“Come on Oppy, let’s go party.”
When it was first announced that Greta Gerwig’s Barbie would be released on the same day as Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, it felt like a useful piece of counter-programming: a candy-colored confection of a movie for those who weren’t necessarily drawn to the Interstellar auteur’s lengthy, melodramatic take on the creation of the atom bomb. But as press kicked off for these two seemingly polar opposite pop culture experiences, they converged, and evolved into something greater than the sum of their disparate parts.
Thus, like Frankenstein’s creature, Barbenheimer was born.
It began simply enough, with a question: not which movie you would choose to see on opening weekend, but which one you would see first. The initial assumptions that audiences for these two movies would be split along gender lines proved flawed: the “Oppenheimer boyfriend, Barbie girlfriend” dichotomy is overly simplistic and fails to understand the complexity of human nature. Just as the iconic Mattel doll has had hundreds of jobs in her decades of existence, so too do we contain multitudes.
Sure, we find the idea of a Nolan period piece led by Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr. and Florence Pugh hugely compelling, who wouldn’t? But how better to refresh the palate after an emotionally draining three hour run-time than with Gerwig’s effervescent ode to all things pink?
Then again, as the second trailer for Barbie revealed, that movie would explore Margot Robbie’s existential crisis as she grappled with what it means to be alive in the world, and how to wrench meaning from the cold, hard grasp of the universe.
Oppenheimer and Barbie, it transpired, were two sides of the same coin: it doesn’t matter whether you wear grey or pink, we all think about dying. Who knew, though, that it could be so much fun?
Part of the thrill of the Barbenheimer phenomenon is due to the fact that it’s been a while since we, in our increasingly fractured media landscape, were all participating in the same monocultural moment. Not since the accursed day that the Cats trailer dropped had the internet been so united.
And as Kyle Buchanan notes in the New York Times, it may be some time before we get anything like this again. While both Barbie and Oppenheimer may have reignited an excitement for the movie theater that has lain dormant since Covid, the SAG-AFTRA strike means that any momentum Barbenheimer has helped to stoke may soon stall again.
So before we all succumb to the inevitable heat death of the universe, here are some of the best memes and musings from Barbenheimer’s opening weekend.
Philip Ellis is News Editor at Men’s Health, covering fitness, pop culture, sex and relationships, and LGBTQ+ issues. His work has appeared in GQ, Teen Vogue, Man Repeller and MTV, and he is the author of Love & Other Scams.