The Quorum

Can BARBIE top THE LITTLE MERMAID? Inside the numbers

How do we love BARBIE? Let us count the ways. 

First, we love that a studio committed $100M to a non-superhero, non-sequel title.

Second, we love that the film was handed over to three-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Greta Gerwig.  

Third, we are a sucker for art direction. You had us at pink.

But there’s another important reason why we love this movie. Every once in a while, a movie emerges as a must-see cultural phenomenon. Marvel titles used to do that. AVATAR may fall into this category. But what makes BARBIE so unique is that the conversation about this film is coming from moviegoers who have been sitting on the sidelines since the pandemic. BARBIE has the potential ability to bring these people back into the theater. And that alone is worth celebrating. 

Our job here at The Quorum is to track the film. And truth be told, this is a difficult one to forecast. Some think the film will open near $60M. Others believe it will open above $100M. The wide range of projections speaks to the challenge of interpreting the data.

So, how will BARBIE perform on opening weekend? Let’s dive into the numbers. 

The way we contextualize tracking data is through comps and norms. The problem is that BARBIE is a rather peerless title. How many other female-led, large-budget, non-superhero, non-sequel titles can you think of? Not many. The closest we can find is THE LITTLE MERMAID, though that’s not a perfect fit. It may not be a sequel, but MERMAID is a remake. So there is some familiarity with the character. But then again, “Barbie” isn’t unknown, even if she hasn’t appeared in a studio film before. So, for tracking purposes, we will use MERMAID as our comp.

Can BARBIE match or even beat the $96M opening for MERMAID? 

Let’s start with awareness. This chart shows awareness for the two films at 14 days before release. The numbers are broken down by demo. For example, among women under 35, awareness for BARBIE is at 59% versus 76% for MERMAID. MERMAID has higher awareness in all demos, though the numbers are close among women over 35. 

Here’s how the two films compare when looking at interest. Again, MERMAID leads BARBIE in all demos. There are a couple of takeaways here. First, women under 35 are the strongest demo for both films. Second, we can see that interest for BARBIE among women over 35 is relatively soft. Take a look at the red arrows on these two charts. 

The chart above shows awareness is about the same among women over 35. But on the chart below, MERMAID’s interest in this demo is much higher. In other words, older women know about BARBIE but don’t necessarily want to see it. This is nothing new. We have been writing about the softness in this demo for some time. 

Furthermore, we can see that men, especially those under 35, showed higher interest in MERMAID. BARBIE simply isn’t getting the men. 

Based on these numbers, it would appear that BARBIE is on a path to open below MERMAID. But, there is one metric where BARBIE excels. And some say it’s the most important metric in tracking. And that is Unaided Awareness.

What is unaided awareness? And how does it differ from traditional awareness? For unaided, we ask our respondents a simple, open-ended question: “What upcoming movies are you aware of”? They can answer as many as they like or say none. For traditional awareness – the kind represented in the chart above – we provide our survey takers with a list of upcoming films, artwork, and a description. As you can imagine, these numbers are much higher. 

(SIDEBAR: Unaided awareness is available to subscribers, but if you have any questions, reach out to [email protected])

Unaided is highly predictive of box office. If you can recall an upcoming movie off the top of your head, chances are you want to see it. Or conversely, you wouldn’t be able to recall titles you don’t want to see. 

As for BARBIE, the unaided awareness numbers have been enormous. Take a look at the chart below. This shows the weekly unaided numbers for BARBIE (pink) and MERMAID (blue) beginning 42 days before release. 

As of last Friday, at 14 days out, unaided for BARBIE was at 17%. At the same distance from release, MERMAID was at 9%. 

In fact, MARMAID was at 15% on the day it was released. BARBIE is already higher than that. In fact, unaided for BARBIE is higher than any other film we’ve tracked this year. 

Given that unaided is so predictive of the box office, does that mean BARBIE will open higher than MERMAID? That’s where things get complicated. The traditional awareness and interest numbers showed that BARBIE was trailing MERMAID, but the highly predictive unaided numbers give the clear edge to BARBIE.

How do we make sense of these seeming contradictions in the numbers? For most films, the tracking is much more straightforward. The metrics line up and point to an opening within a narrow range. But BARBIE is the rare film with mixed messages. In this case, we triangulate. We could split the difference and say that BARBIE is on a path to open near MERMAID and give a projection in the range of $95M. That’s a reasonable way to interpret the data. 

But there’s more at play in those unaided numbers. Could it be that unaided awareness is inflated? Consider this. If you asked my 90-year-old stepfather about which upcoming movies he is aware of without any prompting, chances are he would say BARBIE. That doesn’t mean he’s going to see it. It simply means that Warner Bros. has done such an incredible job inserting this film into the broader culture that even people outside the target audience know it is coming out. 

If that’s true, then the unaided awareness number for BARBIE may be less correlated to opening weekend than other films.

Okay, so where does this leave us? What is The Quorum’s current projection for BARBIE?

When BARBIE was at 42 days out, we gave an initial projection of $45-54M. It held steady in that range for another week. But since then, it has been a on a sharp, upward trajectory in large part due to the impressive unaided awareness numbers. What’s keeping the projection from going even higher is the somewhat muted interest among older women. If that starts to rise, so will the forecast.

As of now, The Quorum is projecting an opening between $80M and $89M. 

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