July Movie Spending Gets a Boost from Barbie and Oppenheimer

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The wildly popular “Barbenheimer” — also known as Oppenbarbie or Boppenheimer, depending on how you feel about the twin-bill summer box office phenom of Barbie and Oppenheimer — sure helped to drive U.S. consumers back to cinemas last month, but movie-going is still struggling to catch up to other recreational spending categories post-pandemic. Outlays for movie theater-going grew in July at an annualized rate of nearly 11% from June, outshining the spending gains last month at sporting events and concerts or live theater, data out Thursday from the Commerce Department showed. Total consumer spending rose a stronger-than-expected 0.8% last month.

The internet has been abuzz with memes, creative fan-made content, and other online excitement over the upcoming release of two movies that are almost opposites: Margot Robbie’s Sunshine and Rainbows film Barbie and Top Gun star Tom Cruise’s action flick Oppenheimer. A few weeks before the films’ release, AMC Theatres reported that 20,000 people had already bought advance tickets to see them both on their twin-release date of July 21.

It’s a rare example of counterprogramming, where a tonally different film is released on the same day as a major blockbuster to broaden its appeal. But it’s also a testament to the power of social media and how it can quickly shift consumer demand for a film. In the first hours after Barbie and Oppenheimer’s release date, a Wikipedia page was created and edited by users, who dubbed it Barbenheimer, or in some cases, Oppenbarbie.

That page now has more than 25,000 edits. It’s a fantastic story of how the internet can create a cultural phenomenon out of nothing that will likely reverberate beyond the online world for some time to come.

While the film’s raging success has certainly made waves, it’s unlikely to have an outsized impact on consumer spending in other categories. Movie-going still needs to catch up in larger areas like clothing and household furnishings, and ongoing actors and writers will weigh down the upcoming fall season’s new releases strikes.

The success of Barbie has not only helped to bolster the summer box office, but it’s also been a boon for AMC Theatres, one of the largest cinema chains in the United States, and is known for its unique dining and drink offerings during movies. Nick Isani, private event sales manager for the East Coast at the chain, said he’s seen an increase in requests to host screenings of Barbie and Oppenheimer for birthday parties and other gatherings. The chain is happy to oblige. “We’re thrilled to have this positive buzz out there,” Isani said. “We’re seeing some cool, innovative ways to bring people into the movie theaters.” He added that he expects those numbers to rise as the public becomes aware of the double feature opportunity. “This is a fun, unexpected way to drive traffic,” Isani said. “We hope it keeps going.”

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