Warner Bros.’ Barbie is an unabashed phenomenon, both as a movie and a pop culture movement. It is only days away from hitting the $1 billion dollar mark at the worldwide box office after crossing $900 million Thursday.
In any normal circumstances, the studio behind such a hit would touting that a sequel is in development. Paramount Pictures, for example, announced a sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem a week before it hit theaters.
However, Barbie is not like other movies. It was released in unusual circumstances, with the double whammy of a writers and an actors strike, complicating any announcement of a returning creative team or stars.
And in a rare circumstance for a movie based on a major piece of intellectual property, the talent that made the movie a success do not have deals in place for a sequel. That runs counter the thinking behind big franchise plays from Marvel or Star Wars or Transformers, which snap up their talent in options, sometimes onerously so.
Margot Robbie, who brought the iconic toy to life on-screen and was one of the producers via her LuckyChap banner alongside husband Tom Ackerley, does not have an option and is not obligated to return as Barbie. She could return just as a producer, if she so desired. While her acting fee and her box office bonuses are unknown, any new deal would be a bankbuster. And, as observers note, merchandizing points could end up on the table.
Ryan Gosling, who played the scene-stealing Ken, also has no deal for a sequel. Gosling’s position is not unusual as the actor is known for his “one and done” ethos and his general aversion for big studio tentpoles. The actor has been courted for starring roles in big IP productions before, but even Gosling is game for something, the “no sequel” attitude stops deal talk in its tracks.
Then there’s the movie’s ringmaster, Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the movie with partner Noah Baumbach and directed the high-wire act.
Gerwig also has no deal for any sequel (neither does Baumbach). Sources say that several months before the movie’s July 21 opening, the studio made overtures regarding a sequel in a directing capacity but her reps at UTA deftly put that off until Barbie came out. With a movie now about to hit $1 billion, that could be end up as one of the smartest agenting moves of the year.
Barbie has become a tectonic-plate moving force at the box office in a way that few could have predicted. And while Robbie and Gerwig believed in what they had, there was many potential potholes the team’s pink Corvette had to avoid on the road to box office gold.
The movie was first greenlit and then made under the studio regime run by Toby Emmerich, his COO Carolyn Blackwood, and executives Courtenay Valenti and Cate Adams. It was this group who had to convince the rest of the company that a feature project that had no previous comps would be viable and ultimately moved the budget from a proposed $80 million to $140 million.
When Warners merged with Discovery in the spring of 2022, the movie, which was mid-production, could have fallen to the blustery winds of regime change like some other of the studio’s movies (see: Batgirl or Black Adam) but new heads Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy took custody of the Malibu dream house, understanding what the movie was and what it was saying, giving the filmmakers leeway to find itself in post-production process (too many patriarchy jokes? not enough patriarchy jokes?). The studio then undertook a marketing campaign that straddled a fine line with is messaging.
The early tagline “If you love Barbie…if you hate Barbie, this movie is for you,” for example, was not an easy sell to toymaker Mattel, which naturally bristled at the words “hate” and “Barbie” in the same breath. But Mattel film head and producer Robbie Brenner was able to pave the way inside the toy giant.
In the middle of this were Robbie and LuckyChap — who brought the project to Warners as a producer in 2018 after the rights lapsed at Sony — and Gerwig, hired in 2021. In a sign of how vital the Robbie-Gerwig team is to the project and its future, Robbie only committed to star in Barbie after Gerwig signed on to direct and wanted her to act in it. The duo then set their sights on a demurring Gosling, unrelentingly courting the actor until he said yes.
Gerwig spent months in post-production trying to walk that razor-thin line of the movies’ tones – broad comedy, camp, humanism, musical – and continually shaping the feature into something that transcended its two-quadrant beginnings and into something that had deep appeal and engendered repeat viewings. It did so while speaking to an audience that doesn’t regularly get spoken to and may forge a path for other female filmmakers and female-POV stories. And then there’s the early awards talk.
Which then circles back to the sequel. The strikes have nixed any chance of negotiations. Its box office climb only helps the talent in this case. And it is all letting Gerwig recharge and enjoy Barbieland
“At this moment, it’s all I‘ve got,” she recently told the New York Times. “I feel like that at the end of every movie, like I’ll never have another idea and everything I’ve ever wanted to do, I did. I wouldn’t want to squash anybody else’s dream but for me, at this moment, I’m at totally zero.”
And when the parties return to the real world and talks turn to a sequel, expect to see a lot of zeroes behind a prime number or two.