‘NO spoilers!” was the caveat of my weekend, as I caught up with friends who hadn’t yet seen the Barbie movie or visited the Banksy exhibition but were due to soon, and were suitably excited.

On WhatsApp, friends commiserated over missing out on tickets to see Taylor Swift, whose tour looks set to become the highest-grossing of all time.

The hype around each of these cultural moments feels like nothing I can remember in recent years – with the possible exception of the hoopla around Tiger King, the Netflix documentary that gripped the globe when its release co-incided with much of the world locking down due to Covid-19.

The utterly bizarre story it told felt in keeping with the surreal circumstances in which we were all living.

Three-and-a-bit years on, people aren’t just flocking to the cinema to see the two big blockbusters that opened on Friday – the aforementioned Barbie and the tonally contrasting Oppenheimer – they are making an event of going. They are gathering friends, dressing up, making an afternoon or evening of it.

In the case of those dedicated souls attempting the double bill of Barbenheimer (or more appropriately, Oppenarbie), they are making a day of it.

The National: Margot Robbie as Barbie Margot Robbie as Barbie (Image: Alamy/PA)

Even before the pandemic, the days of true “event cinema” seemed to be over. Sure, the studios were still churning out blockbusters every summer, but the days of eagerly awaited Harry Potter or Star Wars films were already past and the huge hype around such 90s classics as Titanic and Jurassic Park felt like a distant memory.

The last time I can recall women dressing up for the cinema en masse (and having their bags checked for smuggled-in wine bottles) was for the Sex and the City movie in 2008. It was a communal experience – the audience laughed, cried and cheered together.

“Event cinema” involves a degree of interaction, but not necessarily in the form of whooping and hollering from your seat. It can take the form of post-screening contemplation and discussion, perhaps even repeat viewings.

Barbie has wee girls in pink outfits asking their mums “what’s patriarchy?” before they have even left the cinema. Oppenheimer has inspired several letters to this paper discussing the history of nuclear weapons development and the grim reality of today’s nuclear-armed world.

The fanfare surrounding this unlikely pairing of films will not be repeated, although no doubt Hollywood executives are desperately trying to rejig their summer 2024 schedules in an attempt to make lightning strike twice.

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Desperately and strike being the operative words given the ongoing industrial action which now involves both the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild and has halted production on major productions including the stage-to-screen adaptation of Wicked and a sequel to the Tim Burton classic Beetlejuice. There is little indication that the major studios are preparing to back down.

The dispute centres on pay – in particular, residual payments from the streaming of content – and the use of artificial intelligence within the entertainment industry. It’s ironic that a recent episode of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian series Black Mirror, which began life on Channel 4 before moving to streaming platform Netflix, explores what might happen if actors were to accidentally sign away their rights and find themselves replaced by AI-generated versions of themselves on streamed shows.

Writers, too, are essentially made redundant thanks to the use of technology to harvest content from everyday lives.

I watched the latest series of Black Mirror over two days last month because sod’s law dictated that it was released just before my Netflix subscription was coming to an end.

I had bitten the bullet and cancelled it on the basis that life’s too short (and expensive) to juggle multiple platforms, and a pal is desperate to discuss a show that’s streaming on Apple TV. It’s only fair I oblige after badgering her to watch another show with me on Disney+ last year.

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In years past, a new series of Black Mirror was a big deal, generating water-cooler moments and hooking in a dedicated audience.

These days the show is still popular, and the episodes generate plenty of online analysis, but with so many platforms competing for our eyeballs and subscriptions, it’s rare for huge numbers of us to be focussing on exactly the same content at exactly the same time.

When it comes to big-screen offerings, it’s perhaps significant how many numerals feature in the titles that have been put on hold by the strike: Deadpool 3, Gladiator 2 and Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 2 to name but three.

Franchises might guarantee bums on seats, but the golden age of cinema seems far behind us now.

As streaming budgets are slashed, risky but potentially brilliant projects will be dropped.

Last summer CNN declared that the “streaming wars” were over due to subscriber growth stalling and revenues falling. But with multiple platforms still slugging it out, unwilling to admit defeat, in truth there is no clear end in sight.

Writers and actors have good reason to fear they will be among the casualties. Audiences will be too.