Bye, Barbie: How the most hyped movie of 2023 enjoyed a billion-dollar box office but lost the awards

When it was announced Greta Gerwig’s surreal Mattel toy movie Barbie was scheduled to be released on the same day as Christopher Nolan’s epic thriller, Oppenheimer, a cultural phenomenon was born.

Generating a blend of the movies’ titles with Barbenheimer, both films rode a self-perpetuating wave of promotion on the internet with memes, merchandise and memorabilia, while its respective stars Australian Margot Robbie and Ireland’s Cillian Murphy appeared on the front pages of industry mags around the world.

It was every movie studio’s dream.

They were released simultaneously on July 21, with Variety labelling the months-long hype as “the cinematic event of 2023″.

Both were destined for global success, both financially and for the trophy cabinet, but only one movie prevailed.

At this week’s 81st Golden Globes – the first big awards ceremony for the season – Barbie topped the charts with nine nominations, but left the party almost empty-handed, winning just two of the second-tier awards with best song and a bizarre new confusing category called the “cinematic and box office achievement prize” (aka the movie with the biggest box office receipts worldwide).

On the other hand, the historical drama Oppenheimer, about the making of the atomic bomb, dominated the Globes, landing five honours (from eight nominations) including the coveted best movie drama prize, Nolan for best director, best original score for Ludwig Göransson, and acting awards for Murphy and everyone’s favourite Marvel veteran Robert Downey Jr.

What went so wrong?

pictured is Barbenheimer which dominated Google searches

Poles apart in storylines, Oppenheimer and Barbie remain in the top 10 Oscar hopefuls after receiving 17 Golden Globe nominations and leaving with seven awards.

Barbie ‘made with love’

As star and producer, Robbie confidently walked the red carpet at the Beverly Hilton on Monday (AEDT), brimming with excitement and expectation for a big rewards night.

So much so she channelled her alter-ego, her look modelled on Superstar Barbie from 1977 in a hot pink sequinned Armani gown with a pink tulle boa.

As the night progressed, it became apparent the Barbie hype was well and truly over.

Awards watchers had widely expected it to win best movie (musical or comedy) but it went to latecomer, Poor Things, starring Emma Stone (The Amazing Spiderman, La La Land) who plays a deceased woman revived by scientists.

Stone also beat Robbie in the coveted best actress stakes.

Barbie went home with just two awards – for Billie Eilish’s song What Was I Made For and for the new category created for widely seen films.

It was pure economics – a fate accompli – that Barbie was going to walk out with this award as the film grossed $US1.44 billion at the box office worldwide, followed by The Super Mario Bros. Movie with $US1.3 billion and then Oppenheimer in third with $US952 million.

Fans loved the movie for a variety of reasons, from its empowering-of-women themes and on-point messaging, to its costumes, set designs right down to simple nostalgia.

However, The Hollywood Reporter said it was “surprising” the film that was a “summer movie phenomenon [that] went into the Globes with the most nominations of any movie” missed out on acting, screenplay and directing awards, not to mention the top prize of best motion picture musical or comedy.

“Barbie is very pretty but not very deep,” writes Stephanie Zacharek in a Time review, saying the first half hour is dazzling and funny, but then it becomes a movie that is just “enormously pleased with itself”.

“Barbie never lets us forget how clever it’s being, every exhausting minute.”

Collecting the achievement award, Robbie made the most of it, and dedicated the gong to “every single person on the planet who dressed up and went to the greatest place on Earth – the movie theatre”.

“This is a movie about Barbie, but it’s also a movie about humans … we made it for you … and we made it with love … and thank you for loving it back.”

Barbie just hit a ‘speed bump’, that’s all

So Barbie‘s huge box office, praise and hype didn’t translate to awards, but that doesn’t mean its Oscars campaign is over.

Variety, which co-hosted the pre-awards red carpet on January 7, says it would be a mistake to read Barbie’s loss to Poor Things in best picture (comedy/musical) as a sign that “it’s over” for the movie in terms of its Oscar chances.

“Academy darlings have stumbled at the Globes before rebounding later in the awards season.

“Look at The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) beating future best picture winner Birdman or last year’s The Banshees of Inisherin topping the eventual sweeper, Everything Everywhere All at Once.

“It ain’t over until the final Oscar ballot has been cast,” the Hollywood industry mag warned.

The Governors Awards – an annual event celebrating awards conferred by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s board of governors – will kick off with multiple awards to Hollywood stars on January 9.

The Oscar nomination period will run from January 11 to 16, with the official nominees announced on January 23.

Final voting ends at 5pm on February 27.

The 96th Oscars will be held on March 10.

Vanity Fair was quick to remind us the Barbenheimer phenomenon is not over “as both films did indeed walk away with gold statuettes”.

“Even more than six months after their shared blockbuster opening weekend, Barbie and Oppenheimer remain tied together as a pop culture phenomenon as they make their way through awards season.

“We can only now assume that their chances in the Oscar race continue to look brighter and brighter just ahead of nominations voting.”

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