How to do ‘Barbenheimer’ right

Jul 20, 2023, 12:24 PM

"Barbie" has big dance numbers. "Oppenheimer" has a big bomb. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)...

"Barbie" has big dance numbers. "Oppenheimer" has a big bomb. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

(CNN) — This weekend, the movies belong to dolls and doom.

It’s the cinematic event of the summer: Greta Gerwig’s splashy pink romp “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “emotionally devastating” three-hour epic “Oppenheimer” will roll out in theaters this Thursday. Aside from their prestige-y creative teams, the films have little in common, but dedicated cinephiles are devoting a full day of their lives to both. (“Barbie” is being released by Warner Bros., which shares parent company Warner Bros. Discovery with CNN.)

It’s the “Barbenheimer” double feature, and it started its life, as most phenomena do, as a meme. But as more people tweeted fan-made posters of Margot Robbie’s Barbie smiling in front of a mushroom cloud, the idea of a day spent at the movies started to sound like a good idea. (AMC said this week that 40,000 moviegoers already bought tickets to see both films on the same day — double the number it reported last week.)

It’s a gambit that some industry pundits hope could give the movie business a much-needed boost after earlier summer releases saw less-than-stellar box office returns. It’s also, perhaps, a necessity, as the Earth warms to historic highs and people grow restless in the dangerous heat. But leave the musings on death and destruction to the eponymous stars of both films.

Here’s the quintessential way to do a “Barbenheimer” double feature, from selecting showtimes to filling the space between the two films to navigating the wide range of emotions both films will elicit. A hint — definitely leave “Barbie” for last.

‘Barbenheimer’ 101

Ready to spend six-ish hours at the movies? Know what you’re in for first.

“Oppenheimer” is by all accounts a searing portrayal of a man whose brilliance wrought destruction the likes of which the world had never seen. It’s also over three hours long, so it’ll require some mental and physical endurance on the part of the viewer. It’s rated R, though for nudity and language, not violence.

“Barbie,” ostensibly a comedy, is somewhat more mysterious — the trailers are careful not to give away plot particulars, like how Barbie winds up in the real world and how Ken gets his groove back — but Gerwig and her cast have encouraged a range of reactions, including crying, laughing and crying laughing. It’s also under two hours and PG-13, so expect innuendo!

Bring the goods

Whether this means you bring a pillow and blanket for maximal comfort or order the largest popcorn tub sold by your local theater, arrive at the theater with all you’ll need to enjoy your double feature to the fullest.

Start by choosing the perfect theater. Do you prefer the cineplexes with seats that recline so far back you’re practically horizontal? Or if there’s a local independent theater near you, consider spending your day there to support it.

Snacks are, clearly, a must. Some movie theaters check your bags upon entry to make sure you aren’t sneaking in foods they don’t sell. Others do not. Pack accordingly, and if you’re buying on-site, get there early enough so you don’t miss the previews (and, at AMC, Nicole Kidman’s monologue).

Many theaters are okay with guests bringing blankets or other comfy accessories — this CNN writer has seen several moviegoers take their seats with pillows and Squishmallows in tow. (One shouldn’t worry about falling asleep mid-film — “Oppenheimer’s” sound design certainly won’t permit it, especially if viewers watch it in IMAX as Nolan intended.)

As for clothing — breathable sweatpants are often the way to go when you’ll be sitting for hours at a time. They also conveniently catch loose popcorn and M&Ms throughout your film.

See ‘Oppenheimer’ first

Do yourself a favor and get the more intense experience out of the way first so you don’t go home with the weight of mankind’s fate on your mind. “Barbie” should be lighter viewing, so think of it as saving dessert for after dinner. (Not that “Barbie” can’t also be a satisfying cinematic experience!)

Take it from Tom Cruise, last summer’s box office savior and post-pandemic theatergoing advocate. He says he’s seeing “Oppenheimer” first, on its opening Friday, and then “Barbie” “right after” so he gets to experience both with packed houses.

Time it out

If you prefer to arrive to a movie in the daytime and exit in darkness, schedule a late afternoon viewing of “Oppenheimer” to end with “Barbie” at night. It’s possible, though, if you see an “Oppenheimer” matinee (for which tickets are typically cheaper!), that you can walk out of “Barbie” and into some sunshine if you see Gerwig’s comedy that afternoon, too.

And be sure you give yourself enough space between films to stew on what you’ve seen, eat something and walk a few steps so your body remembers it’s not asleep. (Some Twitter users joked that they’d scheduled a stiff drink between “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” to shake off the existential dread of the former before the existential exploration of the latter.)

Perhaps your local theater has an arcade or a bar — like AMC’s MacGuffins Bar, which usually curates its menu with drinks based on the season’s biggest hits. If you’ve got plenty of time between the two, dissect the first film with friends over a meal or, if you’re alone, read up on all the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from celebs who signed up for a one-line role in Nolan’s epic.

Beware of the bathroom break

Hydration is key — except when you’re sitting through a three-hour epic. Neither “Barbie” nor “Oppenheimer” seem like they’ll be boring, so ahead of both films, use the restroom. This is particularly important ahead of “Oppenheimer,” lest Nolan finds out that you left his film to pee. The man takes movies seriously.

Use it again between “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie.” Gerwig’s film is also the more ICEE-friendly film, so re-up on snacks and such in between.

Make it a double-feature summer

Your double feature doesn’t have to be “Barbenheimer,” either. There are plenty of films to pair this summer: If you’re into cliffhangers, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” ends on a juicy one, so it might go nicely with “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One.” Women-led, R-rated sex comedies “No Hard Feelings” and “Joy Ride” would make for a raunchy duo. You could probably even make an argument to pair Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion” remake with Wes Anderson’s meditative “Asteroid City,” somehow. Nothing goes better with prestige than pure popcorn fare.

Sample ‘Barbenheimer’ itinerary

Wake up and ready your double-feature supplies (recommended: chocolate, roomy sweatshirt, your fuzziest socks).

10:50 a.m.: Arrive 10 minutes early for “Oppenheimer,” get an extra-large popcorn and prepare for cinematic annihilation.

2:30 p.m.: Stew on “Oppenheimer,” swoon over Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh, look into trips to New Mexico. Grab lunch and consider the fate of the world.

4 p.m.: See “Barbie,” preferably wearing something pink. Take the Ken in your life.

6:15 p.m.: Exit the theater embracing your newfound Kenergy. Maybe go dancing!

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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How to do ‘Barbenheimer’ right