How can we get people to return to the movie theatres after a long absence? The answer is bubblegum-pink nostalgia, a dozen retail partnerships and ubiquitous marketing.
The opening weekend for “Barbie”, the much-anticipated film directed Greta Gerwig brought in $162 millions. According to Box Office Mojo, a website that tracks box-office revenue, this is the highest opening weekend for a female-directed film.
The theater experience has been a thing of the past. The decline in attendance is primarily due to the combination of pandemic closings and streaming services that offer more entertainment per month than one could ever consume. According to the Cinema Foundation, box office declines have led to the closure of 2,165 screens between 2019 and 2022 in the U.S. — or about 5.3%.
The theaters tried to revive the excitement of moviegoing through improvements and increased food and beverage options. Box Office Mojo reports that revenue is still lower than it was before the pandemic. Total gross for 2022 will be $7.4 Billion, down from $11.4 Billion in 2019.
It is the dire situation of theatre attendance that makes “Barbie”, so notable. Barbie ranked No. 10 when compared to the top summer movie opening weekends of all time. Box Office Mojo says that “Barbie” ranked 10th. While “Barbie’s” opening weekend grossed $162 million dollars, “Jurassic World”, (2015) had the highest grossing debut ever with $208,8 million. The “Barbie’s” opening weekend did surpass the franchise sequels, “Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom”, “Jurassic World Dominion” as well as “Dark Knight,” and “Spider-Man.”
Barbie’s hype machine
Margot Robbie plays Barbie in “Barbie”, a story about Barbie who lives with other Barbies and Kens. A crisis of existential meaning drives her to go to the real-world with Ken (Ryan Gosling) in order to find purpose.
The marketing of “Barbie” is not aimed at small children, as is typical for the audience that the doll is marketed to. In the weeks leading up to the release of “Barbie”, the collaborations were everywhere. This included Barbie clothing, Barbie accessories, Barbie furniture, Barbie pools floats and candles, Barbie jewellery, Barbie cosmetics as well as Barbie dog clothes.
Robbie gave a Barbie house tour to Architectural Digest Magazine and recreated classic Barbie looks for the red carpet. Gosling showed his love for Ken, dubbed as “Kenergy” in interviews. SAG-AFTRA’s strike has halted the rest of Gosling’s PR tour.
It was a good timing for “Barbie”, as it targeted consumers who are very online. On July 21, the film’s release coincided with the release of Christopher Nolan’s biographical thriller “Oppenheimer”, a story about J. Robert Oppenheimer’s involvement in the Manhattan Project which led to the creation of the first nuclear weapons. This bizarre juxtaposition between two films from critically acclaimed directors led to the social media sensation Barbenheimer.
Barbenheimer was a popular film topic in months prior to its release. It sparked bootleg merchandise, spawned memes, and brought Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and the mushroom cloud together. One meme features the famous quote from Oppenheimer, which is taken directly from the Hindu scripture Bhagavadgita: “Now, I have become Death, the destroyer of Worlds.” It’s styled with Barbie typeface in a hot-pink hue.
Social media encouraged moviegoers who wanted to watch both films at the same time to do so. This prompted theaters to offer double-feature tickets. AMC, the theater giant reported that AMC Stubs members booked 87,000 tickets for both movies on the same date.
Box Office Mojo reports that “Oppenheimer”, too, cashed in, earning $80.5 in its opening weekend. This is the first time two films have grossed more than $80 million on their opening weekends. It was also the fourth-highest box office weekend in history, according to several reports.
Is it possible to replicate the success of Barbie?
Summer blockbusters could remind you what you’re missing out on while scrolling away at home. The July 12 release of “Barbie”, “Oppenheimer” and the “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One” set the record for opening day gross in the series with over $80m.
According to the National Cinema Foundation, there are many more opportunities for audiences to be attracted: 40 percent more large-scale movie releases in 2023 are anticipated compared to 2022.
The movie “Barbie”, which was released in 2005, could be the start of a new trend for studios who spend a lot on marketing to bring people to theaters. A big budget may not work for a movie that is not well received. A Gosling film called “Blade Runner 2049” released in 2017 had a marketing budget of $130 million but failed at the box-office.
Mattel uses Barbie’s success as an indicator that customers want nostalgic content related to toys. Mattel launched a new film division in 2018, and plans to create an entire Mattel Cinematic Universe. This includes 45 movies in development based upon other classic toys such as American Girl, Polly Pockets, Hot Wheels and Masters of the Universe.
What other films will be as popular as Barbie? You can quote the Magic 8 Ball by saying: “Ask again later.”