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Silver Screen Studies: “Barbenheimer”: The Excitement of Cinema in Pure Form

Lane Mills
Herald Staff

This past Friday, July 21, marked the beginning of the fourth biggest box office opening weekend in the history of the movie theater. If discounting sequels, remakes, and superhero movies, it takes the first spot. Being dubbed “Barbenheimer” across the internet, the bubblegum blast that is ‘Barbie’ was released on the same day as the brooding war drama ‘Oppenheimer’, encouraging moviegoers to see both the films on the same day due to the vast difference between them. The trend surfaced on Twitter at first in the form of a few viral jokes, but soon exploded into what was essentially a full-on marketing campaign for a double feature of the ages. Upon release, the “Barbenheimer” train picked up even more steam, due to the outpouring of positive reactions from critics and early-watchers alike. Both films eclipsed a 90% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a near equally high audience rating in support.

Going back just a few years ago to the pandemic when movie theaters were in question as an industry, the success movies have seen this summer, led by “Barbenheimer”, is incredible, and serves as proof that the movie theater is far from obsolete. People are coming back in full force for what is one of the most interesting moments in movie history.

What’s amazing is that the two films work as a double feature beyond the novelty of the current trend. Each represents completely opposite camps of filmmaking, yet are the best of their respective brands in that they’re completely moving. “Barbie” induces hand-on-chest laughter at all turns, delivering some of the most hysterical sequences the comedy genre has seen in years. Yet, on occasion, it manages to tug at the heartstrings with subtlety, but the timing is perfect and the impact immense. It’s a comedy with a beating heart at its core, supplanting the pleasantry with purpose to make the whole bundle memorable.

“Oppenheimer” is the inverse. Its drama is gripping and deeply affecting, channeling the ever-applicable lessons learned from the second world war, specifically due to the development of the atomic bomb. It’s a three hour nail-biter that makes boardrooms feel like battlefields. All that, and it still finds a way to sneak in some lighthearted humor now and again. It’ll catch you off guard, but soon settles into a comfortable rhythm and, just like everything else in the film, finds a perfect place.

These two films are the epitome of their goals, delivering on exactly what they promise and, in sort of borrowing from each other, a little bit more. Their release was a God-send for cinema, and is an event only possible in the cinematic and worldly landscape as it is today. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” will forever be connected, and rightfully so; together they are the movie experience of the summer.

Don’t be surprised if studios try to capitalize on this trend with an intentional dual-release in the near future. It could be fun, but nothing will ever reach the heights of this fan-fueled phenomenon that is purely the result of a desire to go to the movies.

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