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‘Barbenheimer’ trend sparks internet jokes and spikes ticket sales

Screenshot from ‘Barbie’ trailer | Warner Bros. and Screenshot from ‘Oppenheimer’ trailer | Universal Pictures

The internet was awash with endless posts, debates and memes ahead of the release of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” in theaters on July 21.

The pink pastel comedy starring Margot Robbie as Mattel’s famous Barbie doll and Ryan Gosling as its companion Ken doll couldn’t differ more from director Christopher Nolan’s gritty R-rated film on J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy, and the creation of the atomic bomb.

An unlikely match, the two have caused a spike in ticket sales for theaters showing them as a doubleheader.

AMC announced an impressive 20,000 of its AMC Stubs List members purchased tickets for both movies, a testament to social media’s propensity for effectuating real-world cultural phenomena as the irony-laden tastes behind them.

The “Barbenheimer” hashtag trended on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter sporadically throughout June and July. It saw widespread crossover from all over the internet — from accounts dedicated to posting Patrick Bateman edits to influencers specializing in fashion tutorials — as the idea of seeing both movies back-to-back struck a wry chord with users of all kinds.

Memes focused on anything from the comparison of two opposite aesthetics to the challenge of typified gender norms seeing both movies represented.

Clips of striding, well-dressed men with captions like “POV: Me and the boys heading straight from Oppenheimer to Barbie” gained traction on TikTok.

Other posts made it a point to show quintessential opposites choosing to see the movie least likely to fit their personality.

The account @anything.moviess posted a TikTok with two reactionary clips captioned “me watching Oppenheimer” and “me watching Barbie” that swapped what one would assume to see in the theater — a man laughing and smoking a cigar during the former and a man watching “Barbie” with distressed disbelief.

User @Been commented, “Oppenheimer for the laughs Barbie for the philosophy.”

By mid-July, the joke had devolved into near nonsense in true post-humor internet fashion, with posts of the “two tickets” gag using seemingly random characters with either very slight or indiscernible differences, like these two from “Dune,” or these… bats?

The sharply contrasted marketing choices for the movies also contributed to the humor behind the doubleheader.

Despite the SAG-AFTRA actors union strike on July 14 barring members from doing publicity work for any new movies or TV shows, Warner Brothers’ intense marketing for “Barbie” led to over a hundred collaborations with multiple brands and consistent buzz on social media.

ALDO partnered with Barbie to sell a new pair of pump-stiletto heels called “Barbietessy,” and Microsoft gave away a special edition custom Xbox built into a Barbie Dreamhouse along with interchangeable “Barbie” controller faceplates.

The Independent called the movie “the hottest brand partner of the year.”

In Malibu, California, just up a hill beside the Pacific Coast highway, a massive three-story mansion exactly matching the pink Barbie Hollywood Dreamhouse was built.

One user @bootcutgenes quote-tweeted aerial drone footage of the rosy palazzo and said “the Oppenheimer marketing team has an opportunity to do the funniest thing possible.”

What the marketing team for Oppenheimer had done, meanwhile, included a looped live stream that started over seven months ago, counting down until the film’s release. People joked the marketing otherwise amounted to a single black-and-white photo of Murphy with his sunken eyes and dark fedora.

With the theater and film industries still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, the hype around the two movies together sparked hopes of cinema making a real comeback.

Actors and directors from both movies indicated excitement at the double-header rather than engaging in competition.

People loved Robbie’s reaction when a fan approached her wearing a t-shirt with a spliced photo of her and Murphy on a press tour in Australia.

“I hope you meet Cillian Murphy and he can sign the other side,” she said.

In an interview with IGN, Murphy said he was “100%” going to see “Barbie.”

“I can’t wait to see it,” he said.

“I think it’s just great for the industry and for audiences that we have two amazing films by amazing filmmakers coming out on the same day. Yeah, you can spend the whole day in the cinema — what’s better than that?”

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Judah Duke
Judah Duke, Business Editor
Judah Duke is the Business Editor of the Ticker.
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