A deep dive on 2023's biggest cinematic head-to-head battle
Two of 2023's most-talked-about movies land in cinemas on the exact same date.
In December 2020, the world was still very much mid-pandemic, and movie companies had no idea what the future of cinema might be. Some distributors took to releasing their new projects on streaming platforms for a premium price - remember when Disney+ charged over €20 for "Premier Access" for the likes of Mulan and Jungle Cruise? - while others simply did a day-and-date co-release for streaming and cinemas.
That is what Warner Bros. did with some of their big blockbusters, so the likes of Dune and The Matrix Resurrections landed on HBO Max (where available) and in cinemas on the same day.
One of the movies that didn't get this release strategy, as it did have an exclusive cinematic window for a few weeks, was Tenet. But that didn't stop writer and director Christopher Nolan from publicly airing his upset with Warner Bros., telling Entertainment Tonight the following:
"There's such controversy around it, because they didn't tell anyone. In 2021, they've got some of the top filmmakers in the world, they've got some of the biggest stars in the world who worked for years in some cases on these projects very close to their hearts that are meant to be big-screen experiences. They're meant to be out there for the widest possible audiences... And now they're being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service - for the fledgling streaming service - without any consultation. So, there's a lot of controversy. It's very, very, very, very messy."
Messy indeed, as for the first time in nearly 20 years, Nolan won''t be releasing his next movie with Warner Bros. – Universal announced in October 2021 that the studio will be releasing Oppenheimer in cinemas on 21 July 2023.
Nolan had released Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar, Dunkirk and Tenet with Warner Bros., and had reportedly been planning on doing the same with Oppenheimer before they split.
With a shockingly packed-out cast including Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Rami Malek, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, and Kenneth Branagh, the movie follows the life of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy), the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during the Manhattan Project, and his contributions that led to the creation of the atomic bomb.
With a production budget of $100 million, the promotion for the potential box office smash AND Oscar-magnet began in earnest in July 2022, with a countdown trailer premiering in front of Jordan Peele's Nope, which also happened to be the 78th anniversary of the first detonation of an atomic weapon.
Around the exact same time that first teaser trailer dropped, Warner Bros. was wrapping up production on a different movie, which also happened to have a production cost of $100 million, which also has an astonishingly stacked cast, and one that is set to arrive in cinemas on the exact same day as Oppenheimer...
In April 2022, Warner Bros. announced that its new movie Barbie would be released in cinemas on 21 July, 2023. Directed by Greta Gerwig (Ladybird, Little Women), who also co-wrote the script with her partner Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story, The Squid and the Whale), the cast for this one is INSANE:
Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, Simu Liu, America Ferrera, Helen Mirren, Ariana Greenblatt, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Nicola Coughlan, Alexandra Shipp, Michael Cera, Issa Rae, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Rhea Perlman, and Kate McKinnon.
The first images of Gosling in his sorta-topless double denim Ken costume practically broke the internet, while the movie's first teaser trailer - which played out in front of Avatar: The Way Of Water - had everyone talking about the odd Stanley Kubrick connections.
And perhaps, most interestingly of all, unlike Oppenheimer, nobody still has any real idea what Barbie is actually about. Is it for kids? Is it for adults? Is it about a Barbie in the real world? Is it set entirely in Barbie's world? Why are there so many different Barbies and Kens?
The only indication is when Robbie told The Hollywood Reporter the following: "Whatever you’re thinking, we're going to give you something totally different - the thing you didn’t know you wanted."
And so now here we are, Oppenheimer and Barbie both opening in Irish cinemas on 21 July, 2023. This isn't the first time that Hollywood has pitted two potentially huge blockbusters against each other. And there are some other big examples also happening in 2023: Sony's video game adaptation Gran Turismo, Disney's theme park ride adaptation Haunted Mansion, and eOne's spooky vampire tale The Last Voyage Of The Demeter all land on 11 August 2023.
But without a doubt, Oppenheimer vs Barbie is 2023's most interesting head-to-head. And having said that, we'll still be going to see both of them on opening day.