Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which exploded into theaters just a month ago, is set to become Warner Bros. Highest Grossing Film, beating out the much-loved Harry Potter finale, Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Though this might cause some dismay for Harry Potter fans, Gerwig’s Barbie has become a force to be reckoned with at the box office, with its original yet nostalgic aesthetic, intellectual force, and ultimately meme-able release all culminating into a film that has arguably become the climax of 2023’s summer movie season.
Having beaten out its internet rival Oppenheimer on their mutual release date, Barbie, featuring much-loved celebrities Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, has soared in both pop culture and critical esteem. With fans decked out in hot pink outfits and compilations taking over YouTube of the stars’ inside jokes, the film has become iconic in its own right, setting new trends in fashion and thinking.
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2’s dethroning is not only a benchmark for Barbie’s remarkable success but also gives insight into the film industry today. Summer is often a sign for movie buffs to anticipate blockbusters and box-office hits. Yet these films often rely on a sturdy fanbase or iconic history for their success, limiting the amount of independent films succeeding in the season.
For example, The Harry Potter series is backed by die-hard fans of both the books and the movies, resulting in a tremendous payoff with the final film’s release. More recently, the Marvel Comics Universe has become a prime example of a loyal fanbase’s willingness to show up and support new releases.
While Barbie differs due to Greta Gerwig’s past as an independent filmmaker and her films’ often philosophical takes on womanhood, part of its success is no doubt due to the icon that is Barbie. The film uses and manipulates this fame to its advantage, both analyzing Barbie’s presence in our culture and speaking to its hidden meanings. Whether fans or not of the idol herself, viewers are drawn by both the nostalgia and the novelty of the all-pink, whimsical landscape, a kind of fantasy film world receding in an era of somber storylines and toned-down color palettes.
So while Barbie is a well-executed masterwork, its success at the box office stems from various factors. With streaming platforms threatening to put theaters out of business, the theater-only event of “Barbenheimer” is significant in and of itself. The effect of such a climatic release offers relief from streaming and a return to the traditional theater-going experience.
The rivalry between the two films seemed not only to be one of different aesthetics but additionally, of two different kinds of film legacies. While Oppenheimer, like Harry Potter, features a majority of male leads and casting with somber color tones, the Barbie movie has seemingly broken the barrier in blockbuster representation. The film and its success usher in the potential for female led and directed movies to become new, well-loved classics.
By becoming Warner Bros’ Highest Grossing film, Barbie echoes the blockbuster’s potential dependence on fanbase but also opens a new horizon, in which a female-led, female-directed, feminist film can beat the expected male-led summer movie. As viewers continue to watch the film and invest in its merchandise, Barbie’s relevance and success will continue to grow, as will the anticipation for Gerwig’s next film.