Ellen Peirson-Hagger at The New Statesman:
“Barbenheimer saves cinema!” declared a Daily Mail headline in late July. The tabloid wasn’t the only publication wildly exaggerating the impact of the summer blockbuster releases Barbie and Oppenheimer: two very different works appealing to very different audiences, both released on 21 July, that social media gleefully christened under the portmanteau. Almost every outlet heralded the films as saviours of a dying industry. “Barbenheimer has saved cinema from the jaws of streaming – and not a moment too soon,” announced the i. The “Barbenheimer bonanza” insisted the Guardian, “saved the summer box office”. “Barbenheimer may just have saved London’s cinemas,” claimed Time Out.
On the surface, the box office figures showed a boom in cinema-going. As of 13 August, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling and playfully challenges ideas of the patriarchy, had taken $1.18bn at the worldwide box office. It is the highest-grossing movie in the US made by a female director. Meanwhile Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s biographical thriller starring Cillian Murphy as the scientist who developed the atom bomb, has grossed $649m worldwide, making it the highest-grossing Second World War film.