You are here

  1. Home
  2. Can the ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon save cinema?

Can the ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon save cinema?

The word Barbenheimer is the iconic Barbie font

Dr Rebecca Harrison, Lecturer in Film & Media, discussed the phenomenon of ‘Barbenheimer’ on BBC World Service’s Newshour and the impact which the two films – Barbie and Oppenheimer – may have on cinema.

Box office takings for both films have broken records, leading to speculation that big screen movies might be making a comeback. Many cinemagoers seem to have seen both films on the same day, despite them being very different genres.

In conversation with presenter Rebecca Kesby, Dr Harrison noted that “typically, you’d see these type of films in competition with one another, but this phenomenon around ‘Barbenheimer’ really benefitted them both.”

Rebecca contributed this partly to the social media activity surrounding the two films. She explained that “the meme-ability of ‘Barbenheimer’, the fact that it was a portmanteau started by film fans online, makes it feel quite organic, so people already feel part of a community.”

Even though the two films would appear to have different target audiences, with ‘Barbenheimer’ “there’s lots of in-jokes, lots of images, pitching the two different aesthetics against one another, on the one hand something very, very, pink and then the monochrome of Oppenheimer. People feel like they have ownership of that. I think that we have had a lack of ‘event cinema’, and people have really gone to town and taken a lot of joy in feeling that they’re part of something collective.”

It's difficult to say whether the ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon heralds the return of event cinema, particularly as the film industry had previously pinned hopes that the Top Gun sequel released in 2022 would mark such a return. “The fact that we are now well into the writer’s strike in Hollywood and that the actors’ union has just joined them, means it’s going to be difficult to say what will happen in coming months, with the strikes necessarily disrupting promotions for other films that will be coming out.”

“One of the issues we have is that we tend to be quite ahistorical in the way that we talk about cinema, so that we’ve potentially overstated the death of cinema. The pandemic has really contributed to that, with people being very reliant upon streaming. 

“It's really difficult to say what saving cinema looks like, and whether it needs saving at all.”

Listen to the interview on BBC Sounds - from timecode 19:40

Request your prospectus

Request a prospectus icon

Explore our qualifications and courses by requesting one of our prospectuses today.

Request prospectus

Are you already an OU student?

Go to StudentHome