Zack Snyder Clarifies ‘Barbie’ Box Office Comments, Stating “Cultural Significance” Is Still Dictated By Theaters

To quote Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Infinity War,’ “Your math is blowing my mind.” Last month, director Zack Snyder appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience (you can watch/listen below) to promote his latest film, “Rebel Moon: Part Two” (read our review). Among many of the comments made and stories told, Snyder suggested that more people saw his movie on Netflix than “Barbie” in theaters, a hot take the director used to defend using “Netflix math.”  

Pulling 160 million viewers seemingly out of the air, Snyder tried to make a 1:1 comparison between theater tickets sold and the number of people streaming, which is tricky and dubious given dozens of reasons (streamers generally count one view as long as they have watched 20 minutes of the product, for example).

“You think about Netflix, for instance, where you push a button. ‘Rebel Moon,’ right? Say right now, it’s like almost 90 million views… 80 or 90 million accounts turned it on, give or take,” Snyder explained at the time. “They assume two viewers per screen, right? That’s the math… so that’s 160 million people supposedly watching. One hundred and sixty million people at $10 a ticket, that’s $1.6 billion. So more people probably saw ‘Rebel Moon’ than saw ‘Barbie’ in the theater. That’s how crazy Netflix is — that’s the distribution model that they’ve set up.” 

Given the difficulties of 1:1 comparison—the investment in traveling to theaters vs. turning something on at home is vastly different and would affect the same metrics—many were left scratching their heads. Was Snyder really trying to say more people saw “Rebel Moon,” (a poorly received, poorly reviewed movie), over “Barbie,” a billion dollar earner and the the highest grossing film of 2023?

Well, maybe not exactly. In a recent io9 interview, when asked about his claims, Snyder stood by his math. But when asked whether he was trying to suggest that the theatrical experience was less important than the streaming one, he said absolutely not.

“Oh, no, I would say it’s kind of the opposite,” Snyder clarified to the outlet. “What I was implying was, well, there are two things. One is I was just going by the numbers that I was given by Netflix. People are like, ‘Oh, well, Snyder’s crazy,’ but literally, I just am doing [math] with this, not anything else. If now we’re close to 100 million viewers, 100 million views times two is 200 million views. So, people are like, ‘Snyder’s delusional,’ and I am just like, ‘I don’t know what to tell you.’”

“Who knows what [‘Barbie’s] done on Max and all that,” Snyder said of the “Barbie” film’s performance on streaming outlets and those who rented it at home. “The cultural significance of ‘Barbie’ was happening when it was in the theaters. That’s when we all took a bite of the ‘Barbie’ apple, and happily. And so my only point is that I think there is a theatrical zeitgeist [and] even though maybe more people have eyes on something, the actual sort of cultural significance is dictated still by the theater.”

The reality is, even with complete transparency—which no streamer gives—it’s still kind of next to impossible to gauge and compare streaming numbers to theatrical numbers. Viewing something from the ease of one’s home is infinitely more accessible and easier; it suggests a much softer, casual investment vs. much more engaged audiences paying a fee and attending a movie in theaters, which should be considered and just isn’t the same. Had “Rebel Moon” been in theaters only, would it have been seen as much as “Barbie” had been seen theatrically? Given that one was a global phenomenon and the other was quite the opposite, it’s likely not the case. Streaming metrics don’t even give detailed numbers, such as whether a viewer actually watched the entire film or TV series. Truly accurate streaming numbers are already challenging to find, and comparing them to the theatrical model seems like a fool’s errand.

As for what’s next for Snyder, that’s uncertain. He could turn a bunch of leftover film ideas into his next film, or he could pivot back to his “Army of The Dead” zombie franchise. Two things seem clear, though: whatever he makes next, Snyder will likely do it at Netflix given his relationship to the streamer, but given the dismal reviews of “Rebel Moon — Part Two: The Scargiver,” (a bleak 16% Rotten Tomatoes score) the streamer is likely not going to invest in a third installment.