The movie business is alive!

Greta Gerwig’s sex wars “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s nuclear war “Oppenheimer” surpassed already stratospheric pre-release expectations at the weekend box office to collect a combined $235.5 million in the U.S. and Canada, a staggering total that sent a clear message to Hollywood: If you want to command the culture, you have to give the old franchises something new — not the same thread to the filmmakers.

“Original storytelling executed in the right way exploded in a really remarkable way,” said Richard L. Gelfond, the chief executive of IMAX, which accounted for 26 percent of the “Oppenheimer” participation in North America, outselling as much as 4. “These films were not sequels that looked the same as the last sequel in a long-running franchise. You could tell people noticed.”

Hollywood finally got past the pandemic: that said, North American multiplexes had their biggest crowds since “Avengers: Endgame” arrived in April 2019. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” powered the domestic box office to about $302 million in total weekend box office, with films like “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning” and “Probing the First Freedom.”

“Barbie,” a feminist manifesto wrapped in hot pink bubblegum, has sold about $155 million in tickets at domestic theaters, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. The PG-13 comedy collected an additional $182 million overseas. “Barbie” was released by Warner Bros. and cost $145 million to make, not including marketing expenses, which were considerable.

Box office analysts, using complex formulas to forecast ticket sales, expected “Barbie” to collect about $110 million in the United States and Canada. There was concern that the film might fall short of expectations, like several big-budget releases recently, including “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” Warner Bros. predicted a conservative $75 million.

It ended up being the biggest opening of Gerwig’s career, with a moonshot, cementing her status as one of Hollywood’s young “name” filmmakers—directors who mainstream ticket buyers recognize as delivering one-of-a-kind work. (Jordan Peele is another, along with more established cohorts like Nolan and JJ Abrams.) Gerwig, who wrote the “Barbie” script with her partner, Noah Baumbach, previously directed “Little Women” (2019) and “Lady Bird (2017). She has been nominated for three Oscars.

It was also the biggest opening on record for a female director, surpassing “Captain Marvel,” which was co-directed by Anna Boden and had $153.4 million in opening box office sales in 2019.

“Barbie” arrived as a full-on cultural event, with thousands of moviegoers draped in pink for screenings, doll memes flooding social media and marketers scrambling (sometimes clumsily) to shine at the moment. The audience was 65 percent female. “For a movie this rosy, you’d expect the audience to be closer to 90 percent female — we got a lot of guys,” said Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. “It exploded everywhere: big markets, small markets, coast to coast.”

Harrison Hood, 24, arrived at the AMC Kips Bay theater in Manhattan wearing “Barbie” regalia.Credit…Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

“Oppenheimer” helped inspire “Barbie” and vice versa, with their simultaneous release nicknamed Barbenheimer and movie fans captivated by their wild incongruity. Nolan’s film, which cost Universal Pictures at least $100 million to make, not including a megawatt marketing campaign, is a three-hour period drama about Robert Oppenheimer, the man known as “the father of the atomic bomb.” AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest theater chain, said more than 60,000 people bought tickets to see “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” as double features.

Universal said the R-rated “Oppenheimer” collected about $80.5 million in the U.S. and Canada — about 60 percent more than analysts predicted before release — and another $94 million overseas. The domestic audience was 62 percent male. Some IMAX venues playing “Oppenheimer” are sold out for the next few weeks, especially venues playing the film in 70mm.

“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” received rave reviews from critics. Ticket buyers gave each film an A grade in CinemaScore exit polls.

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