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Oppenheimer, Barbie face off in Nigerian cinemas, but is there room for Òrìṣà?

Do Nigerian audiences have enough in their pockets to watch a doll, a destroyer and a deity?

Oppenheimer, Barbie and Òrìṣà have all debuted in Nigerian cinemas on July 21, 2023

Barbie is gloriously pink, Oppenheimer is tragically dark, but both films have become cultural touchstones expected to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars globally.

Barbie, especially, has funded a viral campaign whose marketing spend definitely has to be enough to rival the annual national budget of a third-world country or two.

The same-day release of the two Hollywood blockbusters is already creating a crisis of choice for audiences around the world, and a feverish internet crossover sensation dubbed Barbenheimer.

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The head-to-head battle of which film makes more — or which one audiences prefer to see first — will also move to Nigerian cinemas where they've started screening.

Barbie may already have a leg up, following a glossy marketing campaign in Nigeria that included a beach party, a fancy brunch event, a slumber party and a July 20 premiere that created online buzz, even though for the fashion more than the film.

The result of this match-up won't be clear until the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (CEAN) releases the ticket sales figures for both films' openings next week, but there's a local production getting buried by Barbenheimer.

Kola Odunlade's Òrìṣà (Deity) has also started screening for audiences in cinemas on the same day as Barbie and Oppenheimer. The film is a Yoruba epic projected to make waves in the same fashion as Femi Adebayo's King of Thieves, which also starred Odunlade, in 2022.

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King of Thieves was a sleeper hit and raked in ₦320.8 million in the cinemas, rising to become the seventh highest-grossing Nollywood film of all time — but Òrìṣà may have some trouble shooting to the same heights.

2023 has especially been a tough year for Nollywood productions, with a dip in revenue coinciding with the disruption caused by many highly-rated films going straight to streaming platforms.

In recent examples, Almajiri, a story by AY Makun who has six films on the list of Nollywood's 20 highest-grossing films of all time, has earned only ₦17.3 million after four weeks in the cinemas. Biodun Stephen's romantic drama, Big Love, has had better luck, returning ₦41.4 million after three weeks, but these figures pale in comparison to Hollywood productions.

Tom Cruise's latest Mission Impossible film has already raked in ₦62.6 million in its opening weekend in Nigeria, and the new Transformers film earned ₦134.6 million in six weeks.

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With this context, and the Barbenheimer show rolling into town, Òrìṣà couldn't have picked a worse time to land in the cinemas, competing also with Love, Lust & Other Things which has made ₦21.4 million in two weeks.

For Òrìṣà to make a significant splash at the box office, Nigerian audiences, already dealing with an escalating cost of living crisis, would have to see past the gloss of Barbenheimer. Fingers remain crossed to see if there's enough room for a doll, a destroyer and a deity.

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