Barbie, Greta Gerwig's megahit film, is packed full of pop culture references. In addition to pulling from the history of the iconic doll, the Little Women and Lady Bird director looked to countless classic and modern films in constructing the film's world, especially Barbieland. While it's nearly impossible to count every reference in the record-breaking movie (though we did find some deep cuts), Gerwig has opened up about several of the film's influences. Read on for our guide to the many film references in Barbie, from Stanley Kubrick and The Godfather, to Clueless and classic movie musicals.
'2001: A Space Odyssey'
Barbie begins with the same sequence from the first teaser trailer, a recreation of the monolith scene from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. While in the 1968 film, the mysterious monolith spawns the creation of conscious thought, the first-ever Barbie marks a crossover where girls no longer solely play at being mothers with baby dolls, but are able to imagine their own futures as adults. Some shot-for-shot references include the shot of the sun rising above Barbie, one girl touching the doll, the main blonde girl using the baby doll to smash her tea party, and the same girl (who New Rockstars pointed out looks like a young Greta Gerwig) throwing the bone in the air to become the Barbie logo.
'The Wizard of Oz'
In an interview with Letterboxd, Gerwig mentioned the 1939 film as a huge inspiration for Barbieland's aesthetic, mentioning Oz's decorated soundstages hand-painted backdrops which even extended to the skies. She said that she wanted to give Barbieland the "authentically artificial" feel of The Wizard of Oz and other techincolor musicals made in the '30s, '40s, and '50s (several of which come up again below).
The overall plot of Barbie also evokes Dorothy's journey but in reverse, as Barbie calls the fantastical world real and is thrown into the strange new world. Some direct visual Easter Eggs includes Barbieland's pink brick road channeling the Yellow Brick Road, as well as the local theater marquee advertising the film in the background of Barbie's driving scene.
The Films of Jacques Demy
Gerwig also cited several the French filmmaker's musicals as Barbieland inspiration, specifically calling on Demy's "painterly" use of color for knowledge on how to "shoot five different shades of pink or red in one shot and not have it overwhelm anything." Despite the new film's shortage-inducing use of several shades of pink paint, the creative team styled everything so it all pops instead of clashes. Even Barbie's style and hair took some inspiration from Catherine Deneuve's characters in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort in certain scenes. (She also mentioned Pedro Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown for that film's layering of color.)
'The Truman Show'
While working on Barbie, Gerwig spoke with director Peter Weir about how he shot the 1998 film about a man who unknowingly lived within a reality TV set. (Belated spoiler alert for the 25-year-old film.) In addition to being a more modern inspiration for Barbieland's artificiality, Gerwig and Weir also discussed how to light their sets to capture that feeling.
'The Philadelphia Story'
In the Letterboxd interview, Gerwig revealed that she asked Margot Robbie to watch Katharine Hepburn’s performance in The Philadelphia Story as inspiration for Barbie. Hepburn's character TK is described as an unflappable woman who begins to fall apart and then finds herself, which is also a great summary for Barbie's arc over the course of her film. Luckily, The Philadelphia Story was already one of Robbie's favorite films. (The director also nodded to His Girl Friday as a "perfect fast-talking movie" which she looked to for inspiration on the pacing of Barbie's dialogue.)
Gene Kelly films: 'An American in Paris,' 'Singin' in the Rain'
Gerwig also spoke about her love for Gene Kelly films, mentioning some specific homages within Barbie. His character Jerry Mulligan's morning routine in An American in Paris served as one of the inspirations for Barbie's morning routine, with the director noting how "satisfying" it is to watch. She also shouted out the dream ballet inside of the dream ballet in Singing in the Rain, which a similar convention to the dance off within the beach fight during "I'm Just Ken." (Another dream ballet she name-checked is the one in Oklahoma.)
Any new fashion film with a closet scene will inevitably be compared to the 1995 rom-com. Robbie noted in an Architectural Digest featurette that the Barbie crew tried to meet the high standard that Cher Horowitz set for cinematic closets. Of course, magic gives Barbie an edge, as she just has to spin for her outfit of the day to appear on her body, and the outfit for the next day is automatically set in the closet as soon as it's empty.
'Saturday Night Fever'
Part of the early buzz for Barbie came from the film's jam-packed soundtrack, which was co-produced by Mark Ronson and featured songs from Dua Lipa, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Nicki Minaj, PinkPantheress, and more. The new film also includes a nod to another movie with an amazing soundtrack, the 1977 disco epic whose Bee Gees-produced album is the second top-selling movie soundtrack of all time. The Barbies and Kens' disco night choreography is an homage to John Travolta's dances.
'The Red Shoes'
Another soundstage film that influenced the Barbieland aesthetic is Michael Powell Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. A direct nod is included in Weird Barbie's (Kate McKinnon) first scene, as Gerwig modeled the shot of Barbie walking up the stars on a scene from the 1948 dance film.
Weird Barbie serves as Barbie's guide through the dilemmas of death and cellulite, starting off the film's plot by telling Barbie that she'll have to leave Barbieland and find the girl playing with her in the real world. The half-broken doll is basically Barbie's Neo, as solidified during the film's Red Pill-Blue Pill moment, where the high heel symbolizes Barbieland, and the Birkenstock means venturing to the real world. (Also, look out for the return of the sandal in Barbie's final scene.)
Marcel Proust and 'Remembrance of Things Past'
The French novelist is name-checked in the scene when the Mattel CEO (Will Ferrell) tries to put Barbie back in the box. When she steps into the container, the smell triggers a Proustian sense memory from the last time she was in a box, assumedly her birth. In the film adaptation of the novel Remembrance of Things Past, a character feels a similar effect as he takes a bite of a madeleine. The CEO then wraps up the moment by joking about how "Proust Barbie" did not sell.
When Barbie arrives in the real world to figure out why she's suddenly having depressing thoughts, the doll discovers that her tether is not middle schooler Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), but actually her mom Gloria (America Ferrera). Upon the discovery, the film shows the memories Barbie previously received from a new angle, with both Gloria and Barbie assumedly seeing the same montage at the same time. During the lull in conversation, Sasha asks her mom if she and Barbie are "shining," a reference to Danny's ability to establish a telepathic connection and see past events in Stephen King’s horror story (and Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation) The Shining.
Sylvester Stallone's mink coats
Barbie doesn't reference a specific Sylvester Stallone film, but the Rocky star pops up as an inspiration when Ken discovers the wonders of the patriarchal real world. At one point in the montage, we see images of Stallone dressed in ostentatious fur coats, which the actor often wore on red carpets. Later on in Kenland, the doll adopts the look to emulate the icon of masculine films like Rocky and Rambo.
A clip of "Greased Lightnin'" also appears in Ken's partiarchy montage, foreshadowing the eventual dance battle within the "I'm Just Ken" beach fight sequence. Once the Kens appear in the blue and pink void, they're all dressed in all black ensembles a la John Travolta.
Upon his head start back to Barbieland, Ken created Kendom by teaching the Kens the "wonders" of the patriarchy and brainwashing the Barbies into becoming sycophant "long term long distance low commitment casual girlfriends." The key to snapping the Barbies out of the fog becomes Gloria's cathartic monologue about the contradictions that woman have to deal with while living under the patriarchy. After hearing the speech, Writer Barbie (Alexandra Shipp) wakes up from her daze and compares the brainwashing to a dream where she was really invested in Zack Snyder's 2021 director's cut of Justice League, a film that was eventually released due to a toxic online campaign driven by male fans.
As Gloria reprograms all the Barbies, we see several tactics that the resistance group uses to distract the Kens and get the Barbies alone. Most of them involve getting the Kens to mansplain subjects like tech troubleshooting or personal finance, though there's also a mention for the classic teen rom-com trope of a guy realizing a girl is beautiful after she takes off her glasses (see She's All That, The Princess Diaries, and etc).
In one clip, President Barbie (Issa Rae) arrives at one of the Ken's (Simu Liu) Mojo Dojo Casa House, where he and Lawyer Barbie (Sharon Rooney) are watching Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 film. After Pres Barbie asks if they're watching "The Godfather," putting emphasis on the second syllable to seem ditzy, she says she's never seen the film and asks Ken to start to from the beginning and talk over the entire movie to explain it to her. Ken jumps at the chance, and Lawyer Barbie is snuck away.
'West Side Story'
"I'm Just Ken" is a beach-fight-turned-dance-battle that takes inspiration from several films (see Grease and Singin' in the Rain above). The concept of a choreographed battle mixing dance and fight styles goes back to the Rumble and other gang fights in the musical West Side Story, as well as its 1961 and 2021 film adaptations.
'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'
When the Kens realize that they missed the constitutional vote cause of the beach fight, they all ride back to their Casa Houses (which have been reclaimed as Dream Houses) on imaginary horses, galloping along as the sound of hooves follow them. This references a famous recurring gag in the 1975 comedy, in which the knights travel the countryside by riding fake horses while their squires hit coconuts together to imitate horses' feet.
'Gotta Kick It Up'
At one point in the film, Barbie fits in a sweet nod to one of America Ferrera's earliest films, when Gloria's husband (played by Ferrera's real-life husband Ryan Piers Williams), says "Sí se puede." The Spanish phrase, which served as the slogan of the 1972 United Farm Workers (UFW) movement (and translates to "Yes, it can be done") was also the pre-competition cheer for the dance team in the 2002 Disney Channel original movie Gotta Kick It Up!.
Stay In The Know
Marie Claire email subscribers get intel on fashion and beauty trends, hot-off-the-press celebrity news, and more. Sign up here.
Kate Middleton Departs from Her Typical Roster of Designers for Winter White Look at Her Christmas Carol Concert
Kate mixed and matched two brands to complete this monochrome look.
By Rachel Burchfield
Halle Berry Is a Literal Work of Art in Haute Couture Elie Saab
Berry has a storied history with the designer.
By Rachel Burchfield
We Can’t Take Our Eyes Off Gwyneth Paltrow in Vibrant Yellow Carolina Herrera
Paltrow wore the look in Saudi Arabia at the 2023 Red Sea International Film Festival.
By Rachel Burchfield