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Friday, April 19, 2024

How Barbenheimer came to the Marquee Cinema

Almost 1,000 people showed up to WUD Film’s screening of Barbenheimer. Here’s how it all came together.

Barbenheimer, back-to-back screenings of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” shook the film industry to its core, surpassing expectations and breaking records. About five months later, almost 1,000 people lined up to watch the duo at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Marquee Cinema.

“It was a big cultural thing,” said junior Ilya Johnson, the Experimental, International & Cult Programmer at the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Film Committee. “We wanted to bring it to campus.”

Barbenheimer is not the first time two summer blockbuster films have competed on the same weekend. But after grossing just shy of $1 billion domestically and $2.4 billion worldwide, it’s safe to say the clash between Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” was the most successful summer showdown since the faceoff between “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins” in June 1984.

Some even speculated Barbenheimer “saved the summer box office” as the film industry recovered from COVID-19.

The process of bringing Barbenheimer to Union South began very quickly, said sophomore Emma Weishaar, WUD Film’s Contemporary & Repertory Mainstream Programmer. The associate director team knew Barbenheimer had to happen.

“We knew that college students would love this, and we needed to bring it to the Marquee,” Weishaar said.

Weishaar was right. Barbenheimer was WUD Film’s biggest weekly movie screening of the semester, in part due to marketing. Johnson said WUD Film ramped up their outreach efforts because they knew it would be such a big draw, and they added an extra showing in anticipation of a large turnout.

“People had been asking for months,” Weishaar said. “It is primarily for students, but people in the Madison area often come to our screenings too, and even people that aren’t students were like, ‘Hey when is Barbenheimer happening?’”

With finals for students right around the corner, WUD Film thought the second weekend of December would be the perfect time to show Barbenheimer.

With the continued in-theater extension of both films, obtaining rights to show them proved to be a challenge for WUD Film. WUD cannot show films while they are still in cinemas because the Marquee is a non-theatrical theater. 

“We were watching the availability, so every day one of us would log in and check. It was like, ‘When can we get it! when can we get it!’” Weishaar said. “Once they were done, it was pretty much ‘let’s get this going.’”

Typically, it takes about two to three weeks for WUD Film to get a movie from the inbox to the theater. Junior Miles Foster, WUD Film’s Alternative & Independent Programmer, told The Daily Cardinal they thought “Oppenheimer” would take a little bit longer because they thought it would take extra time to secure the rights. 

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Ultimately, the timeline was about the same as any other film, Weishaar said.

“It’s probably one of our biggest campus cinematic events of the year,” Foster said. “There’s so many cool things that can be done with it.”

The 500 viewers who attended “Barbie” and 430 who came for “Oppenheimer” competed in a costume competition. WUD Film awarded winners a movie-theater quality poster for the film of their choice.

Not wearing pink to “Barbie” feels borderline disrespectful, dressing up as Robert Oppenheimer takes commitment.

“It’s a really cool weekend because both these movies are really something for everyone and each of them together amplifies it,” Foster said. “I like that it took on this form of ‘let’s hype up both of these movies.”

WUD Film also ran Lagueria Davis’ documentary “Black Barbie” on Thursday, which shows the increasing need for inclusivity in Barbie dolls.

In addition to running the documentary, Friday’s showing included open captions to make the film more accessible.

“We’re here for you. Whatever you need from us that we can provide: captions, other ADA regulations, we will provide that for you,” Foster said.

As far as crossovers go, Barbenheimer will be hard to replicate. Paramount Pictures tried to push “Saw Patrol” — a crossover between “Saw X” and “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” — with little success. The duo only brought in about $41 million combined in its opening weekend.

“I think what made [Barbenheimer] work was it felt like this trend was created by the people for the people and not so much a corporate ploy for attention,” Foster said.

Perhaps “The Garfield Movie” will find its perfect match in “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.” in May 2024.

One thing is for certain: WUD Film will host a showing of “The Room” and “Black Swan” the last weekend in January, free at the Marquee. You can call it “just another weekend” for them.

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