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The Phenomenon of Barbenheimer

The Phenomenon of Barbenheimer

August 23, 2023

Barbie, a fantasy comedy about the famous fashion doll, and Oppenheimer, an epic biopic about the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, both had their box office debuts on July 21, 2023.

The internet was in an uproar over these two extreme opposites, with netizens declaring their intention to see both on opening weekend. They dubbed the endeavor ‘Barbenheimer,’ a portmanteau of the titles. This spawned comedic memes and merchandise, and even the Library got in on the action with some fun displays! Here are just a few examples of the fabulous displays created at our branches.


The Barbie film follows the iconic doll as she travels to the real world in search of self-discovery. To call it a box office success is an understatement. In only three weeks, the movie surpassed the billion-dollar mark (global), making it a first for a sole female director. 

Talking with a friend of mine, she wasn’t surprised at its success, stating that “It’s an uplifting movie with all the feelings. I left with my own version of self-discovery. I’ll be watching it again.”
On the other side of this mash-up is Oppenheimer, based on the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. It tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his pivotal role in creating the atomic bomb.

In a way, this is a movie of self-discovery too. This time, a physicist’s joy and success turn to horror and turmoil in the face of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with his haunting realization: “I become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
This movie has surpassed other successful WWII films, including Oppenheimer’s director Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk and Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. I predict the film will garner plenty of Oscar nods come awards season.

Was the Barbenheimer craze the catalyst for their success? Of course, you can’t deny it helped – but most of all, these movies, though polar opposites, have stories that profoundly affect the viewer.

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