“Are you on your way to see Barbie?”
It’s late Friday afternoon at the Regal Union Square movie theater in Manhattan and Garrett, a father of two, is wearing a hot pink polo shirt. Nearby, his wife and young children are sporting similarly rosy outfits. Dad joke at the ready, he answers wryly: “We’re actually here to see Mission: Impossible.”
Audiences greeted Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer with a resounding “Hi, Barbie! Hi, J. Robert!” over the weekend, collecting a combined $244 million in the North America and earning the fourth-biggest box office weekend in history. Given their shared release date of June 21, Barbie and Oppenheimer had already formed a twin-flame phenomenon known as “Barbenheimer,” spurring many moviegoers to buy tickets in advance to see both films (each centered on a complicated icon of 20th-century American history) back-to-back on the same day. For the five-hour double feature of aesthetic opposites, they planned outfit changes accordingly.
At movie theaters across lower Manhattan, dual crowds embraced the communal experience: Like Taylor Swift’s ongoing Eras tour, this was a cultural event turned en-masse costume party. Friends, dressed in pink, welcomed one another with “Hi, Barbie!”, extending the salutation to fellow pink-wearing strangers. Though Barbie costumes far outnumbered Oppenheimer costumes, a dedicated few ventured out into the warm summer evening in somber-hued Oppie suits, ties, and flat-brimmed hats. Others wore custom T-shirts with gleefully uncanny designs, such as real-life physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famous recollection from the Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” rendered in bubblegum-pink Barbie font.
A handful of staunch Oppenheimer goers scoffed at the pink fantasia greeting them in theater lobbies; staunch Barbie goers rebuffed the idea of electing to see a three-hour bummer of a movie. Some felt swayed by or swept up in the incidental meme marketing of it all. Others considered the implications of the weekend as the entertainment industry’s unionized actors and writers are striking. But all seemed thrilled at the general fervor of the event—of people being so excited to go to the movies. Instead of fission, there was camaraderie. As one passerby cheered: “New York is back! Cinema is back!”
Scroll on to survey the scene and meet the Barbenheimer moviegoers on opening day of Barbie and Oppenheimer in Manhattan.