After dominating the box office and breaking records with “Barbie,” Mattel has officially arrived in Hollywood.
In 2018, after a tumultuous period of declining toy sales, Mattel brought in a new CEO, businessman Ynon Kreiz, who had a vision to turn the storied toy company into an IP-driven machine, essentially creating a Mattel cinematic universe. Now, with the immense success of “Barbie,” the path is clear for Mattel to make whatever they want — and they already have a ton of projects in the works with A-list partners attached.
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With dozens of children’s toys on their film slate, 14 Mattel properties are in active development, including “Barney,” “Polly Pocket,” “Thomas and Friends” and “American Girl.”
Of course, the door is also wide open for “Barbie” sequels. Director Greta Gerwig has said that she’s not thinking about a follow-up at this time, saying, “At this moment, it’s all I’ve got.” But after the Margot Robbie-starring hot pink fantasia has grossed an astonishing $380 million worldwide in its first five days in theaters, it’s a safe bet that Mattel and Warner Bros. will want more.
Speaking to Variety about their IP strategy just days before “Barbie” was released, Mattel executives were hopeful to open up an entire “Barbie” world of sequels.
“Barbie, as a brand, has many different iterations. The product lines of Barbie is a very broad brand. In addition to the main Barbie figure, she has family, she has a lot of elements around in her universe,” Kreiz told Variety. “It’s a very rich universe… It’s a very broad and very elastic brand, in terms of opportunities.”
Kreiz continues, “At the outset, we’re not saying, ‘Okay, let’s think already about movie two and three.’ Let’s get the first one right and make that a success. And if you do that, opportunities open up very quickly, once you establish the first movie as a successful representation of a franchise on the big screen.”
“Successful movies lend themselves to more movies,” the CEO added. “Our ambition is to create film franchises.”
Robbie Brenner — the Oscar-nominated producer who runs Mattel Films and is an executive producer on “Barbie” and all developing Mattel film projects — says the company was hopeful “Barbie” would become a box office success, so they could explore potential sequels. The same goes for the rest of their slate, which contains toy lines ripe for franchises, like “Masters of the Universe” and “Hot Wheels.”
“Everybody hopes that when you create a movie that there is going to be a franchise,” Brenner told Variety. “That’s the hope — that it goes on and on and it’s a gift that keeps giving. But, in this day and age, you just want to get the first one right.”
Now that Mattel did get the first one right, here’s a look at what’s on its slate — and some new tidbits that Variety can exclusively reveal on each of the projects.
Producer: Daniel Kaluuya
The iconic purple dinosaur will inspire a live-action film that Mattel has previously described as an “A24-type” of “surrealistic” movie. Now, Brenner divulges a few more details, telling Variety, “I don’t know that it’s necessarily going to be darker. It’s just going to be unique — more of like a ‘Being John Malkovich’ or an ‘Adaptation,’” she says, referencing the 1999 and 2002 Spike Jonze films.
“Any movie that has Barney is not certainly going to be straightforward,” Brenner adds. Referencing the Seth MacFarlane comedies, she quips: “We’re not making ‘Ted.’ You know what I mean?”
Reciting the famous “Barney” song (“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family”), the Mattel exec says the upcoming film will be about “identity and finding who you love and who feels alienated” and “what does it all mean?” Brenner says the film will “be more adult and have adult themes — and sort of be a little bit off-kilter.”
Star: Lily Collins
Writer/Director: Lena Dunham
The “Emily In Paris” star will star as the micro-doll in a family comedy written and directed by the “Girls” creator.
Brenner confirms to Variety that there is a script, which she enthusiastically describes as a “great” script. “First of all, they are two of my favorite ladies ever,” Brenner says of Collins and Dunham. “It’s been an amazing collaboration. Lena is so collaborative and rolls up her sleeves and really likes to roll around in notes and listen. She’s incredible. Lily is so smart and so specific and so productorial. It’s just been an incredible collaboration, so we are thrilled about it. Hopefully, we’ll be making that at some point in the future.”
Studio: Warner Bros.
Producer: JJ Abrams
The top-selling toy in the world will be brought to life in a film that features cars, monster trucks and motorcycles.
Abrams has described the adaptation as “grounded and gritty.” Brenner tells Variety that his words mean that the film will have “real characters that you can relate to, that are three-dimensional, that have emotional journeys.” She adds, “Look at any J.J. Abrams movie. All of his movies have an incredible story and incredible characters. That was something that was important to him — to make a movie that’s not just going to be fun and exciting, but that has real emotion and real stakes to it.”
Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots
Star: Vin Diesel
Writer: Ryan Engle
The “Fast & Furious” star will lead a feature based on Mattel’s tabletop game of battling robots. “Vin is excited,” Brenner says. “We’re working on developing a script and we’re all very excited about it.”
A family comedy is in development, based on the world of dolls, content and experiences that Mattel says “help girls grow with confidence and develop character.” Brenner is tight-lipped, but promises, “We have something great in the works.”
Magic 8 Ball
A film adaptation of the Magic 8 Ball will “probably be a PG-13 thriller,” Brenner teases.
Masters of the Universe
A story around the superhero He-Man has been in development at numerous homes over the years. Mattel is still hoping to turn the world of beloved characters into an action-adventure flick that has the potential to explode into a mega-franchise. But Variety exclusively reported that Mattel is now shopping for a new buyer for “Masters of the Universe,” after Netflix dropped the project. The property was strapped with millions in development costs from its past lives at other studios. It had most recently attached filmmaking duo the Nee brothers, and “West Side Story” actor Kyle Allen to star as He-Man. (For more on “Masters of the Universe,” read here.)
Major Matt Mason
Star: Tom Hanks
Writer: Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon
Hanks will star as the Mattel astronaut action figure from the 1960s who lives and works on the moon.
Writer: Marcy Kelly
The top-performing card game in the world will now become a movie.
Producer: Peter Farrelly
The literary Jack Russell terrier who became famous on PBS in the ‘90s will now star in his own family-friendly adventure comedy, produced by the “Dumb & Dumber” filmmaker.
Writer: David Coggeshall
An action movie will be based on the legendary toy cars that were invented in 1953.
Thomas & Friends
Director: Marc Forster
The “World War Z” and “Monster’s Ball” director will helm a fantasy film based on the children’s animated train series.
Long before VR, there was the picture viewer that was invented in 1939. Now, an adventure film will be based on the classic toy.
Writer: Gabby Lugo
Producer: Chris Lemos
Not based on a toy but based on a true story of when Mattel donated toys to help make a young girl’s dream come true after she tied her Christmas list to a balloon that was found by a grieving couple who worked with the toy company to fulfill the girl’s wishes. Mattel looks to produce a family drama drawing from the story.
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