Barbie! Bombs! Blanche DuBois?

For movie theaters across America, from locations owned by AMC, the largest theater chain, to independent arthouse cinemas like The Moviehouse, in Millerton, N.Y., Friday, July 21, turned out to be an impromptu national holiday. The duel release of "Barbie," the surreal comedy about a sentient doll directed by Greta Gerwig and written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, and director Christopher Nolan's bleak World War II drama "Oppenheimer," became a cultural countdown of opening day rivalry (or double-feature viewing) dubbed "Barbenheimer." AMC Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron posted on Twitter on Friday morning that more than 60,000 AMC members had purchased opening day tickets for "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer," "tripling" as he wrote, tickets purchased two weeks prior at AMC. That Friday in Manhattan, the visual landscape declared the winner long before the box office. The unmistakable sight of young women in bright pink outfits — as if a secret dress code had been decided upon that morning — spelled out that taking female fantasy seriously can lead to major financial success. As movie theaters have turned into a struggling industry, with fewer returning patrons since the pandemic began and Regal Cinemas continuing to close theaters this year, Barbenheimer weekend produced the highest grossing opening weekend since 2019.

While "Barbie" was the clear winner nationally ($155 million, the largest opening ever for a female director), in Millerton the films ran a closer race. "Both films did extremely well this weekend and sales were close — 'Barbie' edged out 'Oppenheimer' slightly," said Moviehouse co-owner David Maltby. "It was great to see so much excitement from people heading back to the movies in force."

Under the direction of proprietors Maltby and Chelsea Altman and a new nonprofit board led by Altman as chair, The Moviehouse has sought to revitalize its connection with the area's film community by offering one-night-only programming and live Q&A's with actors and directors to make screenings feel like events. On Thursday, July 20, in a twist of Barbenheimer divergent programming, The Moviehouse invited actor Nick Westrate to direct a live production of Tennessee William's 1947 work of fraught social realism in the American South, "A Streetcar Named Desire." Starring Lucy Owen, Brad Koed, Mallory Portnoy and Will Rogers. Westrate's "Streetcar" turned the theater into a make-shift black box stage, thoroughly challenging what to expect from The Moviehouse. An explosive production for a small space with no set dressing, the two-room New Orleans apartment in which William's caustic, sweaty drama takes place was made to feel even smaller — one room? Half a room? Actors wandered into the aisles and rows of seats, stretching for room to expand their bodies, with performances large enough to render the sold-out space claustrophobic and trembling with every outburst. Here, the battle of the sexes was so close, it was nearly audience-involved performance art.

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie By Fred Duval

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie By Fred Duval

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie By Fred Duval

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie By Fred Duval

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie By Fred Duval

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