'Barbie' took the box office crown and 'Oppenheimer' soared on a historic weekend

“Barbenheimer” didn't just succeed—it went box office gold. The social media-driven fusion of Greta Gerwig's “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan's “Oppenheimer” brought moviegoers back to theaters in record numbers over the weekend, far exceeding projections and providing a ray of hope for lagging exhibition businesses, amid a backdrop of serious strikes.

Warner Bros' “Barbie” claimed the top spot with a massive $155 million ticket sales from North American theaters from 4,243 locations, surpassing “The Super Mario Bros Movie” (as well as every Marvel film this year) as the biggest opening of the year and breaking the first weekend record for a film directed by a woman. Universal's “Oppenheimer” also exceeded expectations, grossing $80.5 million from 3,610 theaters in the US and Canada, marking Nolan's biggest non-Batman debut and one of the best starts ever for an R-rated biographical drama.

It was also the first time that one film opened with more than $100 million and another film opened with more than $80 million in the same weekend. When everything settles down, it will likely be the fourth-biggest box office weekend of all time with over $300 million industry-wide. And all of this is happening in a market that is increasingly curving towards intellectual property-driven winners.

The “Barbenheimer” phenomenon may have started as a good competition between two aesthetic rivals, but, as many would expect, both films ultimately benefited. Internationally, “Barbie” made $182 million from 69 territories, earning a global weekend of $337 million. “Oppenheimer” made $93.7 million from 78 territories, ahead of “Barbie” in India, for a global total of $174.2 million.

The only real casualty was “Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I”, which despite strong reviews and a healthy opening weekend dropped 64% in its second weekend. Overshadowed by the lights of “Barbenheimer” and the impact of losing its IMAX screens to “Oppenheimer”, the Tom Cruise vehicle added $19.5 million, bringing its domestic total to $118.8 million.

“Barbenheimer” isn't just reverse programming either. But while certain sections of enthusiastic moviegoers overlap, the overall audience is different.

Women pushed for the historic opening of “Barbie,” which accounted for 65% of the audience, according to PostTrak, and 40% of ticket buyers were under the age of 25 for the PG-13 rated film.

“It's just the happiest time in the world. This is history in many ways,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.' president of domestic distribution. “I think this marketing campaign is a campaign for the ages that people will talk about forever.”

Meanwhile, “Oppenheimer's” audience is 62% male and 63% over the age of 25, with a somewhat surprising 32% aged between 18 and 24.

Both “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” scored well with critics with 90% and 94% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes, and audiences gave both films an A CinemaScore. And social media has been inundated with reactions and “takes” all weekend — the good, the bad, the problematic, and everywhere in between — the organic types, event cinema, water-cooling debates that no marketing budget can buy.

“The ‘Barbenheimer' thing was a real boost for both films,” said Goldstein. “This is a crowning achievement for all of us.”

“Oppenheimer” has the majority (80%) of the premium large format screens available. About 25 theaters in North America had IMAX 70mm screenings (Nolan's preferred format), most of which sold out over the weekend — accounting for 2% of the total gross. Cinemas even scrambled to add more to accommodate demand, including 1am and 6am screenings, which also sold out.

“Nolan's films are truly cinematic events,” said Jim Orr, Universal's president of domestic distribution.

IMAX shows alone make up 26% of the domestic gross (or $21.1 million) from just 411 screens and 20% of the global gross, and “Oppenheimer” will run for at least three weeks on those high-demand screens.

“This is an extraordinary phenomenon,” said Rich Gelfond, chief executive of IMAX, in a statement. “Around the world, we've seen shows sell out at 4:00 a.m. and people travel for hours across borders to see ‘Oppenheimer' in 70mm IMAX.”

This is the comeback weekend Hollywood has been dreaming of since the pandemic. There were great openings and successes – “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, “Top Gun: Maverick”, “Avatar: The Way of Water” among them, but the fact that two films succeeded at the same time is noteworthy.

“It was a truly historic weekend and continues the positive box office momentum in 2023,” said Michael O'Leary, President & CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners. “People recognize that something special is happening and they want to be a part of it.”

But in the background it looks disastrous as Hollywood studios continue to bicker with flashy actors and writers over fair contracts.

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were the last films on the 2023 calendar to receive a major global press tour. The two headed straight for the 11th hour, jostling for every last moment with their movie stars. “Oppenheimer” even delayed its London premiere by an hour, knowing that Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, and Cillian Murphy would have to leave to symbolically join the picket line by the time the movie started.

Without a movie star to promote their film, the studio has begun pushing for some fall releases, including Zendaya's acclaimed tennis drama “Challengers.”

But for now, this is just a positive story that could even continue for weeks to come.

“There could be a sequel next weekend,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore's senior media analyst. “The FOMO factor will increase as this monumental box office event is centered around the cinema experience.”

Ticket sales forecast for Friday through Sunday in US and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released on Monday.

1. “Barbie”, $155 million

2. “Oppenheimer”, $80.5 million

3. “Sound of Freedom,” $20.1 million

4. “Mission: Dead-Impossible Reckoning Part I,” $19.5 million

5. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” $6.7 million

6. “Insidious: The Red Door”, $6.5 million

7. “Elemental”, $5.8 million

8. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” $2.8 million

9. “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” 1.1 million

10. “No Hard Feelings,” $1.1 million