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How Barbie’s Success Highlights the Importance of Female-Based Entertainment

There hasn’t been a cinematic moment as significant and culturally impactful as today’s counterprogramming event of Boppenheimer (Barbenheimer? Oppenarbie?) in the last few years. Barbie—an independent director’s take on a candy-coated blockbuster and Oppenheimer—a self-serious auteur’s grimy biopic, are being released on the same day, drawing in audiences desperate to have a new artistic venture to collectively invest in. This is a lightning bolt moment of filmmaking, drawing thousands of people to dedicate upwards of 5 hours in and around their local picture house. After years of cinemas decrying the end of in-person movie-watching, this release felt like a call to arms.

Barbie
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

What feels especially exciting about this July release schedule, is Barbie’s unique placement in these wider cultural conversations, given equal weight to Oppenheimer’s Oscar bait-y image and promotion. Both are generating genuine critical buzz. But perhaps most interesting, Barbie is estimated to earn $20 million in the film’s domestic (US) preview, double what Oppenheimer is predicted to earn. While art should never be analysed through a financial lens, it is indicative of a trend that creatives could stand to learn from.


Art by and for men, appealing to their childhoods and building on those fundamental experiences has been a main stay of lucrative cinema. Indeed for the last decade the only films to generate this kind of widespread appeal has been Star Wars or Marvel, both properties that have and can be enjoyed by women (including myself!) But it is only recently that these projects started to actively appeal to their female audience, after somewhat cynically admitting their financial use, engineering an inauthentic faux-feminism around their upcoming films; think about Captain Marvel, Marvel’s first female-led superhero film, inertly structured around a protagonist who can’t remember anything about herself, rendering her an empty character.


What studios and filmmakers could stand to remember, is that movies genuinely revelling in female memory and built around the experience of womanhood, are worth investing in. Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again a film that saw the bedazzled Mamma Mia! and said: what if we had more characters, more musical numbers and more colours—to great success. No one was necessarily calling for this sequel, but the film earned an impressive $34 million internationally upon its open weekend, (with Lily James’ rendition of ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’ having a staggering 98 million plays on Spotify.)


Very few pieces of art can be judged “good” or “bad”, but listen, the Sex and the City films were bad, (particularly the second.) Despite this, the films which were follow-ups to the phenomenally successful, groundbreaking series still generated impressive box office numbers. The first offering was the 11th highest grossing movie of 2008, (beating The Incredible Hulk.) This success is the answer to the similarly frothy and vacant male-oriented offerings. If men can lineup for the midnight premiere of the newest, panned Star Wars film, let women enjoy Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte (miss you, Samantha,) in the newest Sex and the City!


It is worth saying that no amount of money can excuse bad art. Part of the ongoing SAG and WGA strikes are studio’s unwillingness to greenlight new, exciting material, reverting to tried, true and unimpressive scripts. But writers, directors and actors should remember that projects geared towards women—and choosing to live in their childhood memories—have long been successful, and are sure to find and celebrate their audience.

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