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By Sharan Street
Published Jul 24, 2023

The simultaneous release of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” ignited a firestorm of creative memes, including this poster on Etsy. The simultaneous release of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” ignited a firestorm of creative memes, including this poster on Etsy. Image credit: TheDesignsVault   Etsy

Box Office Bombshell

For those who haven’t looked yet, it’s happened: Barbenheimer—the portmanteau created by the simultaneous theatrical releases of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer—has its own Wikipedia page. Together, according to Variety, the two films have created “the biggest collective box office weekend of the pandemic era, as well as the fourth-biggest overall weekend in history.”

Aside from the discomfiture that comes from this weekend bonanza happening as writers and actors are out on strike, it’s still refreshing to hear about audiences heading back to the theater, watching movies together in the dark, on a big screen, immersing themselves in a director’s unique artistic vision.

Nolan should be gratified by $80.5 million in ticket sales as of Sunday morning—a remarkable haul for a serious R-rated historical drama about the dawning of the Atomic Age. While it drew a 65 percent male audience compared to Barbie’s 65 percent female audience, many moviegoers saw both films. The National Association of Theater Owners projected that 200,000 people would see both movies the same day on opening weekend.

As for Gerwig’s Barbie, the $155 million domestic take is not only the largest opening weekend of 2023 but also the biggest debut ever for a female director. The movies that came closest were superhero-powered: Captain Marvel (directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) and Wonder Woman (directed by Patty Jenkins).

Made in California

While Barbie may not be a superhero, she’s definitely a cultural icon—and one that was born in the Golden State. This week, Jonathan Vankin delves into the Southern California toy industry. The biggest name is Mattel, creators of Barbie and Hot Wheels. Between the two brands, Mattel turned both girls and boys into little consumers, eagerly collecting the latest models.

But there were other toy manufacturers who benefited from both the area’s shipping infrastructure and its people power—the creative folks who created movies and television shows, built theme parks, and did design work in aerospace and high tech. We take a look at some of the greatest hits, from a soft plush toy to computer software.

Barbie, Mattel, and California’s Toy Empire

Barbie is suddenly a movie star, but the toy has long played a big role in one of Southern California’s major industries.
Here's how the iconic Barbie doll and its manufacturer, toy giant Mattel, built an industry in Southern California that pours billions into the state’s economy.

Ten Trendsetting Toys

In 2001, Barbie faced her first real competition when MGA’s Bratz hit the market.
Barbie is the most famous California-born toy. But there are other iconic playthings that were created or brought to market here.

Celluloid Dreams, Celluloid Realities

Much better known than Southern California’s toy manufacturing industry is the entertainment industry—aka Hollywood—which still defines the region, even after the fall of the studio system. The Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild are taking a joint stand against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for the first time since 1960 (back when Barbie was just beginning her reign). So it’s an appropriate time to look back on the glory of the past. Film critic Richard von Busack looks at Hollywood through a different lens—not focusing at the fantasies created here but but rather on which movies have captured the innate characteristics of the industry’s home state.

California Plays Itself

Dramatic coastal views, barren deserts, a lush Central Valley, and multiple mountain ranges allow California to emulate many spots around the globe.
The Golden State has masqueraded as everything from the Sahara Desert to the Swiss Alps. But which films best capture the real California?

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