Will she save Hollywood?

Will she save Hollywood?
6 min read
11 months ago

The theatrical release of "Barbie" exceeds all expectations, and the marketing machine has been perfected. But the pink hype can only poorly conceal Hollywood's problems.

In recent weeks, the world seemed to shimmer in #e0218a, that patented magenta shade better known as Barbie pink. The hype before the release of the Barbie movie was huge. And Barbie ended up surpassing even generous predictions for the opening. That's not only good news for the production company, but could give hope to an entire industry where bad vibes recently prevailed.

Barbie grossed $155 million in the U.S. over the past weekend. Forecasts from Warner Brothers, the studio that put $100 million into the production, were just about half that. There one probably wanted to rather tiefstapeln, after lately even action films with large names such as Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise in the new Mission Impossible episode had rather moderate start. "Make way, you dusty old superhero franchises," commented NPR, the U.S. public radio station, on director Greta Gerwig's success. No film directed by a woman has ever grossed so much at release.

The "Barbie" movie is a pop culture event

Audiences came not only to see a comedy with feminist undertones. Many also showed up in Barbie looks to boot. Fashion manufacturers from the Spanish fast-fashion label Zara to the French luxury couture house Balmain have launched their own Barbie collections.

Going to the movies has become a shared experience, as indicated by an analysis of ticket sales. According to the Boxoffice Company, a data analytics firm for the entertainment industry, the number of tickets per transaction was higher than usual. This indicates that larger groups were going to the movies together. Watch parties were the order of the day in New York, where, according to media reports, not only were Ken doubles serving pink cocktails, but Botox injections and lip fillers were also being passed around.

Oppenheimer, a three-hour biopic of the inventor of the atomic bomb, opened in cinemas at the same time as Barbie - also a success. Instead of the expected 40 million, the film grossed about $81 million between Friday and Sunday. More than 200,000 moviegoers saw the two completely different films back-to-back, according to the Cinema Owners Association, a curious phenomenon called "barbenheimer" in the media.

The news site Politico even asked U.S. senators who had seen or wanted to see which of the two films - some professed to see the double bill.

Together, the box office receipts in the U.S. last weekend totaled $302 million. That was the best result in four years - and the fourth-highest total taken in a weekend. And, above all, it was the only weekend among the ten with the highest ticket sales that did not feature a Star Wars film, a Jurassic Park remake or a Marvel epic.

The studio had taken a risk - and was rewarded for it. Greta Gerwig, the Barbie director, had started out as an independent filmmaker away from Hollywood and first became known as a representative of the mumblecore wave, naturalistic films in which dialogue was more important than plot.

The influential Hollywood industry journal Variety sees the success and the pop culture wave around Barbie and also Oppenheimer as a signal to the studio bosses, who for years have relied on supposedly safe franchise productions with well-known characters. Barbie, too, is ultimately a brand, and the film could easily have been "a Smurf movie with better clothes," the paper writes. Instead, the success at the box office shows that cinema works when "we give artists the freedom to follow their muse."

Significantly lower sales in China business

Barbie, a movie about a 60-year-old doll, makes you forget for a moment how bad things are for the U.S. film industry right now. For the first time since Ronald Reagan, then a union leader, not only screenwriters but actors are on strike. (He later became a fierce opponent of labor organizations as president). Even more worrisome, revenues in China, the most important market after the U.S., have declined.

Total U.S. film sales in China were $592 million in the first six months of the year, down from $1.9 billion in the first half of 2019, the key benchmark year before Corona, the Wall Street Journal reported. Chinese audiences prefer domestic productions. He no longer watches Hollywood movies, a moviegoer in Shanghai told U.S. reporters. They are more and more nonsense, he said. "Superheroes like Spider-Man and Captain America are so superficial that I won't even watch them in IMAX 3D," the 60-year-old said. It remains to be seen whether Barbie and Oppenheimer can reverse that trend.

Barbie manufacturer Mattel is also hoping to make the film. It has the rights to the doll. The company's stock rose 17 percent in the past month and gained nearly another two percent on Monday. Analysts at investment firm Stifel estimated the movie will bring Mattel about $100 million in revenue. That includes $75 million in toy sales, $12.5 million from licensing the Barbie brand and $11 million in movie revenue.

That's a lot of money, but it's not crucial in purely economic terms for a corporation with annual sales of just over five billion dollars at last count. Nor is the Barbie movie likely to directly drive up the toy manufacturer's sales, because the film is only recommended for ages 13 and up and is aimed at adults. The target audience for the dolls is much younger. But Mattel's CEO Ynon Kreiz is betting that the hype surrounding Barbie will make the brand more relevant again. And that Barbie the Movie will ensure that movie fans buy the dolls as gifts - or as cult objects for themselves.

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