The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

Blowing Up: Barbenheimer

Illustration by Annabelle Cheung

Lying leisurely in bed, Micah Parr ’25 scrolled through his Instagram feed. Burrowed in a cascade of posts, one with a familiar blonde-haired silhouette amidst an explosion of hot pink mushroom clouds caught his attention. “Barbenheimer,” the post read, referencing the simultaneous release of two of the summer’s most anticipated movies, “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.” The stark contrast of two unrelated images on his screen brought a smile to Parr’s face. Parr said he found the concurrent release of the two films amusing.

“My friends and I made jokes about [Barbenheimer] long before it was a meme,” Parr said. “The idea of two completely different movies coming out at the same time was hilarious.”

Months before the debut of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” social media turned the shared release date of the films into the phenomenon of the summer. There were over 280 thousand mentions of “Barbenheimer” and over 1.4 million mentions of Barbie upon release, according to Brandwatch. Oppenheimer’s mentions, though a third of Barbie’s, still broke records. People began declaring their allegiances to the movies on multiple social media platforms, debating whether to watch Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) enjoy her life in Barbieland, or the development of the atomic bomb through the eyes of its creator, J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy). Olivia Kong ’25 said she had seen multiple TikToks asking users to choose between the two movies as the release date approached.

“There would be a side for ‘Barbie’ and a side for ‘Oppenheimer’ with tally marks to keep score,” Kong said.

In order to match the hot pink aesthetic of “Barbie,” some moviegoers chose to dress in outfits reminiscent of the plastic doll. Kong said she found the trend exciting and dressed in pink with her friends.

“I saw girls and guys in pink everywhere,” Kong said. “I think after [COVID-19], something like this excited everyone. It was a nice event that brought lots of people together to do something fun.”

Maya Ray ’25 said she appreciated how “Barbie” illustrated the struggles that women face.

“It did an expert job of navigating heavy topics with lighthearted moments,” Ray said. “I went into the movie not knowing what it was about and left feeling a little more understood. Even though some people have strong opinions on it, I hope that everyone that watched it left with a new understanding of what people can go through.”

Westflix Director of Media and Promotion Jacob Lutsky ’24 said though he appreciated the humor, sets and costumes in “Barbie,” there were areas for improvement.

“There’s the saying that goes ‘show don’t tell,’ and in terms of conveying the big themes of the movie, there was a lot of telling,” Lutsky said. “The messages were very on the nose and laid out word for word. It could’ve been done a little more naturally, but it still did a good job presenting important messages about sexism and equality. I’ve seen it twice and highly recommend [it].”

Cole Firshein ’26 said though they appreciated the cast and set design in “Barbie,” the movie itself left them disappointed.

“While I really liked the second half of the movie, I didn’t love the first half,” Firshein said. “There were too many musical cameos. I loved the production design, and Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling were great. [The movie] was really funny, but everyone hyped it up so much, and I expected to like it more than I did. I probably won’t watch [it] again.”

Alexa Liu ’25 said she was impressed with the well-crafted world and sharp humor of “Barbie,” but its feminist message lacked nuanced messages regarding race and class she had anticipated.

“The movie was well executed with its world-building and witty comedy,” Liu said. “However, I felt that the movie’s feminist message was a little obvious and lacked intersectionality for the characters that ultimately made the movie not as relatable as it was hyped to be in the media. All the Barbie characters only faced issues regarding being a woman, and I feel like people’s issues go beyond that. Even though the message is good, I think it reduces the root of many problems women of different races and classes face to just being a woman and not a woman of color.”

Though viewers are not dressing up for “Oppenheimer” in the same manner as “Barbie,” the movie has proved to be a critical success. Chris Marin ’25 said he found Nolan’s cinematic approach to the movie fascinating.

“As a fan of Nolan’s previous work, I really liked his interpretation of [this] controversial figure’s story,” Marin said. “I like how he gathered a lot of [different] perspectives on all those involved with the US’s secret mission and how he used black and white to differentiate the time periods, blending two stories into one.”

Henry Wain ’26 said he felt “Oppenheimer” lacked the depth that he expected.

“The poor pacing and lack of focus made ‘Oppenheimer’ an unfulfilling experience,” Wain said. “[‘Oppenheimer’] didn’t dive deep into any of [the bomb’s] issues, even with its drawn-out runtime. Oppenheimer was a real person who lived a full life, and trying to condense all the problems and emotions that he had to deal with into three hours is simply not possible.”

Finn Slootweg ’26 said watching the two movies in one sitting prevented him from experiencing the movies fully.

“It’s a lot of content to consume in one sitting,” Slootweg said. “People can get a better sense of both movies if they watch them separately.”
Despite their differences, the dual release of the films led to an increase in favorable reactions, according to Brandwatch. Slootweg said he views the two films as companions rather than rivals for this reason.

“It seemed to be more of a joint spotlight, encouraging people to see [the movies],” Slootweg said. “The idea of both movies releasing on the same day seems to have allowed for a broader audience to watch both [of the] feature films, showing how their popularity didn’t dictate a rivalry.”

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Crista Kim, Assistant A&E Editor

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