Will the Live-Action Barbie Movie Be a Hit?

The popular toy is being brought to the big screen with the idea it can become a hit franchise

Apr 29, 2014 at 2:04PM

She has been an astronaut, a fashion model, a race car driver, and many other things, but now the first lady of American toys is becoming the star of a live-action film that will attempt to launch a franchise.

Blame The Lego Movie. The hit movie took in nearly half a billion dollars in global box office and gave any company with a successful toy line visions of cashing in at theaters.

One of the first new entries to jump into the toy-to-cinema fray is Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT), which plans to team with Sony (NYSE:SNE) to make a live-action movie based on its Barbie franchise.

Sony won film rights from Mattel when producers who work with the studio pitched an idea in which Barbie uses her "personal and professional skills to step into the lives of others and improve them, almost like a modern-day Mary Poppins," Deadline reported.The film will likely be cast with unknowns in the lead roles (including the title character and her chaste boyfriend Ken). 

But while The Lego Movie showed that it's possible to take a long-established toy brand and make it hip for the big screen, toy-to-movie conversions have been as hit-or-miss as Battleship (the game, not the movie adaptation). Barbie will be attempting to make the transition at a time when the brand is arguably in a weaker position than it has been since its launch in 1959 (though she looks good for 55). 

A recent history of live-action movies based on toys

Just because The Lego Movie was a hit and there have been three successful movies based on The Transformers, that doesn't guarantee that hit toy equals a hit movie. In fact there have been more missteps than blockbusters. Below is a look at the box office takes for a number of films that brought popular toys to the big screen through live action (rather than animation). (All totals are from Box Office Mojo).  

  • Clue (1985): $14.6 million
  • Masters of the Universe (1987): $17.3 million
  • Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008): $17.6 million
  • Bratz: The Movie (2007): $26 million
  • Transformers (2007): $709 million
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009): $836 million
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): $1.12 billion
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009): $302 million
  • Battleship (2012): $303 million
  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013): $375 million

While this list represents a relatively small sample size the only blockbuster hits on it are The Transformer movies. The G.I. Joe films were modest hits while Battleship was not as big a failure as people remember it, but with a budget IMDB estimated at $209 million it was still a failure. Most troubling for Sony and Mattel -- the movies on the list aimed at boys do better than those aimed at girls.

American Girl dolls (also owned by Mattel) appeal to the young end of the Barbie audience while Bratz has been a very direct competitor ... and movies based on both bombed. In the animated world, Disney's (NYSE: DIS) Frozen has set box office records, but live-action films targeted at girls have struggled. (That's not limited to toy adaptations -- 2011's Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer brought in $15 million in box office, just a tad less than another literary adaptation, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which pulled in $1.3 billion the same year.

Potter pulls in both genders-- boys are the prime audience, but Harry's appeal crosses gender lines, and the movies are filled with strong female characters. It's unlikely that Barbie will appeal to many boys, even if Ken has a really strong part. 

Is Barbie still popular?

Toy lines including Bratz and to a lesser extent the Monster High dolls (also a Mattel brand) have challenged Barbie's once unquestioned dominance, but the line still sells doing $1.2 billion in 2013. Numbers however are going in the wrong direction --sales for Barbie worldwide were down 6% in 2013 and fell a further 14% in the first quarter of 2014.  

"Barbie is competing with a lot of other girl brands that didn't exist previously," Stephanie Wissink, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, told the New York Daily News.

As a brand Barbie is struggling to stay relevant. A movie could make the toys cool again and serve as a relaunch, or it could demonstrate just how far the once indomitable brand has fallen.

The next hit or the next failure?

While Barbie has been a huge toy property it's hard to see how the character will translate into a movie that will have the broad appeal of The Lego Movie or Frozen. Sony and its producing partners seem to have agreed upon a plot that highlights the character's accomplishments rather than her fashion sense, which might help but it's barely a start. To succeed Barbie has to be both a movie kids want to see and one parents are willing to take them to. Part of the appeal of both Frozen and The Lego Movie is that the film's offer something for adults. 

The success or failure of the movie likely comes down to whether the studio can find a way to market the film in a way that makes the well-known doll feel fresh, hip, and modern. The Lego Movie used smart pop culture references and Frozen offered an empowered female heroine who is not just another princess character. It's possible to reinvent Barbie the same way but the toy has a lot of baggage that it won't be so easy to liposuction away.

Are you ready to profit from this $14.4 trillion revolution?
Let's face it, every investor wants to get in on revolutionary ideas before they hit it big. Like buying PC-maker Dell in the late 1980s, before the consumer computing boom. Or purchasing stock in e-commerce pioneer Amazon.com in the late 1990s, when it was nothing more than an upstart online bookstore. The problem is, most investors don't understand the key to investing in hyper-growth markets. The real trick is to find a small-cap "pure-play" and then watch as it grows in EXPLOSIVE lockstep with its industry. Our expert team of equity analysts has identified one stock that's poised to produce rocket-ship returns with the next $14.4 TRILLION industry. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening report.


Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. As a child he had a Ken doll who lived with Spiderman in a shoe box. The Motley Fool recommends Mattel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Mattel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers