Initially, viewed as a cinematic death match between two films of diametrically opposed thematic content, the fateful scheduling has instead been embraced by the internet and filmgoers alike, who have decided to watch both films on the same day in an old-school double-header. Thus, #barbenheimer was coined — spawning countless memes and merch.
While its origins story began online, #barbenheimer was perhaps kickstarted by none other than Tom Cruise, whose latest instalment of the Mission Impossible spy franchise Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1, dropped just last week. In an effort to encourage cinemagoers to get out to movie theatres more broadly, the hardest working man in Hollywood said he’d be seeing both Barbie and Oppenheimer, even speculating on what order he’d view them.
It’s a good question — do you treat the seemingly lighter but subversive Barbie as a palate cleanser before sinking your teeth into Nolan’s meaty examination of the architect of the atomic bomb, or do you take the hit first and then recover with a pink champagne cocktail of fabulousness? Cruise went with Oppenheimer first. Barbie actor Issa Rae agreed saying at Barbie’s London premiere, “If you see Oppenheimer last you might be a bit of a psychopath”.
Of course, it’s not the first time two contrasting buzzy films have been released on the same day. Back in 1999, The Matrix went up against 10 Things I Hate About You; in 1988 Die Hard and A Fish Called Wanda both set forth on a path toward $100m takings and in 1995, Martin Scorsese’s Casino and Pixar’s first feature Toy Story offered audiences a choice between mobsters and figurines. Of course, pre-‘proper’ internet, none of those films received the requisite online and social media harvesting required to produce a hash tagged double-header mashup.
But if you can’t justify the combined four hours and 54 minutes (Oppenheimer accounts for three of those hours — here’s Esquire’s atomic bomb viewing guide) out of the house to make it to #barbenheimer, there are alternatives you can access through your streaming services to create your own mashups on the couch.
In the spirit of #barbenheimer here’s 10 movie doubleheaders worth giving a spin. Our choices are predicated on the movies being of contrasting genre or having irresistible portmanteau qualities (see below #PsychoWolf).
#NoteWick – The Notebook/John Wick
Romantic yearning meets a vengeful one-man army racking up a lemming-like body count. See Issa Rae’s above comment regarding psychopaths — if you watch Wick second you may have trouble sleeping — perhaps #Wicknote is the smarter play.
#Shawgirls – The Shawshank Redemption/Showgirls
We’re pitting earnest, heart-warming inspiration against R-rated, gratuitously subversive nihilistic raunch. On second thoughts the rich timbre of Morgan Freeman’s voice is possibly the most anxiety-chasing tonic known to man, so let’s finish with Shawshank — #ShowRedemption, it is.
#Batfellas – Batman/Goodfellas
Scorsese is on record as detesting comic book movies’ relentless box office march so this is on the list just to annoy Marty. In truth, it’s difficult to say who’s the scarier character — Jack Nicholson’s unhinged Joker or Joe Pesci’s foul-mouth sicko, Tommy DeVito.
#Psychowolf – American Psycho/Wolf of Wall Street
Okay, these two films play in the same pool, both satirical takes on the vacuous corrosiveness of ’80s era corporate greed, but we couldn’t resist the lure of #psychowolf’s suitably bloodthirsty portmanteau qualities. Note: in honour of the subject matter you should really watch these in suit and tie, preferably pinstripe.
#Pulpless – Pulp Fiction/Clueless
Apart being released within a year of each other in the mid-nineties, at first glance Pulp and Clueless appear to be chalk and cheese. Tarantino’s seminal series of interlinking capers in the LA underworld mixes violence, mayhem, vengeance and resourceful problem solving (Winston mother-f*cking Wolf), with humour and surprising tenderness (Bruce Willis and Maria de Medeiros). Amy Heckerling’s delightful dissection of high school mores through the prism of Jane Austen is a superior teen rom-com. The unifying link between the two films? Dialogue that lands in the eardrum like warm honey and proceeds to take root in the collective consciousness – “Oh, I’m sorry, did I break your concentration”/ “Oh, my God. I am totally buggin’”.
#Termball – Terminator/Moneyball
Prescient sci-fi meets ahead of-its-time sports analytics. Body (Arnie) vs face (Brad — to be fair, Brad has a killer rig). The fight against humanity’s demise at the hands of AI versus the march of data over instinct and intuition. These days analytics in sports is being crunched by algorithms so perhaps these films share more in common than first thought.
#Topend – Top Gun: Maverick/Avengers: Endgame
Cruise has never donned spandex (Les Grossman doesn’t count) in comic book fare and famously does his own stunts. TGM is a throwback triumph of old-school movie star myth-making and a top-shelf example of #dadcinema. Endgame is a CGI-infused exercise in franchise world-building aimed squarely at fanboys. That they both share a colon in the title is probably worth mentioning. Old school vs new rules. This is a battle for the future of cinema.
#Airstars – Air vs Shooting Stars
Both released this year, this is on the list purely for the binary potential to pit Jordan and LeBron in a cinematic proxy battle of the GOAT debate and for the subsequent loungeroom stand-off between Xer parents and millennial teens that could result. They are very different films — Shooting Stars is a biopic of LeBron’s high school career while Air recounts the corporate machinations that went into making the first Air Jordan sneaker. Both have plenty of fodder for haters.
#Godli – Godfather/Gigli
Perhaps we’re stretching the very limits of the premise here but why wouldn’t you want to watch one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time (hint: it’s The Godfather) and one of the most reviled on the same night, if for no other reason than to appreciate the possibilities and pitfalls inherent in the cinematic artform? That wasn’t a rhetorical question.
Before there was #barbenheimer there wasn’t #dunkbird, until now, anyway. For our final entry it makes sense to go back to where we started with a #GretaNolan special. The British auteur’s masterful tale of the evacuation of the titular French town by land, sea and air, meets early aughts teen angst in suburban Sacramento. The only thing these two have in common? They’re both cracking movies. Let’s hope #barbenheimer is up to the benchmark set by #dunkbird.