Is ‘Wickediator’ Barbenheimer 2.0? Or are we all going insane?


Barbenheimer is back, baby. And this time, it’s all green.

At least, that’s what some overly confident movie studios would have us believe. Because almost exactly one year after the unlikely success of the same-day debut of Barbie (Greta Gerwig’s rose-coloured film about Mattel’s iconic doll overthrowing the patriarchy) and Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan’s look at the inventor of the atomic bomb), there’s a new mismatched double feature in town. And it’s called … “Wickediator.” Or maybe “Glicked.” Or, perhaps, it’s — three syllables, everyone — “Gla-dic-ked?”

Then again, maybe not. 

“These things can happen,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst with box office company ComScore. “But to me, this one — I don’t want to throw a wet towel on it, but somebody has got to come up with a name.”

The name springs from the attempted mashing-up of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator II (sequel to the 2001 story of, you guessed it, feuding Roman gladiators) with Jon Chu’s adaptation of the musical Wicked (an alternate history of The Wizard of Oz’s witches good and evil, hailing from various cardinal directions).

And, earlier this week, the latter shifted its release date to Nov. 22, when Gladiator II was already set to premiere, putting the two on a collision course.

WATCH | Barbenheimer cultural phenomenon explained: 

What is ‘Barbenheimer’? The cultural phenomenon, explained

With Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer set to hit theatres on July 21, CBC’s Ashley Fraser unpacks why the two films have become a cultural phenomenon spawning memes, T-shirts and double-feature plans.

But it’s one with some big potential rewards: a repeat of the biggest movie-marketing coup in recent memory, one that catapulted both Barbie and Oppenheimer to astronomical profits and a bevy of awards. In their opening weekend, the two pulled in roughly $244.5 million US together, eventually landing at nearly $1 billion US in the domestic U.S. box office, something Dergarabedian said would likely not have happened had they not been paired in the public consciousness.

“We’re always going to be manufacturing it in the wake of Barbenheimer,” he said of the now-entrenched phenomenon. “I mean, this is, like, the most coveted thing, but you can’t manufacture it.”

Barbenheimer revival

The hype machine for the Barbenheimer revival has already begun. In fact, it’s more than begun — Wicked was originally scheduled to release the same day as Moana 2, birthing its own uniquely unfortunate portmanteau: “Moaned.” 

The urge to identify and label new double-billing mashups, Dergarabedian said, comes both from audience members wanting to relive the communal experience of pink-tinged porkpie hats, and distributors aware of its potential effect. 

Shifting big-ticket releases — often with budgets that run over $100 million US — to come out on the same day is likely not a primary strategy for studios. But, in the face of less desirable outcomes, it can be a potential silver-bullet solution.

“Clearly, the studios knew, when they did that, that this would happen,” he said. “I don’t think at all they did it because of that.

“But they knew if we put two huge, high-profile movies on the same date right ahead of Thanksgiving, people are going to notice — and they’re going to try and mash up the titles, and make something out of it.”

The primary challenge is that Barbenheimer’s success was organic — something that’s next to impossible to recreate.

Corey Atad, a Toronto-based culture reporter and film critic, noted that it succeeded because it didn’t begin as an advertising stunt.

WATCH | Wicked trailer: 

The Barbie-Oppenheimer pairing was uniquely well matched, supported by grassroots excitement and also seemingly accidental, Atad said. Theatregoers were also drawn to the inherent comedy in the two films’ opposite tone and style. 

The double release was likely an attempt at counter-programming — where rival networks and studios strategically schedule major releases based on their competitors’ offerings — that the public actively sabotaged. Though it hasn’t been officially confirmed, Atad said it’s “pretty well understood” that Warner Bros. intentionally moved Barbie‘s release date to sink Oppenheimer, as an attempted form of revenge for Nolan leaving the company. 

“I don’t think that either studio, you know, Warner or Universal, necessarily expected what ended up happening,” he said. “The idea that studios would try to replicate something that was ultimately [a] grassroots thing that occurred — I don’t think that it’s possible to do that.”

Atad said it’s possible that Wicked was shifted simply because it’s different enough from Gladiator II that it won’t actually be competing for viewers, which isn’t the case for the fanbase of a Disney musical sequel. Although that could also mean that, in dodging Moana 2, the studios involved at least saw the possibility of setting up another viral event like Barbenheimer instead.

But most important, Atad said, is the fact that Wickediator looks like a deliberately designed event from movie studios, unlike Barbenheimer. And that’s not something studios have a good track record of executing.

“I don’t know that they have that much of a sense — or that accurate of a sense — of what it is that makes people feel like something is an event,” he said. “To be honest, I’m not sure anybody quite has that sense.”

WATCH | CBC’s Eli Glasner and Jackson Weaver share their take on Barbie v. Oppenheimer: 

Barbie or Oppenheimer? These reviews can help if you’re torn

The simultaneous blockbuster release of the Barbie and Oppenheimer has sparked debate among fans about what movie you should watch first in your ‘Barbenheimer’ binge. CBC film critics Eli Glasner and Jackson Weaver share their take.

Pitiful pairings

Of course, it’s not the first attempt at a double billing since last summer. Earlier in May, Garfield and Furiosa (the straightforward, if garish, “Garfuriosa”) were supposed to uplift a flagging box office. And barely two months after Barbenheimer, news outlets were theorizing how, on Sept. 29, criminally cinematic parents might take in “Saw Patrol,” trucking their wide-eyed kids from Paw Patrol over to a late-night screening of Saw X.

In practice, Saw Patrol was widely hated. And Garfuriosa resulted in the worst Memorial Day box office weekend since 1995 (excluding 2020, when COVID-19 shut down cinemas). 

And so, when it comes to Wickediator, even theatres themselves seem leery of how things will go. 

“We’d love to say that Wicked and Gladiator will be Barbenheimer 2.0,” wrote Landmark Cinemas president Dave Cohen in an emailed statement to CBC. “And perhaps it will turn out that way — but we’ll reserve judgment until we see the same social media engagement that we saw for Barbie and Oppenheimer last year.”

Dergarabedian is keeping the same wary eye. And though this trend will likely continue, and debuting on the same day won’t hurt Wicked or Gladiator II, calling it the next Barbenheimer probably won’t ring true.

“I actually think this will help both movies improve their potential. But it’s not a crutch. It’s not automatic,” he said. “Not in this case.”

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