I walked by Cobble Hill Cinemas, a small independent movie theater in the Brooklyn, New York City neighborhood of Cobble Hill (pleasantly surprised to see it survived the events stemming from 2020). While I do not keep up to date with Hollywood and I have not been to the movies since going to a Manhattan theater to watch Hopkins-Jones II on April 3, 2010, I make a habit of looking at the marquee to see what is playing. On the early afternoon of July 11, 2023, I saw an intriguing production premiering on July 20: Barbie & Oppenheimer.

The marquee of Cobble Hill Cinemas showing the movies currently playing and showing "Barbie & Oppenheimer" slated to air on July 20.
I took this photograph on July 11, 2023.

I wrote about overhearing a gentleman in front of this very theater in 2005 tell his date that he was “a little maxed out on existentialism.” I dare say that I am a little maxed out on derivative content. A movie bringing together the stories of Barbie the doll and J. Robert Oppenheimer would be original. Imagine if Barbie & Oppenheimer was a thing. That would be a bit more exciting than more superhero movies.

Alas – it is not a thing. Barbie and Oppenheimer are two separate and distinct movies which only happen to debut on the same day. This is one case where the parts are not greater than their sum would be. I am far less interested in these movies individually than I would be if they brought their strengths together.

I will stick with anime.

(Note: I have no serious opinion about either Barbie or Oppenheimer, for reasons explained below.)

In full disclosure, I am so out of the Hollywood loop that I was not aware of the existence of either Barbie or Oppenheimer until I saw the theater marquee a few days before I took the July 11 photo for this article. The only Hollywood news I get through the grapevine recently is about Disney lighting money on fire to apparently ruin long-beloved franchises for loyal fans (if the money loss is any indication). Thus, when I saw the marquee, I assumed that making it appear as if Barbie & Oppenheimer was a single movie (depending on perspective) was a bit of accidental comedy (note for the record that I immediately understood that they were separate movies, despite not having been aware of either one individually when I first saw the marquee). When I looked up the movies on Wikipedia, I learned that there has apparently been a running internet joke based on the two very different movies being released on the same day.

IGN reported:

The internet is blowing up with Barbenheimer memes, mashups, and more as people gear up for the release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer on the same day.

I would ordinarily close an article upon seeing the phrase “[t]he internet is blowing up,” but this is for research.

It’s the dual movie experience no one knew they needed until now, but more and more people are getting on board with the idea. Even celebrities are endorsing the Barbenheimer experience. Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie recently gave the double bill their seal of approval.

I would ordinarily close an article upon seeing the phrase “no one knew they needed until now,” but this is for research. Fortunately, I can close with the IGN article because I have nothing else to quote from it. Let us turn to an article by Ms. Claire Moses at The New York Times:

Memes, videos and online chatter have flooded social media, and some people are making plans to see the two movies on the same day. A debate about which order to see them in — ‘Barbie’ first to start the day off light, or ‘Oppenheimer’ first, to end on a more cheerful note — hasn’t been settled.

It is nice to read article written in non-internet English after suffering through the IGN piece.

The curious crossover is also giving rise to real-life merchandise. A Google search for ‘Barbenheimer T-shirt’ brings tens of thousands of results, and sellers on Etsy have designed their own versions. Some feature Robbie and Murphy, while others combine Barbie’s pink font with a pink drawing of an atomic cloud.

Spending money on the joke is going a little bit too far. What are you going to do with a “Barbenheimer T-shirt,” wear it once?

(Please do not wear it. We already have too many adults walking around in graphic T-shirts.)

While I cannot say for sure, it seems entirely possible that Cobble Hill Cinemas is winking at the meme by presenting the debuts of Barbie and Oppenheimer as Barbie & Oppenheimer. The meme is not actually very funny (this fact reveals itself after about 10 seconds of reflection). However, the marquee without knowledge of the meme is funny.

(Careful… What percentage of passers-by know who Oppenheimer is?)

The memes miss the real opportunity. A Barbie-Oppenheimer double feature is just a way to spend too long in the theater. If you remove double and create a Barbie-Oppenheimer feature, you would have something special – genuinely original and all done in the space of a single feature film.

(Alas, Barbie’s copyright holders would probably object to a genuine cross-over.)

The true lesson if this article is that context is overrated.