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The Triumph of the Barbie Movie in China

Published on: August 16, 2023

The Impact of Barbie Movie in China

The Greta Gerwig-directed Barbie movie has captured the attention of Chinese moviegoers, especially young women. Just as in Western markets, the movie has led to the emergence of the “Barbiecore” fashion trend, with sales of pink clothing surging.

The intrigue lies in the fact that Barbie dolls never gained significant popularity in China as toys.

The question arises: what’s behind the Barbie movie’s cultural impact in China?

Barbie's Reception in China

The Barbie movie has not dominated the Chinese box office to the same extent as it has in Western markets, partly due to its limited presence in theatres. Despite this, the movie has managed to earn more than US$32 million in China, surpassing recent Hollywood releases in the country. 

While the Barbie movie hasn’t out-earned domestic blockbusters in China, it has stirred unprecedented excitement among Chinese audiences. 

Barbie has received high praised on Douban, often referred to as China’s IMDb equivalent, boasting an impressive rating of 8.2 out of 10. The film has consistently held the No. 1 spot on the platform’s “Weekly Word-of-Mouth Movie List” for 3 consecutive weeks.

The Triumph of the Barbie Movie in China - Douban
Barbie currently scores 8.2 out of 10 and has more than 465,000 reviews on Douban.

The movie has consistently trended as a hot topic on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo, and fashion-related posts inspired by Barbie on Xiaohongshu have garnered tens of millions of views.

The impact is also evident on e-commerce platforms like Tmall, where searches related to Barbie have spiked by nearly 1,000% since the movie’s premiere. This surge in interest has directly translated into increased purchases of pink clothing and apparel.

Explaining the Barbie Craze

Alibaba Group also reported a doubling of Barbie doll sales following the movie’s release.

However, Barbie has not been popular as a toy in China. Mattel opened a Barbie flagship store in 2009 in Shanghai, but closed it two years later due to a lack of interest. 

Whereas in the U.S., the Barbie movie is something of a nostalgia play that appeals to the generations of American women that grew up with Barbie dolls, Barbie has never occupied even a marginal place in China’s cultural landscape. 

The movie has ignited a newfound interest in the brand.

The Impact of Barbie Movie in China - movie banner

Instead of nostalgia and brand familiarity, the Barbie movie’s impact in China has been driven by a combination of factors.

The first is the enduring appeal of American intellectual property and entertainment culture in China. The enthusiasm for Barbie in Western cultures has transcended geographical boundaries.

However, the most compelling factor, as articulated by Lisa Nan in Jing Daily, is the movie’s strong emphasis on women’s empowerment — a theme that deeply resonates with young Chinese women.

Few other films in the Chinese market communicate the message of women’s empowerment as effectively as the Barbie movie. A Douban user expressed, “It’s uncommon for Chinese women to have the chance to watch a high-quality, female-oriented film in theatres.”

Chinese women strive to connect with brands and fashion trends that align with their values, and Barbie seamlessly embodies this ethos, appealing even to those who didn’t grow up playing with the dolls.

Key Takeaways:

The Barbie movie’s impact in China is a fascinating phenomenon driven by a combination of interest in American culture and the movie’s powerful message of women’s empowerment.

It has ignited a fashion trend, stirred conversations, and empowered young Chinese women in a way that few other films have achieved. The movie’s resonance with values and empowerment has transformed the perception of Barbie in the market.

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