Most people love going to the movies, a tradition intertwined with the movies themselves. That’s created subsects and events in going to the movies, such as So Bad It’s Good screenings like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, or audience participation screenings like with Rocky Horror Picture Show, but the most popular of them all, is the double feature.
These can happen for any number of reasons, maybe a movie is getting a rerelease, or maybe you’re at home and you found two movies starring Mark Wahlberg you wanted to see, or most interesting of them all, they both release in theatres on the same day and you made an event of it.
Earlier this year, the internet lost its collective minds when it was announced that Christopher Nolan’s World War 2 set character study on physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer would coincide with the release date of Greta Gerwig’s pink-covered satirical take on gender roles in Barbie. Many even took to calling the potential double feature “Barbenheimer”.
But this isn’t the first time movies of much much different audiences have shared releases, hell not even this year. Air and Super Mario Bros, The Covenant and Evil Dead Rise, Across the Spider-Verse and The Boogeyman, and so on and so forth all share release dates, but none of them created such a buzz around sharing a release date.
I think it comes down to two simple things, appeal, and demographics first and foremost. Barbie is a universally known brand by kids and adults alike and has been a selling-out toy icon for decades. Oppenheimer is the architect of the single most famous event of the last century and is helmed by one of if not the most popular current working filmmakers.
The other massive draw, at least as an audience member that shot this to people’s attention as a double feature to notice, was that there was an incredible clash of aesthetics, something that the other titles on display don’t carry. Bright, campy, and pink contrasted against harsh grainy reality.
Some of those sets of potential double features mentioned may have had one or two of those elements, but not both, Barbenheimer was just a unique moment in the internet landscape that more and more companies are leaning into. With the recent moving up of the release date for the hotly anticipated Saw X to keep it away from Blumhouse’s other October releases, it now perfectly aligns with the release date of Paw Patrol: the Mighty Movie, creating a phenomenon by the name of “Saw Patrol”.
Whether it’s organic hype or corporately manufactured is anyone’s guess, but at this point, it may be the future of cinema for studios to bank on the marketability of the double feature that other studios’ titles may provide. In its debut weekend, Barbie earned over 150 million domestically, and Oppenheimer with nearly 100 million in the same market, there is a real audience to be had on this trend.
If this is what brings audiences in droves back to the theatre, then who can complain, if they see more movies, eat some more popcorn, and enjoy themselves, then maybe this industry I love can save itself through the weird and often chaotic power of the internet.