'Barbenheimer' opening weekend could top $200 million, a jolt for Hollywood's soft box office

Key Points
  • Warner Bros.' "Barbie" and Universal's "Oppenheimer" open this weekend.
  • Dubbed "Barbenheimer" the two films are expected to collectively boost the domestic box office.
  • "Barbie" is expected to tally upwards of $140 million in ticket sales and "Oppenheimer" set to grab as much as $60 million.

In this article

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer and Margot Robbie as Barbie
Julien De Rosa | AFP | Getty Images; Stuart C. Wilson | Getty Images

This weekend at the box office is all about atomic bombs and blonde bombshells.

Typically when two big movies from two different studios hit theaters at the same time, it's a competition for ticket sales. That's not the case with Warner Bros.' "Barbie" and Universal's "Oppenheimer."

Dubbed "Barbenheimer," the dual release of these potential blockbusters is more complementary, with many moviegoers planning a double feature trip to cinemas

"Ever since we knew that these two films were going to open on the same weekend there's just been instantly a pop culture phenomenon," said Erik Davis, managing director at Fandango. "It's been the most anticipated weekend of the year."

The two films couldn't be more different, with "Barbie" centering on the iconic Mattel doll navigating life outside of Barbie Land, and "Oppenheimer" documenting how the father of the atomic bomb crafted the first nuclear weapons.

Yet, audiences have gravitated towards both titles. This excitement is much needed for the domestic box office after a string of recently released big-budget flicks fell short of expectations.

Heading into the weekend, "Barbie" is expected to capture at least $90 million in domestic ticket sales, with some box office analysts projecting the film could tally upwards of $140 million. Meanwhile, "Oppenheimer" appears destined to snare between $40 million and $60 million.

The two films could together generate $200 million over their opening frame. With additional ticket sales from "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One," "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" and "Sound of Freedom," it could be the highest-grossing weekend of the year so far.

Major movie chains have indicated that ticket sales are strong for both films this weekend and additional shows have been added to accommodate demand.

Some 40,000 AMC Theatre loyalty program members have purchased tickets to see Barbie and Oppenheimer on the same day and the National Association of Theatre owners project that more than 200,000 moviegoers will attend same-day viewings of the two films.

"Going into this weekend anticipation has been very high for both 'Barbie' and 'Oppenheimer,'" said Jeffrey Kaufman, chief content officer at Malco Theatres. "Media coverage and the public embrace of the #Barbenheimer tag shows awareness and excitement for both releases."

And much of the appeal comes from the films' celebrated filmmakers.

Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird," "Little Women") has only a few films under her belt as a director, but she's already solidified a place among Hollywood's famed auteurs. Her films center on women and feature witty dialogue and a strong emotional core. Gerwig is one of only seven women to be nominated for best director at the Academy Awards.

Audiences got their first taste of Gerwig's take on the iconic Barbie doll back in December with a minute-long teaser trailer that spoofed Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." This would not be your typical Barbie movie.

Future trailers showcased the bubblegum pink Barbie Land that kids and kids at heart have known for more than 60 years and revealed the film's plot. After an existential crisis, Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) head to the real world for some answers.

The rise of #Barbiecore: Mattel cashes in on nostalgia ahead of movie release
The rise of #Barbiecore: Mattel cashes in on nostalgia ahead of movie release

Then there is Christopher Nolan, who has cultivated an ardent fandom from films like "Memento," "The Prestige," "The Dark Knight," "Interstellar" and "Dunkirk."

Nolan's films are known for their complex storytelling, bombastic sound and imagery designed for the biggest screens.

"Oppenheimer" is a three-hour opus centered on physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) as he relentlessly works to develop the first atomic bomb during World World II.

"'Barbie' has emerged as the frontrunner to claim first place over the weekend with its massive brand appeal courting an underserved female audience, but 'Oppenheimer' should have a long fuse to burn as Christopher Nolan's films typically do," said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com

"Oppenheimer" will get a boost from premium format ticket sales, as audiences opt to watch the film on the biggest screen possible. Nolan's flick is expected to control around 70% of all premium showings, which includes screens like IMAX, Dolby Cinema and ScreenX, this weekend. These tickets average around $17 a piece, according to data from EntTelligence.

General admission tickets, which include premium and standard digital showings, are expected to average around $14 each.

For "Barbie," general average ticket price is slightly lower, at around $12, as the film will play in fewer premium auditoriums over the weekend.

These two films arrive in theaters following a slew of adult-aimed blockbusters that have underperformed at the box office.

"Unfortunately, the last three blockbusters — 'Flash,' 'Indiana Jones' and 'Mission Impossible' — all were by forecast estimates, underperformers," said Kaufman. "This trend along with news cycle coverage of the Guild strikes and the loss of cast members availability for promotion stops may dampen things."

"Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" likely won't take a hit from a lack of publicity. Both films' marketing campaigns were in full swing just ahead of the strike and both casts were able to participate, at least partially, with film premieres.

Viral videos of the pink-clad "Barbie" actors promoting the film and discussing their "Kenergy" have been circling social media for weeks alongside bubblegum-colored merchandise tie-ins and an Airbnb Dream House.

The marketing for "Oppenheimer" has been a little more muted in comparison, with actors and director Nolan touting its recreation of a nuclear detonation without the use of CGI and the importance of exploring the life of Oppenheimer.

"Exhibition is navigating a very nuanced balancing act with respect to programming two incredibly high-profile films with 'Barbie' and 'Oppenheimer,'" said Steve Buck of movie data firm EntTelligence. "The winner is simple – the moviegoer."

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.