Across most of the world where it’s released, Warner Bros.’ Barbie has been a big hit, and it’s already shaping up as one of the biggest cultural events of the year, film or otherwise. And its impact is so big that it got people to break their mid-pandemic rule and actually see a movie in theaters as it was playing rather than wait for streaming.
Film tracking service Quorum revealed that it surveyed 1,800 people who saw Barbie in US theaters. While most answered they go to movies all the time or frequently enough, 22% revealed that they haven’t seen a movie in theaters in since before the COVID-19 pandemic. 11% don’t remember exactly when, while another 11% flat out admitted they haven’t gone to a theatrical film—not a Marvel, a viral sensation like M3GAN, or even Avatar: The Way of Water—after the pandemic hit. And since Barbie’s North American box office is currently $450 million at time of writing, that means 9 million people haven’t gone to the theater to see a movie since pre-2020. It goes to show how seriously folks have been taking the pandemic over the last three years, and highlights something special about Barbie the movie that made them willing to mask up and see it when the screenings were likely fairly packed.
Theatergoers were also asked about what kind of effect Barbie had on them, and the responses are likewise illuminating. While 45% of answers said movie prices were going them back, 40% said they’d go to movies more often if they elicited similar feelings of how much they love movies. Another 15% said they’d go to movies more often if there was another film like Barbie playing in theaters—but whether that’s literal, as in another movie based on a toy, or a movie that feels like it should be seen in theaters, is unclear. Either way, it all comes back to what executives are likely to not really internalize: movies can be successful if they feel like they are real, authored products rather than a checklist to a predetermined end point.
Since Barbie’s managed to convince some audiences to consider going out for movies more often, Quorum pointed out that it would behoove studios to take advantage of this momentum. But the site noted the film’s effects may not be felt due to the ongoing Hollywood strikes by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. While acknowledging the “much larger forces at play” that determine when the strikes will end, Quorum said “little product in the market” will further dwindle as studios shift release dates around. Its findings were concluded by calling it “a shame to ruin this moment when there is so much goodwill toward going to the theater.”
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