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Did Barbie & Oppenheimer Cause MI:7's Box Office Crash? Not According To Reddit

For pundits and casual enthusiasts, the 2023 summer box office has been a roller coaster of epic proportions. As the summer movie season approached, it seemed evident that franchises and sequels would reign supreme. And while the top 10 this year is riddled with IP, it's the placement of each film that's turning heads. What notably makes this year so interesting is how several surefire hits, like Tom Cruise's "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One," have underperformed, while (once) presumably niche and alienating projects like "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" are soaring.

After "Top Gun: Maverick," Cruise seemed to be flying high thanks to a $1.4 billion worldwide total. His long-awaited sequel to the 1986 classic broke post-pandemic records, compelling audience members to return to theaters. Widely labeled as the savior of the theatrical experience, Cruise raked in enough goodwill for a lifetime. However, audiences didn't show up for the seventh film in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, released earlier this year. With a domestic gross sitting just shy of $160 million and a worldwide total of $520 million, "Dead Reckoning Part One" is the third-lowest-grossing film in the franchise.

Many have widely attributed the film's box office disappointment to the release of "Barbenheimer," the cultural phenomenon that shook up the theatrical exhibition industry. Both "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" have broken box office barriers, emerging as the summer's biggest hits. The twin box office flames debuted just a week after the first "Dead Reckoning," but enthusiasts think the failure of "Mission: Impossible" has nothing to do with the competition. "People keep pointing to high RT scores and cinemascore, and say that would've helped it have legs if not for Barbenheimer," shared u/ZedNathan on the r/boxoffice subreddit, arguing that Cruise's latest doesn't have the same universal appeal as "Top Gun: Maverick."

Dead Reckoning Part One isn't as special as Top Gun: Maverick

"Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One" comes just behind "Mission: Impossible II," which made $549 million back in 2000. In its fifth weekend at the box office, "Dead Reckoning Part One" will fail to crack the top five, effectively marking the beginning of the end of its domestic run.

Some box office enthusiasts think that "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" simply can't be blamed here since the clout "Mission: Impossible" seems to have has been overestimated. Note that "Mission: Impossible" has never been a billion-dollar franchise — 2018's "Fallout," its highest-grossing entry, brought in $786 million, thanks in part to a $180 million+ haul from China. Following the release of "Top Gun: Maverick," which seems to be the exception and not the rule when it comes to Tom Cruise at the box office, many appear to have put too much faith in "Dead Reckoning," a film some believe was always going to disappoint.

"Imagine if there was a 'Top Gun' sequel every several years for the last 3 decades," shared u/biowiz. "There would be no big event appeal for it, which is what is happening with 'Mission Impossible,'" they continued, before reminding fans that spy films tend to only do decently domestically. That's not entirely true, as domestic audiences get behind spy films if they're something truly special — "Fallout" raked in $220 million stateside. The "James Bond" franchise, meanwhile, has only one $300 million domestic grosser, the beloved "Skyfall." In general, spy films do tend to shine in overseas markets, which is exactly what's happening with "Dead Reckoning," whose international receipts account for 70% of its total.

Did Paramount botch Mission: Impossible's marketing?

Redditor u/Tsubasa_sama pointed out how South Korea, a market that has previously adored Tom Cruise's films, failed to show up for "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One," despite not having any competition from "Barbie" or "Oppenheimer." They suggested that "Dead Reckoning" simply wasn't a compelling draw for audiences. "Even with this very generous window it's still on track to drop almost 40% from 'Fallout's' total number of admissions and 25% in gross despite 5 years of inflation," they shared. "Something failed to connect with audiences and like most other countries it seems the goodwill of 'TGM' did not translate over to 'Dead Reckoning' since 'TGM' outgrossed every 'MI' movie in SK."

There seems to be some genuine truth to this sentiment. Audiences may have short attention spans, but they have good memories. "Maverick" was released last year to critical and commercial acclaim, and it's difficult to imagine audience members forgetting about Cruise's performance and the reactions he brought forth. Something just didn't click with audiences to go see "Dead Reckoning." Perhaps it was Paramount Pictures' lackluster marketing? "Barbenheimer was WAY MORE HYPED UP compared to 'MI,' and you literally could blame Paramount for the marketing too because they literally waited a whole year to drop another trailer rather than dropping one with 'Scream VI' or even 'Dungeons and Dragons,'" shared u/jayfai200220th.

While Paramount did debut a "Dead Reckoning" trailer with "Top Gun: Maverick," the momentum for the spy flick considerably slowed down until early 2023. By then, however, it may have been too late, as the "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" craze was too loud to ignore. Redditor u/GoodSilhouette thinks that Paramount and Cruise's emphasis on marketing the film's marquee motorcycle stunt was repetitive.

The New Mission: Impossible's title wasn't doing it any favors

"Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One" is a title that packs a heavy punch. It's also one that comes with baggage, setting up expectations that audiences aren't going to get a complete picture. While this isn't true, as "Dead Reckoning" has a conclusive ending that ties up nicely, it's possible that having "Part One" in the title may have steered casual fans away. "People are definitely underestimating the significance 'Part One' has," shared u/48johnX, reminding fans that "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" made the smart decision to retitle itself, removing any mention of how it was the first chapter in a larger story.

Having a "Part One" in the title carries monumental narrative weight, as it implies that the larger entry will have considerable emphasis on the franchise's overall trajectory. This could alienate viewers, especially fans who have embraced the "Mission: Impossible" franchise because of its serialized nature. "People are becoming more interested in stand-alone movies, and they shot themselves in the foot with the unnecessary 'Part 1' label," shared r/boxoffice fan u/Benjamin_Stark.

An argument can also be made that the "Mission: Impossible" films no longer have anything unique or special to say. While "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" certainly stole the film's thunder, it's possible that other compelling films could have spoken more to audiences. "The movies need to work harder to distinguish themselves," shared u/LimePeel96. And with "Dead Reckoning," Cruise and company were attempting to go as big as possible, turning away potential franchise newcomers. Redditor u/RobbyTheRobit anecdotally shared that people they know skipped "Dead Reckoning" because of its nearly three-hour length.

Barbie and Oppenheimer were never in competition with Mission: Impossible

"Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" have become significant parts of the current culture, but it's important to point out that neither of them is gunning for the action-focused audience that "Mission: Impossible" has cultivated over the years. During its opening weekend, "Barbie" boasted a 65% female-identifying audience, and 40% of ticket buyers were under 25, meaning "Barbie" truly had wide appeal among those who identify as female. "Oppenheimer," meanwhile, had an audience that primarily consisted of male-identifying viewers, at 62%, and over 60% of the film's viewers were over 25, making this a winner with older demographics. The Christopher Nolan-directed film had a decently diverse audience makeup, with 53% of the audience Caucasian, 22% Latino and Hispanic, 9% Black, and 15% Asian/others.

Compare those demographics to "Dead Reckoning Part One" and it's clear that the billion-dollar-grossing "Barbie" was never part of the equation. "Dead Reckoning" had a 60% male-identifying audience during its opening weekend, with over 50% of viewers Caucasian. Of course, "Oppenheimer" continues to make waves at the box office, meaning it's definitely receiving a more diverse viewership as time goes on. "Dead Reckoning," however, is losing its footing rapidly.

Remember that "Oppenheimer" isn't an action-packed spectacle, meaning there's something else going on. "Dead Reckoning," at least stateside, continues to be in direct competition with the action-drama "Sound of Freedom," which has outgrossed Cruise's latest based on word of mouth. 57% of the "Sound of Freedom" audience is composed of Caucasians, with 30% being Hispanic. The sleeper hit, which box office pundits (and Tom Cruise) never saw coming, is also speaking to the older "Mission: Impossible" crowd, with 50% of "Sound of Freedom" viewers over 45 years of age.