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The Big Barbie Bet

How a toy giant reinvented itself in Hollywood.

“Barbie” is on the verge of grossing a staggering $1.4 billion, surpassing even some of the most iconic Warner Bros. films, and possibly nearing the coveted $2 billion mark. This monumental achievement has put Mattel in the spotlight, marking a turning point in the company’s history.

While the financial specifics of Mattel and Warner’s partnership remain guarded secrets, insiders suggest that Mattel earned 5 per cent of box office revenue, a share of the film’s profits as a producer, and additional royalties as the owner of Barbie’s intellectual property rights. This could potentially amount to $100 million if the movie reaches $2 billion in box office revenue, not to mention merchandise sales and boosted doll sales.

At the company’s recent earnings call, “Barbie” was the talk of the town, even though it didn’t reflect in Mattel’s latest financial results. Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz hailed the film as a “milestone moment” in the company’s strategy to leverage its intellectual property and collaborate with top creative talent, setting the stage for a series of toy-themed movies.

The Journey

The journey to success for “Barbie” began when Mattel decided to take control of its cinematic destiny. The project had lingered at Sony for years, with constant renewals of the option but no concrete progress. Kreiz’s arrival in 2018 marked a turning point. He refused to renew the Sony option and reached out to Margot Robbie, the sought-after actress known for her versatility.

Robbie, while initially not interested in starring in the film, was eager to bring a potential franchise to Warner, where her production company, LuckyChap, had a first-look deal. In a pivotal meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Kreiz shared his vision for a Barbie movie that transcended mere toy promotion. He envisioned a film with a strong voice and cultural significance, not just a merchandise-driven venture.

This vision resonated with Robbie, who eventually agreed to star in the film. She also recommended Greta Gerwig as the director, a choice that raised eyebrows given Gerwig’s background in independent cinema. However, Gerwig’s personal connection to Barbie and her unconventional creative style made her the perfect fit for the project. With Warner as a co-producer, Gerwig and her partner, Noah Baumbach, embarked on a creative journey that resulted in a script that defied conventions. The script, though unconventional and daring, won the approval of Kreiz, who recognized its depth and innovation.

As the project evolved, the budget ballooned to $150 million, reflecting the commitment to realize Gerwig’s vision. The film’s opening night was a resounding success, with sold-out screenings and a captivated audience.

A Plastic Future

“Barbie” has not only become a box office sensation but has also reshaped Mattel’s future in Hollywood. The company’s transformation from a toy manufacturer to a major film producer is now a reality, and it has garnered the respect and trust of A-list talent. Mattel’s willingness to poke fun at itself and embrace unconventional creativity has endeared it to both critics and moviegoers.

Looking ahead, “Barbie” has set the bar high for Mattel’s upcoming films, and the company’s multiyear franchise management strategy is gaining momentum. While the entertainment industry remains unpredictable, Mattel’s foray into Hollywood is proving to be a remarkable success story, demonstrating the power of creativity, vision, and a willingness to break free from convention.