'Jagged rocks litter a dusty desert landscape'JOSH HILD ON UNSPLASH

Jagged rocks litter a dusty desert landscape. An urgent orchestra underscores solemn narration. There’s a sepia overtone, an antique tint to the scene. This is important, historical… and it’s coming to cinemas on the 21st of July 2023.

You’ve guessed it; I’m talking about Barbie. Or, actually…maybe I’m talking about Oppenheimer? Because, of course, that’s the dilemma on all our minds: which of two of the year’s most anticipated releases do we choose to see first? They’re hitting cinemas on the same day, but totally different films made for very different crowds. Let’s just say, so fantastic, made of plastic is a world away from so cataclysmic, made for nuclear destruction. Yet this stark contrast is exactly what makes these films set to be box office gold. Twitter has declared the war is on. Do we have to choose a side?

“so fantastic, made of plastic is a world away from so cataclysmic, made for nuclear destruction”

Barbie’s ingenious first trailer offers a tongue-in-cheek parody of the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey – except Kubrick’s looming black monolith has been displaced by… well, a larger-than-life Barbie Doll. After Margot Robbie’s sugar-sweet wink, the colours shift and POP – there’s Ken, there’s the Cadillac, there’s…a lot of pink. For director Greta Gerwig, with her ‘mumblecore’ roots, the infinitely cheesy grins of the Barbie world present a very different ballgame. How far will Gerwig go into the insidious narrative behind the doll, a staple of children’s playrooms since way back in 1959? One body fits all! But it’s white, able bodied - oh and doctors predict a real life Barbie unfortunately wouldn’t be able to walk, as her legs are just too darn long. Is the real world done with Barbie? Or is there room for her to move with the times? You may hate Barbie but, as Robbie’s character bravely dons the Birkenstocks and enters reality in the film’s latest trailer, it’s hard not to be intrigued – even if only by the popping pink colour palette.

'a tongue-in-cheek parody of the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey

But the competition isn’t going down without a fight. And Christopher Nolan’s not here to mess around. More than a biopic – star Emily Blunt has declared it a ‘thriller’ – he’s exploring the devastating impact of J. Oppenheimer’s dangerously brilliant mind. Haunting black and white snapshots of press conferences, the restrained agony in Murphy’s face, retrospectively tragic celebrations of crowds. The film at first glance appears to be a historical drama – but how will it be ‘Nolan-ised’?

According to the director himself, Oppenheimer is his most ‘ambiguous and paradoxical character yet’, and in classic Nolan non-linearity, the film will provide a simultaneous public and private perspective: colour film for Oppenheimer’s view of the world, black and white for the detached, objective narrative. And it seems his disdain for CGI is actually perfectly in theme: the Trinity Test? No problem. Through use of ‘bigatures’ (as big as possible miniatures) his special effects team recreated the intense blaze through gasoline, aluminium powder and magnesium! A literal case of bang for your buck.

“Oppenheimer is his most ‘ambiguous and paradoxical character yet’”

But why have these films been set up in such harsh competition with each other? A battle of two very different contemporary ‘auteurs’? Or perhaps a case of financial tension –Oppenheimer will need at least $400 million to break even, Barbie only $100 million. Adding to the pressure is Tom Cruise’s equally anticipated Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part One – in fact, Cruise has made the rivalry clear, recently contacting studio executives to challenge Oppenheimer’s longer run in IMAX cinemas, at the expense of his own film.

'The competition isn't going down without a fight'

Twitter-warriors are keen to set Barbie and Oppenheimer against each other using any evidence they can: ’Barbie’s second trailer released on Cillian Murphy’s birthday!?’ – a battle cry from Warner Bros. ’Nolan RE-commits to his already set release date of the 21st?’ Horses ready, both are hungry for war!


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But aside from Twitter’s blown-up feud, there’s no real rivalry between the two. Any active attempts to curtail opposition have actually come from a third party – Cruise. So why don’t we set up Mission Impossible against Oppenheimer? After all, they’re both action packed and filled with espionage. The media seems determined to pose the ‘gals’ film against the ‘guys’; Twitter users joke about heterosexual couples going their separate ways on the 21st: the woman off for some girly reminiscing, the man for an adrenaline filled, hardcore macho experience.

“The media seems determined to pose the ‘gals’ film against the ‘guys’”

The gendered nature of this battle is insidious, implying that audiences should and will be divided, and that both films can’t be appreciated by anyone and everyone. The lack of diversity behind the camera has rightly become much more scrutinised in recent years – yes, in 2021 and 2022, two female directors bagged the Oscar, but they were only the second and third women in Oscar’s history to do so. The divide this feud is promoting is both unhelpful and unnecessary. It’s time to get excited about the fact that female directors are getting closer to equal recognition and respect as male directors. We’re not there yet: the dark Twitter cloud that surrounds the films sadly shows this. But we can push back - both films deserve the same clout and we’re going to give it to them. Just make sure to swap round your IMAX glasses for pink sunnies in between.