Thanks to a shared release date (July 21) that birthed a bizarre internet meme, 'Barbenheimer' is in the cultural lexicon. For those unaware, Barbie, a pink-soaked spunky comedy about finding your purpose, and Oppenheimer, an epic historical biopic about the creation of the atomic bomb, are now cinematic siblings. Barbenhemier is a genuine phenomena, and it’s already powered both movies to a record-breaking weekend at the box office.
My local movie theater is pretty much my second home — the staff greets me by name at this point — so I had no qualms about booking a Barbenhemier double-feature. I was fully on board the hype train and convinced myself that watching these two much-anticipated summer movies back-to-back in a packed movie theater would be the best way to experience them. Not to mention, the perfect tonic for what turned out to be an extremely rainy Sunday afternoon.
I was wrong. The internet lied to me. Barbenheimer was a mistake. Both of these movies were totally ruined by watching them consecutively ... okay that last bit is a little extreme. I have pretty much nothing but positive things to say about the quality of both Barbie and Oppenheimer, but I’d strongly advise that you experience them separately, because watching these two movies back-to-back isn't a good idea.
Barbie and Oppenheimer don’t mesh
The general consensus on social media seems to be that you should see Oppenheimer first, followed by Barbie. The logic is that the latter acts as a bit of a comedic palette cleanser after the dark elements of the former. So, this was the order I opted for. I started with Oppenheimer just after noon, and had a ticket for Barbie at around 3:30 p.m. But while the timings lined up perfectly, the movies most certainly didn’t.
I’m a firm believer that crafting a good movie marathon involves picking flicks that complement each other either in tone and/or theme. Sure, you could just throw a few good movies together and be done, but that’s a recipe for tonal whiplash and an overall unsatisfying watching experience. And that’s exactly what I got with Barbenheimer.
Oppenheimer is a thoroughly engrossing biopic, and in many ways, it plays like a thriller rather than the more traditional historical drama I had expected. Across its lengthy three-hour runtime, director Christopher Nolan keeps the tension consistent.
Even during scenes where there’s no immediate danger, the sense of tension is palpable. It’s a remarkable cinematic achievement, but it’s also a heavy watch that isn’t afraid to suggest that humanity itself may well be doomed to repeat its mistakes until we eventually wipe ourselves out with our own creations.
As I walked out of my screening of Oppenheimer, the haunting final scene still rattling around my mind, I can’t pretend I felt in the right frame of mind to watch a very silly fantasy comedy.
In fact, for the first 15 or so minutes of Barbie, I really struggled to get on board with its brand of zany comedy even though the crowd around me was practically guffawing at every single joke. I’d compare the experience to being very sober at a party full of intoxicated people. Not very fun.
Eventually, I was able to settle into the film's grooves, and quickly found myself swept up in the madcap adventure, but it took a little time for me to get into the right headspace to appreciate the Barbie movie's brilliance. And I'm not sure that would have been the case if I'd come in fresh.
Perhaps, the movies would mesh together better if you watched them in the opposite order — Barbie followed by Oppenheimer — but I think that would make the problem described below even more of an issue.
Barbenheimer demands too much time
The other significant factor that you need to consider if you want to see Barbie and Oppenheimer back-to-back is that it’s a pretty big time commitment. The former runs nearly two hours in length, while the latter sports a butt-numbing 180 minutes runtime. Add in trailers, time to grab snacks and taking a much-need trip to the bathroom beforehand, and you’re looking at around half-dozen hours in a movie theater.
I'm no novice, at movie marathons. Back in 2014, I saw the first three Hunger Games movies back-to-back-to-back at a midnight screening. Although, on that occasion, we were given a 20-minute break in between each movie, and because I had seen the first two movies already, I didn’t feel so laser-focused on the screen for the majority of the marathon. Plus, I left in the middle of Catching Fire for a bathroom break!
However, my past experience of spending several hours at a time in a cinema screening room did not prepare me for Barbenheimer. With about 40 minutes left of Barbie, I felt perfectly ready to leave. And while the hilarious and heartfelt finale wasn’t spoiled by my desire to see sunlight again, I do think I’d probably have enjoyed Barbie more if I’d not already been in the theater for more than four hours by the time the movie entered its third act.
If I'd done it in reverse, I imagine Oppenheimer's already flabby final hour, would feel even more stretched out post-Barbieland.
See these movies, but separately
I’m glad that the hype surrounding Barbenheimer appears to have rocketed both movies to serious box-office success. Both are very deserving of finding a large audience. However, if you’re thinking of seeing them both in a single sitting, I would urge you to consider skipping the double bill. Just see them separately.
Oppenheimer is a true cinematic achievement, and you’ll want time to sit with it afterward. And Barbie is riotously enjoyable, you should experience it without your thoughts clouded by worries of our inevitable nuclear destruction. I love both of these flicks, and I can’t wait to rewatch them. But when they eventually hit streaming services, I won’t be watching Oppenheimer and Barbie back-to-back again.