Oppenheimer vs Barbie: Who’s won the Barbenheimer war?

Lucy-Jo Finnighan

Barbie and Oppenheimer, AKA Barbenheimer, has been taking over social media as well as the cinema. But who wins in this cinematic battle?

Unless you live under a rock when it comes to cinema, you know what Barbenheimer is. For those who don’t, the word is a mix of Barbie and Oppenheimer, two films – the former by Greta Gerwig, the latter by Christopher Nolan – that dropped on the same day, that being July 21, 2023. Naturally, these two movies became amongst the most highly-anticipated of the year.

Now, while many have taken to both movies with a similar excitement, even taking part in a Barbenheimer day, in which they’ll see both movies one after the other, not everyone is seeing the two as equals. Some see this double release as a battle, rather than a double treat.

But if you were to compare the two movies, who would win? Art is subjective, so it’s hard to quantify what makes a film “better” – except when it comes to critic ratings and box office revenue. So let’s judge on those merits.

Barbenheimer: Who got the best critical reception?

If we’re going by current Rotten Tomatoes rating, Oppenheimer slightly beats out Barbie, with a 93% critical score as opposed to Barbie’s 88%. The same can be said for the site’s audience reception scores, with Barbie at 83% and Oppenheimer at 91%.

Obviously that’s not a massive difference, and both are clearly being praised profusely by critics and viewers alike. For example, we gave both films 5 stars. We explain in our Barbie review of the movie, “Barbie is an enigma of a movie. It is a children’s film made for adults, done in a thoughtful and loving way. It’s comforting, but never pandering. Like finding one of your old dolls in a drawer at your parent’s house, Barbie manages to take a stereotypical object we’re all familiar with, and make it personally existential.”

As for the Oppenheimer review, we state: “Oppenheimer begins with a quote about Prometheus stealing from the gods, then being punished for all eternity. Which mirrors the tale being told here. But in spite of the fact that this is less biopic, and more horror movie, Oppenheimer nevertheless finds compassion in Robert’s story. Resulting in a towering achievement that’s up there with Nolan’s very best, and a film of both great importance, and true humanity.”

Both films had some hurdles to overcome when it came to getting audiences on their side. Oppenheimer focused on a man responsible for the horrific deaths of thousands of people, while Barbie had an obviously equally egregious premise of focusing on a female lead, with far-right male activists like Ben Shapiro protesting the movie.

In Barbie’s credit, we could also gage audience reception from the fact that Barbie has more people dressing up for the event – arguably because its easier, with the dress code just being “Pink.” However, Oppenheimer fans are also giving the historical cosplay and dark color pallet their best go.

Barbenheimer: Who got the best box office?

Barbie wins this one, gaining almost double the box office revenue as Oppenheimer. However, Barbie did have some advantages that must be taken into account.

Barbie opened to $155 million over the weekend, meaning it overtook the Super Mario Bros. for biggest debut of the year. It now stands at around $1.2 billion in worldwide total.

Meanwhile, Oppenheimer was predicted to gross $50 million over it’s first weekend. Instead, it made $80.5 million, and has since made just under $650 million worldwide. Though as seen, below, a slight portion of those numbers can be attributed to Barbie fans.

However, to be fair to Oppenheimer, Barbie was a PG-13 movie under 2 hours, meanwhile Oppenheimer landed at nearly 3 hours and was R-rated. This not only limited who was allowed to see the latter, but also how many times cinemas could show the film.

Barbie also had a major marketing budget, which went beyond the budget of the actual movie. This was due to Barbie already being a well-known company product, and it had the nostalgia factor of being a children’s toy. Meanwhile, Oppenheimer’s dark war story gave little material in terms of merchandise or clothes tie-ins.

Plus, Oppenheimer did incredibly well in spite of its disadvantages, as it’s been one of the best openings for a Christopher Nolan movie. If anyone’s losing, it’s Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1, who suffered a major box office dip as soon as Barbenheimer dropped in cinemas.

Barbenheimer: Who wins overall?

While this maybe a copout out, we’d honestly answer that question with this: Both Barbie and Oppenheimer are winners. In fact, we’re all winners.

With the popularity of streaming, and the global restrictions in 2020, cinema hasn’t felt like a real event in years. Yet here we’d had a whole day, nay, a whole week, of people dressing up in costumes to go see a double feature. This kind of phenomena hasn’t happened in a long time, and it’s clear that we’re all glad to see it.

As stated by Oppenheimer star Cillian Murphy in an interview with La Vaguardia, “I don’t know what the debate is about, the political turra, although it’s not that I have an overwhelming opinion about it either. My advice would be for people to go see both, on the same day. If they are good films, that is what the cinema wins.”

Both movies have amazing casts, amazing practical effects, amazing set and costume designs. It’s two acclaimed directors doing what they do best – and even other big creatives, like Quentin Tarantino, have taken part – so why must we pit them against each other? True, Warner Bros. – who produced Barbie – and Nolan have a sordid history, and he didn’t take to the double booking very well, but it’s clear that both films have propped each other up, which is likely the opposite of what Warner Bros. was intending.

While there are differences in their critical reception and box office revenue, Barbie and Oppenheimer are clearly both doing fantastic, being greeted well by critics and audiences alike. And with this box office revenue, no doubt Barbenheimer will have a ripple effect on cinema as we know it.

Read more about Oppenheimer here, and Barbie here.

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About The Author

Lucy-Jo is a Movies and TV Writer at Dexerto, and has previously written for Screen Rant and Girls on Tops. After earning a Master's Degree in Film and Literature, Lucy-Jo now loves covering films, TV shows, and anime, especially if it's something by Mike Flanagan, or anything drenched in camp. You can contact her at lucyjo.finnighan@dexerto.com