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Barbie Vs. Oppenheimer: The Cinematic Event Of Our Lifetime

This piece was assigned before the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike began. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movies being covered here wouldn’t exist. We, as a company, stand in solidarity with the writers and actors fighting for fair payment and wages.

The pop culture event of the century is here to nuke the planet pink. It’s Barbie Vs. Oppenheimer.

[Art by JustRalphy]

For the better part of the year, the date July 21, 2023, has dominated the pop culture zeitgeist. The day the world will change forever. The ultimate cinematic showdown: ‘Barbie’ vs ‘Oppenheimer.’ Memes, fanmade posters and merch, and viral videos plastered all over the internet. Tens of thousands of presale tickets sold for both movies on opening day. Even the stars of each movie buying tickets for the other. Who isn’t on the Barbenheimer train by now?

Even though these movies could not be more opposite stylistically, there are some similarities. The first thing they have in common is that they both have insanely stacked casts. ‘Barbie’ features Margot Robbie as the titular character, Ryan Gosling as Ken, Michael Cera, Issa Rae, Dua Lipa, Helen Mirren, Will Ferrell, and more. While ‘Oppenheimer’ features Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, and more.

Another similarity is the practical approach both films took. ‘Barbie’ built full life-size sets of Barbie Land, including painted skylines that were used in musicals and movies before visual effects were invented. ‘Oppenheimer’ was shot completely in camera. No green screens and no CGI were used to create any aspect of the movie, just to enhance certain shots. This is no surprise with both movies being helmed by award-winning and critically acclaimed directors Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan, respectively, with both looking to garner award-season attention once again with these films.

So before declaring who comes out on top in Barbie Vs. Oppenheimer, let’s look at what makes both films so absolutely sensational.

Oppenheimer is a dark and explosive look at a world-defining moment

[Photo via Universal Pictures]

In the cinema landscape, few event directors like Nolan remain. Always a revolutionary in the IMAX space, Nolan pushes the boundaries of the medium while also requiring the invention of new technology to keep up with his vision. This is the first movie that includes black-and-white sequences shot in IMAX. They even invented a new camera just for this purpose.

‘Oppenheimer’ is heavily inspired by the biographical book ‘American Prometheus: The Triumph And Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer’ by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. It follows the life of one of the single most important scientists of our lifetime. A leader in quantum physics, a theoretical physicist, and the father of the atomic bomb. 

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The amount of unbelievable performances in this movie is astounding, with Murphy and Downey Jr. not only guaranteed Oscar nominations but have to be odds-on favorites to take the top prize. Josh Hartnett, Blunt, Pugh, Damon, Dane DeHaan, Malek, the list goes on of the scene stealers within this masterpiece of a film. Ludwig Göransson’s score is also a character in its own right, adding immensely to the tension and emotion tenfold. 

[Photo via Universal Pictures]

Murphy’s portrayal of Oppemheimer is the role of a lifetime. He was not a perfect man – arrogant, unfaithful and crass – but had an unremarkable mind. Quite possibly one of the most important minds of our time. All of his flaws didn’t make him a bad person, just human. Without Murphy at the helm, this movie would not work. Oppenheimer’s moral dilemma with the creation of nuclear weapons delivers the emotion of the story, and the result is beyond heartbreaking.

If you’re not completely familiar with the Manhattan Project and Trinity test, which ended World War II, you get a deeply personal look into what resulted in one of the most infamous days in history. An exploration of morality in creation and destruction, theory and reality, power and knowledge. How power is actually being the one who employs people with knowledge. There’s also the terrifying revelation of what people in power will do with creations they don’t quite understand.

This is Nolan’s magnum opus. An anxiety-inducing thriller disguised as a biopic depicting a world-defining scientific achievement that will leave you absolutely devastated. It transitions from the rise of Oppenheimer as a theorist, a white knuckle race against time, and a political thriller wrapped in one. This is the most important film of our generation, led by and enhanced by career-defining performances. This is why movies exist.

Barbie’ is a meta-view of life itself masked by perfection and pastels

[Photo via Warner Bros.]

Greta Gerwig has delivered her biggest movie to date. The reported budget for ‘Barbie’ is $100 million, with her last two movies ‘Little Women’ and ‘Lady Bird’ costing half of that combined. This puts Gerwig in rarified air, being only the tenth woman to direct a movie with a budget over $100 million. It was a big swing, and she hit it out of the park.

‘Barbie’ centers around Stereotypical Barbie (Robbie) and Ken (Gosling). She is living the best day of her life every single day, while Ken’s only purpose in life is to get some sort of attention from Barbie. Her perfect life in Barbie Land starts to crack when she has intrusive thoughts of death and her permanently arched feet fall flat. While the other Barbies are appalled by her malfunctions, Robbie’s Barbie is tasked to venture into the Real World to fix a rift between the two worlds that she caused.

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In Barbie Land, there’s a Barbie President (Rae), Nobel Prize-winning Barbies, and a Supreme Court ruled by, you guessed it, Barbies. They believe that the Real World reflects this and that it helps inspire a perfect utopia mirroring their own. As soon as Barbie and Ken arrive in the Real World on Venice Beach, they realize everything is backwards. 

This film sets you on a surreal voyage of purpose with Robbie and Gosling at the center. Gosling exudes “Kenergy” in a hopeless and sometimes clueless dash to achieve his dreams of acceptance and admiration. Whilst Robbie offers a vulnerable and emotional journey as she struggles to deal with learning her purpose in life was a lie this whole time.

[Photo via Warner Bros.]

‘Barbie’ is equal parts poignant and introspective and filled with an assortment of laughs. The whole movie pokes fun at Hollywood, toxic masculinity, societal norms, the patriarchy, corporations, and everything in between. While pointing out the obvious body issues and unreal expectations Barbie dolls have put on society, this movie also redefines what Barbie can mean. Barbie can be anyone and achieve anything.

This film is truly one of a kind. Disguised on the surface as an IP-based blockbuster about one of the most popular toys of all time, ‘Barbie’ is a meta journey of morality, existentialism, and individuality. It toes the line of laugh-out-loud funny with rich emotional depth seamlessly. A love letter to women praising the flawed beauty of humanity, but also a film for everyone. An important generational message that we are beautiful just the way we are, not the perfectly packaged front we sometimes mask ourselves with.

Who is the winner of this pop culture phenomenon?

So, who wins the war of Barbie Vs. Oppenheimer? The fans, that’s who. Both films are incredible theater experiences in their own right. One literally devoid of color in moments, while the other has so much color it caused a national shortage of pink paint. Both tackle the human condition in drastically unique ways, and both are very important in their own ways. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the Barbenheimer double feature. Start with ‘Oppenheimer’ completely devastating you. Then close the night out with ‘Barbie’ to cleanse your palate with laughs and tears. This isn’t just the cinematic event of the summer, it’s the cinematic event of our generation.

‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ both hit theaters on July 21.


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