Box Office: ‘Barbie’ Breaks Ground With Biggest Opening Day of 2023, ‘Oppenheimer’ Dolling Up to $77 Million Debut (2023)

Greta Gerwig’s hot pink fantasia “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s intricately bleak historical drama “Oppenheimer” are both putting up box office openings to remember. In a summer movie season that has largely failed to keep spirits up, two bona fide blockbusters are showing that everyone can be a winner.

But the more winning winner between the two — the number one movie in North America — is Warner Bros. Discovery’s “Barbie.” After scoring $22.2 million on Thursday, the highest preview ticket sales of the year, the big screen bonanza about Mattel’s marquee doll kept the superlatives going on Friday, adding another $48.2 million from 4,243 theaters. That’s a $70.5 million total — the biggest opening day of the year, blasting past the $51.8 million earned by “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” in June.

The pink wave may not stop there, as “Barbie” now looks to score the biggest three-day debut of 2023. In the crosshairs is another branding flex — “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which landed $146.3 million in three days in April (as a caveat, the film opened with Tuesday previews and also played through the Easter holiday, drawing $224 million through that stretch). That animated feature currently stands as the highest-grossing release of the year, with $573 million domestically and $1.34 billion worldwide.

Gerwig’s “Barbie” also has a shot at scoring the biggest opening weekend ever for a feature with a female director. “Captain Marvel,” co-helmed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, earned $153 million in its 2019 opening. The record for a feature solely directed by a woman is currently held by Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” at $103 million, which “Barbie” will easily surpass.

All of this is to say, “Barbie” has gone boom. The film was a gambit by Mattel to enter the filmmaking space, costing $145 million to produce, not to mention more spending for a ubiquitous marketing campaign that went down to bus stop benches being painted pink and a Dreamhouse in Malibu. Reviews are glowing with a 90% approval rating from top critics on aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes and audiences are also ecstatic, as indicated by the enthusiastic “A” Cinema Score grade determined by surveying the first round of moviegoers. This weekend is proving to be an eruption, but the summer is far from over for “Barbie.”

Starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, the comedy follows the iconic doll as she travels from the fantastical Barbieland to the real world — which has some problems! The deep bench of ensemble talent includes Issa Rae, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, Simu Liu, Helen Mirren, Will Ferrell and many more.

The penultimate weekend of July had become Christopher Nolan territory over the past few years, as the renowned filmmaker opened two of his last four features (“The Dark Knight Rises,” “Dunkirk”) in that slot. (“Tenet” was also originally slated for it, but faced release delays due to the COVID pandemic.) Months after Nolan exited Warner Bros. and voiced blistering frustrations about the then-current leadership’s lack of commitment to exclusive theatrical releases, Warner Bros. followed up — arguably retaliated — by dating “Barbie” for the same weekend as Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” which the director had brought to Universal.

What once seemed like a contentious collision course now seems to have proven nothing but fruitful. “Barbie” may be winning the weekend, but “Oppenheimer” is still impressing. Playing in 3,610 locations, the sweeping biopic earned $33 million on its opening day, which includes $10.5 million in Thursday previews.

“Oppenheimer” is now looking to rank among the biggest opening weekends ever for an R-rated release. At the top of that list are a swath of franchise films, like “Deadpool” and its sequel, “It” and its sequel, plus the “Batman” spinoff “Joker” (which has already shot its own sequel). The film is currently projecting $77 million through Sunday, which would put it behind only “The Passion of the Christ” ($83 million) among the highest openings ever for a non-IP R-rated film — and the titular role of “Passion” has a bit more of a built-in fanbase than J. Robert Oppenheimer, to say the least.

The Nolan feature is also strongly benefitting from its showtimes in Imax auditoriums and other premium formats, which come with increased ticket prices. The filmmaker has a longstanding relationship with Imax, shooting large fractions of his features with the company’s heavy-duty cameras. (Also of note, the performance of “Barbie” is all the more impressive because it isn’t playing Imax auditoriums.) “Oppenheimer” is shaping up to be the third-biggest opening of Nolan’s career, behind “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

On top of that, Nolan features tend to stick around in theaters. “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk” nearly quadrupled their opening weekend numbers in their final domestic earnings. Even “Tenet” legged out to $58.5 million after its wide release debut of $9 million — in a time before a widely distributed COVID vaccine no less. “Oppenheimer” has drawn some of the strongest reviews of Nolan’s career (a 96% approval rating from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes), but — even more encouraging — audiences seem to have truly taken to the despairing three-hour epic, as inferred by the sterling “A” grade through Cinema Score. With strong buzz and already some good fortunes for awards season, “Oppenheimer” has the right stuff to keep drawing audiences in.

The film follows the life of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy, who was tapped by the U.S. military to spearhead the construction of the first atomic bomb. Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Casey Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Benny Safdie, Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek and many others also star.

Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One” had Imax screens snagged away by “Oppenheimer” after only eight and a half days of showtimes. Without premium ticket prices in play, the Tom Cruise sequel is facing a sizable tumble of about 62% in its second weekend, projecting a $21 million haul. That’d be much steeper than the 54% drop that “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” took in its sophomore outing.

That isn’t exactly what Paramount wants to see for a “Mission: Impossible” entry, which typically show formidable endurance at the box office. The previous two installments, “Fallout” and “Rogue Nation,” fell only 42% and 48% in their sophomore outings, respectively. Even as “Dead Reckoning” continues the critical hot streak for the series, that buzz isn’t translating to a very strong hold. Adding to the pain, this was by far the most expensive franchise entry yet, ballooning to a $300 million production price tag due to costly COVID-related delays and safety measures.

Domestic total should reach $120 million by Sunday, but “Mission: Impossible” has always been a stronger performer overseas. The series often finds more than two-thirds of its total gross in international markets. “Dead Reckoning” looks to maintain that pattern to keep afloat in the coming weeks.

“Mission: Impossible” might lose third place to Angel Studios’ “Sound of Freedom,” which continues to impress in its third weekend of release. Rivals are estimating a $20.1 million haul for the human-trafficking thriller, which would mark a slim 26% tumble — this after sales actually went up a staggering 38% last weekend. The film has proven controversial — Rolling Stone deemed “Sound of Freedom” a “QAnon-tinged thriller” that targets “the conscience of a conspiracy-addled boomer” — but it has certainly proven to have a target audience. Total domestic gross stands at $124 million, with no real signs of slowing down.

Religious and conservative media groups have rallied behind “Sound of Freedom.” Angel Studios has also instituted an unconventional “Pay It Forward” system, allowing people to donate money to the distribution banner so that the studio can purchase tickets for its own movie and distribute them for free. The company touts the initiative as a tool to raise awareness of its subject matter.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” looks to take fifth place, adding $1.9 million on Friday. The Harrison Ford finale didn’t exactly light up the box office since its disappointing debut in June, but it hasn’t fallen like a stone since then. In its fourth weekend of release, the adventure film will push close to a $160 million domestic gross through Sunday.

Lionsgate is also opening its horror film “Cobweb” in 310 theaters this weekend. Rivals are projecting a $450,000 weekend gross for the genre spin.

Additionally, Searchlight Pictures is expanding “Theater Camp” into 51 locations after debuting in six New York and Los Angeles venues last weekend. The ensemble comedy added $113,000 on Friday, up only 2% from its more limited opening.

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