Every now and then, the movie release calendar smashes together two big films on the same date. July 21st 2023 – assuming nobody blinks – is set to be one of those occasions.
On the one hand, there’s Christopher Nolan’s eagerly-awaited new film Oppenheimer, which seems to star everybody Nolan has worked with before, and is set to be one of the big ticket movies of 2023. And on the other, Warner Bros has announced that the long-mooted Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie in the title role, will be out on that day too.
On the surface, this is counter-programming at work. It’s common practice generally for an independent distributor to offer a distinct alternative to a major blockbuster on its release date. The different here is that these are two big films, that may be aiming at different audiences, but there’s still a finite amount of publicity oxygen.
Greta Gerwig is directing the Barbie film, that looks to be putting a wry, postmodern spin on the character. Ryan Gosling, Kate McKinnon, Will Ferrell and Simu Liu are amongst the extensive cast for the movie, that’s shooting in London now. A first image from the film has just been released too.
Oppenheimer is proving, as is the way with Christopher Nolan projects, to be a bit more secretive, save for its subject. We know it’s about J Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called ‘father of the atomic bomb’, and we know that it’s his first film since 2020’s Tenet.
Nolan, in negotiating his contract to take the film Oppenheimer to Universal Pictures, reportedly insisted that the studio release no other films in a six week window around his. Given that Universal’s slate is about the most active in Hollywood, with a new film on average every two and a half weeks, that was a bit of an ask. Yet given how keen every studio in town was to work with him when he left Warner Bros, a risk worth taking.
Warner Bros, ironically, has moved into the release vacuum created around the movie, and assuming neither studio switches its release date, the showdown is on. It’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d write, but Barbie will duly do battle with the atomic bomb in about 15 months’ time.