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Barbie reaches $1bn at the box office, studio says


In the history of Hollywood, very few people – 28 to be precise, all men – have had the sole directing credit on a $1 billion movie.

Make that 28 men and one woman: Greta Gerwig.

Barbie, directed by Gerwig from a script she wrote with her partner, Noah Baumbach, will finish the weekend with more than $1 billion in ticket sales at the global box office, according to Warner Bros.

No movie in the studio’s 100-year history has sold so many tickets so fast, said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros’ president of domestic distribution. As of Sunday, Barbie had been playing in cinemas for 17 days. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was previously the fastest to $1 billion, at 19 days.)

Gerwig could not be reached, according to a spokesperson. Warner Bros was giddy: “PINK FEVER,” Goldstein wrote in a text message.

Barbie was number one in the United States and Canada for the third weekend in a row, collecting $53 million, for a new domestic total of $459.4 million.

Barbie once again disproved a stubborn Hollywood myth: that “girl” movies – films made by women, starring women and aimed at women – are limited in their appeal.

An old movie industry maxim holds that women will go to a “guy” movie but not vice versa. Other films have challenged that notion, including Wonder Woman, which was directed by Patty Jenkins and starred Gal Gadot. It collected $823 million worldwide for Warner Bros in 2017.

Captain Marvel, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and starring Brie Larson, took in $1.1 billion for Disney in 2019. Twilight, based on Stephenie Meyer’s novel and starring Kristen Stewart, was directed by Catherine Hardwicke. It collected $408 million for Lionsgate in 2008, starting a blockbuster franchise.

But studios have continued to be hesitant. Before Barbie was released, even some Warner Bros executives challenged the wisdom of giving Gerwig so much money – about $145 million – to make such a pink movie. The studio signed Gerwig and Margot Robbie, who played the title role, to contracts that did not include provisions for sequels.

“Women-centred movies have been undervalued, in large part because studios have so few women in senior leadership roles,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, an author of studies about Hollywood hiring that are published annually by UCLA.

“The men in those positions are often reliant on past experience and stereotypes: Oh, that didn’t work before, so let’s not risk it again.”

The success of Barbie belongs to hundreds of people, both men and women. Mattel chief executive Ynon Kreiz allowed Gerwig to satirise his company and number one toy. Toby Emmerich, a former chairman of Warner Bros Pictures Group, gave Barbie a green light.

Josh Goldstine, Warner Bros’ president of worldwide movie marketing, backed Barbie with a thundering promotional campaign.

But it was women who, especially early on, pushed Barbie ahead in the face of scepticism. “If ever there was an example of why Hollywood needs more women in positions of power, this was it,” Ramón said.

Those women include Robbie Brenner, a Barbie producer and the head of Mattel Films – the executive “who rescued Barbie from development hell”, in the words of Vulture, a culture and entertainment news site. The picture was produced in partnership with the toymaker that makes and sells Barbie dolls.

After arriving at Mattel in 2018, Brenner, who was nominated for an Academy Award for producing Dallas Buyers Club (2013), teamed with Robbie, who came on to the project as a producer in addition to lead actor. Robbie knew Gerwig and persuaded her to write the script. Later, Gerwig decided to direct Barbie.

Courtenay Valenti, Warner Bros’ former president of production, played one of the most important roles. She has been credited with seeing promise in Barbie from the earliest stage – recognising that it was not (just) a commercial for a polarising toy, but an idea that could reverberate through the culture. Valenti fought for Gerwig to have a budget big enough to execute on her vision.

Barbie ended up as the biggest box-office hit of Gerwig’s career to date, by a moon shot, cementing her status as one of Hollywood’s young “name” filmmakers – directors who mainstream ticket buyers recognise as delivering singular work. She previously directed Little Women (2019) and Lady Bird (2017). She has also been nominated for three Oscars. – This article originally appeared in the New York Times.



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