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Get ready for lots of toy-based movies trying to duplicate the success of 'Barbie'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The "Barbie" movie has made more than $1.2 billion worldwide. It's on pace to surpass "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" as the top-grossing film this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

HARI NEF: (As Barbie) This is the best day ever.

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Barbie) It is the best day ever. So is yesterday and so is tomorrow. And every day from now until forever.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUA LIPA SONG, "DANCE THE NIGHT")

ROBBIE: (As Barbie) You guys ever think about dying?

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORD SCRATCH)

KELLY: Well, this means we are about to get a lot of movies that try to duplicate "Barbie's" success. Mattel and Hasbro both have films in the works based on toys, toys including Nerf, Hot Wheels, the Magic 8 Ball and many more. Here to talk us through our toy-filled cinematic future is Stephen Thompson, co-host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Stephen, hi there.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK. Tell me what exactly we're dealing with here because there have been movies for ages based on toys, all about toys. How exactly is "Barbie" changing things?

THOMPSON: Well, it's worth remembering upfront that there have been dozens, literally dozens, of Barbie movies. This isn't the first Barbie movie. It's just the one that made more than a billion dollars. And it's really helped make Mattel a big player in the movie business. There have already been Mattel movies based on American Girl dolls, but there are a bunch more in the pipeline. There's a Barney movie in the works with Daniel Kaluuya. J.J. Abrams is attached to a Hot Wheels movie. Jimmy Warden, who wrote "Cocaine Bear," is working on a horror-comedy based on the Magic 8 Ball. And there are...

KELLY: OK.

THOMPSON: I know. There are a bunch of other Mattel movies they're talking about - Polly Pocket, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, an Uno movie somehow. And that's not even getting into other toy companies like Hasbro. They're planning movies based on stuff like Play-Doh and Monopoly. It's worth remembering that a lot of these things have been in development for ages, well before the "Barbie" movie took off. There's no guarantee that all of these movies are going to happen.

KELLY: OK. You just blew my mind with the Play-Doh detail. I'm trying to imagine the plot twists of a Play-Doh movie.

THOMPSON: There are some very smart people in line to work on that Play-Doh movie.

KELLY: OK. And just get more specific about how "Barbie" is opening these floodgates.

THOMPSON: Well, "Barbie" feels like proof of concept that people are interested in more movies based on toys, that their nostalgia is going to drive their desire to see movies. But "Barbie" is not just a toy movie. It's a Greta Gerwig movie. It's a Margot Robbie movie. It's a Ryan Gosling movie. It's a movie about feminism and patriarchy. It's a move that had not only a huge grassroots groundswell behind it but also hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of marketing. Now, excitement built up behind "Barbie" for years. I'm not sure if the same thing is going to be true of a Hot Wheels movie. It's going to depend on whether the movie looks like it's going to be any good.

KELLY: Yeah. Stay there. How high should our expectations be that these movies are going to be any good?

THOMPSON: Well, it really starts with the script. You know, who's in line to write them? I'm not really interested in Dungeons & Dragons. I never really played the game, but I loved the "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" movie from earlier this year because it's really affectionately written and packed with jokes and Easter eggs. I loved "The Lego Movie," which uses Legos as a jumping-off point for something that's really warm and funny and clever. And they used the look of the toys to kind of fuel jokes in the movie. And so these movies have to come from a place of real enthusiasm, and they've got to contain big ideas. And really, they've got to have extremely talented people attached to them. I played with Hot Wheels obsessively as a kid, but I'm not necessarily going to care about a Hot Wheels movie. But if, you know, if like, a Hot Wheels movie were directed by Greta Gerwig, I would be in line for hours to see it.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: Well, and if Ryan Gosling will play one of the drivers, I'm in, too.

THOMPSON: Exactly. Or one of the cars. He's very versatile.

KELLY: Or one of the cars. Stephen Thompson, thanks very much.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: He's co-host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)