There’s a common misconception that’s repeated nearly every Oscar season: The Academy just doesn’t go for popular movies.
Sure, in the two decades since the last true blockbuster to win the award — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004 — the top winners have been more serious and artistic fare. But after the outcry over The Dark Knight and Wall-E’s snubs in 2009 and the category’s expansion to 10 nominees, the broader field has seen popcorn flicks like Avatar (and its sequel), Black Panther, Joker and Dune nab best picture nominations — as did the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, which earned more than $900 million globally. These titles didn’t win best picture, but they were honored in multiple other categories.
This season’s well-made commercial hit serving as a challenge to the stodgiest Academy voters? Barbie — a populist choice that exceeded all expectations to become both a critical and box office success. But it has one more hurdle to clear: Oscar glory.
There are certain categories in which Barbie is a major contender, especially best original song. Barbie: The Album earned a whopping 11 Grammy nominations on Nov. 10, including record and song of the year for Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” and song of the year for Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night.” (See THR’s Songwriter Roundtable.) While the Academy allows three songs from a film to be submitted for consideration, Barbie, like all movies, will be limited to two nominations in the original song category — and Eilish and her brother/co-writer, Finneas, could nab their second noms since winning in 2022 for “No Time to Die.” Dua Lipa’s track, on the other hand, finds competition in Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” — the collective wish that the actor might perform the tune at the ceremony gives its chances at a nomination a major boost.
Barbie may also sweep the crafts categories, particularly for its visually stunning Barbie Land production design, the dolls’ impeccable costumes and the intricate hair and makeup. (As the title character, Margot Robbie wore numerous wigs, each tinted particular shades of blond to match the palettes of her countless outfits.)
Three-time Oscar nominee Rodrigo Prieto also brought gravitas to the film’s visual style, and Barbie is one of two contenders that could earn him his fourth (and maybe fifth) career nom for best cinematography, as he also shot Martin Scorsese’s epic thriller Killers of the Flower Moon.
There is no doubt director Greta Gerwig deserves all of the buzz for bringing her vision to Barbie, not just making the movie a major commercial property for Mattel’s burgeoning film division but also poking fun at the corporation behind the iconic doll, all while subversively and entertainingly gift-wrapping a feminist message in plastic pink. It marks the writer-director’s third screenwriting collaboration with Noah Baumbach. Both Gerwig and Baumbach have earned three separate Oscar nods; both of their autobiographical coming-of-age films — Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale — received original screenwriting noms, while Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Gerwig’s Little Women competed for best picture in 2020.
The Academy is known for favoring previous nominees and winners. Two-time nominees Robbie and Gosling are leading actress and supporting actor contenders, respectively, having proven their comic chops as deftly as their dramatic talents.
All these elements bolster Barbie’s chances in the best picture race — as does the film’s phenomenal box office success, with a global take of $1.4 billion so far. Its current totals are just shy of Top Gun: Maverick’s, which Hollywood recognized as resurrecting the theatrical experience and honored with a best picture nom last year. Barbie could easily follow in Maverick’s trajectory — especially when, in lieu of aerial stunts and a forgivably forgettable plot, Barbie has a fresh perspective and a supporting cast of Hollywood darlings ready for a post-strike campaign.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.