Barbenheimer 2.0: Will Wicked and Gladiator 2 create another box office phenomenon? (2024)

In short:

The November release date of Wicked has been moved forward by nearly a week.

It means the musical will be released at the same time as Gladiator 2, drawing parallels to the box office success of last year's Barbenheimer phenomenon.

What's next?

Experts say it will be interesting to see if Hollywood can recreate the "lightning in a bottle" success again come November.

Good news for those of us hanging out for wickedness to be thrust upon us later this year.

The release date of the highly-anticipated screen adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning Broadway musical Wicked has been moved forward five days to November 22.

It was initially slated to hit theatres the day before Thanksgiving in the US, which this year falls on November 28.

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The shift means it won't face off against Moana 2, the sequel to one of Disney's most successful films in recent years.

It also means the musical will be released on the same day as Ridley Scott's gritty Gladiator 2.

From the dazzling facade of Emerald City to the brutal showdowns inside the Coliseum, the two films couldn't be more different in tone.

So it's no wonder the double feature is already drawing comparisons to the Barbenheimer double billing.

Barbenheimer 2.0

When Greta Gerwig's Barbie and Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer were both scheduled to hit theatres on the same day in July last year, it created a cultural phenomenon that grew to a scale no-one could have predicted.

Barbenheimer 2.0: Will Wicked and Gladiator 2 create another box office phenomenon? (1)

Dubbed Barbenheimer – as Oppenbarbie doesn't quite roll off the tongue – the hype around the strikingly different films releasing at the same time gave each flick a substantial boost at the box office, with many cinemagoers buying tickets for a double feature.

The sheer amount of memes and online conversation – do you watch Barbie first then debrief with the girls over drinks before heading into Oppenheimer? – created advertising that money can't buy.

Barbie became the highest-grossing film of last year, netting $1.4 billion globally at the box office.

More staggeringly, Oppenheimer – a three-hour biographical film about the creator of the atomic bomb – became the third highest-grossing film of 2023 with $975 million worldwide.

So far, the only film to gross over $1 billion at the global box office this year is Disney's Inside Out 2.

Universal Studios, which produced both Barbie and Oppenheimer, is also the studio behind Wicked, so it will no doubt be hoping for a similar outcome.

And fans are already getting into the meme-able spirit.

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Can the magic of Barbenheimer be recreated?

ABC News Breakfast's resident film critic Zak Hepburn says "it's a very good question".

"It's going to be a very interesting experience to see if Hollywood can recapture that lightning in a bottle moment where two very different films collided at the box office with Barbie and Oppenheimer," he told ABC News.

"I don't think you can manufacture that sort of cultural impact that those two films had.

"They were sort of going along their regular release path and then the Internet decided that they were meme-worthy and then culture was created.

"So it's possible, and Hollywood does love a sequel.

"But I'm unsure yet if it's going to have the same impact. If any films can do it, it's certainly Gladiator 2 and Wicked."

Earlier this year, Universal's international distribution president Veronika Kwan Vandenberg told news agency AFP that the organic nature of the Barbenheimer's joint success is "an incredibly hard thing to do".

But that hasn't stopped Wicked's director Jon M Chu from leaning into the trend, sharing a meme on social media with the famous Gladiator line "are you not entertained?" and the hashtag #Wickediator — though "Glicked" seems to be getting more traction online.

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Who will win this box office showdown?

Wicked's legacy cannot be understated.

Since it began in 2003, the show has become one of the longest-running Broadway productions of all time.

It's been seen by nearly 65 million people around the world and surpassed the billion-dollar milestone years ago in 2016.

The production explores the untold story of the witches in Oz long before Dorothy crashes into town on a tornado.

Barbenheimer 2.0: Will Wicked and Gladiator 2 create another box office phenomenon? (2)

The film adaption will see artist Ariana Grande step into the role of Glinda, with Grammy and Tony Award-winning performer Cynthia Erivo playing Elphaba.

Meanwhile, Gladiator 2 is a sequel to the 2000 film that starred Australia's Russell Crowe, and this time will spotlight Paul Mescal (Normal People) and Pedro Pascal (The Last of Us).

"Hollywood loves to counter programme and that's certainly what we're seeing here," Hepburn says.

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Counter programming is when the film industry releases two very different products or narratives at the same time to offset each other.

"I think Gladiator 2 is going to be the victor purely on the fact that it has the incredible star power of Paul Mescal, Pedro Pascal and also Denzel Washington," Hepburn says.

Hepburn adds that Gladiator already has an established legacy in cinema, and that the passion Broadway fans have for the stage show gives Wicked some very high expectations to meet.

"The interesting thing about Barbie and Oppenheimer was that they were two sort of unknown knowns and I think whilst Barbie has a huge legacy and fanbase, it didn't have the legacy and fanbase of a pre-existing narrative like Wicked.

"I'm going to be very curious to see how it goes.

"It is a fight on the level of something you would see at the Coliseum."

Barbenheimer 2.0: Will Wicked and Gladiator 2 create another box office phenomenon? (2024)

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