In a shocking turn of events, the highly-anticipated 2023 American fantasy-comedy, ‘Barbie,’ directed by the innovative Greta Gerwig, has stumbled and fallen flat at the box office, despite its star-studded cast and rave reviews from critics.
The film boasts the exceptional acting talent of Margot Robbie as the eponymous character, Barbie, and Ryan Gosling as Ken. Despite the duo’s impressive performances and a screenplay crafted by the brilliant collaboration of Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, it appears that they were unable to draw substantial audiences to the theatre or secure a lucrative box office return.
A common observation among critics and the general public alike is that the movie made a determined push towards a ‘woke’ narrative, prompting speculation that this might be a contributing factor to its unsatisfactory box office performance.
The journey of the live-action Barbie film from concept to execution was far from straightforward. The film was first conceived by Universal Pictures in 2009, but tangible development only began in 2014 after Sony Pictures obtained the rights to the Barbie character.
The project endured numerous upheavals, with the continuous shuffling of directors, scriptwriters, and even lead actresses, with both Amy Schumer and Anne Hathaway once being touted to play Barbie. Eventually, the film rights were transferred to Warner Bros. Pictures in 2018. In 2019, Margot Robbie was announced as the newest incarnation of Barbie, and Gerwig was declared as the director and co-writer, in collaboration with Baumbach, in 2021.
Media outlets celebrated the film as a groundbreaking venture – the first live-action Barbie film following a series of computer-animated direct-to-video and streaming television films. The plot invites audiences on a journey of self-exploration with Barbie and Ken, who find themselves exiled from Barbieland.
They are joined by a diverse group of characters played by a power-packed ensemble cast that includes America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, Ariana Greenblatt, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Helen Mirren, and Will Ferrell, lending further dynamism to the film.
The movie was crafted with a level of finesse and detail that critics applauded, from the exceptional performances, especially from Robbie and Gosling, to the intricate costumes and expansive production design. Yet, despite all its artistic merits, ‘Barbie’ received a lukewarm response from the public following its premiere at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on July 9, 2023, and subsequent theatrical release throughout the United States on July 21, 2023.
A considerable amount of the discourse surrounding the film’s poor performance centers on its ‘woke’ elements. The term ‘woke,’ a recent addition to the cultural lexicon, refers to heightened social and political consciousness, with particular emphasis on diversity, equality, and social justice. While some consider this awareness a natural and necessary progression in the entertainment industry, others see it as an unnecessary imposition on artistic expression.
The creators of the Barbie film embraced this contemporary perspective, infusing the beloved Mattel doll’s story with progressive themes. The film diversified not only its cast but also its storyline, which explored self-acceptance, empowerment, and the journey towards self-discovery.
Although these themes can be enlightening and empowering, the reception they received from the audience was less than favorable. Many viewers felt that the inclusion of ‘woke’ themes felt forced and contrived, overshadowing the playful and carefree nature typically associated with the Barbie brand.
The audience’s perception was that the film concentrated too heavily on promoting its ‘woke’ narrative, thereby forfeiting the nostalgia and charm associated with the original Barbie doll, a classic emblem of femininity and style. This narrative shift might have distanced the franchise’s main demographic – young girls and avid Barbie fans – resulting in a drastic decline in the film’s box office returns.
The industry is currently embroiled in a fierce debate over the merits of sticking with traditional narratives or adopting more ‘woke’ themes. ‘Barbie’s’ disappointing box office results add a new dimension to this conversation, highlighting the necessity of striking a delicate balance between promoting social progress and meeting audience expectations. Despite critical praise for the film’s humor, production design, costumes, and performances, it’s evident from the underwhelming box office results that the film failed to connect with the wider audience.
The underperformance of ‘Barbie’ at the box office underscores the inherent risk in reinterpreting cherished franchises. The challenge lies in maintaining the core essence of the original, while seamlessly weaving in contemporary themes and social messages.
The aspiration to reinvent and diversify Barbie for the 21st century was a noble pursuit. However, the actual execution may have missed its target, offering audiences an unrecognizable version of Barbie that they were hesitant to accept.
While it may not have achieved the commercial success Warner Bros. Pictures had hoped for, the 2023 live-action ‘Barbie’ film has undoubtedly sparked extensive discourse and debate, contributing to the ongoing dialogue on ‘wokeness’ in Hollywood. Whether this film represents a minor stumble or a significant wake-up call for the industry remains to be seen.