‘Barbenheimer’ has been huge for cinemas, still in search of an audience

Two of the most anticipated movies of the year, Barbie and Oppenheimer, were released on the same day.

All around the world, ‘Barbenheimer’ saw people flocking to the cinema, and the numbers speak for themselves.

The two movies made the fourth highest-grossing weekend of all time in the US, Vanity Fair reported, and internationally the two films made $511 million.

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie came out on top over Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, making $US337 million ($500 million) worldwide this weekend. Oppenheimer made $US174.2 million ($258 million) worldwide this weekend.

Gerwig has now made history, as Barbie had the biggest opening weekend for a film directed by a woman.

Some people opted to do the films back-to-back, others are spacing them out, but regardless of how you choose to enjoy the films, everyone is talking about them.

During the pandemic, cinemas naturally took a hit and many are still trying to recover.

Online people have remarked how Barbenheimer “saved cinema”. But will Barbenheimer save cinemas?

‘Just huge’

Based in Port Macquarie, Kieren Dell is a board member for Independent Cinemas Australia. He said this past weekend was “just huge”.

“It was really good for our audiences,” Mr Dell said, of Barbie‘s success.

“We’ve had huge audiences over the weekend and on Thursday night we had it across six of our nine sites – we had a girls’ night out of it, I think with 1500 people and between two and four cinemas just dedicated to it.”

Sydney’s famed Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace in Cremorne is a member of Independent Cinemas Australia and saw Oppenheimer come out on top over Barbie.

On its website, the Orpheum said Oppenheimer had the biggest opening week for a film at the cinema of all time and Barbie is now in second place.

There’s no doubt Barbenheimer got people to the cinemas and many probably really enjoyed the experience of sharing a movie collectively, with both strangers and friends.

Pictured is a cinema sign saying Barbie and Oppenheimer

‘Barbenheimer’ had people going to cinemas in droves.

However, it probably won’t be enough to keep people coming back in droves for other films.

Post pandemic, there were movies that drew people in such as Spider-Man: No Way Home, Top Gun and Elvis, Mr Dell said.

However, there has been a consistency problem, where there have been periods with nothing to go and see.

“Cinemas are a momentum business,” Mr Dell said.

“People come in, they see trailers, they have the collective experience and go ‘oh, that was different to watching something at home’ and ‘what are we going to see in another week or two weeks’?”

Impact of  Hollywood strike

Ironically, just as Barbie and Oppenheimer were about to be released, Hollywood actors went on strike.

The cast of Oppenheimer walked out of the film’s premiere in solidarity and the glamorous Barbie press tour came to a screeching stop.

SAG-AFTRA members are not working during the strike, nor are they allowed to promote any films they are in.

The striking actors joined writers who have been on strike for months. Both unions have good reasons to strike, including better pay in the streaming age and protections against AI.

With cinemas still recovering from COVID, the timing of the strikes are not ideal, Mr Dell said.

“[The strikes are] all about streaming and AI and various things none of which are directly related to cinema, so we’re sort of collateral damage,” Mr Dell said.

Because of the strike, upcoming projects could be moved back or postponed indefinitely, which isn’t going to be helpful for cinemas around Australia, or abroad.

It’s not just the potential delay of movies, but without stars promoting the movies, people might not go and see them.

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, former star of The Nanny, announces the actors strike. Photo: AAP

Why go to the movies?

Earlier in July, Simon Pegg, one of the stars of another recently-released blockbuster, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, said it would be an “existential threat to society” if cinema disappeared. 

“Always remember the importance of going to the cinema to see stuff,” he told The New Daily at the Sydney premiere.

“I mean, you can watch a film at home, you can watch a film on your phone these days. But it’s not the same as watching it with a group of people sharing that experience, feeling their emotions, with your emotions. It’s an important tribe that we have.”

Oppenheimer tells the story of the development of the atomic bomb and how that changed the world. Barbie is being celebrated for its feminist themes, with people claiming the movie is as empowering as the doll.

Cinema has the power to challenge our beliefs and gives us the opportunity to be exposed to stories we wouldn’t be otherwise.

But beyond what movies can do for us, the act of going to the cinema could be good for you.

Mr Dell said there is research about to come out that finds going to the cinema is better than watching a film at home.

This is mainly because viewers become much more engrossed in the story when watching it on the big screen, as opposed to at home where there are distractions.

Particularly true for comedies and horror movies, the overall experience is generally better at the cinema, Mr Dell said.

“The emotional impact is much larger by watching something in the cinema, the other element is the collective experience.”

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