10 Aug 2023

Revival of cinema: Barbie and Oppenheimer hype brings crowds back to NZ theatres

6:40 am on 10 August 2023
Barbie (2023), directed by Greta Gerwig, starring Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie.

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in a scene from Barbie. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures - Heyday F / Collection ChristopheL via AFP

The global popularity of the Barbie movie is resonating in Aotearoa with more than $10,398,849 in earnings at the NZ box office in its third week.

With big films like Barbie and Oppenheimer, and the NZ International Film Festival bringing more people back to theatres after the disruption of Covid lockdowns, it seems that there is a revival of cinema.

Barbie is breaking box office records, reaching US$1 'barbillion' in global ticket sales in just 17 days.

The film is now near to reaching New Zealand's top 10 highest earning films.

Projectionist Meredith Malone at Auckland's Bridgeway Cinema told First Up they have not been so busy in a very long time.

"It's been great, the excitement. I feel like Barbie has taken over the world a little bit.

"Opening night to now, people are dressing up, lots of pink, I try to wear my pink earrings most days. And it's everybody, young to any age, and families, friends, girls' night out, dates.

"It's been quite amazing that it's caught the interest of everybody."

And it was not just Barbie bringing people back to the cinema.

"Oppenheimer has had also a great response, also sold out shows," Malone said.

"Sold out sessions, almost every session, especially on the weekends. We've got people doing private events for Barbie, birthday parties, adults, students, children, everybody."

(L-R) US actor Matt Damon, British Actor Emily Blunt, Irish actor Cillian Murphy and British Actor Florence Pugh pose on the red carpet upon arrival for the UK premiere of "Oppenheimer" in central London on July 13, 2023. (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh pose on the red carpet at the UK premiere of Oppenheimer in central London on July 13, 2023. Photo: AFP / Henry Nicholls

After a few lean pandemic years putting pressure on the film Industry, people have flocked back to the big screen worldwide.

Steve Newall is the editor of film and television website Flicks.co.nz. He said the hype was real.

"I've never in over 10 years of covering film been asked for tickets to a premiere more than I've been asked for Barbie, by an exponential amount. People are just really excited about it," he said.

"The word of mouth has continued after this film's opened. And I think that's the thing that's really exciting to see. There are lot of people chatting about movies at the moment."

While hot weather overseas has been attributed to driving people indoors to movie theatres, it could be New Zealand's colder, wetter weather, or the attraction of a big screen.

Newall said there was a certain magic to the cinema experience.

"It's so great to go out and see things on a big screen, I love it so much and there's just a particular feeling about sitting in a room with a bunch of people, all having a visceral response of some kind, whether it's fear or laughter or just being engrossed in a film, it's just really hard to replicate.

"It's the same reason we want to go to live shows, we want to share that experience with other people.

"Even if you don't want them rustling the chip packets or talking too much next to you there's something about that communal experience."

Barbie screening at The Bridgeway.

Barbie screening at Bridgeway Cinema. Photo: Facebook / Bridgeway Cinema

On the streets of Auckland, Barbie fans Nichelle and Himanshi said the movie struck an emotional chord.

"Everybody's talking about it. Friends, family, my older cousins are asking me about it... They like it to the point where they want to go watch it again.

"It also helped with, it's okay to not know what you want to be and you can still figure it out... It was just relatable in that sense.

"Growing up everyone, we saw Barbie as like a girly thing. Actually going in to watch the movie, it was more than just that, it showed issues that are relevant right now, like misogyny, objectification of women and inequality in the workplace and all that stuff.

"At our age I think those things really resonated with us to the point where I cried for like a really long time."

Meanwhile, a man talking to First Up said he was sucked into the hype by his mates.

"I kind of got dragged along with my friends. We were going to see Oppenheimer and Barbie. I kind of just wanted to see Oppenheimer, but of course, we had to go see the double feature," he said.

"I think everyone I know has seen it. Our group was like eight people going to see both movies at the same time."

Newall said it was exciting to see theatres filling up again, whether it is for 'Barbenheimer' or other events like the NZ International Film Festival.

"It sure feels like it at the moment, doesn't it, with all the different activity happening all at the same time. Last year, I think we were told that Tom Cruise had saved cinema. It feels a bit like we're all saving cinema together at the moment.

"In a way, while studios might be patting themselves on the back while there's a writers' and an actors' strike under way, these films kind of show, maybe more than a lot of other successful ones, just how important those people are to success.

"You can't just AI up one of these movies."

The popularity was a big relief for the Bridgeway, which during lockdowns was only able to make money selling ice cream and popcorn from the front window.

Malone thought the buzz would be here to stay.

"It's been a big recovery. We're finding ourselves trying to gear up for all the excitement, whereas in the past it's been slowly building. So it's actually been amazing for the cinema and for the crowd and the audiences and we're just trying to catch our breath."

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