Films For People Who Loved ‘Barbie’

barbie

As the biggest movie phenomenon in years, mega-hit Barbie has many fans wondering: What’s next?

Greta Gerwig’s feminist “fish-out-of-water” journey has touched not only generations of women and girls who played with the buxom, anatomically incorrect dolls. It has also captured the eyes, hearts, and wallets of many who didn’t – as well as the “Kens” in their lives.

But Barbie stands on the upper floor of a Malibu Dream House built on a foundation of many past films celebrating female empowerment themes, telling epic tales of strange beings trying to navigate the normal world, or scattering the silver screen with a plethora of pastels. For those who've seen Barbie one or a dozen times, here's a list of next-level films for people who loved Barbie.  

1. Splash (1984)

Splash Tom Hanks
Image Credit: Buena Vista Distribution.

Not quite the phenomenon of Barbie, this 1984 dramedy stars Tom Hanks as a New Yorker smitten with mermaid-out-of-water Darryl Hannah. Unlike Barbie, Hannah’s female character is not the protagonist, Hanks is. But Hannah and Hanks have great chemistry as she tries to figure out the terrestrial world, and he falls in love. The first film released by Disney’s adult-themed Touchstone Pictures, the film became a critical and box office success, even landing an Oscar nomination for writing and helping solidify director Ron Howard’s film-making career.

2. Legally Blonde (2001)

Legally Blonde Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Cauffiel, Alanna Ubach
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Leaning into Barbie-esque pink palettes and female empowerment, this 2001 Reese Witherspoon classic has another seemingly ditzy blonde, proving more than just her pretty face upends the world of men and, in this case: Harvard Law. While not a musical, it did become one on the Broadway stage in 2007.

3. Enchanted (2007)

Enchanted Amy Adams
Image Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

Like Barbie, Amy Adams’ princess in this 2007 hit starts in a fairy tale land but gets banished, stranded, and confused in New York City. It also features musical numbers and a wonderful scene where Adams’ character’s animal friends try to help her clean up her dirty apartment.

4. Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

This 1964 French film might seem far afield, but none other than Barbie writer-director Greta Gerwig cited its vital influence. Gerwig tapped this Jacques Demy musical romantic drama as inspiring her surreal use of painterly color in Barbie in an excellent interview with Letterboxd in which she named 29 films that influenced Barbie. Umbrellas also inspired at least one of Barbie's hairdos in Gerwig's film. In the interview, Gerwig also mentions the Demy films The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) and Model Shop (1969) as inspirations.  

5. Singing in The Rain (1952)

Singing in the Rain
Image Credit: Loew's Inc..

Gerwig has also stated that this 1952 musical features a dream ballet inside of a dream ballet that inspired Ken's dance scene in Barbie. And another Gene Kelly film, An American in Paris (1951), inspired Barbie‘s opening morning routine.

6. The Red Shoes (1948)

The Red Shoes Moira Shearer
Image Credit: General Film Distributors.

This 1948 dance-romance film from filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, as well as another Powell and Pressburger film, A Matter of Life and Death (1946), inspired much of what Gerwig called “authentic artificiality” in the theatrical look and feel of Barbie, such as the scene of Barbie walking up to Weird Barbie's house, the frozen-motion scene, and more.

7. Clueless (1995)

Clueless Alicia Silverstone
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

This 1995 coming-of-age teen comedy stars Alicia Silverstone as a girlie girl in Beverly Hills defined by the outside world by her looks, much like Barbie. But just like everyone's favorite doll come to life, Silverstone proves she has much more than looks: humor, smarts, and inventiveness. The film has had an enduring cultural impact, including spin-offs in TV, books, comics, and a stage musical.

8. Mean Girls (2004)

Mean Girls Lacey Chabert, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

This 2004 teen comedy sees Lindsay Lohan as an American girl raised in Africa returning to the U.S. and thrown into a difficult high school. Like Barbie, Lohan’s character takes on the established order, though not patriarchy, but matriarchy – one that wears pink on Wednesdays. Mean Girls became a Broadway musical, and that stage show will also go before cameras very soon.

9. Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman Gal Gadot
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

This 2017 superhero film features a female character leaving her exotic Amazonian land where she has to pretend to be a normal woman in the normal world, only to see how women men judge and disempower females. Of course, she fights back.

10. The Little Mermaid (1989/2023)

The Little Mermaid Jodi Benson
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Whether the original 1989 musical or the 2023 live-action film, this musical tale follows another mermaid out of water in the real world. The latest version leans even more into feminist themes.

11. Ella Enchanted (2004)

Ella Enchanted
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Anne Hathaway stars in this 2004 quasi-musical as a Cinderella-type who cursed to follow any order given to her and goes on a mission to reverse the curse. A metaphor for girl empowerment, if there ever was one.

12. Miss Congeniality (2000)

Miss Congeniality
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

In a way, this 2000-action comedy is the opposite of Barbie. Sandra Bullock plays an indelicate FBI agent who has to go undercover as a beauty pageant contestant. But by hopping worlds, she shines a light on the typical vs. atypical female societal roles.

13. Elf (2003)

Elf James Caan, Will Ferrell, Amy Sedaris
Image Credit: New Line Cinema.

Starring the same actor who played the Mattel CEO in Barbie, Will Ferrell, this 2003 elf-out-of-the-north-pole comedy has a male lead, but has become a beloved Christmas Classic and features a blonde Zooey Deschanel as his co-star.

14. Working Girl (1988)

Working Girl Harrison Ford, Melanie Griffith
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Mike Nichols’ 1988 feminist romantic dramedy about the marginalization of women in the workplace still holds up, as evidenced by the resonant themes and popularity of Barbie. Melanie Griffith plays an ambitious secretary trying to succeed in business in New York City. Like hunky Gosling in Barbie, hunky Harrison Ford plays a significant but secondary role to the female star.

15. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Starring real-life-Barbie Marilyn Monroe, this 1953 film strikes a blow for female empowerment as she uses her womanly wiles – and her discounted depth – to manipulate the men around her.

16. Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz 5
Image Credit: Loew's, Inc.

It might seem an obvious choice as possibly the most famous movie in the world, but it deserves mention here because younger generations, who turned out in droves for Barbie, may not have seen it. Barbieland had cinemas playing the 1939 film, and the pink brick road in Barbie paid homage to the Oz’s yellow one.

Author: Christopher Hain

Bio:

Christopher Hain is a screenwriter, journalist, and entrepreneur in Los Angeles.