May 27, 2024

‘Barbie’ Movie’s Marketing Budget & Box Office Success, Explained

Warner Bros. and Mattel’s huge marketing push for “Barbie” paid off. 

The comedy starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as the iconic dolls surpassed all box-office expectations opening weekend, debuting at $155 million domestically and $337 million worldwide. Not only is that the highest opening weekend domestically this year, beating “Super Mario Bros.,” but it also gives filmmaker Greta Gerwig the highest-grossing domestic opening weekend for a female director ever. “Barbie” also had the best-ever Monday box office for WB, adding another $26 million to its total.

BoxofficePro, a magazine that covers the film industry, estimates that the film is tracking to hit $400 to $425 million domestically by the end of its theatrical run. If true, that would put the film among the highest-grossing movies of the year so far. 

“It’s a fantastic result, a reflection of a marketing strategy done right,” Daniel Loria, SVP of content strategy and editorial director at BoxofficePro, told Insider.

Barbie is inescapable

The Warner Bros. water tower is currently pink for "Barbie."

The Warner Bros. water tower in Burbank, California is currently pink for “Barbie.”

Kirsten Acuna/Insider



The film’s success is in large part thanks to an aggressive campaign that Mattel and WB started brainstorming well over a year ago. According to a conversation Loria had with WB executive vice president Jeff Goldstein, the directive from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav in January was to go “all-in on Barbie Summer.”

“That is just such a very different approach from a company where its prior ownership put all of its movies out on its streaming platform on the same day when it was owned by AT&T,” Loria said.

Spanning more than 100 international partnerships, “Barbie’s” campaign has infiltrated homes to ensure awareness of its summer spectacle. There’s Barbie-themed ice cream, roller skates, and a Barbie Xbox. 

Barbie-themed clothing at Cotton On store in a mall.

Just one of many stores at the Glendale Galleria in California that have licensed “Barbie” clothes.

Kirsten Acuna/Insider



A trip to any mall in the US means you’ll likely see Barbie-licensed clothing, perfume, and sunglasses in both high-end and more affordable retailers — from Forever 21 and Zara to Gap and Bloomingdales, targeting a range of demographics.

In April, the campaign kicked into high gear when WB unleashed a poster generator online, allowing social media users to personalize and insert themselves into shareable content, which, of course, also served as free promotion. 

When Warner Bros. officially declared Barbie Summer on June 21, pink benches and billboards with nothing but a release date for the film conditioned the public to associate a mere color with the movie. 

And Barbie Summer won’t be over after the film’s release. A Mattel representative told Insider that some of the campaigns are still to come in an effort to continue to drive interest in the movie.

The marketing budget is likely ‘very industry standard’

Barbie has been so ubiquitous that many have casually joked that Mattel and WB must have a seemingly endless marketing budget for the film. 

The film has a reported production budget of $145 million. Mattel and WB remain mum on confirming any number for an additional marketing budget. However, the majority of marketers Insider spoke with over the past two weeks believe that “Barbie’s” marketing spend likely isn’t as astronomical as people may believe.

“Honestly, their budget is probably very industry standard,” Abigail Shapiro, a US marketing manager at programmatic lifecycle marketing firm Crimtan, told Insider.

She estimated the marketing budget may range from $125 million to $150 million. Variety reported that rival studios place the budget around $150 million. (Marketing costs for big-budget movies are usually around 50% of their production budget, but it’s not out of the norm to see studios spend more on summer tentpoles).

What may look like an unlimited cash flow may simply be smart partnerships. Shapiro pointed to Mattel’s savvy strategy to license Barbie’s recognizable IP to form partnerships that will likely result in huge profits for the toy company.  

“All of the marketing that’s being done on those inline skates is coming out of the inline skates budget. That’s not part of the movie budget and that will apply across every single partnership they’re doing,” Shapiro added. “That’s all coming out of the marketing budgets of those individual brands.”

Barbie and Ken with Inline skates along with photos of real-life sold-out skates from Impala

“Barbie”-themed products have been selling out in stores, like Impala’s inline skates.

Warner Bros./Impala



Shapiro added: “Barbie kind of just sold its namesake to these companies to leverage the hype that’s going on right now and it’s very, very smart, but it’s not something that hasn’t been done before. They’ve just taken it to a different level.”

A handful of events likely cost the most, including a free boat cruise party, a pop-up where guests can visit Barbie’s Dreamhouse, and a Ken-themed Airbnb experience at the same Malibu residence Mattel partnered with in 2019 to celebrate Barbie’s 60th anniversary.

After a record-breaking opening weekend, every film will likely want the “Barbie” treatment. But just because a blitz worked for Mattel and WB, doesn’t mean the same approach will be a slam dunk for future films.

“I don’t think that any movie can accomplish this, because not every movie is going to have something that’s so already easily recognizable,” Shapiro said of the Barbie brand.

‘Barbie’ is an event movie

A group of friends pose for a portrait dressed as characters in "Barbie" outside a movie theater where "Barbie" is playing at AMC Century City on Friday, July 21, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA.

A group of friends pose for a portrait dressed as characters in “Barbie” outside a movie theater where “Barbie” is playing at AMC Century City on Friday, July 21, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA.

Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images



Attending the movies is more expensive than ever. And when people know a film will be available to stream soon after its premiere, it gives them less reason to head to theaters.

But “Barbie” rewarded theater-going audiences with “Barbie Blowout Party” early screenings ahead of its premiere that gave freebies to ultimate fans, such as pink berets, sunglasses, “I ❤️ Barbie” pins, posters, and stickers.

Larger-than-life Barbie doll boxes appeared in theaters across the country for moviegoers to snap photos of themselves to share on social media.

A woman takes a photo of another woman in an oversized Barbie doll box on the left while a man dressed in pink gives his opinion on the Barbie movie while standing on a pink carpet with a Barbie poster behind him.

“Barbie” moviegoers at AMC Burbank 16 in Burbank, California were treated to photo-opps and to give their opinion on the movie during an early screening on July 19, 2023.

Kirsten Acuna/Insider



Some theaters in Los Angeles and New York City actually made moviegoers feel like they were at a premiere, rolling out a pink carpet for guests. 

While there was some online backlash to the ubiquity of Barbie marketing, it’s seemingly been just that.

In the real world, moviegoers not only sold out opening weekend tickets, but they showed up to theaters in droves wearing all shades of pink. The scene at three popular movie theaters on opening weekend in Los Angeles was reminiscent of the premieres of films in billion-dollar franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter, when fans dressed in cloaks and wizard glasses.

Audiences loved the idea of a double feature

An attendee points at her Barbenheimer shirt outside the convention center during San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California, on July 20, 2023. (

You can’t buy the free widespread promotion that came from Barbenheimer.

Chris Delmas / AFP via Getty Images



A lot of the fun around the release of “Barbie” was that the cheery, bubblegum-pink film opened opposite “Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s serious biopic about creating the atomic bomb. People quickly latched onto the hilarity of the juxtaposition to create Barbenheimer, an internet phenomenon that studios and marketers could only dream of.

“Barbenheimer” quickly took on a life of its own, with memes and T-shirts remixing the two. The phenomenon became so popular that the National Association of Theatre Owners estimated more than 200,000 people purchased same-day tickets to watch both films on opening weekend.

People want to be connected to everybody else. They want to be part of a big event. And we have had so few of those in recent years. Bruce Nash, CEO and founder of the movie financial database The Numbers

 

“I think it’s the craving for novelty,” Bruce Nash, CEO and founder of movie financial database The Numbers, told Insider of people turning up for Barbenheimer. “People want to be connected to everybody else. They want to be part of a big event. And we have had so few of those in recent years.” 

Nash added: “It’s just people saying, I want to do something fun where I feel like I’m at a real event. This works in every theater in the country. People can show up and feel like they’re in this sort of weird, crazy party.”

The pairing helped lead to the fourth-biggest weekend at the domestic box office ever.

The movie itself was actually good and, more importantly, original

You can have the best campaign in the world, but if your movie stinks, audiences aren’t going to recommend it to family and friends. That’s a problem Marvel saw earlier this year when “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” had the studio’s largest second-week drop in attendance. It’s the worst-reviewed MCU film to date.

In the case of “Barbie,” it’s not only a critical hit, but it’s also beloved by audiences. It received an A from market research firm CinemaScore, which polls moviegoers on opening night and holds a 90% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes

The other thing that “Barbie” had going for it was that it felt original. It wasn’t a sequel, prequel, or part of a tired superhero franchise. 

Margot Robbie in a pink outfit and cowgirl hat in "Barbie."

“Barbie” is reviewed well by audiences and critics alike.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.



“I think moviegoers connected with it just because they didn’t have to see 37 other movies and three TV shows to find out what was going on,” Loria said, explaining that while audiences aren’t totally ditching cinematic universes, they are looking for something unique.

And after its large opening weekend, audiences are still flooding the theaters to get a glimpse of the plastic doll on the big screen. As of Sunday, evening showings of “Barbie” at a dozen popular AMC theaters in Los Angeles and New York City are nearly sold out through next Friday. 

After opening weekend, Loria expects word of mouth from those audiences will continue to help “Barbie” at the box office as people share their reactions and convince others to be part of the experience.

“When we look at the entire run of a movie, it all depends on weeks two, three, and four,” Loria said, adding of the film’s final domestic gross, “I do think $300 million is a lock and $400 million plus is a very viable path for a title like this.” 

Barbie really can be anything — including a box-office smash.

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