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‘Barbenheimer’ frenzy gives sluggish summer box office a major boost

The much-hyped “Barbenheimer” box office battle over the weekend proved to be a win for movie theaters that needed to add some sizzle to their summer.

Ticket sales for the film industry’s biggest season had been disappointing through much of June and July. “The Flash” flopped, a new “Indiana Jones” adventure underwhelmed, and Tom Cruise’s latest “Mission: Impossible” movie opened short of expectations. Hollywood also is grappling with strikes by writers and actors.

Enter “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” two polar opposite movies that debuted simultaneously in a matchup dubbed “Barbenheimer.”

“Barbie” stars Margot Robbie in a brightly colored comedy about the iconic doll, while “Oppenheimer” tells a haunting story about the making of the atomic bomb.

The two titles had cinemas buzzing over the weekend and filled with “Barbie” fans dressed in pink. Domestic ticket sales for all movies topped $300 million in the United States and Canada for just the fourth time in history. “Barbie” hauled in $155 million of that and “Oppenheimer collected $80.5 million, according to studio estimates on Sunday.

“Everybody was in,” said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. “All demographics showed up for these two films, and it’s exactly what Hollywood needed.”

Cinema going still lags pre-pandemic levels, prompting nagging questions about whether audiences have grown content to watch movies at home.

Hopes were high going into the summer as COVID-clogged production pipelines cleared and studios scheduled 30% more films than last summer. But through mid-July, 2023 summer box office receipts were running about 7% below last year. Reuters

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