Barbie has put toy maker Mattel in the pink by taking over a billion dollars at the box office science release to open new markets and a wealth of opportunities.
A famous cast, slick advertising and intense promotion in the run-up to the release on July 21, 2023, led to a box office opening weekend of $162 million – the highest-grossing opening of the year thus far.
But, when interest wanes and everyone who wants to see Barbie has done so or viewed the movie on a streaming service, will the legacy be a positive uplift for Mattel or a short-term, Barbie-pink bubble?
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The History Of Barbie
Barbie began life long before Margot Robbie stepped in to play the real-life version of the doll.
Barbie began in the imagination of Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel Inc with her husband. The original toy was launched in March 1959, characterised by long, slim legs, red lipstick and a stripey swimming costume.
With the full name of Barbara Millicent Roberts, the toy was introduced e in New York at the American Toy Fair, selling 300,000 units in the first year, with a retail price of $3.
Ken made his entrance two years later, named after Ruth Handler’s son.
Since then, Mattel has reinvented Barbie countless times, transforming a toy accused of fostering an impossible body image for young girls into a doll with over 250 careers, ranging from a rock star to an astronaut and a doctor to a flight attendant.
Mattel also made Barbie more inclusive and accessible, recreating Barbies of different ethnicities, skin tones, hair types and body shapes over the years. The company released the first African American and Latina dolls in 1980, and since then, Mattel has marketed over 40 international Barbies.
Barbie has also taken on the guise of many celebrities. The first famous doll was released in 1967, designed to look like Twiggy, the British supermodel of the day, with a short blonde pixie crop hairstyle and a 60s shift-style dress.
The Barbie Fashionista edition, created in 2016, attempted to recognise further the diversity of girls who would play with the doll, coming with seven skin tones, 24 hairstyles, four body types and 22 eye colours.
Since her first incarnation 64 years ago, Mattel has made billions from the doll. The manufacturer saw revenues spike from $950 million in 2017 to $1.35 billion in 2020 – with further boosts anticipated now the long-awaited movie is in the cinema.
Recapping The Barbie Movie Storyline
With a cast of 30 Barbies and almost as many Kens, the storyline begins with Barbie and Ken living in a perfect toy world where flying is possible, and everything has a surreal glaze of perfection.
But the bubble soon bursts as Barbie is exiled to the real world to discover the imperfections, challenges and joy of being a real person. She returns to save Barbie Land from Ken’s dominance, ending with the recognition that perfection comes from self-belief.
The Facts And Figures Behind Barbie The Movie
As a movie, Barbie has already exceeded expectations, but it was a strategic investment decision with a considerable budget that reflects the confidence of the Warner Brothers studio. Packed cinemas easily surpassed original projections of an opening box office weekend, raking in between $90 and $100 million.
The reported budget for director Greta Gerwig was $145 million. Still, the returns go beyond cinema ticket sales and include licensing and royalty fees for clothing lines, such as deals with fashion store Gap for a new clothing and pet accessories range and a collection at fashion chain Forever21 inspired by Barbie. There is even a Barbie rug range licensed to Ruggable.
In second-quarter earnings published on July 26, Mattel reported:
- Profits of $27 million in share capital valuation, with an increase of $0.10 per share.
- A drop in net sales of 12 per cent against the quarter before, attributed mainly to reduced consumer spending during the cost-of-living crisis, a lower decline than the projected 19 per cent.
Given that the movie release occurred just a few weeks ago, the financial impact will take time to be realised, with increases to the intellectual property valuation held by Mattel, interest in the doll brand, and opportunities to bring other toy ranges to the cinema.
The original forecasts indicated an expected $0.03 loss per share – meaning that the initial impacts were significantly better than anticipated.
Mattel shares are up 20 per cent this year. Although cagey analysts believe the share price will show the Barbie effect at the end of the next quarter, the film has paved the way for repeat performances from other popular toys.
Success Factors For The New Barbie Movie
One of the interesting aspects of the film is that contrary to expectations, it was assigned a PG-13 US rating or PG-12 in the UK – meaning children can only attend alone if they are at or above the minimum age. Younger children can watch the film if accompanied by an adult.
The move has attracted criticism from some parents who feel the film was too adult, featuring one bleeped-over swear word and a fair amount of innuendo.
However, the generation that most embraced Barbie as every child’s favourite toy is paying for cinema tickets, clothing, branded merchandise and Barbie dolls – meaning Mattel and Warner Bros may have deliberately aligned the film with a teen to adult age group.
Within the first four days, including the opening weekend, Barbie had grossed $356.3 million in cinema tickets, with forecasters expecting Mattel to net an additional $75 million from toy sales, $13 million from licensing deals and $11 million from the film itself.
Adaptations for other toys, including Hot Wheels, are reportedly in planning stages, with rumours that Barney, He-Man and another 40+ products are in consideration to repeat the immediate and slow-burn success Barbie has generated.
The key to achieving financial returns on the back of a toy-to-movie adaptation is the use of entertainment to support increasingly valuable intellectual property, with the commercial success achieved when investors have confidence that stock values will continue to rise.
Having suffered from declining revenues in recent years, Mattel’s involvement in the movie seems to be a profitable exercise in marketing following the appointment of the new CEO, Ynon Kreiz, in 2018.
Barbie The Movie FAQ
How much was the Barbie movie marketing budget?
Although figures are speculative, the Warner Bros studio reportedly set a $145 million production budget and assigned a $150 million marketing budget, stretching to pink carpets at movie premieres, all-pink billboards, buses and marketing campaigns, a real-life Barbie Dreamhouse available to rent through Airbnb and a Google takeover, where searches overlaid with pink fireworks.
Will the Barbie film increase toy sales for Mattel?
The Barbie movie has undoubtedly revived interest in the iconic doll, despite dozens of reinventions since releasing the original Barbie in 1959. Doll sales jumped in July, in the run-up to the movie, and Mattel expects to continue improving during the second quarter of the year. However, the most significant returns will likely be through licensing deals and franchises, with dozens of agreements in place.
How much did Margot Robbie earn for playing Barbie?
Margot Robbie, the 33-year-old Australian actress, was reportedly paid $12.5 million to take on the starring role, cementing her position as one of the best-paid Hollywood actresses. Co-star Ryan Gosling is said to have been paid the same amount for his role as Ken.
Has the Barbie movie been successful?
Ticket sales during Barbie’s opening weekend were the highest of any movie released thus far in 2023. With sales sustained at 32 per cent below the opening weekend during week two, it has already grossed $774.5 million. It is the fourth highest-grossing film at the domestic box office, behind new releases of Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and, interestingly, another film based on a kids’ toy – the Super Mario Bros Movie. Barbie may yet claim the top spot.
What is the latest version of the Barbie toy?
One of the most recent editions was released in 2019 to mark the 60th anniversary of Barbie. The new edition features a more realistic body shape, with a regular waistline, defined arms, and a smaller chest, intended to represent closer to modern body shape norms in the contemporary world and contrast to the often-criticised shape and build of the original doll.
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