Okay, that part isn’t actually news. But this is: “Barbie,” a Warner Bros. film directed by Greta Gerwig that uses the universe around the titular Mattel doll as a vehicle for examining womanhood and patriarchal influences in society, made $155 million domestically in its debut weekend.
It’s the biggest opening of 2023, but it’s a record-setter beyond that. “Barbie” had the biggest opening weekend of any woman-directed film in documented U.S. history. It’s also the most successful first weekend for the film’s two superstar leads, Margot Robbie (who plays Barbie herself) and Ryan Gosling (who portrays, as the film calls him … “just Ken”).
It’s also, per entertainment publication Pop Crave, the biggest opening for “a movie that isn’t a sequel, remake or superhero movie.” And therein lies part of what’s driving “Barbie’s” smash success – it’s a wholly original story, albeit one based off of a world-famous doll.
There were other factors driving the film’s success, to be sure – for example, the much-memed-about tie between “Barbie” and this past weekend’s no. 2 film, “Oppenheimer,” a three-hour biopic directed by Christopher Nolan that focuses on physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s work on the atomic bomb. (It became so popular to link the two films that a new term was invented for those who took in both as a double feature: Barbenheimer.)
And yes, there was also the massive, far-reaching “Barbie” marketing campaign, which splashed pink on much of the world – and even Google’s search page – leading up to its debut. The budget for those campaigns reportedly exceeded the movie’s production costs.
But more than that, women in the audience seem thrilled about a film being made especially for them. “[T]he real secret to Barbie’s … success has less to do with pink products than its subject and intended audience: Very few movies manage to cater to women without condescending to them,” Time reporter Eliana Dockterman wrote days ahead of the film’s debut.
The excitement even spilled over into moviegoers’ outfit choices, with ticket-holders hitting theaters dressed in their pink-hued best. “It’s very rare that the girls and the gays and the theys get to express themselves or come together in a special way that’s generally just for them,” one fan, Marissa Smith, told Refinery29.
Hollywood remains largely shut down due to ongoing strikes, as writers, performers and other Tinseltown workers fight executives for better pay and working conditions, so we’ll have to wait and see what projects get greenlit in an effort to capitalize further on the “Barbie” trend.
But many are hoping that studio heads will (finally) view the bank-breaking “Barbie” opening as enthusiasm for sharp commentaries from women creators, and films that speak directly to female audiences.
As Dockterman wrote: “Movies that unabashedly appeal to women can do well at the box office.”