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“Barbenheimer” Brings New Look to Movies

Throughout the past few years, cinemas have been dominated by franchise movies that often follow the same plot with different characters. This summer, “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were able to captivate audiences with their strong stories and fresh perspectives.  

“Barbie’’ follows the story of Barbie as she faces an existential crisis that causes her to further question the life that she was living. Despite this serious plot, the movie features bright colors, pop tunes and comedic relief through the Kens.  

“I thought ‘Barbie’ had such a wonderfully fresh tone to it overall,” Rai Genna, the Chair of the USD Theatre Department, said. “It was very clever in terms of conveying the messages that it wanted to convey without hitting you over the head.” 

“Oppenheimer,” on the other hand, followed J. Robert Oppenheimer as he worked on the development of the atomic bomb while questioning the morality and the consequences the bomb would have on the world.  

“‘Oppenheimer’ is totally different in terms of tone, but again, it was really different from what has been out there for a while,” Genna said. “I thought it wasn’t perfect, but I thought it was a really strong film. Oddly enough, it didn’t feel like three hours.” 

These two movies, while vastly different in tone, were able to distance themselves from the superhero-like movies that had been the norm.  

“I do think that we had a very lackluster summer in terms of movies,” Genna said. “The movies that we had had prior to that were just rehashes of what we had seen before, and the idea that we had, coming out on the same day, ‘I have become death, destroyer of worlds’ – this really dark, foreboding thing, and then we have ‘Barbie.’ I was really happy that the whole purpose wasn’t ‘Hey, this is a franchise.’” 

Furthermore, these movies offered viewers the opportunity to celebrate something and make an event out of the premier.  

“It resembled ‘Star Wars’ in that people dressed up to go see the movie, so there was a level of cosplay that went beyond just people who grew up playing with Barbie,” Genna said. “There is so much happening in the world, I think that people wanted to celebrate something. They wanted to have an event.” 

For many, “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were seen as a double feature, in which viewers saw both movies in the same day. Additionally, many viewers also referred to the simultaneous viewing of both as “Barbenheimer,” a term that the public came up with, rather than the studio.  

“It was that fan creation that made it sound like ‘Hey, movies are back’… I think it demonstrated that, in terms of cultural significance, that at least in this historical moment, people want to see interesting stories,” Genna said.