Just a few weeks ago, I wrote that “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” was shaping to be this year’s “Top Gun: Maverick” as it was set to be the surprise No. 1 movie of the summer and ride that momentum to a potential Best Picture nomination like Tom Cruise’s live-action sequel did last year. But that was before the summer’s actual box office winner and Maverick successor emerged from Barbie Land.
As much as many expected “Barbie” to be a big hit, few expected the kind of hit where it made $160 million-plus on opening weekend, made over $93 million more in its second weekend, and will pass “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” as the summer box office champion by its third weekend. Nonetheless, it now resembles the kind of runaway freight train run “Top Gun: Maverick” was on more than 12 months ago, to the point where it might not end until Oscar night either. As it stands, by the time both summer and Oscar seasons are over, it may be extra clear that “Top Gun: Maverick” is basically the Ken to “Barbie’s” Barbie.
“Barbie” and “Top Gun: Maverick” are as much polar opposites in content, perspective, and messaging as “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” are. Yet just as “Barbenheimer” is now united forever, in the box office and perhaps eventually in the 2023 Best Picture field, Barbie and Maverick’s journeys are now starting to look more familiar than anyone might have imagined. Before May 2022, it seemed laughable to imagine that “Top Gun: Maverick” would be the biggest film of the summer and a massively acclaimed future Best Picture nominee. After all, it was the sequel to a 35-year-old blockbuster that was hardly a critical favorite, and it was lucky to finally get released at all after almost two years of pandemic delays. As much as Cruise had won critical and audience favor with the most recent “Mission: Impossible” sequels beforehand, and as much as it was set to be an IMAX spectacle with its realistic flying scenes, big but not overwhelming summer dollars were all it could probably hope for – until people actually saw it.
Once they did, “Top Gun: Maverick” exceeded every possible expectation from audiences, critics, and the box office and never looked back. In fact, it was such an enormous hit it was deemed the savior of movie theaters entirely after the pandemic. With that kind of momentum and acclaim, the initially impossible idea of “Top Gun: Maverick” being a Best Picture nominee became a mortal lock by the end of the summer, especially when there weren’t enough fall Oscar films left standing to knock it off. Now, a year later, the most unlikely summer box office champion and potential Oscar nominee since “Top Gun: Maverick” is writing the same story in pink.Before the “Barbie” casting and marketing train took off, it seemed laughable to imagine that a Barbie movie could be the biggest summer film and a widely acclaimed potential Best Picture nominee. After all, it was based on a toy doll both loved and hated in equal measure for decades and was lucky to get made after years of Barbie movie ideas had fallen through. Most of all, it was especially lucky to finally get cast and written right before David Zaslav took over Warner Bros and had any chance to derail it. But as much as it raised eyebrows and curiosity when Greta Gerwig, Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, and seemingly everyone who wasn’t in “Oppenheimer” joined the project, and as much as the Barbie brand guaranteed some level of box office success, big but not overwhelming summer dollars were all it could probably hope for – until people actually saw it. Once they did, “Barbie” exceeded every possible expectation from audiences, critics, and the box office and hasn’t looked back for the last two weeks. In fact, it has been such an enormous hit that studios and movie theaters are surely counting on it to keep the industry alive through the fall or longer – or however long studios refuse to release anything else rather than make a real deal with SAG-AFTRA and the WGA.
Regardless, even in a typical season, “Barbie’s” acclaim and the overwhelming box office still to come would at least put it into the Best Picture conversation by now. Maybe it doesn’t look like the kind of near-certain nominee “Top Gun: Maverick” did by the time its summer rampage was over for a variety of reasons. But it can’t be ignored as a possibility any longer, as much as merely that much would have sounded crazy when the project was green-lit. Whatever one might think of “Barbie,” for whatever reason, it is close enough to a variety of “Top Gun: Maverick” numbers to make a case for itself. Review-wise, its 89% Rotten Tomatoes score as of July 31st may be well behind “Top Gun: Maverick’s” 96%, yet its 8.0 average score is much closer to “Top Gun: Maverick’s” 8.2. Plus, on the more selective Metacritic, “Barbie’s” 80 score is actually two points higher than “Top Gun: Maverick’s” 78.
Box office wise, “Top Gun: Maverick” has set too high a bar to reach, as its $718 million domestic gross was so massive that it even held off “Avatar: The Way of Water” as the No. 1 film of 2022, not just of the summer. It also became the top-grossing domestic movie in Paramount history, even beating out another Cameron film, “Titanic,” after its 25-year reign. Yet with “Barbie’s” $350+ million gross through its first ten days, it might become so massive that it knocks off the seemingly untouchable “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” as the No. 1 film of 2023, not just of the summer. It would also be enough to make it the top-grossing domestic movie in Warner Bros’ history, even beating out Christopher Nolan yet again in toppling “The Dark Knight” from its 15-year reign. While $600+ million might ultimately be “Barbie’s” final ceiling, that still may make it an open and shut case for Oscar voters. If Zaslav himself moves “Dune: Part Two” and “The Color Purple” to 2024, it would undoubtedly ensure “Barbie” is Warners’ top Oscar priority – assuming Zaslav and his fellow executives leave much of an Oscar season left for it to be in.
No matter what, “Barbie” may be a necessary nominee to give Oscar night a ratings boost, especially after the strikes. That kind of cross-country appeal, at least among specific demographics, might be what unites “Barbie” and “Top Gun: Maverick” the most in how they became unlikely juggernauts. Both appealed to demographics that many consider undervalued in Hollywood in their own way. But when they finally got a movie made for them, they didn’t stop showing up.
For “Barbie,” such an audience was obviously females of all ages, both in selling the movie to them and in how Gerwig made it resonate with them when they saw it – which would have been the case even without “Oppenheimer’s” bonus partnership. For “Top Gun: Maverick,” it was easy to claim it was the kind of large-scale, feel-good, flag-waving action movie Hollywood doesn’t make for fly-over audiences and “regular” moviegoers anymore. Perhaps their failure to show up for Cruise in the same way for the less nostalgic and sentimental “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” only proves that point too.
Whatever the case, both “Barbie” and “Top Gun: Maverick” upended everyone’s expectations about what a Barbie movie or a Top Gun movie could be, then used the kind of targeted audiences few bother to target anymore to spread the word. Not only did the word for “Top Gun: Maverick” go far and wide across America and the globe, it stayed with its most improbable target audience – Oscar voters – long after summer ended. And now, “Barbie” has the chance to do the exact same thing.Like “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Barbie” is on track for several tech nominations, perhaps its own Best Original Song slot for a climactic song sung by an A-list female icon, and possibly a Best Adapted Screenplay spot too, but the latter depends on if “Barbie” stays in the Adapted category and then if “Oppenheimer,” “Killers Of The Flower Moon,” “Dune: Part Two” and more don’t crowd it out – assuming the latter two don’t move to 2024. There will also be cases made for Gerwig in Best Director, as there was for “Top Gun: Maverick’s” Joseph Kosinski, although he ultimately did fall short.
“Top Gun: Maverick” also kept Cruise in the Best Actor discussion for some time, though he couldn’t quite make it in. Similar pushes may be made to get Robbie in Best Actress this year, though that should largely depend on how many preseason Actress favorites live up to the hype or remain eligible in 2023 at all. Beyond that, the only thing that really separates “Barbie’s” Oscar path from “Top Gun: Maverick” is that it has a possible Supporting Actor nominee in Gosling – or at least someone loudly demanded to be a supporting nominee.
Once “Top Gun: Maverick’s” Oscar candidacy was inevitable, many kept arguing that it had a path to winning Best Picture, all the way until “Everything Everywhere All at Once” beat it at the PGA Awards and started its historic sweep. With “Barbie,” however, “Oppenheimer” and “Killers Of The Flower Moon” are such overwhelming early favorites, it has a longer way to go to be seen as more than a possible, if not yet locked in, nominee. Yet since overwhelming early favorites never seem to hold up in the long run lately, and since the studios’ strike strategy could seriously deplete if not endanger the entire Oscar season, the Best Picture landscape may look very different in startling if not horrifying ways by early 2024. Leaving the loathsome possibilities aside, if “Barbie” does become a factor on Oscar night in some way, it will cap a storybook run not many seriously expected a year ago. However, at least in the last two years, both “Barbie” and “Top Gun: Maverick” seem bent on turning such stories into a new summer box office and Oscar season tradition.
Do you think “Barbie” will be nominated for Best Picture? Has it entered the same “too big to ignore” territory as “Top Gun: Maverick” last year? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account. And please check out our latest Oscar predictions and see who on the NBP Team is predicting “Barbie” to receive a Best Picture nomination here.
You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984