From 'Barbie' to 'Oppenheimer': Columbia Connections to This Summer's Blockbusters You Should Know

When you’re looking to beat the heat in a movie theater this summer, keep an eye out for Columbians in the credits.

Kelly Moffitt-Hawasly
July 06, 2023

Ah, July in New York City. When you’re watching temperatures rise (not to mention skyrocketing humidity), a cool dark movie theater becomes more appealing than ever. Luckily, Columbians are all over this summer’s blockbuster films. 

Below, find a guide to the Columbia connections we’ve found in the slate of this summer’s big-budget movies. Did we miss one? Tell us! Email [email protected]. And be sure to let us know if you successfully make it through a “Barbenheimer” double feature. 


Kate McKinnon, Greta Gerwig, and Hari Nef. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures and Barnard College.

Greta Gerwig (BC’06) directs the hot pink hit of the summer, opening July 21, where Barbie “suffers a crisis that leads her to question her world and her existence.” From Lady Bird to Little Women, which she also directed, Gerwig has a knack for bringing depth, insight, and humor to stories that center the experiences of girls and women. 

Of her experience at Barnard College, Gerwig has said:

“I was wide-eyed exploring the city. The process of learning it as my home was so fundamentally exciting. That’s how I really learned about movies. I can’t express enough gratitude for my time at Barnard. I really explored a lot of different classes. I wish I could have done it for eight years. I think I really found who I was and what I wanted to do there.” 

Gerwig also co-wrote the Barbie film alongside husband and frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach, whose brother Nico Baumbach is a film theorist and assistant professor at Columbia’s Center for Comparative Media.

But these are not the only Columbia connections to the film: Hari Nef (CC’15) plays one of the many iterations of Barbie, a doctor. Nef, who was most recently in HBO’s The Idol, got her start on Transparent. 

Barnard alum Ana Cruz Kayne plays Supreme Court Justice Barbie, after teaming up with Gerwig in Little Women in 2019. 

Kate McKinnon (CC’06) also stars in the movie, playing a Barbie that looks suspiciously like the ones we used to give unfortunate hairstyles to as children. She also has a critical moment in the Barbie trailer, where she offers Margot Robbie’s Barbie the choice between a Birkenstock and a stiletto to understand the ways of the real world. You probably recognize McKinnon from her 10-year run on Saturday Night Live, as well as other hits like Ghostbusters, Bombshell, and The Spy Who Dumped Me

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny poster

Harrison Ford is back for his final turn as the titular Indiana Jones, but did you know Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which opened June 30, was deftly guided by Director James Mangold (SOA’99)?

“One thing that was true then and true now is that this film was made by friends,” Mangold told Deadline. “It’s probably hard for you to believe that a movie this big can be made by friends, but it was. It was made out of love, it was made out of devotion to what came before it, and it was made with tremendous trust from all these people.”

You may recognize the Columbia alumnus from the Academy Award-winning Ford v Ferrari, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, Knight and Day, Girl Interrupted, The Wolverine, and Logan. He is also slated to direct an upcoming Bob Dylan biopic for Searchlight Pictures.

Do you love visual effects? Then you'll be excited to know another alum was also involved! Sara Hofstein (BC'11) is a Senior VFX Coordinator at Crafty Apes and part of the VFX team that worked on the film. You can learn more on her IMDb page here

"It was an honor to work on a franchise that people love and it was certainly a bucket list film for me," Hofstein said of the experience.

Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One

The seventh installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise is set to debut on July 12. While this iteration and the next of the series are directed by Christopher McQuarrie, did you know the film that started it all, Mission: Impossible, was directed by a Columbia alumnus? 

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning

Brian De Palma (CC’62), known as a “master of the unexpected,” according to Columbia College Today, was at the helm of the first 1996 film, which was heralded as a sweeping spectacle. De Palma is the man behind such mainstream box office hits as Scarface, Carrie, and The Untouchables, but he is also known for cult favorites such as Carlito’s Way, Phantom of Paradise, and Sisters. For those of you Bruce Springsteen fans, he also directed The Boss in the “Dancing in the Dark” music video. 

“We all wanted to get into the studio system,” De Palma told Indiewire in 2016. “I was the most iconoclastic of the group who was most disenchanted with the studio system, because it had a really corrosive effect on what you did. They basically want you to duplicate the same thing over and over again. I always felt that was not good for an artist. I would fall in and out of the studio system. But you need to make hits in order to make movies. So I would go in and make a hit, be able to make a couple of weird movies, then have to start over again.”

All Mission: Impossible movies are streaming on Paramount+, so why not head back to where it all began?


We are nothing if not thorough here at Columbia News. Although we can’t find a clear Columbia filmmaking connection to Christopher Nolan’s three-hour epic about American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb, opening July 21, Columbia does have a strong connection to the Manhattan Project and the research that preceded it. You can read more about II Rabi, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, Robert Serber (who are all portrayed in the film), and more groundbreaking physicists' work at Columbia here.

Consequently, we also uncovered the fact that Oppenheimer himself once gave a radio address for the Columbia University Bicentennial Celebration in 1954. 

Oppenheimer movie poster

This was the first speech Oppenheimer gave after he was stripped of his security clearance in a much-talked-about security hearing due to his suspected Communist ties during the height of McCarthyism. In 2022, over half a century after his death, the U.S. government nullified that decision. 

Although the choice to have Oppenheimer close out the 13-part radio series celebrating Columbia’s bicentennial was a controversial one, it had been made two years prior to the security clearance decision, and Columbia adamantly stood by it. 

In the speech, titled “Prospects in the Arts and Sciences,” Oppenheimer lays out the purpose of science and art in the modern era: to bring harmony.

“This is no new problem,” Oppenheimer said in the speech. “There has always been more to know than one man could know; there has always been a mode of feeling, many modes of feeling, that could not move the same heart; there have always been deeply held beliefs that could not be composed into a synthetic union.

… “Both the man of science and the man of art live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it; both always, as the measure of their creation have had to do with the harmonization of what is new and what is familiar, with the balance between novelty and synthesis, with the struggle to make partial order in total chaos.

“They can, in their work and in their lives, help themselves, help one another, and help all men.”

Will the speech make it into Oppenheimer? Only time will tell!