'Barbie' and 'Oppenheimer' light up the summer box office in Historic Showdown

Box Office Battle of the Sexes: ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ Divide and Conquer

No one could have imagined that Barbie and Oppenheimer would accomplish fusion and create a weapon strong enough to help rescue the troubled summer box office.

Until now, the overall recovery of the theatrical landscape has been anchored by younger men between the ages of 18 to 35, who are always eager to see the next superhero installment or nonstop action pic. But the proverbial fanboy took a backseat (or sort of, anyway) when Barbenheimer came along and attracted consumers from nearly every age group, who decided to take a break from streaming and partake in the biggest cinematic cultural event in years. Barbie, an all-out behemoth that will soon cross $1 billion globally, is fast becoming one of the top female-fueled films of all time at the box office, not adjusted for inflation.

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According to Comscore, Barbie and Oppenheimer led the second-biggest July of all time at the domestic box office with $1.371 billion, behind July 2011 ($1.396 billion), which launched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Now that they have been in theaters for two weeks, The Hollywood Reporter takes a closer look at the general audience breakdown for Warner Bros.’ Barbie and Universal’s Oppenheimer in the U.S. using data provided by those with access to exit polling service PostTrak.

Battle of the Sexes

Over the July 21-23 frame, 69 percent of ticket buyers rushing to see Barbie on its opening weekend were female. Filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s movie about Mattel’s iconic fashion doll took in a staggering $162 million domestically, one of the biggest launches of all time and the biggest ever for a female director. The female percentage of Barbie’s debut weekend was on par with the Twilight films, as well as many of the Hunger Games titles.

Female-fronted superhero pics Wonder Woman (2017) and Captain Marvel (2019) played far more evenly among the genders; Wonder Woman’s opening weekend audience in North America, for example, was 52 percent female. Captain Marvel’s wasn’t too different.

Turns out there was plenty of love to go around despite Barbie’s domination: Oppenheimer opened to $82.4 million, an even bigger surprise than Barbie considering the movie is a three-hour biographical drama about the making of the atomic bomb. Among ticket buyers, 62 percent were males.

Barbie’s Audience Was Even More Female in Its Second Weekend

Interestingly, females made up even more of Barbie’s audience in the film’s sophomore outing domestically, buying up 71 percent of all tickets. Often, a film’s gender split will shift in subsequent weekends, as it did with Oppenheimer. Males showing up to see Oppenheimer over the July 28-30 weekend shrunk somewhat, to 58 percent of the audience, while the female audience grew from 38 percent to 42 percent.

Opening Weekend Phobia?

It may sound like spin after a movie has a soft opening, but studio execs have long maintained that many adults, especially those 35 and older, like to wait to see a film until after opening weekend crowds thin out.

Barbenheimer backs up this well-worn theory.

On the first weekend of Barbie, females 25 and younger made up 35 percent of the audience, edging out their counterparts in the 25-and-older club, which made up 33 percent of all ticket buyers. Those numbers flipped in the second weekend; females 25 and under made up 32 percent of the audience, followed by 38 percent for women who are 25 and older.

Oppenheimer was even more pronounced. One telling example: Moviegoers who were 55 and over leaped from 13 percent to 19 percent in the movie’s second weekend.

Dividing Up the Ages

Speaking of older, rarely does a Hollywood event pic see that kind of turnout among moviegoers 55 and older, particularly in the streaming age. Barbie did not have that advantage; only 6 to 7 percent of the general audience was in the 55-plus club, despite the fact that Barbie was first created in 1959. Barbie made up for it, however, by getting more than double the number of teenagers as Oppenheimer. Those between ages 13 and 17 accounted for 13 percent of Barbie’s first weekend and 11 percent of the second. The corresponding stats for Oppenheimer were 5 percent and 6 percent.

One key age group that bestowed almost equal attention on the two films was the 18-34 crowd, which, as mentioned earlier, is prized for turning out the most frequent moviegoers.

Comscore’s Paul Dergarabedian doesn’t think anyone will be able to replicate Barbenheimer anytime soon. A top Hollywood studio executive agrees. “Barbie and Oppenheimer are outliers. Anyone who thinks this is a return to normal moviegoing is missing the point,” says one top studio executive. “These two films have touched the cultural zeitgeist, which is why you are seeing such huge grosses.”

For Nolan, these past few weeks could be a case of dèjá vu. Fifteen years ago, his seminal superhero movie The Dark Knight debuted on the same weekend in July that Oppenheimer would all these years later. The Batman pic opened to a record $158.4 million on its way to clearing $1 billion. As fate would have it, Universal’s hit movie musical Mamma Mia! opened that same weekend to $27.9 million. It was considered a fortune for a female-led movie daring to go up against the Caped Crusader. Mamma Mia! ultimately sang its way to $609.8 million globally.

As for this summer, Nolan has said it feels good to be part of a full slate at theaters. Said the filmmaker ahead of Barbenheimer weekend: “I think for those of us who care about movies, we’ve been really waiting to have a crowded marketplace again, and now it’s here and that’s terrific.”