The UK cinema industry, which had been grappling with a significant downturn in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is witnessing a remarkable revival. The credit for this resurgence goes to the dual release of ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’, collectively known as ‘Barbenheimer’. The simultaneous release of these two highly anticipated blockbusters has not only rekindled the cinema-going culture but also set new records in box office collections.
The films attracted cinemagoers in record numbers for their opening weekend in North America, raking in a combined $235.5m. This impressive performance came after a difficult start to the summer for Hollywood, marked by a sluggish box office and the industry’s biggest strike in decades.
Warner Bros’s ‘Barbie’, directed by Greta Gerwig, generated $155m in ticket sales, overtaking ‘The Super Mario Bros Movie’ as the biggest opening of 2023. Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’, chronicling the life of J Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, took in $80.5m, beating expectations in one of the strongest debuts for a biographical drama.
In the UK, ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ propelled the UK-Ireland box office to its biggest weekend in over four years. For the first time ever, two films opened to over £10m each in the same session, leading to sold-out screenings across the territory. Vue Cinemas, the third-largest exhibitor in the UK and Ireland, reported its highest weekend of admissions since the release of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ in May 2019.
‘Barbie’, playing in 727 sites, recorded the third-highest three-day opening since 2019, behind only ‘No Time To Die’ and ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ from 2021. Its location average was £25,456 – the highest in over 10 years for a Warner Bros film. ‘Oppenheimer’, from 662 locations, took £10.9m for Universal, at a £16,311 average.
The success of ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ led to Vue International reporting its biggest weekend for UK cinema ticket sales since before the pandemic. The cinema chain stated that a fifth of its customers had bought tickets to see both films in a double bill. The company also predicted that ‘Barbie’ would exceed ticket sales for ‘Super Mario Bros’ and expected ‘Oppenheimer’ to become the biggest film of the year.
The ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon has proven to be a win for movie theaters that needed to add some sizzle to their summer. The two titles had cinemas buzzing over the weekend and filled with ‘Barbie’ fans dressed in pink. Domestic ticket sales for all movies topped $300 million in the United States and Canada for just the fourth time in history.
The ‘Barbenheimer’ effect has demonstrated that with the right content, audiences are eager to return to the big screen. This resurgence of interest in cinema-going is a promising sign for the industry, which has faced significant challenges due to the pandemic. As the UK cinema industry continues to recover, the success of ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ serves as a testament to the enduring appeal of the cinematic experience.