1000+ Barbie Commercials Provides Context for This Summer’s Pinkest Blockbuster (1959–2023)

The Bar­bie movie has cap­tured the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion in a big way.

The New York Times can’t get enough of the recent­ly opened sum­mer block­buster. Between reviews, fash­ion round ups, inter­views, box office reports and op eds, it has pub­lished over two dozen pieces tied to this mas­sive cul­tur­al moment.

Even those who don’t feel a burn­ing need to catch Bar­bie at the mul­ti­plex are like­ly aware of the Bar­ben­heimer phe­nom.

But what about those who grew up in fem­i­nist homes, or sis­ter­less cis-males of a cer­tain age?

Will a lack of hands-on expe­ri­ence dimin­ish the cin­e­mat­ic plea­sures of Bar­bie?

Not if you immerse your­self in Bar­bi­eCol­lec­tors’ chrono­log­i­cal playlist of Bar­bie com­mer­cials before tick­et­ing up. That’s over a thou­sand ads, span­ning more than six decades.

The 1959 ad, above, that intro­duced the glam­orous “teen age fash­ion doll” to the pub­lic clears up the mis­per­cep­tion that pink has always been Barbie’s de fac­to col­or. It’s black-and-white, but so is the diag­o­nal striped swim­suit the film’s star, Mar­got Rob­bie mod­els in the film’s open­er, a tongue in cheek homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

(Astute observers may note the sim­i­lar­i­ties between some of the sophis­ti­cat­ed ensem­bles orig­i­nal fla­vor Bar­bie sports here and the out­fits Rob­bie donned for the pink car­pet pri­or to the Screen Actors Guild strike.)

In the bat­tle between pink and his­tor­i­cal record, pink is des­tined to come out on top in the Bar­bie movie. Direc­tor Gre­ta Ger­wig and her design team punch up Barbie’s ear­ly 80’s West­ern look with a wide pink brush, low­er­ing the neck­line but keep­ing the wink.

The doll came with a work­ing auto­graph stamp Rob­bie may con­sid­er adopt­ing, should Bar­bie mania con­tin­ue on into fall.

One of the most thrilling design ele­ments of the movie is the human scale Dream­hous­es occu­pied by Bar­bie and her friends, the major­i­ty of whom are also named Bar­bie.

The Dream­house has tak­en many archi­tec­tur­al forms over the years — town­house, cot­tage, man­sion — but it always comes with­out a fourth wall.

Anoth­er cin­e­mat­ic treat is the roll call of vehi­cles Bar­bie com­man­deers on her jour­ney to the real world with her hap­less boyfriend, Ken.

Some of the film’s deep­er cuts are jokes at the expense of mis­guid­ed releas­es, Bar­bie side­kicks so ill-con­ceived that they were quick­ly dis­con­tin­ued, although 1993’s Ear­ring Mag­ic Ken became a best­seller, thanks to his pop­u­lar­i­ty in the gay com­mu­ni­ty.

Look for Barbie’s preg­nant pal, Midge, her yel­low Labrador retriev­er, Tan­ner (whose scoopable excre­ment was quick­ly deemed a chok­ing haz­ard) and Grow­ing up Skip­per, the lit­tle sis­ter who goes through puber­ty with a twist of the arm … “which is some­thing you can’t do,” the commercial’s nar­ra­tor taunts in a rare rever­sal of the “girls can be any­thing” ethos Mat­tel insists is part of the brand.

Of course, one can only cram so many know­ing­ly-placed prod­ucts into one fea­ture-length film.

Are those of you who grew up with Bar­bie hurt­ing from any glar­ing omis­sions? (Ask­ing as a child of the Mal­ibu Bar­bie era…)

Those who didn’t grow up with Bar­bie can play along too by sam­pling from Bar­bi­eCol­lec­tors’ mas­sive chrono­log­i­cal com­mer­cial playlist, then nom­i­nat­ing your favorites in the com­ments.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Mattel’s Bar­bie Turns Women of Med­i­cine, Includ­ing COVID Vac­cine Devel­op­er, Into Dolls

The New David Bowie Bar­bie Doll Released to Com­mem­o­rate the 50th Anniver­sary of “Space Odd­i­ty”

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Deborah says:

    Whith­er Bal­le­ri­na Bar­bie? And Super­star Bar­bie, who was 1.5 times the height of reg­u­lar Bar­bi­es and RULED OVER THEM ALL?

  • Amy says:

    Hey there’s Grow­ing Up Skip­per! I did­n’t even remem­ber that she got taller too!

  • Lisa says:

    Dev­as­tat­ed that there’s no Super­star Bar­bie. WHY EVEN IS THIS.

  • Amy says:

    Bal­le­ri­na Bar­bie was the one with the per­ma­crown, right?

  • Katie says:

    There bet­ter be a whole sequel ded­i­cat­ed to Bal­le­ri­na Bar­bie!

  • Deborah says:

    Yes, it was always sooooo awk­ward for her when she want­ed to wear civil­ian clothes. I think once I tried cov­er­ing the crown up with a cow­boy hat from my broth­er’s Old West set (which includ­ed Gen­er­al Custer, Sam Cobra, and Ton­to, for cry­ing out loud). It was­n’t a great look for her but I think she appre­ci­at­ed the effort.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.