The summer box office just went nuclear.
Filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s female-fueled Barbie opened to a historic $162 million domestically, a threshold usually reserved for male-driven superhero fare or marquee IP, such as the final Harry Potter movie. It came in well ahead of an expected $90 million to $110 million and helped fuel one of the biggest weekends in history. And the final figure of $162 million was even ahead of Sunday’s already-stupendous $155 million.
Barbie — which brings to life Mattel’s iconic fashion doll — is also strutting to big numbers overseas. The pic launched to an impressive $194.3 from 70 markets for a dazzling global debut of $356.3 million against a $145 million production budget (similar to domestic, Monday actuals were ahead of Sunday estimates). It scored the biggest opening ever for a WB title in major markets, including Mexico ($22.3 million), Brazil ($15.9 million) and Australia ($14.6 million). The U.K. led with $22.9 million, the biggest showing for the studio since the pandemic. Barbie wasn’t expected to make a big splash in Asian markets, although it did do better than expected in China, with $8.2 million.
In North America, Barbie scored the biggest domestic start ever for a movie directed by a woman, solo or otherwise. The solo crown previously belonged to Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, which started off with $103.3 million domestically in 2017. In 2019, the Anna Boden- and Ryan Fleck-directed Captain Marvel opened to $153 million.
Barbie also set a slew of other records, including landing the top opening of 2023 to date, ahead of The Super Mario Bros. Movie ($146.3 million). The next closest 2023 launch belonged to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse ($120.7 million), followed by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ($118.4 million) and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania ($106.9 million). Otherwise, many releases haven’t been able to inch past the $100 million mark.
It also marks the biggest opening for Barbie stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, the biggest three-day opening for a movie based on a toy — eclipsing Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($115.9 million) — and Warners’ biggest opening for a non-DC pic or a sequel.
Not that Oppenheimer, from Universal, is any slouch. The three-hour, R-rated historical drama about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the making of the atomic bomb likewise came in well ahead of expectations with $82.4 million (that’s up from Sunday’s estimate of $80.5 million). That’s the filmmaker’s third-biggest domestic debut behind The Dark Knight Rises ($160.9 million) and The Dark Knight ($158.4 million), not adjusted for inflation. It also will come in ahead of recent summer pics including The Flash, Elemental and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Barbie is skewing heavily female, or 68 percent, while Oppenheimer is male-dominated (64 percent). The performance of Oppenheimer was almost more surprising to some than Barbie, considering its running time and topic.
Other stats: Oppenheimer ranks as the third-biggest opening ever for a biographical film in North America behind American Sniper ($89.3 million) and The Passion of the Christ ($83.8 million), not adjusted for inflation.
Overseas, Oppenheimer launched with a strong $98 million from 78 markets, up from Sunday’s estimate of $93.7 million. The film was Nolan’s biggest non-superhero opening in no fewer than 55 markets. The film’s global start is $180.4 million against a $100 million production budget.
Heading into the weekend, tracking suggested Nolan’s film would start off with a solid $50 million domestically.
The one-two punch of Barbie and Oppenheimer — a phenomenon dubbed “Barbenheimer” — was a needed boost for moviegoing and the box office, which has yet to recover fully from the pandemic. This will be the first three-day weekend in history when one movie earns $100 million or more and another $50 million or more.
Revenue-wise, this is the fourth-biggest weekend of all time and the biggest since Avengers: Endgame, according to Comscore, with combined ticket sales hitting $311.1 million in a rare feat. The sizzling box office is a welcome respite from the ongoing writers and actors strike, which has brought Hollywood to a standstill and sparked worry among theaters owners that studios will begin moving their fall and winter releases if actors can’t promote their films.
Both Barbie and Oppenheimer were graced with A CinemaScores from audiences in the U.S., and their critics’ scores on Rotten Tomatoes store aren’t far apart — 90 percent versus 93 percent, respectively.
Cinemark, one of the country’s largest theater circuits, said the two films fueled the exhibitor’s biggest summer weekend of all time.
“People love coming together to experience great storytelling in a movie theater, as proven yet again by the sheer volume of consumers who visited our locations to see Barbie and Oppenheimer during opening weekend,” said Cinemark chief marketing and content officer Wanda Gierhart Fearing. “It appears Barbie actually is everything, and Christopher Nolan fans turned out in droves to see his newest masterpiece in the larger-than-life theatrical format that he intended. Congratulations to our studio partners, as well as the entire creative community for delivering films that generate these record-breaking results.”
Barbenheimer isn’t making life easy for Tom Cruise starrer Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, Part One. The film tumbled a steep 65 percent to $19.4 million for a domestic total of $118.6 million. It held up better overseas, where it earned another $55 million from 72 markets for a foreign tally of $252.1 million and $370.9 million globally.
Paramount’s seventh Mission: Impossible film had to contend with losing Imax screens to Oppenheimer in addition to losing other premium large format screens to either Oppenheimer or Barbie. The upcharge for Imax and premium large-format screens is significant and can have a big impact on the bottom line.
Angel Studios’ faith-based political thriller Sound of Freedom enjoyed another strong weekend. And, in the U.S., it beat narrowly Dead Reckoning with $19.9 million for a cume of $124.4 million, ahead of MI7.
Sound of Freedom stars The Passion of the Christ’s Jim Caviezel as the real-life Tim Ballard, who worked as an agent for the Department of Homeland Security before embarking on his own quest to bring child traffickers to justice. While the conservative-leaning Sound of Freedom has been discussed on QAnon message boards, Angel says it isn’t a QAnon movie. In late 2021, Caviezel spoke at a QAnon convention in Las Vegas, where he invoked the QAnon slogan, “The storm is upon us.”
July 23, 7:25 a.m.: Updated with weekend estimates.
July 23, 9:20 a.m.: Updated with foreign estimates.
July 23, 1:00 p.m.: Updated with revised estimates for Sound of Freedom.
July 24, 7 a.m.: Updated with Monday actuals for Barbie and Oppenheimer.
July 24, 4:02 p.m.: Updated with Monday actuals for Mission: Impossible 7 and Sound of Freedom.