‘Barbenheimer’ double-feature breaks records at The Nick

Variety pronounced “Barbenheimer” to be “the movie event of the year.

It certainly was that at The Nick. And then some.

“Barbie” is the biggest draw in the theater’s history. And “Oppenheimer” is the fifth-biggest. Presented together as a double feature – the only such event in the Midlands – they drew 3,000 enthusiastic moviegoers over that one weekend that started on the fateful day of Friday, July 21. That’s 206 seats – the theater’s two screens combined – filled over and over, sellout after sellout.

How big was it in Nick terms? That weekend equaled one-tenth of our entire attendance in fiscal year 2023, which ended June 30.

And the fans kept coming after that, in droves.

What marketing genius came up with that name, “Barbenheimer?” Well, no marketing genius. It arose spontaneously and irresistibly as an internet meme – as The Nick’s Executive Director Sumner Bender characterizes it, the inspiration of “a bunch of film enthusiasts on Reddit.” The “Barbie” promoters saw its power, and threw their huge budget into riding that wave.

Of course, the name was originally ironic, arising from the fact that these two “opposite” films were opening on the same day. What could be a bigger contrast than a pink-drenched romantic comedy, with the main character a doll that has shaped the fantasies of little girls for 64 years… and a somber, three-hour biopic about the Father of the Atomic Bomb? That was based, mind you, on the expectations of people who had not yet seen either movie.

Those prejudgments were somewhat off, at least in the case of the glittery rom-com. “People who stayed away because they thought ‘Barbie’ was an overblown ad for a Mattel toy were doing themselves a disservice.” The Greta Gerwig hit is far more than that. “Ken” tried to tell us ahead of time that “It’s not what you think it is.”

Now, millions of people know he was right, including those “enthusiasts on Reddit.”

How many millions? As of Aug. 24, “Barbie” had outstripped “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” as the biggest-selling movie of 2023 with $575.4 million at the domestic box office. And it is expected to do the same soon internationally, having so far brought in $1.3 billion.

In a world full of screens showing “Barbie,” how did The Nick get such a big share of the turnout? Geography, explains Bender. The Nick is now the only theater in the Midlands that Columbians can get to without getting on an interstate.

While both were extremely boffo in Variety terminology, at The Nick, “Barbie” outsold “Oppenheimer” two to one. (“Oppenheimer’s” impressive run ends this week, and “Barbie’s” continues through Labor Day weekend.)

Of course, such bean-counting details are neither here nor there to the thousands of fans who have dressed up in pink and rushed to The Nick to see the show. They just came out and had an awesome time.