The 10 films to watch if you can’t wait for ‘Barbie’

Take a mini-marathon of Greta Gerwig’s influences and inspirations

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Photograph: Warner Bros.

Barbie is about to come out and already the world feels like a different, pinker place. Greta Gerwig’s bubblegum-flavoured comedy is that rarest of things: a film that feels retro, forward-thinking and incredibly topical all at once. Its place in the zeitgeist is well deserved. 

Gerwig, of course, is a massive cinephile and as Margot Robbie’s (now deleted) Letterboxd account revealed, the writer-director had a clutch of movie influences for her pink-bathed vision of Barbiehood. She also arranged Sunday screenings for her cast during fiming to keep them firmly clued-up on the spirit of the film. And Gerwig being a massive cinephile means that those touchpoints are surprising, inspiring and well worth paying close attention to. Let Barbie be the first step on a journey of discovery into these fantastic, fantastical flicks.  

Photograph: Walt Disney Studios

1. Splash (1984)

The original Mermaid Barbie, Daryl Hannah’s sea-dweller goes on a similar journey of assimilation and discovery when she takes to dry land and discovers New York’s joys (Tom Hanks, mainly) in this beloved ’80s romcom. Of course, Splash itself owes a debt to The Little Mermaid. Does that make Barbie and Ariel second cousins?  

Mean Girls
Photograph: Paramount Pictures

2. Mean Girls (2004)

Is Barbie influenced by Mean Girls or the other way around? Regina and her clique of high-school bullies in are called ‘the Plastics’ because they remind everyone of Barbie. Only, of course, a lot more vindictive. In its honour, the Barbie cast and crew would turn up on set wearing an item of pink clothing every Wednesday.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Photograph: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Barbie kicks off with an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 famous opening, in which apes are granted heightened consciousness by a mysterious alien monolith, discover how to use bones as weapons and then beat a group of rival apes to all hell with them. Here, of course, the monolith comes in high heels and a swimming cozzie, and it’s young girls who are granted the awareness to smash up their doll babies and play with something more grown-up and empowering. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

The Matrix
Photograph: Warner Bros. Pictures

4. The Matrix (1999) 

The Wachowskis’ cyberpunk actioner seems an unlikely touchpoint, but Barbie has its own Morpheus in Kate McKinnon’s Weird Barbie, who delivers the movie’s answer to a blue pill/red pill moment. Unlike Neo, Barbie initially picks the safer option of staying in Barbie Land rather than venturing into the real world. ‘You have to want to know, okay?’ says Weird Barbie. ‘Do it again.’ 

Photograph: Southerland Star Entertainment

5. Puberty Blues (1981)

One of the deeper cuts on the Gerwig-and-Robbie collection is this Aussie coming-of-age flick directed by Driving Miss Daisy’s Bruce Beresford and adapted from a book co-written by Kathy Lette. It follows two surfing-mad teens (Nell Schofield and Jad Capelja) from a well-heeled Sydney suburb as they hang out with a surfer gang and embark on a frank rite of passage that Barbie also taps into. 

The Wizard of Oz
Photograph: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

6. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

MGM’s great musical is another prime example of a movie that makes art out of artifice, and it’s easy to imagine the Yellow Brick Road running alongside Gerwig’s primary coloured Barbieland set. Look out for a nod to Emerald City in Barbie’s painted Los Angeles backdrop.

Midnight Cowboy
Photograph: United Artists

7. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

A surprisingly gritty influence that makes a lot more sense once you witness Barbie and Ken arriving in a sneery and unwelcoming LA for the first time in Barbie. In the seminal late ’60s social drama, Jon Voight’s young hopeful arrives fresh from the country with Kenergy in spades, wandering wide-eyed through Manhattan with Dustin Hoffman’s hard-bitten hustler Ratzo. That’s before the loss of innocence sets in. Altogether now: ‘I’m rollerbladin’ here!’

The Truman Show
Photograph: Paramount Pictures

8. The Truman Show (1998)

Barbie’s debt to Peter Weir’s film is such that Greta Gerwig actually phoned the Aussie director to ask him about creating the ‘authentically artificial’ world of The Truman Show’s reality TV set, Seahaven Island. That same heightened ‘TV set’ fakery courses through the seaside surrounds Barbie Land. And is that an homage to the famous Jim Carrey mirror shot in there, too? 

The Red Shoes
Photograph: General Film Distributors

9. The Red Shoes (1948)

As they are with so many filmmakers, the movies of Powell and Pressburger are key touchstones for Gerwig’s vision of gorgeously lit sound stages. And is it us or does Marius Goring’s lovelorn composer in The Red Shoes have serious Kenergy?

The Young Girls of Rochefort
Photograph: Comacico

10. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)/The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Two classic Jacques Demy musicals, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, pop up on Gerwig’s list of Barbie references. Margot Robbie’s wide-eyed Barbie is cinematic kin with Catherine Deneuve’s Geneviève in Umbrellas – albeit a lot less lovelorn – and the ’60s pastels and enchanting dance numbers are Barbie-tastic too.

Read our verdict on Barbie here.

The pinkest and most immersive ‘Barbie’ screenings in London this week.

You may also like
You may also like