Barbie in pink car in Barbie

Barbenheimer is the cinematic meme of the summer

One ticket to Barbenheimer, please.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

You wouldn’t expect two of the summer’s most anticipated movies—Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer—would go together in any way, shape, or form, but buzz for cinema’s most unlikely double feature is at an all-time high.

One film is centered around a piece of intellectual property that’s been around for decades. The other is a biopic of the man who played an instrumental role in the Manhattan Project. One movie used so much pink paint it sparked a shortage. The other, with both color and black-and-white footage, is much more muted. One is set to be an existential comedy. The other is set to be a bleak drama. 

But they have a few things in common. Both films are helmed by directors with fanbases who will go see anything they put out (and they’re not as separate as you’d think). Both movies have the weight of big studios behind them, along with massive marketing budgets. And they’re both set to be released on the same day, July 21, putting these two very different movies head-to-head at the box office.

Logically, it might not be much of a contest. Oppenheimer might get a ticket boost between IMAX showings and 70mm screenings in markets that can show the movie on film. But Barbie is shorter (one hour and 54 minutes), can be screened more often, and it’s rated PG-13. Despite Nolan being a name unto himself with decades of movies in his pocket, an R-rated, three-hour biopic could be a hard sell. Early box office tracking puts Barbie ahead.

But that hasn’t stopped people from pitting the movies against each other. Or, in a more amusing turn, combining them whenever possible. Hence, Barbenheimer: A portmanteau that embraces both of them at their core.

It’s a prime example of opposites attract. A grumpy/sunshine combination for the ages. Or the literal embodiment of those two houses in Santa Monica, California. It shouldn’t work. It might not work. But we’re doing it anyway.

For some people, it might just mean editing together anything they can or finding existing images that look like Barbie and Oppenheimer mixed together, something that’s been going on for months. (There are Barbenheimer shirts on Etsy!)

For others, it means planning a full-blown day at the movies with a double feature of Barbie and Oppenheimer. Before counting previews (which can be anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on your theater of choice), that’s a good five hours in a movie theater in a single day. But some are going for it anyway.

There’s also a preferred watch order if you’re attempting the double feature: Start with Oppenheimer, take a break, and use Barbie as a palate cleanser if you can.

But as marketing for Barbie ramps up to an inescapable level, so are the memes.

“The day we find out whether oppenheimer or barbie got the higher rotten tomatoes score is gonna be like the civil war on here,” @MNateShyamalan tweeted.

Tom Cruise—crusader of the theatrical experience, even when it wasn’t as safe to do so—also went all in on the Barbenheimer double feature.

“I love a double feature, and it doesn’t get more explosive (or more pink) than one with Oppenheimer and Barbie,” he wrote in a tweet that also touted the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

There’s no guarantee that everyone will love or like both of those movies. But it’s frankly exciting to see this level of meme-fueled excitement (and hopefully not ironically, as was the case with Morbius) around two films that aren’t just superhero movies and when the competition is very tongue-in-cheek. Not only do we win, but so do the movies themselves.

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