The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer


Revisiting and Ranking the First 20 ‘Barbie’ Movies

Before Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” the CGI Barbie movies of the 2000s were some of the most influential films of our generation

“Barbie” (2023) was one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2023, with an A-list cast and director Greta Gerwig behind the project. Every trailer released racked millions of views, and promotional material alone have spawned the popular “This Barbie is” and “Barbie and Ken Mugshot” memes. When Warner Bros. released the first photo of Margot Robbie in a bright pink car on April 26 announcing the release of “Barbie,” Barbie fanatics, including myself, counted down the days until the movie was in theaters on July 21.   

Opening weekend was a box office success garnering $155 million in sales. The movie couldn’t have come at a better time, with Y2K fashion returning and doll brands like Monster High, American Girl and Bratz, seemingly trending. Fans have also leaned into the “Barbienhemier” phenomenon, which refers to Christopher Nolan’s equally anticipated “Oppenheimer” (2023) hitting theaters the same day as “Barbie.” AMC reports that more than 40,000 people bought tickets before the release of both films to see them the same day as a double feature. 

Long time Barbie fans will likely remember the CGI Barbie home videos. Even after I outgrew the dolls, I would still revisit the movies from time to time. I have fond memories of watching them as a child and then later with my high school friends. So, before seeing “Barbie” in theaters, I prepared by revisiting the first 20 Barbie movies, and ranked them in the following categories: bottom tier, middle tier and top tier. 

The Bottom Tier

I was a little surprised to find all three “Fairytopia” movies migrate toward the bottom of my list. The classic “Barbie” movies are the first 10 movies, and the “Fairytopia” trilogy falls under this bunch having been released before 2008. The series follows Elina, a wingless fairy who has to save her homeland of Fairytopia from the evil fairy Laverna. 

Rewatching them now, I don’t necessarily hate them. I unfortunately just found the plot and main characters of “Fairytopia” trilogy to be uninteresting.

The first “Fairytopia” (2005) was especially dull. I like the concept of a wingless fairy, but Elina and Laverna were kind of generic — even for Barbie characters. It felt as though Elina was walking 90% of the time, without really doing much to the story, and most of Laverna’s lines were some variation of “I will rule Fairytopia.” The few aspects I did enjoy were Bibble, Elina’s magical puffball sidekick, and the sequel, “Mermaidia” (2006).

It was always silly to me that those were the traits she had to accept, rather than qualities that may be more challenging to come to terms with in reality.

I was not thrilled with the protagonist of “A Mermaid Tale” (2010), which came as a surprise to me since this was one of my favorites as a child. The movie is about a champion surfer, named Merliah, who discovers she’s a half-mermaid princess. Merliah struggles to accept this new different part of herself, but eventually learns to embrace it. 

What bothered me was that the only two features that made Merliah different were the pink highlights in her hair and her ability to breathe underwater. It was always silly to me that those were the traits she had to accept, rather than qualities that may be more challenging to come to terms with in reality. 

The writers could have gone in a “H2O: Just Add Water” direction and made being in water more of an inconvenience. The movie’s song, “Queen of the Waves,” was extremely catchy, at least.

The Middle Tier

All I have to say about the movies in this category is that they are great, solid Barbie movies, but they don’t exactly capture that magical, nostalgic fairytale feeling. Some of them are “Mariposa” (2008), “Christmas Carol” (2008), “The Three Musketeers” (2009) and “Thumbelina” (2009). 

“Fashion Fairytale” (2010) and “Fairy Secret” (2011) are the few Barbie movies to feature the more classic iteration of Barbie — the perfect fashion icon who lives in a fancy house in Malibu —  similarly to Netflix’s series “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse.” These two movies are some of the best in this category due to one character: Ken, Barbie’s goofy, lovable boyfriend. 

In “Fashion Fairytale,” he tries to go to Paris to reunite with Barbie, and everything goes wrong. In “Fairy Secret,” Ken is forced to marry a fairy princess. Just like with “Life in the Dreamhouse,” these movies have a more chaotic side to them and Ken just adds a messy touch to these films. 

The movies in the Middle Tier have nice messages, nice stories and some pretty good fashion, However, they just don’t quite live up to the movies at the top of my list.

“The Barbie Diaries” (2006) is another movie to feature Barbie as Barbie. In this film, she’s a shy high school sophomore. The movie has a classic, 2000s teen movie feel to it — as if Disney Channel made “Mean Girls.” If you can get past the horrendous animation, it’s a pretty decent coming of age film. 

“The Nutcracker” (2001) and “Rapunzel” (2002) are Barbie retellings of their respective stories. These were the first two movies in the Barbie franchise and what really makes these Barbie classics is their fairy-tale, Disney-like wonder. The overall animation wasn’t great by any means, but they still somehow managed to capture this magical aura in the music, the characters and the dresses. I love the stunning transformation scene in “Rapunzel” when she paints her dress and the dancing scene at the end of “The Nutcracker.” Unfortunately, I don’t remember much from these movies besides these moments. 

The movies in the Middle Tier have nice messages, nice stories and some pretty good fashion, However, they just don’t quite live up to the movies at the top of my list. I’m aware I’m not the target audience for these movies anymore, but watching them now didn’t give me as much excitement as the ones in the Top Tier. 

The Top Tier

Most of the movies in this category are the Barbie movie classics that I think still hold up today. Some are just great Barbie films in my opinion. “Island Princess” (2007) and “Diamond Castle” (2008) both feature pretty interesting original stories and have amazing soundtracks. The quality of these elements is something I wouldn’t expect out of a Barbie film, but I’m glad it’s there.

“Princess Charm School” (2011) is the one movie in this category that is not from the 2000s and has a modern-day setting. It also has an original story that follows a poor commoner, named Blair, who is randomly chosen to attend a princess school and become part of high society. There is a hint of that “Life in the Dreamhouse” humor that I oh-so love, yet the film surprisingly introduces more real, mature topics for a Barbie movie. 

The villain, Dame Devin, is a prejudicial member of the setting’s royal family who proposes to bulldoze a low-income neighborhood to build a park on top of it — a neighborhood which Blair lives in. The secondary villain, Dame Devin’s daughter, is initially just as cruel as her mother, but gets a good redemption arc at the end. The plot itself is lacking a bit, but I think the topics that are featured outweigh that. 

The best Barbie movies in my opinion, however, are the fairy-tale-like stories of the early 2000s: “Swan Lake” (2003), “Magic of Pegasus” (2005) and “12 Dancing Princesses” (2006). Everything from the music to the designs to the plot are able to bring you into this enchanting and soft nostalgic feeling that embodies every early Barbie movie. 

What really makes this movie stand out are the surprisingly nuanced themes for a Barbie movie.

The “12 Dancing Princesses” is incredibly memorable for me. The movie had a secret magic garden and Geneveive’s pink ballet dress was my favorite Barbie outfit. The multi-layered, pink and blue dress from “Swan Lake” is also incredible. 

“Magic of Pegasus” was the first Barbie movie to feature an original story. It was a good one too, following a princess named Annika as she tries to save her kingdom and implores the help of a magical pegasus. For that, and for having a small enemies to lovers storyline, this movie earns its spot as one of the best.

There’s a lot of ballet in these movies, with “Magic of Pegasus” featuring figure skating. For “12 Dancing Princesses” and “Swan Lake,” the producers actually worked with the New York City Ballet to choreograph scenes and film dancers with motion capture. They used the same techniques for “The Nutcracker.” With Tchaikovsky or Mendelssohn’s work in the background, it’s no wonder that every dance scene just breathes elegance. 

All notes aside, the one Barbie movie that tops all the others for me is the Barbie retelling of “The Princess and the Pauper” (2004). According to a ranking from Dexerto, an entertainment media group, Barbie fans agree that this movie reigns above all the others. The film follows a princess, Anneliese, and a poor pauper, Erika, two nearly identical girls who eventually meet and get caught up in a plot against the crown. 

The movie is a musical and every song has some Disney-level writing. I await the day Mattel releases the soundtrack and would lose my mind if they made a Broadway musical. The setting and clothes, especially Anneliese’s dress, embody the early 2000s magical Barbie feel. The love interests are sweethearts, and the villain, Preminger, is an overly dramatic icon and possibly the best Barbie villain there is.

What really makes this movie stand out are the surprisingly nuanced themes for a Barbie movie. As an adult, I notice there’s this very wholesome story in “Princess and the Pauper” about upholding duty and finding common ground with someone who’s different from you.

The protagonists Anneliese and Erika have very different backgrounds but they share the same struggle of being trapped in their lives and bound by responsibilities. I’ll never forget the line “duty means doing the things your heart may well regret” from the opening song, “Free.” Seeing these characters bond over their struggles and eventually break free from their previous lives is a very beautiful story for young children, and what puts “Princess and the Pauper” at the top of my list.

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About the Contributors
JULIA JARAMILLO, Arts & Culture Editor
Julia Jaramillo (she/her), FCLC ’25, is an arts & culture editor at The Observer. She is an English and new media and digital design double major with a concentration in creative writing. In her free time, she loves writing, playing video games and trying new cafes around the city.
AURELIEN CLAVAUD, Former Creative Director
Aurelien Clavaud (he/him), FCLC ’25, is the former creative director. He previously served as head photo editor and creative director and assistant sports & health editor. He majors in international political economy and loves photography, basketball and writing. He is from Houston, Texas, but has taken a liking to NYC and its frigid weather.

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