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‘Barbenheimer’ box office success has reawakened America’s moviegoing muscle | CNN Business

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An employee adds letters for upcoming film releases “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” to a marquee at the Colonial Theater on July 16, 2023 in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.


It’s a tale of two movies and a box office triumph: “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” maintained incredible momentum into their second weekends.

“Barbie” wore several hats this weekend, with domestic “Barbie” impressing with $93 million in gross revenue and international “Barbie” bringing in around $122 million, making it the No. 1 release worldwide.

It is the largest domestic second weekend performance ever for Warner Bros., which produced the movie. (CNN and Warner Bros. are both owned by Warner Bros. Discovery.)

“Oppenheimer” also had a blowout weekend, with a domestic total of $46 million, according to estimates from media analytics company Comscore, bringing its worldwide total to almost half a billion dollars. Universal, which distributed the movie, estimated Oppenheimer will be Nolan’s biggest non-superhero film of all-time in 40 regions, and his biggest film ever in 28.

Crucially, these numbers reflect that not only is there high energy and excitement for movies, but an appetite for the movie theater experience.

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People dress up as the doll Barbie to attend the Barbie movie on July 21, 2023 in New York City.

“Barbenheimer was never going to happen on your TV, it’s just not,” said Michael O’Leary, president and CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners in the United States. “You have to go into the theater to experience it.”

Repeat viewings are also fueling box office earnings. Midwest-based chain B&B Theaters estimated that across its 55 theaters, more than 2,100 people saw “Barbie” both opening weekend and this weekend, and almost 500 returned to see “Oppenheimer.”

“Hollywood” is often considered interchangeable with “the movie industry,” and O’Leary notes that there has always been a strong movie theater culture in the United States.

After the pandemic ravaged theaters and public screenings, people are now looking forward to “sitting in a theater with world-class projection and sound systems, having an immersive experience alongside other people,” he said.

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” will trigger more and more people going to the movies by reminding them “the best of what the theatrical experience can be. It’s a reawakening,” he added.


A fake doctor’s note posted by movie theater chain B&B Theaters, excusing theatergoers from other commitments until they’ve seen both “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” on July 21, 2023.

O’Leary expects the movies to perform well for weeks to come, noting there’s been a rise over the past several years in very strong holdover weekends. That could be partly due to energetic word-of-mouth stoked by social media.

“At their core, consumers want to go see a compelling story, they want to be entertained,” he said. “If stories resonate with people… they tell other people.”

The overwhelming appreciation for these creative projects means that the ongoing Writers Guild of America and actors union SAG-AFTRA strikes could be a dark cloud over the these financial successes, according to some analysts.

“There’s pressure to resolve (these labor disputes) because the possibility of revenue is built on the foundation of having movies and actors to promote them,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “For now we have high-profile films, but that pool will be drying out.”

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Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild members with supporters on a picket line outside Fox Studios in Los Angeles on July 21, 2023.

The production limbo caused by a lack of negotiations on the part of studios are leading to a ripple effect where the release dates for those projects will also be postponed. According to Boxoffice Pro chief analyst Shawn Robbins, this means that in the second half of 2023 and throughout 2024, theater chains will need “to keep a weather eye on the horizon for problems beyond their control.”

“While it’s important to celebrate the good times right now and realize they can be a barometer for the future, it’s just as important to recognize the fight for equality by so many who play a part in creating the content we see on our screens, large and small,” he added.

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