Cultural phenomenons have a unique way of making an impact, especially with the prevalence of social media in today’s society. “Barbenheimer,” the fan-made fusion of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” is a prime example of social media creating a phenomenon. The two films were released on July 21, and have been a trending topic for months for the vast concepts of each film.
“Barbie” is a meta twist about the Mattel doll, following Margot Robbie’s Barbie traveling to the human world for the first time. The movie is all pink and brightly colored, its aesthetic being the first thing that audiences pointed out when the first trailer was released. “Oppenheimer” is a dark biographical thriller that tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and his efforts to create the first atomic bomb. To say these two films are day and night is an understatement, but their contrast is what initially sparked the social media interest.
Nolan’s film was announced in September 2021, and a month later it was announced that it would hit theaters on July 21, 2023. In April of the following year, Gerwig’s project was announced to be hitting the theaters at the same time. The movies were initially planned to be counterprogramming, a strategy that is used in various fields of media to attract different audiences that a project’s (usually more popular) competitor would have. Instead of a rivalry brewing between the two contrasting films, social media decided to support both films as a “double feature.”
“Barbenheimer” was first used on social media back in April 2022 by X (formerly known as Twitter) user Matt Neglia, who was the editor-in-chief of Next Best Picture. A year later, however, the term would gain more popularity to note the differences between the films through X, from memes, and commentary, to fan-made posters and t-shirts that would be sold online through shops like Etsy. The “Barbenheimer” hashtag on TikTok has over 813 million views. These videos showed excitement for the films and their star-studded castings, while others talked about what outfits they’d wear at the premieres or which films they’d see first.
I took a poll on Instagram on August 1 with one question: “Barbie” or “Oppenheimer?” I let the poll sit in my story for twenty-four hours, and the results were not too close together. With 68% and 31 votes, “Barbie” won the poll. “Oppenheimer” had 16 votes and 34%. This trend reflects the double feature’s box office numbers. “Barbie” has earned around $774 million dollars globally while “Oppenheimer” has earned $400 million.
In the realm of social media, “Barbenheimer” continues to stand tall as a cultural phenomenon. Thanks to its impact, the films continue to do well in the box office and bring people together. Both films are currently playing in theaters.