Barbie’s Greta Gerwig breaks opening weekend record for female directors

25 July 2023, 09:04 | Updated: 17 November 2023, 11:25

Director Greta Gerwig poses for the media prior to a news conference for the film Barbie in Seoul, South Korea
South Korea Film Barbie. Picture: PA

Gerwig co-wrote and directed the hit film, which is intended to be the first of many Mattel-inspired spin-offs.

Barbie did not just break the opening weekend record for 2023, it also shattered the first weekend record for a film directed by a woman.

With 162 million US dollars (£126.3 million) in ticket sales from North American cinemas, according to studio totals on Monday, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie catapulted past both Captain Marvel, which was co-directed by Anna Boden and opened to 153.4 million dollars (£119.6 million) in 2019, and Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins’ 2017 film that debuted to 103.3 million dollars (£80.5 million).

Boasting a reported price tag of 145 million dollars (£113 million), Barbie also cost less to produce than Captain Marvel (152 million dollars – £118.5 million) and Wonder Woman (200 million dollars – £156 million).

Globally, it also far surpassed Wonder Woman’s debut with over 337 million dollars (£262.7 million) versus 228.3 million dollars (£178 million), though Captain Marvel’s global launch was higher at 455 million dollars (£354.7 million).

Writer/director/executive producer Greta Gerwig poses for photographers at the premiere of the film Barbie in London
Writer/director/executive producer Greta Gerwig poses for photographers at the premiere of the film Barbie in London (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)

Barbie’s debut, seven million dollars (£5.4 million) higher than estimated on Sunday, is also significant because its audience was 65% women – not a surprise in and of itself, but as far as box office history is concerned, movies that open over 100 million dollars (£78 million) often have a majority male audience (including both Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman).

This, many have noted, is perhaps less a rule and more a lack of big films that have been made and promoted with a blockbuster female audience in mind.

A close but imperfect comparison is Fifty Shades Of Grey, which was directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, and made 85 million dollars (£66.2 million) in its first three days.

The R-rated adaptation opened on Presidents’ Day weekend for a five-day haul of 93 million dollars (£72.5 million).

Barbie also earned the title of the third biggest July debut ever, surpassing Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, and trailing only the live-action The Lion King and Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

Gerwig co-wrote and directed Barbie, which is intended to be the first of many Mattel-inspired spin-offs.

And in just one weekend it has already surpassed the domestic grosses of her last two films, Little Women, which earned 108.1 million dollars (£84.2 million) and Lady Bird, with 49 million dollars (£38.2 million).

In 2018, Gerwig also made history by becoming the fifth woman to be nominated for the best director Oscar (for Lady Bird).

Margot Robbie in a scene from Barbie
Margot Robbie in a scene from Barbie (Warner Bros Pictures via AP)

As of 2023, there have now been seven women nominated for best director, and some are already predicting that Gerwig will notch another nod for next year’s ceremony.

Barbie and Gerwig’s success was celebrated widely online, with many in Hollywood pausing to reflect on the moment.

Reese Witherspoon posted “way to go, GG!” on Instagram, while director Ry Russo-Young wrote that “Barbie and its success looms as a beacon of hope” amid the strikes and widely shut-down productions.

“It’s wildly original, feminist, giant in scope and swing, and feels singular to a perspective,” Russo-Young wrote.

“These are rare qualities for big movies these days. I hope to see more made like this in the coming years.”

Filmmaker Nancy Meyers also celebrated the “triumph” on Instagram, but bristled at the focus on the glass ceiling aspect, asking if “Christopher Nolan has ever once in his life been referred to as a male director”.

Meyers and Nolan are among only a handful of writer-directors who have had two or more of their original films gross more than 100 million dollars domestically.

“Greta Gerwig’s Barbie accomplished something so profound,” Melissa Silverstein, the founder of the blog Women and Hollywood and the artistic director of the Athena Film Festival, said.

Margot Robbie, left, and writer/director/executive producer Greta Gerwig arrive at the premiere of Barbie at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles
Margot Robbie, left, and writer/director/executive producer Greta Gerwig arrive at the premiere of Barbie at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles (Chris Pizzello/AP)

“The fact that she made a funny, entertaining feminist critique and broke so many box office records with a movie about a doll that has been such a lightning rod in our culture is a monumental feat that should not be underestimated.”

Now it is a question of how high Barbie can go and if it can outgross other top films directed by women.

In North America, to get the number one spot, Barbie will have to earn more than Frozen II, co-directed by Jennifer Lee, which tallied out with 477.4 million (£372.1 million).

Captain Marvel is in second place with 426.8 million dollars (£332.7 million).

With good reviews and audience scores in its arsenal, word-of-mouth enthusiasm and watercooler buzz, as well as no direct new competition on the calendar, it is likely that Barbie will have “long legs”, a common phrase in the exhibition business that means a movie will continue selling significant numbers of tickets far past its opening weekend.

“This film is working everywhere,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros’ head of domestic distribution.

“This historic result reflects the intense heat, interest and enthusiasm for Barbie.”

By Press Association

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