“Barbenheimer” was America’s big return to the movies. Will themed concessions keep them there?

From pink popcorn to themed trinkets, theaters are getting creative with their offerings — and fans are overjoyed

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published August 5, 2023 4:00PM (EDT)

Snacks in a theater seat (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Snacks in a theater seat (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

By now, you're probably familiar with "Barbenheimer," the internet phenomenon that began circulating online in anticipation of the double release of two Blockbuster films, Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" and Cristopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer." Critics and fans lauded the unlikely double-feature as America's great return to the movies following a pandemic that financially hobbled theaters across the country. 

Now, to make the most of it (and to keep visitors coming back), many theaters — from major chains to indie establishments — are enticing cinephiles with themed food and craft concessions . Right now, includes "Barbie"-themed concessions, be it popcorn or candy or small bites, and, of course, cocktails. There's even Barbie and Mattel-themed merchandise, ranging from simple trinkets to clothing and accessories.

Take for example Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which offered a Barbie Brunch as part of their special menu. Offerings include a breakfast club sandwich, a blueberry donut french toast bake or breakfast tacos alongside themed cocktail classics, like Desert Spring Water and the Coming Up Rosé Fizz. Each dish is available to order with the chain's full menu during Alamo Drafthouse's special brunch screening of the film, which is sold out in most of the theater's 39 locations.

The theater also launched its own BARBIE X Alamo Drafthouse Collection, which includes a ton of Barbie paraphernalia for moviegoers and die-hard fans to snag. There's Barbie T-shirts, stationary sets, enamel pin sets, sunglasses and even a limited edition Barbie lunchbox and thermos set.

"You'll find the BARBIE X Alamo Drafthouse Collection available for purchase at select theaters on our fabulous dream house display — complete with custom BARBIE photo op," Alamo Drafthouse announced on its website. "Everything is only available while supplies last, so hop in your Barbie-mobile to one of the theaters listed below to pick some up for yourself." 

In the same vein, Regal Cinemas, in partnership with Pops Corn, offered fans gourmet caramel popcorn in Barbie's signature color. The pink popcorn was first available at the theater's Barbie Blowout Early Access Screenings on July 19 before it was sold at all participating Regal locations on July 20. Cinemark Theatres also launched its own line of "Barbie" merchandise, including a Barbie-themed popcorn tin, a Barbie "B" 22-ounce cup, a Barbie Diamond Double Wall cup and a Barbie-themed Blanket in a Bag. Landmark Theatres sold several Barbie dolls from the film and AMC Theatres sold their own "Barbie" merchandise alongside their Barbie Popcorn Corvette — popcorn served in a container that looks like Barbie's signature pink Corvette.

Though some have lamented about the price of these concessions (namely the Barbie Popcorn Corvette, which is a whopping $65…), many fans reveled in the new offerings in anticipation of going out to the movies. "[M]y barbie car popcorn bucket and i are here ! lets gooooooo," tweeted one enthusiastic moviegoer. Similarly, another user shared that they received locket keychains with their Barbie popcorn menu and of course, they needed "to put a picture of my fav. Barbie in it."

We need your help to stay independent

Themed concessions are part of a recent, widespread influx in "Barbie"-themed merchandise released by several brands and major corporations. These offerings spark nostalgia. They spark joy. And overall, they're just good old-fashioned fun. Moviegoers are undoubtedly enthralled by "Barbenheimer," even if it means spending close to five hours at their theaters. But themed concessions are the cherry — or cherries — on top of the whole experience, and according to marketing experts, those themed snacks also serve a distinct purpose. 

"Collaborations offer more options to make an emotional connection to the Barbie brand," explained Ayalla Ruvio, an associate professor of marketing in Michigan State University's (MSU) Broad College of Business. "An adult likely won't play with the dolls, but might wear a shirt with the Barbie logo, a Barbie makeup collection or a hot pink bag: something that gives more opportunity to interact with the brand."

Want more great food writing and recipes? Subscribe to Salon Food's newsletter, The Bite.

That also includes eating Barbie-themed popcorn and taking home a container that resembles Barbie's signature pink Corvette. Patricia Huddleston, professor of retailing in MSU's Department of Advertising and Public Relations, added that such collaborations and offerings are also "grabbing our attention." It's why "Barbenheimer" ticket sales continue to rise well after its opening week. And it's why countless moviegoers are sharing viral TikToks and posts of their many movie theater goodies.

Numerous theaters nationwide were hit hard amid a ruthless pandemic that forced them to completely shut their doors to the public. In the aftermath, some theaters were lucky enough to reopen. Others, not so much. It was uncertain whether theaters would be able to survive such a major impact — both financially and socially. But the "Barbenheimer" craze has proved otherwise, considering that AMC sold more than 20,000 double-feature tickets to its AMC Stubs members back in early July.  

This year has already proved to be a big one for both movies and theaters. Yes, people are returning to the theaters to laugh, to cry, to care, because all of us need that. But they're also coming back — and staying — for the snacks and drinks.

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Barbenheimer Barbie Double Feature Movies Oppenheimer Themed Concessions