Margot Robbie, the leading actress in Barbie, and Cillian Murphy, the star of Oppenheimer, shared a unique moment in cinematic history. On July 21, 2023, both their films were released, and rather than competing for box office sales during a period of slow returns, they surprisingly helped each other’s success, leading to the creation of the global sensation dubbed Barbenheimer.
The two films are markedly different in content. Directed by Greta Gerwig, Barbie, produced by Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment, narrates the tale of the iconic doll Barbie, who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and transformation. On the other hand, Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan, is a biographical film about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist behind the atomic bomb. Despite their differences, both movies are united by their directors’ unique vision and creativity.
This originality in Barbie and Oppenheimer sparked a wave of creativity among fans, leading to a surge in memes, TikTok double-features, and themed costumes, as audiences repeatedly flocked to theaters to enjoy the Barbenheimer experience. This resurgence in movie-going, especially post-COVID, demonstrated that films can still bring joy and be profitable, with Barbie grossing over $1.4 billion globally and “Oppenheimer” surpassing $950 million.
Margot Robbie, dressed in a Barbie-inspired pink polka-dot shirt and matching heels, and Cillian Murphy, in darker attire, had much to discuss during their “Actors on Actors” meeting. Murphy, who once claimed to be unaware of memes in a 2017 interview, admitted he now understands what they are.
Murphy congratulated Robbie on her successful film “Barbie,” where she also served as a producer. He was curious about how she knew the movie would resonate with audiences. Robbie shared that she was mostly confident about its success, attributing a significant part of it to director Greta Gerwig. She revealed that Gerwig was her top choice for director, and she was determined not to take no for an answer. Robbie also mentioned how the film became a cultural phenomenon, exceeding her expectations, especially after photos of her and Ryan Gosling rollerblading on Venice Beach went viral.
Pulling off this Barbenheimer cover was all I wanted for this year’s edition of Actors on Actors. Before I even had to ask, Cillian Murphy’s team reached out to say he was wondering if we could pair him with Margot Robbie. And she quickly said yes. https://t.co/Y7nfWXeDnG
— Ramin Setoodeh (@RaminSetoodeh) December 5, 2023
Murphy discussed his surprise at the success of “Oppenheimer,” a film about the creation of the atomic bomb. He talked about director Christopher Nolan’s insistence on a summer release and his superstition about releasing films around July 21st. Robbie shared a humorous anecdote about refusing to change their release date despite suggestions from one of Murphy’s producers, Chuck Roven.
Murphy then delved into his experience working with Nolan, highlighting Nolan’s focus on the work and the unique approach to the “Oppenheimer” script, which was written in the first person. Robbie asked Murphy about his preparation for the role, and he shared insights into his physical portrayal of Oppenheimer and Nolan’s direction.
Cillian Murphy and Margot Robbie reflect on the Barbenheimer phenomenon & the memes.
“This is the world doing this, this isn’t part of the marketing… I think it just connected in a way you, I or anybody never could have imagined. It may never happen again.”
— DiscussingFilm (@DiscussingFilm) December 5, 2023
The conversation shifted to Robbie’s portrayal of Barbie, a challenging role due to the character’s iconic yet non-real status. Robbie discussed her unconventional preparation methods and how director Gerwig helped her find the right approach to the character.
They also talked about the costumes in their respective films, with Robbie still embracing the color pink from her role in “Barbie.” She mentioned a fun set tradition related to wearing pink and how it encouraged everyone, especially the men, to participate enthusiastically.
Robbie, a self-proclaimed fan of “Peaky Blinders,” expressed her admiration for Murphy’s role as Tommy Shelby and inquired about a potential spinoff movie. Murphy seemed open to the idea, reflecting on the decade-long journey with the series.
Finally, they touched on the topic of memes and the internet culture surrounding their films. Murphy, now more aware of memes, discussed the impact of the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon and how it was a natural, unorchestrated movement by the audience, contributing to the success of both films.