September 27, 2023



Gender-based confrontation: ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ employ tactics of division and conquest

Gender-based confrontation: ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ employ tactics of division and conquest

The two movies are drawing in moviegoers across almost all age groups, as people don’t want to miss what is being called the biggest movie cultural phenomenon in years.

In a surprising twist, the summer box office has been energized by two unlikely blockbusters – Barbie and Oppenheimer. These wildly different films have together accomplished something remarkable, revitalizing the struggling theatrical landscape by appealing to moviegoers of all ages and demographics.

While superhero films and action movies aimed at younger men have typically anchored the summer box office recovery, Barbie and Oppenheimer have disrupted that pattern. The combination of these two films, playfully nicknamed “Barbenheimer,” has become the biggest cinematic cultural event of the summer, if not the year.

Barbie, propelled by its broad appeal to female audiences, is shaping up to be one of the highest grossing female-led films in box office history. Meanwhile, Oppenheimer has intrigued viewers with its dramatic portrayal of complex scientific history. Together, these films have convinced consumers of nearly every demographic to forego streaming and return enthusiastically to theaters. Barbenheimer has shown the power and profitability of offering creative, diverse stories on the big screen.

The unlikely duo of Barbie and Oppenheimer has powered the domestic box office to its second-highest ever July ticket sales, according to data from Comscore. With total earnings of $1.371 billion in July 2022, these two films came close to beating the previous July record of $1.396 billion set back in July 2011 by Harry Potter and Captain America releases.

Now that Barbie and Oppenheimer have been in theaters for two weeks, their broad demographic appeal is clear from PostTrak exit polling data accessed by The Hollywood Reporter. The Warner Bros. film Barbie and Universal’s Oppenheimer have managed to draw substantial audiences across age groups, fueling their box office dominance.

Gender-based confrontation

Barbie and Oppenheimer achieved record-breaking opening weekends despite targeting starkly different audiences. According to PostTrak data, Barbie drew a massive 69% female audience during its $162 million debut – on par with past female-led films like Twilight and Hunger Games. Meanwhile, Oppenheimer attracted mostly male ticket buyers at 62% of its $82.4 million opening weekend crowd.

Unlike past female-fronted superhero movies like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel that appealed rather evenly to both genders, Barbie skewed heavily female. Yet despite Barbie’s clear domination among women, Oppenheimer still managed to post impressive numbers with men. Together, these two very different films found enormous success by appealing to traditionally underserved demographics. Their ability to draw huge crowds across gender lines was key to revitalizing the post-pandemic box office.

In its second weekend, Barbie’s audience skewed even more towards females

In their second weekends, Barbie and Oppenheimer saw shifts in their male-female audience breakdowns. Barbie expanded its female supermajority to 71% of tickets sold, while Oppenheimer’s male majority decreased to 58% as more women turned out. The films’ broadening appeal across gender lines has been key to their box office success.

Opening Weekend Anxiety?

The success of Barbie and Oppenheimer supports the theory that older adults prefer to see films after opening weekend crowds thin out.

For Barbie, the under 25 female audience shrank from 35% to 32% between the first and second weekends, while the over 25 female audience grew from 33% to 38%.

Similarly, Oppenheimer saw its over 55 audience jump from 13% to 19% of ticket buyers in its second weekend.

The films’ expanding appeal to older demographics in their sophomore frames backs the long-held belief that adults, especially over 35, choose to avoid crowded opening weekends. Barbenheimer’s ability to attract multi-generational audiences bodes well for its continued box office dominance.

Dividing Up the Ages

It’s rare these days for a big Hollywood movie to draw significant audiences over 55, especially in the streaming era. Yet Barbie managed to buck that trend despite its 59-year-old origins. Only 6-7% of its viewers were 55+, but it made up for that with over double the teenage turnout of Oppenheimer.

Teens aged 13-17 accounted for 13% of Barbie’s first weekend and 11% of its second – compared to just 5% and 6% for Oppenheimer. So while Barbie underperformed with older audiences, it more than compensated by resonating strongly with youth. Its broad range across generations has been key to its box office dominance. Oppenheimer, meanwhile, skewed older but still found success with its heavier skew toward adult audiences.

Barbie and Oppenheimer displayed remarkably balanced appeal among 18-34 year olds, the most frequent moviegoing demographic. According to analysts, it will be difficult for other films to replicate the unique dual-audience success of “Barbenheimer.”

While these two 2022 blockbusters have touched the cultural zeitgeist, their box office dominance likely won’t signal a complete return to pre-pandemic moviegoing norms. As one studio executive noted, Barbie and Oppenheimer are outliers, not the new normal.

Intriguingly, a similar box office story played out 15 years ago when The Dark Knight opened huge alongside surprise smash Mamma Mia! Now in 2022, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is thriving alongside Barbie just as Batman did alongside Meryl Streep.

Nolan has expressed excitement over this summer’s crowded theatrical marketplace. After years of scarce offerings, the return of a robust slate has been welcomed by filmmakers and movie fans alike.

About Author

Ralph Calaway