Syfy Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
SYFY WIRE Box Office

Barbenheimer Rules the Box Office: Nolan's Oppenheimer Detonates Projections With Explosive $80 Million Debut

Nolan has once again catalyzed a fortuitous box office chain reaction.

By Josh Weiss
Cillian Murphy looks to the sky in Oppenheimer (2023).

Writer-director Christopher Nolan has once again catalyzed a fortuitous box office chain reaction with Universal Pictures' Oppenheimer (now playing in theaters everywhere).

According to Variety, the 3-hour historical epic chronicling the development of the world's first atomic weapon through the eyes of theoretical physicist and Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer (portrayed in the film by longtime Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy) blew past early projections of around $50 million for an explosive North American debut of $82.4 million.

This is officially Nolan's third-biggest domestic launch after The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (the third slot was previously held by Inception). Internationally, the star-studded World War II thriller netted $93.7 million for a worldwide opening of $174 million. That accomplishment is even more impressive when you remember that Oppenheimer did all that while also being Rated R.

“This is a 1940s period piece,” Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution told Variety. “That speaks volumes to the appeal of Nolan and his prowess as a filmmaker. He has an amazing reputation for storytelling in the biggest format possible.”

RELATED: Remembering J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Real-life Fascination With the Bhagavad Gita

Of course, we can't talk about the release of Oppenheimer without also mentioning the candy-colored arrival of Greta Gerwig's PG-13 Barbie (distributed by Warner Bros.), which easily took the top spot at the North American box office with an impressive $164 million.

Not only did the Mattel-inspired project nab the biggest opening of the year so far — wresting the title away from The Super Mario Bros. Movie ($146 million) — but it also made Hollywood history with the largest debut for a movie directed by a woman (2019's Captain Marvel previously held the mantle). In addition, Barbie grossed $182 million internationally for a worldwide total of $337 million.

While one blockbuster technically triumphed over the other, this past weekend was less about competing studios and more about a meme-able double feature of two very different cinematic offerings that drove ticket sales through the roof.

"Two brand-new zeitgeist-capturing movies, a new word added the popular vernacular, air-conditioned comfort, popcorn, soda, and an unprecedented moment for the movie theater to become the crucible of a pop-culture happening all played out in real time. Welcome to 'Barbenheimer,'" Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst at Comscore, tells SYFY WIRE.

He continues: "As far-fetched as any sci-fi movie plot, the notion that two wildly different movies, opening on the same day from rival studios, could wind up boosting each other’s profile, cultural footprint, earnings potential, and impact on the collective consciousness of moviegoers around the world, Barbie and Oppenheimer created a cinematic symbiosis that is unique in the annals of film and will be talked about and studied for years to come. This 'story for the grandkids' time in our history will remain a touchstone for film buffs, cultural observers, and even the naysayers who may be scratching their heads and rolling their eyes at this most unusual, yet perfect storm of events centered around the big screen experience."

Oppenheimer is now playing in theaters everywhere. Click here to pick up tickets! Rocking a 94% score on Rotten Tomatoes (the highest rating in Nolan's body of work alongside The Dark Knight), the film is being hailed by critics as the best movie of the year.

Want more blockbuster thrills in the meantime? Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Fast Five, Jurassic World, Knock at the Cabin, Cocaine Bear, Renfield, and more are now streaming on Peacock!