Barbie vs Oppenheimer is the summer blockbuster clash that Hollywood's been yearning for since the pandemic era made a mess of the concept of going to the movies. After months of memeing around on the internet, two contrasting pairs of moviegoers will converge at the cinemas to witness a glowingly pink Margot Robbie and a haunting Cillian Murphy battle it out to top the box office charts. While Barbie has done its fair share of pompous marketing — including the wildly outrageous Burger King cheeseburger with pink sauce and milkshake — it's actually the folks on the internet who have promoted the films out of ratios with fan-made ‘Barbenheimer' posters and merch, forming new ‘literally me' personalities based on Ryan Gosling's flamboyant looks, and prepping meal plans from black coffee and cigarettes to fruity drinks and dessert.
On paper, the two films are competitors only in terms of the release date, but going for largely different audiences. That said, the parallels between them are so hard to ignore that not only is it hyping up both films, but rather getting audiences geared up for a double feature that is taking over the weekend for many. On one hand, Greta Gerwig's Barbie is a candy-coated romp in Barbie Land where every day is special and the sun sets with a giant blowout party with planned choreography and a bespoke song. Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, on the other hand, is a period drama, feasting its eyes upon an isolated community in Los Alamos where a Harvard graduate muses about war crimes while building the atomic bomb. One is an intensely pink toy brand tie-in movie about creating imaginary worlds for people to thrive in happily, while the other is a serious pale-coloured tale about the ‘Destroyer of Worlds'.
Barbie to Oppenheimer, the Movies Releasing in July
The black-and-white scenes in Oppenheimer come from an objective point-of-view
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
In fact, some of the scenes in Oppenheimer are in black-and-white, so it comes off from an objective point-of-view. “I wrote the script in the first person, which I'd never done before. I don't know if anyone has ever done that, or if that's a thing people do or not… The film is objective and subjective,” director Nolan said in an interview. “The colour scenes are subjective; the black-and-white scenes are objective. I wrote the colour scenes in the first person. So for an actor reading that, in some ways, I think it'd be quite daunting.”
Frequent Nolan collaborator, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema has returned to lend his tensely captivating look to the film that at times, emulates the sense of atmospheric horror. 70mm IMAX is the recommended format to witness this spectacle, though there's only one active theatre in India hosting that format. Whatever you choose, just make sure it's got a good sound system, because it plays a crucial role in immersion with such tonally-relying films.
Even Barbie forces its protagonist to struggle with different realities, as she starts becoming sentient. She gets transported from the bright and oversaturated doll world to the mundane real world, where she has a hard time adjusting to the ogling and sexual harassment from onlookers, while trying to understand how young girls perceive themselves once they grow out of their doll phase. It's an interesting take, considering all the worldly domination the Barbie brand has had, that the first live-action interpretation would be an existential crisis coated in overflowing layers of candy and sparkly stuff. Not to mention, it doesn't really target the core age range of children, thanks to some sexual innuendos, pumping the age rating to a U/A in India and PG-13 in the US.
Barbie and Oppenheimer release date
Both Barbie and Oppenheimer release this Friday, July 21 in theatres worldwide. The former has a runtime of just under two hours — 1 hour and 54 minutes, to be precise — while Nolan's period biopic runs for 3 hours and 10 minutes, which limits the number of screenings theatres can squeeze in. Most of the IMAX screens, however, will be devoted to Oppenheimer, much to the dismay of Tom Cruise, who wanted Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One to thrive on the superior theatre screens during those first couple of weeks.
Even during the early writing process, director Gerwig wanted Margot Robbie (Babylon) to play the titular doll, the star of Barbie Land, who would slowly become sentient once she develops flat feet, starts falling off rooftops, and muses about the concept of death. “I didn't want her to come across as vapid or unintelligent because she is really intelligent. She just hasn't been exposed to so many concepts,” Robbie said in an interview. Her character is described as a little naive, wanting to know about the universe as she sets off on a journey of enlightenment with Ken, bearing witness to a shattering community of humans.
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Ryan Gosling's Ken follows Barbie (Margot Robbie) out into the real world
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049) brings the much-needed ‘Kenergy' to Barbie, despite living a rougher, not-so-dream-like life as his female counterpart. Ken, who's never played any significant role in kids' doll houses, sidelined as simply a guy who tries to woo Barbie, is going through some stuff in this movie. He has no job, money, car, or house, and just hangs about on the beach flaunting his six-pack abs and injecting himself into parties. This film is poised to give him some backstory for his plight, as he struggles to earn Barbie's respect (she's trying to figure out if she wants to be with him, and finds him annoying at first).
Billed third on the list is America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) as Gloria, a human Mattel employee obsessed with Barbie dolls, who has the chance encounter of running into the real one (Robbie), and hatches a plan to presumably send her back to the perfect Barbie Land. As mentioned before, this film kind of serves as a commentary on unrealistic female beauty standards and acceptance, which is something Gloria is poised to address in an undisclosed monologue scene. “To me, the message of this movie is that there is no one standard of beauty, there's no one right way to be beautiful, one right way to be smart, one right way to be even Barbie. We can embrace ourselves uniquely and celebrate that,” Ferrera said in an interview.
Well, ignoring the mortal common folk, who's causing trouble for Barbie and Ken, you ask? That would be Will Ferrell (Stepbrothers) as the unnamed Mattel CEO, who upon noticing the pair roaming around and getting arrested in the real world, kickstarts a witch hunt to capture and throw them back into boxes. The actor described the film as “Just an amazing comment on male patriarchy and women in society and why Barbie's criticized and yet why every little girl still wants to play with Barbie.”
Kate McKinnon (Bombshell) portrays Weird Barbie — yes, there are variants in this movie, just like how they're marketed and sold in real life. She's essentially the test subject (“her”) version of Barbie that is usually sidelined, where girls would cut their hair in punkish fashion, burn their toes, and put on weird crayon makeup. That would also explain why she's knowledgeable about the real world's harshness, having been experimented on for so long, that she decides to send the lead Barbie on a journey to the badlands.
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Issa Rae plays President Barbie
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Now, here are the other versions of Barbie you'd meet in Barbie Land. All of them have solid goals and professions, serving as valuable members of the candy-coated society. Issa Rae (Vengeance) is President Barbie, Hari Nef (The Idol) is Doctor Barbie, pop star Dua Lipa plays all the Mermaid Barbies, Nicola Coughlan (Bridgerton) is Diplomat Barbie, and Ritu Arya (Polite Society) is Journalist Barbie. Sex Education fame Emma Mackey's casting caused an uproar among fans, for her uncanny resemblance to lead Robbie — she plays Physicist Barbie.
Nobody wants to play with Ken and so, they've got no deep descriptions or job profiles. Their purpose is to simply hang out with Barbie and try to romance her, which is why they're all called just ‘Ken' with numbers. So we've got Simu Liu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), Ncuti Gatwa (Sex Education), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Secret Invasion), and John Cena as Merman Ken. I was hoping John Cena would just appear as himself — as in, the WWE action figure of John Cena since the movie is taking a meta route with its story. However, I'm still excited for the big dude to play a merman.
Other notable names include Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Ken's friend Allan, Ariana Greenblatt as Gloria's daughter Sasha, and veteran actress Helen Mirren (The Queen) as the narrator.
Having starred in five Nolan films in the past, it is finally time for Cillian Murphy to step into the limelight, essaying the role of the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who oversaw the creation of the first atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project, amidst World War II. The script being written in the first person serves as a deep insight into the mind of the troubled physicist, whose flaws were ignored in favour of his brilliance, leading to an experiment that could bring about the end of the world. “He told me the day we were starting to shoot, so I knew I had six months to really go in. I would have taken more, but six months was good. We just went straight at it from that day. We were just into it,” Murphy spoke of his preparation in an interview. He also reportedly only ate an almond a day to get into the weakly shape.
Emily Blunt plays Katherine ‘Kitty' Oppenheimer, Robert's wife, in Oppenheimer
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) co-stars as Katherine ‘Kitty' Oppenheimer, the renowned physicist's wife, who also happens to be a biologist and botanist in her own right, researching the effects of radiation while her husband continued testing the atomic bomb. In addition to playing the rock in Robert's life, she was also one of the key links to his communist ideologies. “She was a pretty monumental presence in his life as a confidante, and as a real scientific brain herself," Blunt explained in an interview. "But she was, you know, a very big personality. Not necessarily one to conform to a housewife ideal of the time.”
Oscar-nominee Florence Pugh (Midsommar) portrays the psychiatrist Jean Tatlock, with whom Oppenheimer harboured an on-and-off relationship, starting from when he was a professor and she was a grad student, going all the way through his eventual married life with Kitty. Her relationship with the man and her membership within the Communist Party also put her under surveillance by the FBI at one point, causing her phone to get tapped. “My biggest way in was just researching her, of course — there isn't much, however. There are pictures of her taken during that time by Robert and to me, someone like him… for his head to be turned has to be by someone who's truly magnetic and magical and pretty intelligent,” Pugh explained at the London premiere.
Following his brief appearance in Interstellar, Matt Damon reunites with Nolan on Oppenheimer, playing Lieutenant General Leslie Groves Jr., the man who directed the top-secret Manhattan Project, leading all the way up to the Trinity Test i.e., the first test explosion. “Groves was a military man, and so much of that ethos is about compartmentalisation and the need to know all of the stuff. And the scientists were all about sharing information so that they can get the truth right… there was this constant tension,” Damon revealed about his character.
Robert Downey Jr. as as the Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
Robert Downey Jr. — now, free from his Marvel commitment — appears in Oppenheimer as the Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, a hostile, rival-like figure to Robert, who in addition to hating him for his communist ideals, was a strong proponent of developing the hydrogen bomb. If you haven't figured it out by now, Robert proposed a war strategy based on nuclear weapons, going as far as being accused of being a Soviet Spy. “Maybe if more men were listening to each other, as opposed to having petty arguments and infighting and trying to get each other destroyed, we'd have more space for a larger dialogue,” Downey Jr. commented on the movie's heavy reliance on dialogue, rather than the visual spectacle Nolan is generally known for.
Other notable names in the cast include Benny Safdie (Good Time) as theoretical physicist Edward Teller, Josh Peck (Drake & Josh) as Harvard physicist Kenneth Bainbridge, Gary Oldman (Mank) as President Harry S. Truman, and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot).
Barbie plot synopsis
Barbie and Ken are having the time of their lives in the colourful and seemingly perfect world of Barbie Land. However, when they get a chance to go to the real world, they soon discover the joys and perils of living among humans.
Oppenheimer plot synopsis
A feature biography from director Christopher Nolan, explores how one man's brilliance, hubris, and relentless drive changed the nature of war forever, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and unleashed mass hysteria. The story of J. Robert Oppenheimer's role in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II.
Barbie vs Oppenheimer age rating
While Mattel's toy brand is primarily targeted at kids, Gerwig's Barbie doesn't exactly qualify as a kids' movie, thanks to the inclusion of some ‘suggesting references and brief language'. This ups the age rating to a U/A and 12A age rating in India and the UK, respectively, while in the US, it has been set to PG-13. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that kids cannot watch the movie, but rather that they'd need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian, who can decide whether the film is right for their children. Prime examples include Barbie getting sexually harassed in the real world to the ‘beach off scene' between Gosling and Liu's Kens.
Oppenheimer marks Nolan's first R-rated movie since 2002's Insomnia — nearly two decades — thanks to ‘some sexuality, nudity, and language.' While Nolan's representation of romance was generally restrained in previous films, it takes a massive shift here, promising ‘prolonged nudity' and complicated sex scenes best described as ‘pretty heavy.'
With Oppenheimer, director Christopher Nolan leans a bit heavily into the romance aspect
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
Warner Bros. dropped the final trailer for Barbie in late May, pretty much disclosing the entire sequence of events, which I highly doubt is how Greta Gerwig wanted to market this film. There are a lot of cool details to pick up on — such as Robbie walking on her toes when barefoot, which is how the actual dolls are fashioned so you can slide them into colourful heels. We also got a look at one of the parties where all the Barbies and Kens gathered together for a dance number — to the tune ‘Dance the Night' sung by Dua Lipa. There are also some iconic mugshots and a first look at Ferrell as the villain.
Universal Pictures' trailer for Oppenheimer opens to the ticking sounds of a Geiger counter, as Murphy and Peck prepare to conduct the Trinity Test — as a means to win the larger race against the Nazis, during World War II. Much of the footage focuses on the prep work, as the folks in charge recruit scientists and scout locations, where they'd build towns for them to live until the atomic bomb is ready. “Build a town. Build it fast,” Robert (Murphy) says in the trailer. “We don't let scientists bring their families, we'll never get the best.” The conflict here is that the test has a ‘near zero' chance of destroying the world — zero percent would be much preferred. The trailer counts down to detonation to show a brief spark from the blast — achieved through practical means — before cutting to the credits.
Barbie vs Oppenheimer budget
Greta Gerwig's Barbie, which has major actors — Robbie and Gosling — in the title role and massive sets, cost roughly $145 million (about Rs. 1,191 crore) to make. It is expected to come off as the dominant film at the box office during the opening weekend, partly fuelled by the memes and marketing, and the fact that the three-hour-long Oppenheimer would be unable to fill in as many screenings in a day compared to its two-hour-long rival. As per Variety, Barbie is expected to open to a huge $95 million (about Rs. 780 crore) to $110 million (about Rs. 903 crore) in ticket sales within the US and Canada.
Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer is made on a slightly smaller budget of $100 million (about Rs. 821 crore), not including marketing. The film is expected to make around $50 million (about Rs. 411 crore) within the North American regions during the opening weekend.
Barbie is expected to dominate the box office during the opening weekend, against Oppenheimer
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Barbie vs Oppenheimer — other notable work from its directors
Gerwig got her start starring in and writing some independent films before she went big with more critically-acclaimed works such as Frances Ha, which she co-wrote with her partner Noah Baumbach. Her most notable work, however, has to be A24's Lady Bird, which gained her and actress Saoirse Ronan Academy recognition. The film is a coming-of-age tale where Christine, a California-based high school student chooses to escape her family and town by wanting to go to college in New York City, much to the disapproval of her mother. Gerwig's screen adaptation of Little Women is also standout — a tale of four sisters wanting to live on their own terms in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Nolan's name needs no introduction — even folks with surface-level knowledge of films can easily recognise some of his most iconic work such as The Dark Knight trilogy, which charted three seminal points in Batman's mythos, starting with his origin, to his dance with the Joker (Heath Ledger), and him succumbing to retirement as his body struggles to take any more hits. Other notable works include the dream-jumping espionage thriller Inception — which was heavily influenced by Satoshi Kon's Paprika — the time-bending espionage thriller Tenet, and Interstellar, where a space pilot is tasked with finding a new habitable planet for humans, as Earth continues to wither away to dust.
Memento, starring Guy Pearce, is one of his earlier films where Nolan last used both colour and monochrome film stocks to tell the story, albeit back then, it was to differentiate between the past and the present. In it, a grieving husband is on the hunt for his wife's killer; however, the search is compounded by the fact that he suffers from a rare, untreatable form of short-term memory loss, where he's unable to remember anything that happened longer than fifteen minutes prior.
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