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer secured the date first, but Warner Bros. later placed Barbie’s debut on the same date. At the time, it was viewed as a petty dig by Warner Bros. because Nolan was unhappy with Warner Bros. (which distributed several of Nolan’s films) releasing its 2021 slate simultaneously in theaters and streaming. Film Twitter helped to fuel the competitive nature of box office matchups in the early months of Barbenheimer, but it was also its champion once people decided to embrace both.

Another factor? Nolan and Greta Gerwig are beloved directors in their own right, and while their careers might look different, they’ve both made critically acclaimed and financially successful films. They each have their fans who will see any movie with their name attached to it no matter who it stars or what it’s about.

And even though it was far too early to know how much each movie would resonate or fuel weeks of discourse—we barely even knew what Barbie was about until closer to its release—it was probably somewhat fair to assume that cinephiles would generally find something to like about them on some level. But the fact that both movies were great turned a meme-fueled opening weekend into two genuine word-of-mouth hits resulting in sold-out shows for weeks and people who don’t normally go to the movie theater venturing out; Oppenheimer was in such high demand that AMC extended its 70mm IMAX run by two weeks.

Saw Patrol can’t manufacture that.

Barbenheimer didn’t happen because it was planned that way. It happened in spite of it.

Two movies in limited release do not a Barbenheimer make

The Venice Film Festival is underway, Telluride begins today, and TIFF starts in a couple of weeks, kicking off a packed and stacked fall film festival season that will launch many top contenders into awards season. For many of those films, that includes a gradual rollout in major cities or qualifying runs for awards consideration. They might only be in theaters for a couple of weeks, if that.

IndieWire’s pairing of Foe and Killers of the Flower Moon is an example of a double feature that doesn’t work because of access. Tickets aren’t available for Foe yet, but it’s probably not getting the kind of wide release that Barbie or Oppenheimer did. 

If you’re in major cities like New York or Los Angeles, you’ll have more than enough movies to create your own opening weekend double features. But the rest of the country will have to wait until a streaming movie like Foe is released on Prime Video to watch it all. The same goes for Netflix movies and Oscar hopefuls like Bradley Cooper’s Maestro or David Fincher’s The Killer, which will spend several weeks in select theaters before landing on Netflix.

Half the fun of Barbenheimer, apart from the quality of the movies themselves, was the community feeling that we were all going out in our best pink and semi-formal attire to do the same thing together. When movies are restricted to a handful of cities or a rollout that takes several weeks before it goes nationwide, it’s dead on arrival.

And the opposite, trying to coordinate a viral double feature on two different weekends, doesn’t work, either.

We’re not gonna get the next Barbenheimer as long as studios keep self-sabotaging

There are a lot of lessons to glean from Barbenheimer, including the fact that people will go to the movies if there are good movies available instead of mere slop. But whatever goodwill studios might’ve garnered by letting Nolan and Gerwig make the movies they wanted is getting sabotaged by the fact that they’re holding back several major releases by several months that people would pay money to see, like Dune: Part Two.

It’s been interpreted by some as a response to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes—and the AMPTP’s unwillingness to come to the negotiating table—because actors are not allowed to promote their work and productions have almost completely come to a standstill. With no new projects being written or filmed, studios are preparing for the possibility that 2024 might be sparse. But as they do that, whatever momentum they might’ve gained with Barbenheimer is about to come to a halt.

And you can’t make a new Barbenheimer—organic or manufactured—if there aren’t really any movies to fuel it.

We crawl the web so you don’t have to.
Sign up for the Daily Dot newsletter to get the best and worst of the internet in your inbox every day.
Share this article
*First Published: Aug 31, 2023, 4:51 pm CDT