In the history of Hollywood, very few people — 28 to be precise, all men — have had the sole directing credit on a billion-dollar movie.
Make that 28 men and one woman: Greta Gerwig.
“Barbie,” directed by Ms. Gerwig from a script she wrote with her partner, Noah Baumbach, will finish the weekend with more than $1 billion in ticket sales at the global box office, according to Warner Bros. No movie in the studio’s 100-year history has sold so many tickets so fast, said Jeff Goldstein, Warner’s president of domestic distribution. As of Sunday, “Barbie” had been playing in theaters for 17 days. (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” was previously the fastest to $1 billion, at 19 days.)
Ms. Gerwig could not be reached, according to a spokeswoman. Warner Bros. was giddy. “PINK FEVER,” Mr. Goldstein wrote in a text message. “Barbie” was No. 1 in the United States and Canada for the third weekend in a row, collecting $53 million, for a new domestic total of $459.4 million.
“Barbie” once again disproved a stubborn Hollywood myth: that “girl” movies — films made by women, starring women and aimed at women — are limited in their appeal. An old movie industry maxim holds that women will go to a “guy” movie but not vice versa.
Other films have challenged that notion, including “Wonder Woman,” which was directed by Patty Jenkins and starred Gal Gadot. It collected $823 million worldwide for Warner Bros. in 2017. “Captain Marvel,” directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and starring Brie Larson, took in $1.1 billion for Disney in 2019. “Twilight,” based on Stephenie Meyer’s novel and starring Kristen Stewart, was directed by Catherine Hardwicke. It collected $408 million for Lionsgate in 2008, starting a blockbuster franchise.
But studios have continued to be hesitant. Before “Barbie” was released, even some Warner Bros. executives challenged the wisdom of giving Ms. Gerwig so much money — about $145 million — to make such a pink movie. The studio signed Ms. Gerwig and Margot Robbie, who played the title role, to contracts that did not include provisions for sequels.
“Women-centered movies have been undervalued, in large part because studios have so few women in senior leadership roles,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, an author of studies about Hollywood hiring that are published annually by the University of California, Los Angeles. “The men in those positions are often reliant on past experience and stereotypes — Oh, that didn’t work before so let’s not risk it again.”
The success of “Barbie” belongs to hundreds of people, both men and women. Ynon Kreiz, the chief executive of Mattel, allowed Ms. Gerwig to satirize his company and No. 1 toy. Toby Emmerich, a former chairman of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, gave “Barbie” a green light. (Mr. Emmerich stepped down last year. His successors, Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy, shepherded “Barbie” through postproduction and release.)
Josh Goldstine, Warner’s president of worldwide movie marketing, backed “Barbie” with a thundering promotional campaign.
But it was women who, especially early on, pushed “Barbie” ahead in the face of skepticism. “If ever there was an example of why Hollywood needs more women in positions of power, this was it,” Ms. Ramón said.
Those women include Robbie Brenner, a “Barbie” producer and the head of Mattel Films — the executive “who rescued ‘Barbie’ from development hell,” in the words of Vulture, the culture and entertainment news site. After arriving at Mattel in 2018, Ms. Brenner, who was nominated for an Academy Award for producing “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013), teamed with Ms. Robbie, who came onto the project as a producer in addition to lead actress. Ms. Robbie knew Ms. Gerwig, and convinced her to write the script. Later, Ms. Gerwig decided to direct “Barbie.”
Courtenay Valenti, Warner’s former president of production, played one of the most important roles. She has been credited with seeing promise in “Barbie” from the earliest stage — recognizing that it was not (just) a commercial for a polarizing toy, but an idea that could reverberate through the culture. Ms. Valenti fought for Ms. Gerwig to have a budget big enough to execute on her vision. (Ms. Valenti left Warner Bros. in February to become the head of film, streaming and theatrical at Amazon Studios and MGM.)
“Barbie” ended up as the biggest box-office hit of Ms. Gerwig’s career, by a moonshot, cementing her status as one of Hollywood’s young “name” filmmakers — directors who mainstream ticket buyers recognize as delivering singular work. (Jordan Peele is another.) Ms. Gerwig previously directed “Little Women” (2019) and “Lady Bird” (2017). She has been nominated for three Oscars.
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