When the box office historians write about this weekend they may look upon it as both a lynchpin and a peak. Something happened with moviegoers leading up to it that ultimately has paid off in ways that we have never seen before – and may never see again. The changing dynamics over the course of the pandemic, now coupled with the current strikes, may have caused a rift in time like that beautiful moment of sunshine before the waves come crashing down on an uncertain future. What happened this weekend will be talked about for years to come, and we are going to start that conversation right here on the fourth highest box office weekend of all time.
Normally this space is reserved for the No. 1 film of the week, no matter how close behind its competitors may have been. But this weekend is not about new opponents or adversaries, for the two most noteworthy films were affectionately dubbed “Barbenheimer” for a reason. Beyond the social media war of words and vindictiveness that can come with fanboy antics and well-intentioned but occasionally over-the-top do-gooder attacks, moviegoers came together to embrace the idea that two great filmmakers just happened to each have the same release date, and we could all see them both right away.
This is in no way meant to diminish the higher grosses of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and take away its day in the sun. After tracking services and lowball expectations from its own studio put out $60 million as the potential winner this weekend, Barbie racked up $155 million through its opening weekend and another $182 million internationally. $22.3 million in previews on Thursday (and some on Wednesday) put the film among the top 25 all time on that list, and it led to the highest start of the year. (The Super Mario Bros. Movie had a $146.3 million weekend, but it had also grossed $58.2 million on Wednesday and Thursday, leading to a $204.6 million five-day start.) Again, there is no diminishing Barbie’s numbers this weekend with the highest Friday (plus Weds/Thurs) start of the year ($70.5 million) because it is also the best opening ever for a film with a woman as solo OR co-director. Period. Both Captain Marvel ($153.4 million) and Frozen II ($130.2 million) had male co-directors. This marks just the second time that a solo female director opened a film to over $100 million. The other was Patti Jenkins with Wonder Woman ($103.2 million).
The next question is just how high the 27th-best opening in box office history and 5th-best July opening can fly. No film opening over $143 million has ever failed to reach $300 million, and as referenced many times in this column, only three films opening over $150 million have failed to reach $400 million (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Spider-Man 3, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2). Could positive word of mouth offer a challenge to Mario Bros.’ presumed dominance over the yearly box office? There have only been four Mondays this summer where the grosses of the entire top 10 bested Mario’s first post-Easter weekday. $574 million is quite the mountain to climb but the $375 million+ that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has grossed after making $2.8 million this weekend could very well be achieved. Anywhere in that wheelhouse you slice it and Barbie, with its $145 million budget, is a hit almost even without the international grosses.
The other half of the equation this weekend is Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. The three-hour historical biopic presumed to make around $40 million ended up with $80.5 million and $174 million globally. That is the third-biggest opening of Nolan’s career behind the Batman sequels (aka two of the only July releases higher than Barbie’s opening) and ahead of both Inception ($62.7 million) and Dunkirk ($50.5 million). Only two films have ever opened over $70 million in July and not reached $200 million (The Simpsons Movie and the pandemic-era opening of 2021’s Black Widow). But there is another impressive list Oppenheimer is on; the best openings ever for films 165 minutes or longer is now as follows.
Avengers: Endgame (181 mins) – $357.1 million
Avatar: The Way of Water (192 mins) – $134.1 million
The Batman (176 mins) – $134.0 million
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (169 mins) – $114.7 million
It: Chapter 2 (169 mins) – $91.0 million
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (169 mins) – $84.6 million
Oppenheimer (180 mins) – $80.5 million
John Wick: Chapter 4 (169 mins) – $73.8 million
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (201 mins) – 72.6 million
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (179 mins) – $62.0 million
Pearl Harbor (183 mins) – $59.0 million
King Kong (2005) (187 mins) – $50.1 million
Interstellar (169 mins) – $47.5 million
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ($178 mins) – $47.2 million
Saving Private Ryan (169 mins) – $30.5 million
Django Unchained ($165 mins) – $30.1 million
Titanic (194 mins) – $28.6 million
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (166 mins) – $26.8 million
The Patriot (165 mins) – $22.4 million
The Wolf of Wall Street (180 mins) – $18.3 million
But there is something even more impressive that Barbie and Oppenheimer have achieved together. Two great artistic achievements registering at 90% and 93%, respectively, on the Tomatometer have blown away expectations in ways you may not have even considered. Did you know that there are only 23 weekends in box office history where the top 10 films made more than what Barbie and Oppenheimer grossed together? Now, can you think of a weekend where two original films opened and grossed as much as they did? (Yes, Barbie is based on a brand but not one with an adapted story other than some straight-to-video animated incarnations.) How about two new films in general grossing over $235 million together? And forget about pairing some blockbuster with counter-programming where a sequel, remake, reboot, or film featuring a character who made a previous appearance was the prevailing film with 90% of the combined haul. (Yes, there was a Barbie in the Toy Story films but not this Barbie.) You can’t, can you? That is because it has never been done before.
Scouring through every season of box office past, it is nearly impossible to find two films opening on the same weekend that made even half as much as Barbie and Oppenheimer. Playing by the “not this Barbie” rule, one could make the argument for 2018’s Venom and A Star Is Born, which opened to a combined $123.1 million. Or the weekend in 2010 where it took three films (Valentine’s Day, The Wolfman, and Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief) to gross $118.8 million together. Or even the 2008 Christmas Day foursome of Marley and Me, Bedtime Stories, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Valkyrie combining for $111.6 million. No, even the best examples to be found of two true originals came in with combined grosses between $70-90 million together. Among those 25 weekends we mentioned, only one of them contained two new original films – Fifty Shades of Grey and Kingsman: The Secret Service – and they totaled out with $121.3 million.
Again, Barbie and Oppenheimer made over a combined $235.5 million this weekend. We may never see the likes of it again. There have only been six truly original films this year that have grossed over $50 million before those two, and only a pair over $100 million. There were eight originals to do that in 2022, and another eight in 2019 (if we include Pokemon: Detective Pikachu and The Batman, Joker, and any comic book iteration were not included in either.) This is a historic weekend, as a certain brand at the box office may have reached its peak as studios appear to be struggling with anything beyond IP. Yes, Barbie is as much of a brand, and even more so historically than the Mario Bros. But not one that you might expect to bring wide-eyed moviegoers of all ages and sexes — plus the hardest of cynics — together to embrace it on the same summer weekend as a three-hour biopic about the father of the atomic bomb starring Cillian Murphy.
There have only been three three-day weekends whose top 10 films grossed over $300 million, and they were the weeks that Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens enjoyed openings to anywhere from 81.92% to 90.07% of the total top 10 that week. This weekend’s $299 million haul in the top 10 for theaters (that could get pushed over $300 million with final estimates tomorrow) is indeed something to celebrate, and with all great celebrations we need to remember why it happened.
Sound of Freedom crossed the $100 million line on Wednesday, its 16th day of release. The “don’t-you-dare-criticize-it-or-you-may-be-on-the-side-of-its-villains” sex trafficking rescue film is its own unicorn (in a Cabin in the Woods kind of way), as that is the same amount of time it took Terminator 2, Toy Story 2, and The Sixth Sense to gross as much (all of them being pre-2000 releases, so context, but still). Bringing it into the present, though, making $104.6 million in 17 days is a better run than The Flash, Scream VI, and Elemental. Sound of Freedom has already outgrossed two of those, and it is coming up right behind the animated film about embracing inclusion. We’ll see if it stays ahead of Dead Reckoning again next week, because at the moment it is currently outgrossing it with over $124 million and could end up close to $200 million.
Last week’s victor, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, fell all the way back to fourth. The Barbenheimer tag team was too much for Reckoning (including the relinquishing of large-format screens to Nolan) as it became the first film in the franchise since John Woo’s second chapter to fall more than 50% in its second weekend. In fact, its 64% drop is by far the highest in the franchise, which we suspected last week, given the historical unicorn implications of this weekend. $19.5 million for Dead Reckoning brings the film to $118.7 million in 12 days, which is third behind the previous film, Fallout, which had $134.9 million in the same stretch, and Woo’s M:I II with $130.7 million. This is also now the lowest second weekend of the franchise, even lower than the original 1996 film ($21.6 million). That could level out a bit more in weekend three, but as it now appears to be looking more at $180-190 million than over $200 million, Paramount may have miscalculated its release strategy and maybe should have pushed its new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie out of the opening August slot and given it to Cruise and Co. Worldwide the film is over $370 million, the ninth highest of the year to date.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny rounds out the top five with $7 million. After four weekends, its domestic total stands at $159.3 million and its worldwide take at $335 million. While that puts it just ahead of the pace of 22 Jump Street ($159.2 million after 24 days), that sequel earned $9.8 million in its fourth weekend, which now sends Indy on a pace for below $190 million domestic. The film is closer in line with Captain America: The First Avenger, which earned $7.2 million in weekend four to bring its total to $156.9 million. If Dial of Destiny continues below that film’s weekend pace it could end up just shy of $180 million domestic. Barbie, Oppenheimer, Mission: Impossible, and potentially Sound of Freedom will surpass its final gross, which would make it the eighth highest-grossing film of the summer.
Insidious: The Red Door falls back to sixth with $6.5 million bringing its total to $71 million after 17 days. The film is pacing right in line with The Purge: Election Year, which had $71.1 million after a $6.1 million third weekend, suggesting The Red Door will just get itself over $80 million, possibly coming up short of Chapter 2’s $83.5 million. The $16 million production has grossed over $155 million worldwide, and it is coming up as one of 2023’s most profitable films. Sony’s No Hard Feelings, unfortunately, is not going to get there. It is spending its final week in the top 10 with just over a million. The R-rated Jennifer Lawrence comedy will get itself over $50 million, but it is going to come up around $50 million short of reaching its goal.
Disney/Pixar’s Elemental continues its slow roll, grossing $5.8 million to bring its total to $137 million. The film is currently outpacing Hotel Transylvania and is headed for a final gross north of $150 million. But a worldwide finale over $350 million is still going to be a significant loss for the company. Paramount’s Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is doing slightly better with over $425 million worldwide and $155 million domestic (aka what Barbie grossed just this weekend). But the $200 million budgets for both of these films will make them among the biggest losers of the year.
Searchlight’s Theater Camp expanded to 51 theaters this weekend and grossed another $266,000, bringing its total to over $672,000 in 10 days. Theater Camp had the sixth-best opening ever for a film released in six theaters. Its second weekend is not quite Woody Allen territory when Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine expanded from six theaters to between 50-60 and grossed $1.92 million and $1.85 million, respectively. Then again, only six films in 2023 have made over a million after debuting in fewer than 10 theaters. They include Asteroid City, Past Lives (which got over $10 million this weekend), Beau is Afraid, and international feature Oscar nominees The Quiet Girl and Close. Theater Camp will likely be joining that list soon.
Disney is hoping to have their first success since Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opened the summer, though it may not happen with the upcoming new version of Haunted Mansion. Even if the film manages to beat the Eddie Murphy version from 2003, which grossed $75.8 million and $182 million worldwide, its reported $157 million budget looms large over any potential it may have, especially with everyone still seeing Barbie and Oppenheimer. A24 also hopes to summon its fans to see the Sundance horror film, Talk To Me, which currently boasts a 96% on the Tomatometer and could be the breakout horror hit of the year.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]
Thumbnail image by ©Warner Bros., ©Universal Pictures