It all of a sudden became the summer of two blockbuster movies. We have Oppenheimer and Barbie. Two extremes. Dubbed “Barbenheimer” many will flock to the theatres to see one, or the other, or both. I know what you’re thinking, no competition — they attract two very different crowds. And I would have said the same. But hear me out. Both are very worthy to see.

Let’s start with the thriller biographical Oppenheimer written and directed by the incredible Christopher Nolan. Based on the 2015 biography titled American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

Nolan himself, an Academy and Golden Globe winner (and many other accolades) was already a big draw for film lovers for his work on many rich and complex on-screen stories. He’s considered a genius in the entertainment world and well, it made sense that he took a quantum leap in bringing us the complex life of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Considered one of the most important theorists and scientists not only in America but the world, Nolan takes us on a three-hour examination of what made this man tick. Even if you know nothing more than the Atomic Bomb killed thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki this will give you a better understanding.

Oppenheimer (played by the incredible Cillian Murphy) went to Harvard University and then was encouraged to continue his studies in Europe. He returned to the US and became a prof at the University of Berkeley, California and continued his career in theoretical science. Some of his most significant contributions to the scientific world included his work in nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, black holes…so many more! And he worked with many significant scientists and theorists of his time.

In this film, we learn that Oppenheimer’s dream was to merge his love of his work with his favourite place in the world, New Mexico. When he was appointed to direct operation  Manhattan Project, he insisted that an entire town was created at this secluded location. Named Los Alamos he would convince not just the most brilliant American minds in the scientific community to join him, but also their families.

Their mission was to create the first nuclear weapon capable of mass destruction. And they were successful. Let that sink in. 

Oppenheimer Movie

L to R: Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer and Robert Downey Jr is Lewis Strauss in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.

The film is brilliant in getting into the mindset of this deeply complex man and how it affected his life. But it also serves as a sombre reminder of just what the world is capable of.

While Oppenheimer was celebrated and revered as one of the most important scientists in the world he completely understood what this all meant both personally and professionally. He spends most of his life lobbying for international control of nuclear weapons.

Some of the other fascinating aspects of Oppenheimer I found interesting were his love for the arts and his interest in learning other languages including Sanskrit.

‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’ ~ Bhagavad-Gita

Pay attention to the women characters in this film. Emily Blunt plays “Kitty” Puening his wife as well as Jean Tatlock (played by Florence Pugh) whom he was also involved. Both are quite fascinating and have their own stories to tell.

The film is filled with even more incredible actors. Robert Downey Jr. is hardly recognizable in his role as Strauss and probably the most interesting and gripping role I’ve ever seen him in. Oscar contender, perhaps?

Margot Robbie as Barbie (photo credit Warner Bros Pictures)

And what about Barbie The Movie?

Well, we’ve been pretty much bombarded with all the hype for this film. But it’s more than meets the eye in our “little girl” Barbie dream world where everything is perfect. And abso-freaking-lutely there are empowering messages for women and girls (and those who identify as) of all ages. But it’s not gratuitous nor rammed in our faces trying to be everything to everyone. No. Greta Gerwig’s Barbieland that reminds us we are all Barbies living life. The key word is LIVING.

Yes, it’s a bit lighter but don’t be fooled, this is a story that goes beyond the “stereotypical Barbie” (played by Margot Robbie). The film has many layers that peel back and mostly on self-identity. Rather than looking out and comparing to others in today’s world of social media (yes, that’s brought up) this film suggests that we all look inwards.

Who are we? What are we made of? What’s worth fighting for?

Not just Barbie…but also Ken(s). As this film is also about Ken (played by Ryan Gosling) discovering his own identity and who is he without Barbie?

Not gonna lie…a few times I wanted to scream “YES, GIRL!” but we were in a smaller VIP theatre in the ‘burbs. I’m sure the crowds in the larger theatres won’t be so reserved. I might just need to see it again in the thick of it all just to get that experience.

I loved the unexpected nods to the discontinued Barbies – Skipper, pregnant Mitch, and Alan (played by Michael Cera) — who was created to be Ken’s friend but didn’t quite work out. And the nod to the “played-with-too-hard” or “weird” Barbies (played by Kate McKinnon)…you know, the ones we gave haircuts and marker faces to? Sorry, sis…yeah, that was me.

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Kate McKinnon as weird Barbie (photo credit Warner Bros Pictures Canada)

So, what should you see?

I saw both and definitely would see Oppenheimer first…then see Barbie after. You’ll need a bit of laughter and fun. But definitely see both.

Some additional tips…

See Oppenheimer in comfortable seats. It’s three hours long. While it does move at a decent pace it’s a long time to be seated in uncomfortable chairs in older theatres.

Also, this film is presented also in 70 mm IMAX for a richer movie-going experience. Unfortunately, at the press screening the 70 mm didn’t make it on time to the theatre I was at.

Barbie is fun for sure. Highly entertaining and yes, many wore pink to the advance screening. Go a bit earlier to the theatre just to people-watch. Stay for the credit after the film as they will show some iconic dolls in the Mattel Barbie lineup. Oh, and the movie’s soundtrack is amazing. Billie Eilish’s song “What Was I Made For” has such deep meaning against the bubble gum dance tunes.

Is Barbie for kids? Kinda but not really. It’s rated PG-13. But if you do, just be prepared to answer some questions afterwards. Most of the adult content may just go unnoticed but you might have to explain why Barbie and Ken do not have genitals.

Oppenheimer and Barbie The Movie open in theatres on July 21, 2023.

Note: While both films are expected to be box office hits, we also encourage you to read about the current SAG strike here and what it means to Canadians.