Oppenheimer V Barbie: Comparing The Two Wildest Movie Casts In Years

The casting process for Greta Gerwig's forthcoming "Barbie," as well as Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer," is not unlike the process of picking teams in middle school gym class. Gerwig and Nolan are not so much "casting" their respective films as they are assembling the most talented dodgeball league humankind has ever seen. It seems like all of Hollywood is either gearing up to go party with Barbie or get in on some highbrow World War II shenanigans — and it's hard to know when (or if!) the well of prospective talent will finally begin to dry. Though there's been a lull in casting announcements lately, anybody could be next.

But while we wait for more developments from Gerwig and Nolan, let's look back at the actors that each have managed to score thus far. As each film currently stands, who's got the best cast? Who would win the hypothetical dodgeball game? And perhaps most importantly: which actor, if any, could pull off an appearance in both films? My money's on Harry Styles, but again, it could be anybody.

Nolan returns with Oppenheimer

Few auteurs are able to get butts into seats with quite the same efficiency as Christopher Nolan. His films might not make much sense upon first viewing, but that doesn't diminish his hype by any stretch of the imagination. Nolan is the definition of an auteur; even the most pedestrian plots come alive under his unique vision. Which is why, when the director announced he'd be exploring the repercussions of World War II through the eyes of J. Robert Oppenheimer, fans were ecstatic — whether they had any idea who Oppenheimer was or not.

For the record, Oppenheimer was an American physicist who essentially spearheaded the invention of the atomic bomb. His work was instrumental to bringing an end to one of the worst wars in human history, but his legacy isn't all good. After the devastating casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Oppenheimer began to question the toll that nuclear war could pose in the future. Though he didn't necessarily regret the use of atomic bombs during the war, he strongly opposed further development in the years that followed.

With such a complicated legacy to contend with, Nolan will undoubtedly have his hands full with "Oppenheimer" — but this won't be the first time the filmmaker has explored the moral conflict of modern warfare. His high-stakes epic "Dunkirk" raked in major bank and critical acclaim back in 2017 (yeah, it's been that long), and it completely remixed the ways in which a war story can effectively be told. "Dunkirk" also had the force of a stellar cast behind it, a few of whom will be returning for yet another collaboration with Nolan.

Who's on deck?

"Peaky Blinders" star Cillian Murphy is absolutely no stranger to a Nolan set: he's worked with the director in a total of five films, making "Oppenheimer" their sixth collaboration. The forthcoming film also puts Murphy center stage in a Nolan project for the first time. Though he's always been a valuable asset to the director (not to mention a total scene stealer), it's a relief to see him finally recognized as a leading man.

Murphy will be joined by his "A Quiet Place Part II" co-star Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer's wife, Katherine "Kitty" Puening. Robert Downey Jr. will also be returning to the big screen in his first non-Marvel role since "Dolittle" in 2020. Matt Damon, Rami Malek, Jason Clarke, and Benny Safdie are also on board for "Oppenheimer," but swaths of Film Twitter went up in flames when Florence Pugh boarded the project. With roles in some of the most anticipated projects of the year, Pugh is the definition of "booked and busy," and as Jean Tatlock — whose affair with Oppenheimer radicalized him to Communist ideals and later got him into hot water during the Red Scare — Pugh's star can only rise further.

"Oppenheimer" is quickly shaping up to be a utopia of talent. Not only are veteran actors like Kenneth Branagh and Gary Oldman set to appear in the project, but also younger actors — Alden Ehrenreich, Dane DeHaan, Josh Peck and Michael Angarano are just a few — who've yet to really score the career-defining recognition they deserve. A war movie is always a great way to employ a revolving door of amazing talent without necessarily requiring hefty roles from them. Small performances that pack a punch (like those in "1917" or "The Thin Red Line") can be just as memorable if done right, and Nolan's sprawling cast is sure to prove that again.

The cons of Nolan's new film

Still, the overwhelming whiteness of "Oppenheimer" has sparked some justifiable backlash. In a film that hinges on historical accuracy, it can be tricky to form an outright diverse cast — at least, that's what most fans of period films believe. The truth is, filmmakers don't have to pull a "Hamilton" or a "Bridgerton" to achieve diversity in their stories. People of color did, in fact, exist back in those days. Some even played big roles in the fight against fascism in the '40s. But erasure has become an unfortunate norm in the world of the period film, and "Oppenheimer" wouldn't be Nolan's first offense.

In the real-life evacuation that inspired "Dunkirk," thousands of African soldiers — hailing from French colonies in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia — were instrumental in holding back German forces. The Royal Indian Army Services Corp also assisted the British and the French, but Nolan made very little effort to include any of that in his dramatization of the battle. Situations are pretty similar for "Oppenheimer." At least 12 Black scientists were involved in the development of the Manhattan Project. Does Nolan intend on representing any of them?

Fans don't necessarily flock to Nolan films for their inclusivity, but after marginal progress in "Tenet" — which featured his first leading actor of color in 30 years of filmmaking — some had hoped the director would be inching towards more diverse fare in the films to come. To see him neglect that responsibility again is a bit of a disappointment, but I doubt Nolan will let us down in any other capacity.

Come on, Barbie!

Ironically, diversity has been a problem for Greta Gerwig as well. I say "ironically" because, with "Barbie," the writer-director has employed more actors of color in one film than in all her previous films combined. Sure, Margot Robbie will be stepping into the role of the titular heroine — inspired casting, but no surprise there. I can't fault Gerwig for sticking so faithfully to her niche, that of the blissfully nostalgic (and consistently white girl-oriented) coming of age flick. But the "Lady Bird" director's supporting cast more than makes up for any disappointments on the diversity front — though with Robbie at the helm, it's hard to feel disappointed at all.

Robbie's dream cast includes Ryan Gosling (as Barbie's boytoy Ken), Kate McKinnon, Will Ferrell, and Emerald Fennell — but America Ferrera, Simu Liu, Issa Rae, Alexandra Shipp, and Kingsley Ben-Adir are just a few of the names holding down the diversity front. "My Mad Fat Diary" star Sharon Rooney will also be appearing, as well as Scott Evans, Ritu Arya, Jamie Demetriou, Michael Cera and Hari Nef. Then there are "Sex Education" stars Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa and Connor Swindells. As with "Oppenheimer," it's a lot, but Barbie's had a long history — and an even longer list of friends — so why shouldn't it be a party?

New Barbie girl, new Barbie world

What's most shocking about this lineup is how utterly subversive it feels. In terms of male leads alone, "Barbie" is a revelation. Many moons have passed since Ryan Gosling became the internet's first boyfriend, but there was a time when his appeal was not nearly so universal. Even now, he's not everyone's first choice to play Barbie's hunky leading man; early reactions to his platinum blonde look are split right down the middle. And though Simu Liu shares Gosling's action figure physique, he too has become an "unlikely" heartthrob in his own right. In fact, none of Gerwig's male leads are exactly synonymous with the Hemsworthian ideal — but that's exactly what makes their respective roles in the upcoming film so exciting.

It's pretty clear that Gerwig is looking to bring a fresh perspective to a time-honored franchise. Whether the film does take on a fish-out-of-water storyline (à la "Life Size") or opts for a retelling in the vein of the forthcoming "Buzz Lightyear" movie, it won't be the first to take the Barbie world in a new direction. The brand has been pivoting toward healthier representation for years now, despite the lingering image of the stick-skinny dolls most of us grew up with. From Barbie's vlog series — where she unpacks everything from the sorry reflex to systemic racism — to the brand's growing line of body-positive dolls, Barbie has definitely been made over for the better.

Even before Gerwig boarded the project, inclusion was a must for Mattel Films. In 2019, executive producer Robbie Brenner pledged that "Barbie" would boast as diverse a cast as possible, and with the way things have shaped up since, it seems their commitment was genuine. It'd have been easy for the "Barbie" movie to devolve into a mindless cash grab, given the enduring popularity of the IP in question. But Mattel's smart, strategic choices have maneuvered the film into very unique territory. With Greta Gerwig (and her partner and co-writer Noah Baumbach) calling the shots, "Barbie" is poised to be one of the biggest summer blockbusters of 2023 — a tough feat for a world now dominated by one franchise at a time.

Battle of the unlikely blockbusters

It also doesn't hurt that the film will be distributed by Warner Bros., Nolan's former creative backer. Given his very public falling out with the studio in 2020, "Barbie" is not only Nolan's biggest competition; it might also be Warners' avenging angel. Warner Bros. is even pushing "Barbie" for a June release — in fact, on the very same day that "Oppenheimer" is set to premiere. There's no way that's a coincidence. As catty as things are shaping up to be, you've gotta give some credit to Warner Bros. for raising the stakes a little bit.

All impending drama aside, the question of which cast (and, by extension, which movie) will be "better" is merely a matter of preference. I personally am 100% Team Barbie, but that doesn't mean I won't be seated for "Oppenheimer" when the time comes. Both films represent the return of the blockbuster, so to speak: It finally feels like going to the movies is an event again. And if Warner Bros. have the cojones to slate "Barbie" right alongside Nolan's forthcoming spectacle, things can only get more exciting from here. Double feature, anyone?