July 17, 2023
This weekend, America will discover if it's living in a Barbie world or the shadow of the a-bomb. "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" open in theaters Thursday after a year of seemingly relentless casting announcements, teasers and memes. Given that both movies are expected to be blockbusters, the internet has branded their upcoming dual release, "Barbenheimer."
"Barbie," inspired by the famous Mattel doll, finds Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) leaving their perfect pink utopia behind to experience the real world with real humans. "Oppenheimer," meanwhile, is a biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the American physicist who oversaw the creation of the first atomic bomb during World War II. Both movies boast star-studded casts and insane budgets. But which one is the most likely to lure Philadelphians to the multiplex?
Using movie theater websites, Google Trends and opinions, PhillyVoice conducted a highly scientific look into the upcoming summer smackdown. Are city residents hoping to transport themselves to Barbie's dreamhouse, or back to a secret 1940s lab where scientists developed one of the most morally fraught inventions of the century? Here's what the numbers have to say:
The surest sign of movie success is advance ticket sales. But unfortunately, AMC, Regal, Cinemark, Landmark Theatres and the Philadelphia Film Society did not respond to or declined requests to share advance ticket sales for "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" in their Philly theaters.
Still, there's a preview of the outcome on Fandango and those companies' individual websites. Looking at showtimes for "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" between Thursday, July 20 and Sunday, July 23, in Philadelphia, only "Barbie" appears to have sold out screenings. It's wiped out three showings at three theaters: PFS East, Regal UA Main Street and University Penn 6.
AMC offers an additional "almost full" metric on its website, indicating showings that are on the verge of selling out. "Barbie" wins that tally, too, with 7 almost full showings at AMC Fashion District and AMC Broadstreet. "Oppenheimer" has 3.
You can learn a lot from people's search histories: their favorite snack brands, their deepest anxieties and which movies are on their radar. So what does Google have to say on the upcoming smackdown?
According to a state-by-state analysis of searches, Pennsylvania is "Oppenheimer" territory. That conclusion comes from the marketing firm Digital Third Coast, which analyzed 108 search terms related to "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" over three months.
But Philadelphia is a different story. A comparison of searches for "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" in the Philly area over the past 90 days revealed a preference for "Barbie," and the same was true when the searches were altered to "Barbie movie" and "Oppenheimer movie" or "When does Barbie come out" and "When does Oppenheimer come out."
A comparison search for "Barbie tickets" and "Oppenheimer tickets," however, showed a dead heat.
Forget the numbers: what do actual Philadelphians think?
To answer that question, we sent queries to a few famous ones to see where leaders of the community stood on Barbenheimer. Mayor Jim Kenney, NCAA champion swimmer Lia Thomas, James Beard Award-winning restauranteurs Chad and Hanna Williams, director M. Night Shyamalan and bestselling author Carmen Maria Machado did not return requests for comment.
But Pulitzer-winning playwright James Ijames and Alexander Tominsky, who achieved fame last year for eating 40 rotisserie chickens over 40 consecutive days, did. The "Chicken Man" is officially Team Oppenheimer.
"They should have special theaters where you can watch both movies at the same time," he said via Twitter direct message. "but Barbie looks like it would be very annoying to watch. if im feeling way too good and need to be brought back to reality maybe id watch the barbie movie. Just to put myself into check but I will be seeing Oppenheimer."
Ijames is seeing both.
"Hopefully on the same day with my sister and niece," Ijames said. "But if I can only see one ... imma see Barbie. I'm a Barbie gal from way back."
The results are in, and "Oppenheimer" is just a Ken. Philly is looking like a "Barbie" town four days ahead of the release, a hypothesis only bolstered by the high volume of fluorescent "Barbie"-themed events planned in Philadelphia this week. (Admittedly, an "Oppenheimer" party would be a little depressing.) So hang up your moody fedoras, folks: this is a pink beret city.