With Greta Gerwig’s Barbie well on its way to being one of the most successful movies of 2023, you had better believe that Mattel wants to see if lightning can strike twice. Speaking with Mattel executives this week, Variety learned that there are already 14 movies in active development, all based on the company’s countless toy brands, from Hot Wheels to UNO. But has Mattel learned the right lessons from the success of Barbie?
“Everybody hopes that when you create a movie that there is going to be a franchise,” the Mattel Films head Robbie Brenner told Variety. “That’s the hope — that it goes on and on and it’s a gift that keeps giving. But, in this day and age, you just want to get the first one right.”
From the studio’s perspective, Brenner’s claims about building a franchise are undoubtedly true. Disney spent a combined $8 billion on Lucasfilm and Marvel in order to either create or expand upon two of the biggest film franchises in history.
The best-case scenario for Mattel Films and the studios it partners with would be the inception of a new MCU (Mattel Cinematic Universe), with the fans flocking to theaters in Polly Pocket outfits once or twice a year. Based on the Variety article, that’s clearly what Mattel is attempting to do. Here are the 14 Mattel films in various stages of production:
- Polly Pocket
- Hot Wheels
- Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots
- American Girl
- Magic 8 Ball
- Masters of the Universe
- Major Matt Mason
- Thomas & Friends
- View Master
- Christmas Balloon
And as was the case for Barbie, there are some genuine stars attached to all these projects. Lily Collins is set to star as Polly Pocket, Tom Hanks is the astronaut action figure Major Matt Mason, J.J. Abrams is producing Hot Wheels, and Vin Diesel is going to rock and sock some robots. As star-studded as Barbie is, Mattel was apparently just getting started.
Personally, I thought Barbie was a magnificent triumph. Gerwig served up a poignant, hilarious, heartfelt, and contemporary story about what Barbie represents, what it means to be a woman (or a man) in our society, and how fragile we all are deep down when we aren’t able to be our true selves. Margot Robbie has been great in everything she’s ever been in, but this was a real star turn for her. Even with Ryan Gosling threatening to steal the show over and over again with his pitch-perfect silliness, Robbie shone through until the credits rolled.
Give a filmmaker like Greta Gerwig the freedom to tell a deeply personal, deeply weird story like this, and the brand at the center of the project doesn’t matter. If Barbie ends up making $1 billion at the worldwide box office, I hope that’s the lesson that Warner Bros., Mattel Films, and the rest of Hollywood take away from this achievement.
Because we already know what the alternative looks like, thanks to the original MCU.