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Barbenheimer's rising tide seemed to lift all boats at the box office

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Big weekend at the multiplex. The films "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" blew past predictions to spark the fourth-biggest box office weekend in Hollywood history and the highest weekend not led by a Marvel or "Star Wars" sequel. So what does the triumph of Barbenheimer tell us about the state of the movie biz? We asked NPR's Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Leave it to a hot-pink comedy...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

RYAN GOSLING: (As Ken) Hi, Barbie.

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Barbie) Hi, Ken.

MONDELLO: ...And a three-hour biopic to pack cinemas that superheroes have been leaving half-empty since the start of the pandemic. Thirty million people turned out to see movies this weekend, about half of them for Greta Gerwig's $155 million blockbuster "Barbie." It scored the top opening weekend of 2023 and the top opening ever for a film directed by a woman. Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer," about the father of the atom bomb, was no bomb at the box office with $80 million, a serious talky drama that opened better than the summer's "Mission Impossible" and "Indiana Jones" sequels. And while usually a big blockbuster swamps everything else at the multiplex, Barbenheimer's rising tide lifted all boats. "Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning" still raked in a perfectly respectable $20 million. The surprise indie hit "Sound Of Freedom" matched that number. And as those four movies sold out, overflow crowds filled up whatever was in smaller auditoriums. The industry is so pleased that on Friday, "Dead Reckoning" star Tom Cruise told an interviewer he was planning a personal Barbenheimer double feature.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM CRUISE: It'll probably be, like, "Oppenheimer" first and then "Barbie."

MONDELLO: And in response, "Barbie's" Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie tweeted photos of themselves holding tickets to see "Mission Impossible." Call it a Hollywood love fest for an expanded marketplace. And that's the key here. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been some hits, nearly all of them superhero or action sequels aimed at male audiences. That's because studios, mostly led by male executives, tend to go with what has worked before and seem to think that men choose what to see, and their girlfriends and wives go along.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

GOSLING: (As Ken) I thought I might stay over tonight.

ROBBIE: (As Barbie) To do what?

GOSLING: (As Ken) I'm actually not sure.

MONDELLO: But those male-oriented sequels invariably monopolize the box office the week they open, with no halo effect on other films. "Barbie," which is not a sequel and which has women and girls making up almost 70% of its audience, left plenty of room for male-oriented hits. "Oppenheimer," also not a sequel, is one of those hits. Whether lessons will be learned from this is anyone's guess. But with writers and actors on strike for the foreseeable future, studio executives will have time to study up and no doubt come up with creative solutions. It's a pretty safe bet, for instance, that there'll soon be a "Barbie 2." I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF AQUA SONG, "BARBIE GIRL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.