Barbie is a 2023 fantasy comedy film directed by Greta Gerwig from a screenplay she wrote with Noah Baumbach. Based on the eponymous fashion dolls by Mattel, it is the first live-action Barbie film after numerous computer-animated films and specials. The film stars Margot Robbie as the title character and Ryan Gosling as Ken, and follows the pair on a journey of self-discovery following an existential crisis. The supporting cast includes America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, and Will Ferrell.
A live-action Barbie film was announced in September 2009 by Universal Pictures with Laurence Mark producing. Development began in April 2014, when Sony Pictures acquired the film rights. Following multiple writer and director changes and the casting of Amy Schumer and later Anne Hathaway as Barbie, the rights were transferred to Warner Bros. Pictures in October 2018. Robbie was cast in 2019, after Gal Gadot turned down the role due to scheduling conflicts, and Gerwig was announced as director and co-writer with Baumbach in 2020. The rest of the cast was announced in early 2022, with principal photography occurring primarily at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, in England and at the Venice Beach Skatepark in Los Angeles from March to July of that year.
Barbie premiered at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on July 9, 2023, and was released in the United States on July 21. Its simultaneous release with Universal’s Oppenheimer led to the “Barbenheimer” cultural phenomenon, which encouraged audiences to see both films as a double feature. The film received critical acclaim and has grossed $1.44 billion, becoming the highest-grossing film of 2023 as well as the highest-grossing film by a solo female director, the highest-grossing film ever released by Warner Bros., and the 14th highest-grossing film of all time. The film’s soundtrack received nominations for 11 Grammy Awards.
Stereotypical Barbie (“Barbie”) and fellow dolls reside in Barbieland, a matriarchal society populated by different versions of Barbies, Kens, and a group of discontinued models, who are treated like outcasts due to their unconventional traits. While the Kens spend their days playing at the beach, considering it their profession, the Barbies hold prestigious jobs such as doctor, lawyer, and politician. Beach Ken (“Ken”) is only happy when he is with Barbie, and seeks a closer relationship, but she rebuffs him in favour of other activities and female friendships.
One evening at a dance party, Barbie is suddenly stricken with worries about mortality. Overnight, she develops bad breath, cellulite, and flat feet, disrupting her usual routines the next day. She seeks out Weird Barbie, a disfigured doll, who tells her she must find the child playing with her in the real world to cure her afflictions. Ken stows away in her convertible to join her, to which Barbie reluctantly agrees.
Arriving at Venice Beach, Barbie punches a man for groping her, leading to her and Ken’s brief arrest. Alarmed by their presence, Mattel’s CEO orders their recapture. Barbie tracks down her owner, a teenage girl named Sasha, who criticizes her for encouraging unrealistic beauty standards. Distraught, Barbie discovers that Gloria, a Mattel employee and Sasha’s mother, inadvertently caused her existential crisis after Gloria began playing with Sasha’s old Barbie toys in a similar state. Mattel attempts to put Barbie in a toy box for remanufacturing, but she escapes with Gloria and Sasha’s help and the three travel to Barbieland with Mattel executives in pursuit.
Meanwhile, Ken learns about patriarchy and feels respected for the first time. Returning to Barbieland, he persuades the other Kens to take over, and the Barbies are indoctrinated into submissive roles, such as agreeable girlfriends, housewives, and maids. Barbie arrives and fails to convince everyone to return to the way things were. She becomes depressed, but Gloria gives her a speech about society’s conflicting expectations of women, restoring Barbie’s self-confidence.
With the assistance of Sasha, Weird Barbie, Allan, and the discontinued dolls, Gloria’s speech deprograms the Barbies from their indoctrination. They then manipulate the Kens into fighting amongst themselves, distracting them from enshrining male superiority into Barbieland’s constitution, and the Barbies regain power. Having now experienced systemic oppression for themselves, the Barbies resolve to rectify the faults of their previous society, emphasizing better treatment of the Kens and all outcasts.
Barbie and Ken apologize to each other, acknowledging their mistakes. Ken bemoans his lack of purpose without Barbie, so she encourages him to find an autonomous identity. Barbie, who remains unsure of her own identity, meets with the spirit of Ruth Handler, Mattel co-founder and creator of the Barbie doll, who explains that Barbie’s story has no set ending and her ever-evolving history surpasses her roots.
Barbie decides to become human and return to the real world, and is bidden goodbye by the Barbies, Kens, and Mattel executives. Sometime later, Gloria, her husband, and Sasha take Barbie, now going by the name “Barbara Handler”, to her first gynecologist appointment.
Issa Rae as President Barbie
Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie
Alexandra Shipp as Writer Barbie
Emma Mackey as Physicist Barbie
Hari Nef as Dr. Barbie
Sharon Rooney as Lawyer Barbie
Ana Cruz Kayne as Judge Barbie
Ritu Arya as Journalist Barbie
Dua Lipa as Mermaid Barbie
Nicola Coughlan as Diplomat Barbie
Ryan Gosling as Ken, often referred to as “Beach Ken”
Main variations of Ken played by:
Simu Liu as Tourist Ken/”Rival Ken”
Kingsley Ben-Adir as Basketball Ken
Ncuti Gatwa as Artist Ken
Scott Evans as Stereotypical Ken
John Cena as Kenmaid, a merman Ken
Michael Cera as Allan
America Ferrera as Gloria, a Mattel employee who helps Barbie in the real world
Ariana Greenblatt as Sasha, Gloria’s daughter
Rhea Perlman as Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel
Helen Mirren as the narrator
Will Ferrell as the CEO of Mattel
Connor Swindells as Aaron Dinkins, a low-level Mattel employee
Jamie Demetriou as the CFO of Mattel
Emerald Fennell as Midge
Asim Chaudhry as a Mattel warehouse employee
Ray Fearon as Dan at the FBI
Erica Ford as Skipper
Hannah Khalique-Brown as “Growing Up” Skipper
Mettenarrative as Barbie Video Girl
Marisa Abela as Teen Talk Barbie
Lucy Boynton as Proust Barbie
Rob Brydon as Sugar Daddy Ken
Tom Stourton as Earring Magic Ken
Ann Roth as the woman on the bench
Annie Mumolo as Anxiety Mom
Lauren Holt as Time Mom
Ryan Piers Williams as El Esposo de Gloria (Gloria’s husband)
Alexandre Desplat, who collaborated with Gerwig on Little Women (2019), was set to score Barbie in early September 2022. However, by May 2023, Desplat had left the project, with Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt taking over scoring duties. The score was released by WaterTower Music on August 4, 2023.
In addition to the score, Ronson was tasked with curating a compilation soundtrack that matched Gerwig’s vision for Barbie. As the film was being edited in post-production, Ronson and Gerwig would show scenes from the film to artists they wanted on the soundtrack. The film’s soundtrack, Barbie the Album, was released on July 21, 2023. The album features songs by artists Ava Max, Charli XCX, Dominic Fike, Fifty Fifty, Gayle, Haim, Ice Spice, Kali, Karol G, Khalid, Sam Smith, Lizzo, Nicki Minaj, Billie Eilish, Pink Pantheress, Tame Impala, the Kid Laroi, and cast members Ryan Gosling and Dua Lipa. “Dance the Night” by Dua Lipa was released as the album’s lead single on May 26, 2023. It was followed by “Watati” by Karol G on June 2, 2023. “Angel” by Pink Pantheress was released on June 9, 2023, as the first promotional single. “Barbie World” by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice was released as the album’s third single on June 23, 2023. The album’s second promotional single, “Speed Drive” by Charli XCX was released on June 30, 2023. On July 6, 2023, the album’s third and final promotional single, “Barbie Dreams” by Fifty Fifty and Kaliii was released. On July 10, 2023, Warner Bros. released a preview clip of Ryan Gosling singing “I’m Just Ken”. The album’s fourth single, “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish, was released on July 13, 2023.
Despite fan expectations for the 1997 song “Barbie Girl” by the pop band Aqua to feature in the film, Ulrich Møller-Jørgensen, manager for Aqua lead singer Lene Nystrøm, said that it was not used, while Variety speculated that this was due to bad relations between Mattel and MCA Records, the song’s American publisher, who engaged in a series of lawsuits over the song from 1997 to 2002. “Barbie World”, a rework of the song, was instead featured in the film. It samples “Barbie Girl”; Aqua is credited as a performer and co-writer on the track.
The film features multiple renditions of the 1989 song “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls and the 1997 song “Push” by Matchbox Twenty, the latter of which Ken adopts as his favorite song after visiting the real world, which becomes “a tongue-in-cheek anthem of patriarchal dominance” in the fictional Barbieland. While many reviews of the film interpreted this as a critique of the song, director Greta Gerwig said that she was a fan of Matchbox Twenty and “I never put anything in a movie I don’t love.” “Spice Up Your Life” by Spice Girls plays in a flashback scene where Sasha destroys her mother’s Barbies. Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” plays when Barbie is about to leave her Dreamhouse and head to the real world.
Barbie had its world premiere at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on July 9, 2023, followed by the European premiere at Cineworld Leicester Square in London on July 12, 2023. It was released theatrically in the United States and the United Kingdom on July 21, 2023, taking over the original release date of Coyote vs. Acme. Previous iterations of the project were set for June 2, 2017; May 12, 2017; June 29, 2018; August 8, 2018; and May 8, 2020.
The film was released on the same day as Oppenheimer, a biographical film about J. Robert Oppenheimer written and directed by Christopher Nolan based on the book American Prometheus, and distributed by Universal Pictures. Due to the tonal and genre contrast between the two films, many social media users created memes and ironic posts about how the two films appealed to different audiences, and how they should be viewed as a double feature. The trend was dubbed “Barbenheimer”. In an interview with La Vanguardia, Oppenheimer star Cillian Murphy endorsed the phenomenon, saying, “My advice would be for people to go see both, on the same day. If they are good films, then that’s cinema’s gain.”
In August 2023, it was announced that the film would be re-released in IMAX theaters on September 22, 2023, for one week only, along with a new post-credit scene. The IMAX edition starts with an onscreen introduction by Greta Gerwig, who notes the advantages of the IMAX format. The post-credits scene includes an intro of Margot Robbie’s Barbie, in her 1959 Barbie bathing suit, taking a human-sized Ken doll on camera, which transforms into Ryan Gosling’s Ken; followed by humorous outtakes, e.g. whether Barbie should marry Barney the Dinosaur, and a voiceover by Robbie hoping people enjoyed the experience. Too, as Sarah Little notes on Screen Rant, “The meta post-credits scene features [narrator Helen] Mirren as herself walking in on Midge, played by Emerald Fennell, giving birth.”
Barbie was released on digital download on September 12, 2023, and was released on Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD on October 17, 2023, by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
As of November 9, 2023, Barbie has grossed $636.1 million in the United States and Canada, and $805.6 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $1.442 billion. This was described by Warner Bros. as “reaching a ‘Barbillion'”.
It was described as a “record-breaking” box office success during its opening weekend, and set the record for any film that was not a sequel, remake, or superhero property. Barbie became the highest-grossing live-action comedy film of all time, smashing the domestic record formerly held by Home Alone (1990) and the worldwide record formerly held by The Hangover Part II (2011) simultaneously. It has also become Gerwig’s highest-grossing film, overtaking its predecessor Little Women (2019). The film crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide on August 6, 2023, making it the first film by a solo female director to do so. This was also the fastest Warner Bros. film to reach $1 billion, beating Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011). In late August, Barbie surpassed that same film again, becoming Warner Bros.’s highest-grossing film, not adjusted for inflation. By September 2, the film surpassed $1.365 billion at the global box office, replacing The Super Mario Bros. Movie as the highest-grossing film of the year. Additionally, it became the highest-grossing film by a solo female director, surpassing the previous record held by Hi, Mom (2021).
Barbie attained critical acclaim. According to The New York Times, critics praised the script for addressing past criticisms of the Barbie brand’s portrayal of women and lack of diversity while infusing humor, but there were also critics who felt that it did not go far enough in critiquing consumerism and beauty standards. The performances of Robbie and Gosling received widespread acclaim.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 88% of 477 critics’ reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The website’s consensus reads: “Barbie is a visually dazzling comedy whose meta humor is smartly complemented by subversive storytelling.” Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 80 out of 100, based on 67 critics, indicating “generally favorable” reviews. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “A” on an A+ to F scale, while those polled by PostTrak gave it an 89% overall positive score, with 79% saying they would definitely recommend the film.
In his review for the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips called Barbie “a lovely, eccentrically imaginative example of brand extension and raw, untrammeled commercialism”, applauded the production design, and summed: “The crucial partnership here is the one between director and performer, Gerwig and Robbie; anything Gerwig and Baumbach’s verbally dexterous script requires, from Barbie’s first teardrop to the final punchline, Robbie handles with unerring precision”. Richard Brody of The New Yorker called it “brilliant, beautiful and fun as hell”, claiming the “giddily stylized vision of a doll coming to life makes a serious case for the art of adapting even the most sanitized I.P.” and commended the “free and wild” direction as well as the “profuse and exquisite” visual aesthetics. Charlotte O’Sullivan of the Evening Standard hailed the film as “easily the comedy of the year” with a large amount of fun, where “star and producer Margot Robbie, and writer-director Greta Gerwig, have done themselves proud” with a “breezily outrageous” film “about a woman’s right to be ‘weird, dark and crazy’.” Eileen Jones of Jacobin said that the film “manages to overcome cumbersome plotting and feminist pieties to provide a delightful spectacle of funny moments that add up to something pretty good.” In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw awarded Barbie a 3 out of 5 stars, describing it as “beamingly affectionate and deliriously pink-themed” but “perhaps a giant two-hour commercial for a product” and highlighted Gosling as a scene-stealer, being given “all the best lines”. In India Currents, Amann Mahajan notes, “Perhaps the most impactful … moment is one in which Barbie is calmly eviscerated by a teenage girl who dubs her a ‘fascist.’ t’s this scene (though not that particular comment) which comes closest to actually critiquing Barbie’s legacy. … And that’s just it: the movie is hemmed in by the fact that it is, at the end of the day, produced by Mattel.”
Lovia Gyarke of The Hollywood Reporter called the film a “tricky balancing act of corporate fealty and subversion” lauding Gerwig’s direction, the set design, costumes, soundtrack and lead performances, but criticizing the “muddled politics and flat emotional landing”. Variety critic Peter Debruge praised the humor for giving “permission to challenge what Barbie represents” and lauded Gosling’s physical performance, but concluded that the film is “an intellectual experience, not an emotional one, grounded largely in audience nostalgia.” In the Vulture component of New York, Alison Willmore commended the lead performances, particularly that of Robbie, whom she characterized “as capable of heartbreaking earnestness as humor, and who sometimes effortlessly achieved both at once”, but lamented the themes of the film, opining that it “doesn’t ultimately want to do much more than talk itself in circles about these themes”. On a similar note, Stephanie Zacharek of Time praised Robbie’s “buoyant, charming performance”, Gosling’s “go-for-broke” effort, and the “inventive production design”, but criticized the “self aware” nature of the film especially following the first half-hour, concluding that it is a feminist film “only in the most scattershot way”, and that it’s not “subversive”. Camilla Long of The Times wrote that the film featured Mattel’s “pink, squealing, corporate grasping”, trying to be “ahead of the sexism curve”, but “ended up feeling sexist itself” for its portrayal that “men are stupid, go to the gym, run everything and don’t care about women, while women are sensible, striving but ultimately conflicted victims.” In the review of Kyle Smith of The Wall Street Journal, he stated: “As bubbly as the film appears, its script is like a grumpier-than-average women’s studies seminar”, exemplified by the Mattel employee character’s “long monologue on how miserable it is to be female”. MovieWeb ranked it number 1 on its list of the “Best Comedy Movies of the 2020s (So Far),” writing that “Gerwig’s ode to the Barbie girl and her Barbie world … is as surprisingly modern and introspective as audiences have come to expect from her work. Scrunching 60 plus years of history into a two-hour time frame aside, this film gets straight at the heart of what it’s like being a woman today while providing more than a laugh or two in the process.”
Chinese film critic Li Jingfei (李竞菲) praised the film’s humor and criticism of patriarchy, qualifying that its themes were too often advanced by slogans rather than the experiences of its characters.
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