Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, December 10, 2023

Is pink the new black or black the new pink? Dissecting the ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon

The cinematic event of the summer is a triumph for movies.


"Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" on the Fine Arts marquee.

Whether you consider yourself an avid follower of Greta Gerwig’s quirky, feminist coming-of-age films, an enthusiast of Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending sci-fi epics or perhaps you fall into neither category, there’s a good chance that on July 21, you found yourself in a movie theater.

What began as a meme on X (formerly known as Twitter) quickly spread across social media platforms and became part of the lexicon of popular culture. The term “Barbenheimer,” the merging of “Barbie” (2023) and “Oppenheimer” (2023), was born as a result of the simultaneous release date of the two feature films, bringing two vastly different universes into the spotlight. While many fans regarded this occurrence as an amusing marketing tactic, it has potentially aided the cinema industry, which is currently undergoing challenges posed by a series of strikes, with a staggering total of $300 million in sales from its combined opening. 

The two films’ starkly contrasting themes have induced a fascinating marriage between a whimsical, violently pink fantasy-comedy and a somber war-era biographical drama. In the wake of this dichotomy, audiences have been faced with the million dollar question: Which movie is better? However, before attempting to find an answer to that question, it is imperative to consider a more fundamental inquiry: Are these movies even comparable? Attempting to compare these two films raises a variety of questions about the nature of cinema, and while it’s tempting to pit them against each other, both films hold their rightful place.

The fun artificiality and uncomplicated plotlines about elemental feminism and existentialism in “Barbie” have spurred thousands of people to wait in line in their pink outfits to watch Margot Robbie embody the tiny Mattel doll that was once a girl’s best friend. Likewise, Nolan’s biopic on the father of the atomic bomb features an incredible cast that brings one of the most pivotal and important events in U.S. history to life. The notion of a doll and a nuclear physicist grappling with existential crises simultaneously has promoted an astonishing double-feature, marking a truly unprecedented moment in the history of cinema. 

Even the enigmatic Mr. Oppenheimer himself, portrayed by the talented Cillian Murphy, expressed his enthusiasm for “Barbie” in a recent interview with IGN: “I mean I’ll be going to see ‘Barbie’ 100%. I can’t wait to see it.” The 47-year-old Irish actor praised the phenomenon of “Barbenheimer” asserting that, “it’s great for the industry and for audiences that we have two amazing films by amazing filmmakers coming out on the same day.” In parallel, Gerwig and Robbie were spotted at movie theaters purchasing tickets to catch “Oppenheimer,” sharing this moment on various social media platforms.

The casts of both films have remarkably alleviated fans’ fears that this surreal cinematic collision would overshadow the distinct virtues of each film. Instead of succumbing to potential competition, both sides have embraced the absurdity of the double-billing and reaped its benefits. “Barbenheimer” is a testament to the entertainment industry’s creativity. It has pushed said industry to embrace the unexpected as well as challenge the confines of the conventional.

So, next time you step into a movie theater, whether you are dressed in Pink or Black, enjoy the richness of choice and just remember you can choose to watch both. After all, once the lights go out, there is no color in the dark.