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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

Barbenheimer Explained: Yes, People Really Are Making Oppenheimer & Barbie a Double Feature

The real debate is all about which one to see first.

By Benjamin Bullard

When you think of pink, is it the fun cotton-candy kind that colors the sunset over Barbie’s Malibu skies? Or is it the hue that glows like a haunting pall over the blasted aftermath of a nuclear-devastated landscape?

For moviegoers this month, that won’t just be a fanciful mental exercise. Both Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer are opening in theaters on the same July day — the former about Mattel’s California-cool toy doll come to life, the latter about the conflicted physicist who helped usher in the age of atomic warfare.

RELATED: Oppenheimer: Cillian Murphy Calls Atomic Bomb Thriller "A Truly Essential Cinematic Experience"

Obviously, the two movies couldn’t be more different. Starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling (as Ken), Barbie brings the toy icon’s happy-go-lucky fluff to the same box office as Nolan’s gravely serious (and cinematically epic) nuclear spectacle in Oppenheimer, with each film expected to do blockbuster numbers as audiences pick their summertime movie flavor. But instead of showing up to the theater to see just one, fans are buzzing online over a novel concept in moviegoing: Why not ride the whole thematic roller coaster all at once and just watch Oppenheimer and Barbie back to back... at the same theater... and on the same day?

The Latest Craze in Moviegoing: Barbenheimer

Cillian Murphy as Robert J. Oppenheimer smoking a pipe on a chair outside in Oppenheimer (2023)

Memes celebrating the chance to do just that are spilling across social media, as fans hyped by the idea of an Oppenheimer / Barbie movie mash-up have begun to cheekily tout the striking contrast between the two films. As The New York Times reports, the audience thirst for such a high-contrast double feature isn’t just a niche thing, either. Searching online for “Barbenheimer T-shirt,” the paper notes, “brings tens of thousands of results, and sellers on Etsy have designed their own versions” — some of which playfully juxtapose the bubbly pink “Barbie” logo with the sinister imagery of an expanding mushroom cloud.

That’s the sort of fan-powered viral marketing that no studio can buy (or even really plan for), and it’s created a rising-tide environment of buzz ahead of the two films’ July 21 release. “They’re so vastly different,” film industry analyst Robert Mitchell told NYT, “that they allow for the narrative that popped up organically: This would be strangest double bill ever” — an attention-stealing concept, he added, that’s “pretty much a gift for distributors.”

MARGOT ROBBIE as Barbie in Barbie (2023)

As anyone who's spent recent time on the entertainment-oriented side of social media knows, a lot of folks are tweaking their schedules to arrange an Oppenheimer and Barbie double-feature date. The real question, though, is in the details: Do you start off the day with Oppenheimer’s weighty themes and then shift over into pink fantasy mode with Barbie? Or Do you treat Barbie more like a high-calorie appetizer that you mindlessly munch on ahead of the IMAX-worthy Oppenheimer main course?

RELATED: Christopher Nolan Says Fellow Filmmaker Described Oppenheimer As “A Kind Of Horror Movie”

Which movie to watch first? Decisions, decisions. When it comes to wrestling with truly tough questions, it sounds more or less on brand for a breezy duo like Barbie and Ken. But whichever order you choose, just make sure to bring along some well-shielded (and stylish) shades. They’re all the fashion rage in Barbie’s world… and they’re definitely required gear for viewing a fiery atomic explosion at close range.

Directed by Nolan and featuring an all-star cast including Cillian Murphy (as J. Robert Oppenheimer), Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, and Rami Malek, Oppenheimer arrives in theaters right alongside Barbie on Thursday, July 21. Grab your tickets here!