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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

Before Barbenheimer: 10 of the Biggest Summer Blockbuster Showdowns Ever

Barbenheimer's not the first worthy summer movie double feature.

By Matthew Jackson
A split screen image of Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in Barbie (2023); and Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (2023)

This weekend, one of the biggest double features of any summer ever hits theaters as Oppenheimer and Barbie combine to form Barbenheimer, the box office showdown of the year. We're talking about two films from A-list filmmakers, with massive ensemble casts and, of course, completely different cinematic tones, which means that no matter who wins the box office on Monday morning, we're in for a treat at the theater. 

But Barbenheimer is by no means the first time two massive genre films have faced off on the same summer weekend. So, in honor of the double feature's debut, we're taking a look back at 10 more head-to-head opening weekends and how each film fared at the end of the showdown. 

Poltergeist & Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - June 4, 1982

Movie posters for Poltergeist (1982) and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Jaws may have invented the summer blockbuster, but the summer of 1982 is arguably when the whole phenomenon kicked into absolute high gear. A whole treasure trove of classic hit theaters that summer, and very early on we got a mash-up of two titans. In early June, Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper's haunted house classic faced off against what's probably the best Star Trek movie ever made, and both movies came away with instant classic status.

Who Won? 

Though neither film could ultimately compete with the year's ultimate champion, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, both came away just fine. Wrath of Khan won the domestic box office battle, but Poltergeist made more money worldwide, and both were huge hits that remain classics of their genres to this day.

Blade Runner & The Thing - June 25, 1982

Posters of Blade Runner (1982) and The Thing (1982)

Just weeks later, two more classics faced off at the box office, with decidedly less instant good results. Today, John Carpenter's The Thing and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner are considered masterpieces from their respective directors, but things didn't go quite as well in 1982. Both films struggled to earn back their budgets, and had to wait for the benefit of hindsight to kick in with audiences.

Who Won?

Well, Blade Runner made more money, but it also cost more, so it's a bit of a wash on that level. Today, though, both films are highly regarded sci-fi giants, so it all worked out.

Ghostbusters & Gremlins - June 8, 1984

Posters for Ghostbusters (1984) and Gremlins (1984)

Two years after Poltergeist and Wrath of Khan faced off, two more genre titans took on the same weekend in June: Joe Dante's Gremlins and Ivan Reitman's Ghostbusters. Both films were horror-comedy hits, both remain pop culture staples, and both had great overall box office hauls.

Who Won?

Ghostbusters went on to claim the title of highest-grossing comedy ever released at the time (it didn't hold the record for long), and was the second highest-grossing film of the year. Gremlins had to settle for fourth place on the 1984 charts, but really, both films are winners here.

Predator & The Witches of Eastwick - June 12, 1987

Posters for Predator (1987) and The Witches Of Eastwick (1987)

Two very different genre classics by two major directors hit theaters at the same time in June of 1987, and once again both came away winners. George Miller's The Witches of Eastwick is still regarded as a 1980s favorite, while John McTiernan's Predator is considered one of the best action films of all time, and launched a franchise that continues to this day.

Who Won?

Predator won the first weekend, Witches took the second and got the overall higher gross in North America that year. But then again, Predator did launch a successful series, so maybe it wins the longevity prize.

Batman & Honey, I Shrunk the Kids - June 23, 1989

Posters for Batman (1989) and Honey I Shrunk The Kids (1989)

At a certain point in the blockbuster era, studios started to realize that two movies could coexist as hits at the box office on the same weekend, provided they were different enough to draw in audiences that weren't necessarily going to make a hard choice. That meant family films often squared off against more mature action movies, and in the summer of 1989, that meant two franchise-launchers went toe-to-toe in late June. Tim Burton's Batman came out of the gate as the movie to beat that summer, but Disney's Honey, I Shrunk the Kids wasn't too shabby either.

Who Won?

Well...Batman was the second highest-grossing movie of the year, and a full-blown phenomenon for Warner Bros., while Honey did great (still a top 10 film that year) and launched a few sequels, while propelling Rick Moranis ever deeper into family comedy superstardom. Both are winners, but Batman's clearly made the bigger impact.

Apollo 13Judge Dredd, & Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie - June 30, 1995

Posters for Apollo 13 (1995); Judge Dredd (1995); Mighty Morphin; Power Rangers (1995)

How about a trio of major movies all opening at the close of June in a single summer? This time around we've got Ron Howard's depiction of a famous space disaster going up against a live-action adaptation of a beloved comics property and, oh yeah, the movie version of the biggest kids TV show of the era. All three films made back their budget and then some, but there's definitely a clear winner here.

Who Won?

Apollo 13Power Rangers did very well, and even Judge Dredd earned back its budget and beyond and has a cult following today, but you just couldn't beat Tom Hanks in space, and the film ended up the third highest-grossing movie of the year.

Face/Off & Hercules - June 13, 1997

Posters for Faceoff (1997) and Hercules (1997)

Here we are again with an action classic squaring off against a family film, in this case John Woo's instant classic showdown between Cage and Travolta, and one of the final films of the Disney Renaissance. The audiences for these films were rather disparate, so both ended up doing well. 

Who Won?

Well, both movies cost about the same ($80 million or so) and both movies made about the same ($250 million or so), so take your pick. You can't go wrong either way.

The Dark Knight & Mamma Mia! - July 18, 2008

Posters for The Dark Knight (2008) and Mamma Mia (2008)

If you think Barbenheimer is the wildest double feature you could have ever programmed at any time during summer movie season, think again. In the summer of 2008, Christopher Nolan's Batman masterpiece faced off against the screen adaptation of the beloved ABBA-inspired jukebox musical (sure, not the kind of genre we usually cover, but roll with it), and audiences won. 

Who Won?

OK, so obviously The Dark Knight did bigger business. If you were around that year, you know it was absolutely huge, and ended up the top-grossing film of the year with more than a billion dollars. But Mamma Mia! also did great, earning more than $600 million worldwide, which just goes to show that if you know your audience, you can compete with the biggest movie in the world and never miss a step.

The Final Destination & Halloween II - August 28, 2009

Posters for The Final Destination (2009) and Halloween II (2009)

How about a horror movie face-off? In the summer of 2009, audiences had their choice between the fourth installment in the long-running franchise about trying to cheat death, and Rob Zombie's sequel to his Halloween remake. Both films have found their audiences since, but how did they do in the moment?

Who Won?

Both movies made money in the end, but The Final Destination is the clear winner here with a box office haul more than quadruple its budget. It's still the highest-grossing film in the franchise. Meanwhile Halloween II did just fine, because horror audiences will show up, and it eventually found an even bigger audiences in the years following its release.

Despicable Me & Predators - July 9, 2010

Posters for Despicable Me (2010) and Predators (2010)

The Predator franchise returns to our list, this time for Nimrod Antal's take on the legendary alien hunters in a film that faced off against a new animated adventure from Illumination Entertainment. If you've got kids anywhere near you, you pretty much already know what happened next.

Who Won?

Predators did fine, tripling its budget in box office earnings and ensuring the franchise would keep going, but Despicable Me...well, you already know. The film raked in more than half a billion dollars worldwide, and launched a franchise that still won't quit, generating billions in revenue so far.