After a turbulent year for media and entertainment businesses, the box office booked its biggest weekend since the COVID-19 pandemic. It owes its success to two unlikely—and polar opposite—epics: “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.”
The two films opened to a combined $235.5 million in the U.S. and Canada. Both films have soldiered on since opening, with “Barbie” amassing a mighty $774 million gross and Oppenheimer eclipsing $412 million.
Both figures have put the films well on their way to being among 2023’s biggest grosses—and their massive successes can be credited in part to the zeitgeist-y meme culture which has sprung up around their serendipitous counterprogramming. And after a rough few years for large companies, the brands behind the names are looking to flex.
Barbie’s producers at Warner Bros Discovery—which only months ago spun off from former parent company AT&T—looked to remind the masses who brought Barbie’s dreamhouse (and dream fortunes) to the big screen. In a similar way, Oppenheimer’s producers at Universal looked to flex the resounding success of what they deemed a “company-wide priority” for parent company Comcast.
In other words, both media companies—which like their competitors have spent most of the last few years wading through COVID chaos, business reorganizations, upheaval in the media space, and other disruptions—looked to make their presence known. And retail investors turned their attention to Warner Bros and Comcast stock, according to data from Public.com.
“I think a lot of these studios are sort of struggling to make sure that people know that their content is theirs,” said Katie Perry, the GM of B2B at Public. “What we’ve heard from the IR teams in this space is that there is a big focus on the retail [investor] side.”
Off the silver screen, the Barbie effect had another big benefactor: her inventors and owners at Mattel, who have penciled in the outline for a cinematic universe based around toy brands like Barbie. It could mean more original IP comes out of childhood games and toys like Uno and Polly Pocket.
“A lot of retail investors are experiencing things in their everyday lives and their next step is, ‘Can I invest in this?’” said Perry.
Years back, when the Barbie film was first pitched, perplexed fans and investors met the idea with great consternation. However, the success of Barbie’s first starring appearance—and the promise of more—has given investors the outline for Mattel’s ambitious vision. Investor interest in the stock exploded in the lead-up to the film.
One thing is for sure: the box office blues look to be behind studios and their collaborators, a suggestion that the days of COVID are numbered. However, that doesn’t mean success will be a given in an increasingly streaming-centric world. If Disney’s latest streaming failures have been any indication, the future of the box office might require reinvention and reimagination—both on part of theater brands and the studios responsible for bringing big ideas to life.