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Barbenheimer's Oscar showdown: we came, we saw ... it fizzled

The most famous movie feud in decades didn't ignite at the 2024 Oscars. But why? Laura Inall, Max Hutson and Sarah Rose investigate with some expert eyes.

The word on every film freak’s lips last year was “Barbenheimer,” a rivalry of patriarchal nuclear catastrophe and pink feminism that fans thought for sure were going to walk hand in hand into the Oscars.

The 96th Oscars ceremony heralded a battle for the ages as cinema giants such as Martin Scorcese and Christopher Nolan fought off rising directorial talent Greta Gerwig, with career awards delivered to sorely missed legends Hayao Miyazaki and Wes Anderson, absent from the night.

But by the time the nominees were announced, Barbie was left to sing for its place in Oscar history, igniting the internet with a pink-hot rage headed directly for the Academy.

But not at Swinburne.

Prior to the Oscars awards show in March, the Swinburne film teaching staff polled students for their Oscar predictions -- and lo and behold, Barbie wasn’t a popular pick.

Christopher Nolan and Greta Gerwig’s Barbenheimer spectacle undeniably dominated the pop culture and commercial sphere of 2023. Swinburne’s Cinema and Media Studies professor, Liam Burke, said that “the phenomena was saying the films can be diversified, in terms of multiple genres… and that they’re not cannibalising each other but that they can be additive”.

“It had this halo effect … both films over-performed relative to expectations because they were kind of championing each other.”

Yet despite the Barbie chokehold, and its seven Academy Award nominations, it walked away with only one: Best Original Song, for Billie Eilish’s What Was I Made For.


In addition to these four awards Oppenheimer conquered, it also won Best Cinematography, Best Score and Best Film Editing. View the full awards list here.

Film and Television students Indi and Shari both believe Gerwig and Barbie’s snubs reflect the Academy's bias against women; however, Shari also believes Oppenheimer deserved its accolades. 

“I'm not sure if I loved all the Best Picture nominations that were present, but I do think that Oppenheimer was the best one,” she says.

“I think that Greta Gerwig should have been nominated for Best Director. At least, Margot (Robbie) should’ve been nominated for Best Actress. When it comes to making films that shock people, the Oscars don't really tend to handle that really well.”

“[The Academy] is, like, an institution that's mainly men. [Barbie] is something that challenges their way of life and they feel, essentially, insecure about that, which was the whole point of the film.”

Indi believes that the Academy's voting line-up needs to be more diverse.

“I think that they should really broaden the voters and, like, who is voting to be more representative of the population,” she says, describing the jurors as “predominantly rich, white men” who tend to vote in line with more mainstream “Hollywood” movies.

Alex, another Film and Television student, also felt that Barbie was robbed of recognition.

“I am kind of mad that Barbie wasn't even nominated,” she said.

“I think (there is) definitely a prejudice, because most of the other films that were nominated were by men.”

Though this gaping loss cemented itself in the Oscar Snubs Hall of Fame, Barbie’s nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay was perhaps its most controversial.

In another battle for top dog, Barbie v Oppenheimer in this category saw fans questioning how the film could be considered unoriginal. Professor Burke said that while Barbie was technically an adapted screenplay, he was shocked it didn’t win.

“There was a lot of discussion about whether it qualified as an adapted screenplay,” he says. “Which, to my mind, made no sense because clearly the film derives much of its impact from it being based on this beloved, or sometimes hated, brand with 60 years of history.

“I probably would have liked to see Barbie win Adapted Screenplay.”

Oppenheimer amassed 13 nominations for seven wins, notably Best Picture and Best Director, coming to no surprise to film students polled by Professor Burke earlier this year.

Conner, a Film and TV student, thought that Greta Gerwig was snubbed in the Best Director category and that Nolan may have been rewarded for his long career as much as for his Oppenheimer achievements.

“Definitely Greta Gerwig not being nominated for Best Director was a snub,” he said.

“I don't want to call [Oppenheimer] an Oscar bait movie… [because] it's technically impressive, but I feel like they kind of just wanted to give it to Nolan because he deserved [something].”

Sabrynta also thought Gerwig was deserving of some more recognition, and believed Poor Things ate up too much of Barbie’s potential vote.

“I do think Greta Gerwig should’ve gotten nominated for Best Director,” said Sabrytna. “But I wasn’t rooting for her. I think that [Barbie] should have won Best Production Design. All the stuff that Poor Things won, I think should have gone to Barbie. I didn't really think Poor Things was that great of a movie.”


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