Excitement for the Barbie and Oppenheimer films has been rippling around the globe this week, with explosions of fire and pink. And South Africa is no exception.
"Barbenheimer" fever is driving South Africans to reserve their spots at the cinema to see two of the most anticipated films of the year.
Both are expected to be released on 21 July.
Oppenheimer is a historical drama based on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man credited as the "father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project, which led to the creation of the first atomic bomb.
Barbie follows the journey of the world's most famous doll, who leaves the seemingly perfect Barbie Land to be in the real world, where she discovers the joys and perils of living among humans.
Interest in the two films in South Africa has been soaring in recent weeks, according to Google Trends data.
Google Trends provides insight into the volume of search queries for topics on Google.
Margot Robbie wasn't "much of a Barbie girl as a kid
The Barbie film has had a higher average rate of search queries over the last 90 days in South Africa, but the Oppenheimer film has been searched for more at various times during the search period.
From the start of July until 19 July, search query volumes for Oppenheimer increased more than five times and search queries for Barbie nearly tripled.
And, according to Ster-Kinekor's chief marketing officer Lynne Wylie, this interest is translating into bookings.
She says Ster-Kinekor opened general release bookings for both films on 17 July and that bookings for the first week of screening "are already looking positive for both".
Barbie is releasing widely at 40 Ster-Kinekor sites, and Oppenheimer is releasing at 18 including, the more immersive IMAX cinemas.
"Currently, screen average attendances are neck and neck, based on the number of release sites," says Wylie.
She adds: "Two big titles both opening on the same day is great for cinema as people want to see them first and in the way they were made to be viewed, on the big screen."
The global marketing hype around the release of Barbie has been extraordinary and has played a role in the excitement leading up to the local release on Friday, 21 July.
News24 had a look at the Ster-Kinekor website on 19 July to get a sense of the number of pre-bookings and found several screenings of Barbie sold. Oppenheimer screenings were more than 75% full or more.
Getting bums back in seats
News24 spoke to Ster-Kinekor CEO Mark Sardi in June this year, about preparations undertaken to get people back into cinemas after the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the time, he said cinema attendance at Ster-Kinekor was still below 50% of 2019 pre-pandemic levels, and attributed this to the effect of load shedding, a lack of Hollywood blockbusters, and "franchise fatigue".
He said the cinema would return to "some sense of normalcy" when attendance reached around 66% of the levels they were at in 2019.
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According to Sardi, Ster-Kinekor spent between 20 million and 30 million backing up 31 of their sites so that they were not interrupted by load shedding.
He said the cinema was an "immersive experience" that "couldn't be replicated elsewhere".
"There are very few people on Earth who could [ask], 'What was the first streaming movie or series I watched?' but I guarantee you remember your first movie. It is an immersive experience. It is the place where magic happens – where sweaty palms meet each other on the first date," he added.