‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ are more than big hits – they’re the new ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Easy Rider’

“Barbie” (Warner Bros.) grossed $155 million domestically and $182 million overseas. “Oppenheimer” (Universal) grossed $80.5 million domesticly and $93.7 million overseas. Two non-franchise films, released on the same weekend, by two established directors left their voices loud and clear despite budgets of over $100 million. This is great.

We’re all familiar with that prefix — it’s Greek for “million” — but the rise of atomic bomb testing in the 1950s ushered “mega” into everyday usage. He was referring to the power of TNT expressed in megatons, or one million tons of TNT. It also involved massive impact or damage, and that is absolutely true here.

“Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” hurt studio truths surrounding cinema. The franchises, the familiar execution, the drive to develop IPs that can be replicated — all those reliable touchstones that Wall Street loves — all of a sudden, those models look a little albatross-y. The public is less interested in raw materials, no matter how expensive and bombastic.

Studios have a groundbreaking opportunity to channel the passion of the public, now. Maybe they could consider coming to terms with writers, who could offer their thoughts?

“Barbie” had the biggest domestic opening weekend of the year, but “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” opened Wednesday and grossed $52 million ahead of the $146 million weekend for a total of $204 million. “Barbie” could hit parity by Tuesday, though that’s a tall order at $30 million a day.

This weekend’s box office total of over $300 million is rare. It’s the best since 2019, when “Avengers: Endgame” pushed a total of over $400 million. Suddenly, the summer is $10 million ahead of 2022, when it was down six percent last week.

Year-to-date it is now up 16% over 2022. If this continues, the year would end at $8.6 billion, despite the impact of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes.

Even adjusted for inflation, Greta Gerwig has the biggest opening weekend for a film directed solely by a woman. (“Captain Marvel,” co-directed by Anna Boden in 2019, opened to $153 million. It would be higher today, even though it had the benefit of very little competition).

“Oppenheimer” is rated R, is three hours long, and is helped by higher ticket prices and hurt by lower availability. Christopher Nolan has made it through all of that, not to mention a story that’s clearly not commercial.


Still, the best comp for this weekend’s big movies might be “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Easy Rider,” movies that defied the late-’60s mold and warned studios that their businesses were no longer keeping up with audiences. Sure, they were low-budget marvels and no one would say the same about Gerwig and Nolan films, but they cost a lot less than their franchise rivals.

Underlining this conclusion is the fate of “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (Paramount). Sure, we get to pick strategic choices (a two-part movie so late in the franchise, the date pick), but it was expected that this would easily be a $300 million domestic/$700 million worldwide hit or better. It felt as sure as any release this summer.

Instead, after opening below expectations, it fell 64%. It lost premium screens (Tom Cruise’s valiant efforts notwithstanding), but the biggest challenges were far greater competition than anyone expected – and, like “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Fate” (Disney) before it, and audiences are losing their appetite for retreads, regardless of execution.

“Mission,” like “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” received A Cinemascore and Metacritic ratings above 80. It’s the seventh franchise release this summer with at least three prior entries (for “Mission,” #7). At least three of the films in this summer’s franchise cost about $300 million before release. It’s a huge bet on a fading model.

“Mission” is estimated to be in fourth place this weekend with $19.5 million, just below “Sound of Freedom” (Angel). The sleeper hit starring Jim Caviezel brings back $124 million so far. Other studios believe “Mission” outsold “Sound” for the weekend, but the actual rank here is a detail; that they are also close is the story.

Pom Klementieff in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.
“Mission: Impossible Showdown – Part One” Christian Black

As expected, “Mission” continues to perform better in foreign markets. Of its $372 million haul so far, 68% has come from overseas. The same factors figure in (new competition, loss of some premium screens, franchise fatigue) and that looks like a potential global earning of $600 million. If so, that’s down from 2018’s $791 million for “Fallout.”

This weekend’s shocking results come at a precarious time. The rest of this summer has a much stronger lineup than last year, but the lack of star promotion will hurt. There are already signs that studios may be delaying some films.

Changing release schedules create new benchmarks, and as productions lag, it makes sense to rearrange titles to fill gaps. Anything that stands in the way of this potentially huge bounce hurts theaters, and studio delay tactics could be done without due consideration.

There are viable role models beyond those of Gerwig and Nolan. Look at the long-term success of Quentin Tarantino as Jordan Peele is an extraordinary voice who continues to make extraordinary films based solely on his creative abilities. There are others out there. And their films cost less.

With studio films competing for sophisticated moviegoers, it’s difficult to roll out more limited films. Consider Searchlight’s “Theatre Camp.” It expanded to 51 theaters and grossed $266,000 (per theater $5,200); it mostly has prime locations in these initial cities. What remains to be seen is whether the initial public response shows dividends as it develops. Whatever the outcome, this weekend should show Disney executives how important it is to have a unit that makes non-franchise titles.

Top 10

1. Barbies (Warner Bros. Discovery) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 81; Est. budget: $145 million

$155,000,000 in 4,243 theaters; PTA (average per theater): $36,531; Cumulative: $155,000,000

2. Oppenheimer (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 90; Est. budget: 100 million dollars

$80,500,000 in 3,610 theaters; PTA: $22,299; Cumulative: $80,500,000

3. Sound of freedom (Angel) Week 3; Last weekend #2

$20,141,000 (-26%) in 3,265 in 3,285 (+20) halls); PTA: $6,131; Cumulative: $124,749,000

4. Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning: first part (Paramount) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$19,500,000 (-64%) in 4,321 (-6) theaters; PTA: $4,513; Cumulative: $118,753,000

5. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #4

$6,700,000 (-45%) in 2,885 (-980) theaters; PTA: $2,322; Cumulative: $159,019,000

6. Insidious: The Red Door (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #3

$6,500,000 (-50%) in 2,544 (-634) theaters; PTA: $2,545; Cumulative: $71,002,000

7. Elemental (Disney) Week 6; Last weekend #5

$5,800,000 (-36%) in 2,720 (-515) theaters; PTA: $2,132; Cumulative: $137,234,000

8. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Sony) Week 8; Last weekend #6

$2,815,000 (-53%) in 1,669 (-908) theaters; PTA: $1,687; Cumulative: $375,209,000

9. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (Paramount) Week 7; Last weekend #7; also on PVOD

$1,120,000 (-67%) in 834 (-1,207) theaters; PTA: $1,343; Cumulative: $155,643,000

10. No hard feelings (Sony) Week 5; Last weekend #8

$1,075,000 (-67%) in 1,017 (-1,036) theaters; PTA: $1,037; Cumulative: $49,211,000

Other specialized titles

Movies (limited, expansions of limited releases, as well as award-oriented) are listed by week out, starting with those open this week; after the first two weeks, only films with grossing over $5,000 are listed.

Theatrical field (Searchlight) Week 2

$266,000 in 51 (+45) theaters; PTA: $5,200; Cumulative: $471,487

A fire (Janus/Sideshow) Week 2

$26,450 in 8 (+5) theaters; PTA: $3,306; Cumulative: $80,301

The Miracle Club (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 2 678

$190,192 in 271 (-407) theaters; PTA: $702; Cumulative: $1,351,000

Lakota nation versus United States (IFC) Week 2

$3,500 in 2 (+1) theater; PTA: $1,750; Cumulative: $15,000

Do you still have it? (Abramorama) Week 2 1

$8,652 in 3 (+2) theaters; PTA: $2,883; Cumulative: $17,989

Past lives (A24) Week 6

$166,361 in 176 (-210) theaters; Cumulative: $10,042,000