The classic films that inspired Greta Gerwig’s Barbie

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Greta Gerwig's Barbie.
Share this Article:

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is taking the world by storm, so let’s take a look at the classical films that inspired the summer blockbuster.

This weekend saw one of the best films of the year – nay, decade – released in cinemas: Barbie.

Battling against Christopher Nolan’s explosive epic Oppenheimer, Greta Gerwig has produced a pink-addled wonder-fest that is bursting at the seams with character growth, hilarious jokes, and a bleached blonde Ryan Gosling crooning in a surrealist dance number.

Gerwig has crafted an enchanting and engrossing film. Luckily for me, she also released on Letterboxd the 33 movies which inspired the film – an absolute vital collection of old movies and musicals.

So, to celebrate the release of Barbie, I’m going to look at some of my favourite films on Gerwig’s list.

Honourable Mentions: An American In Paris (1951) and Singin’ In The Rain (1952) are both impressive musicals with rich colour palettes that clearly were paid homage to in Gerwig’s own brightly beautiful Barbie. I just do not need to tell you how vital these films are for cinematic consumption.

Plus, Twentieth Century (1934) featured predominantly on this list, but I’ve already written about this movie in great detail in this column. You don’t need me to talk about the intensely brilliant Howard Hawks comedy with biting leads and a snappy script. That doesn’t mean that you should sleep on it. If anything, you should be running to watch!

Gold Diggers Of 1935 (1935)
Dir. Busby Berkeley

There have been many different iterations of Gold Diggers, ranging from 1923 to 1938. Each of them telling pretty much the same story – a group of theatre dancers try to scheme their way into marrying rich.

1935 is one of the first to change the story. Instead of backstage at Broadway, the action takes place in a hotel. The film is all about shenanigans and, joyfully, those shenanigans are directed by Busby Berkeley – the acclaimed choreography of many musical numbers during the thirties.

His staging is unparalleled. Within the first five minutes of Gold Diggers Of 1935, there is a sublime scene of synchronicity as hotel workers prep for another day of revolving door clientele.

There’s no surprise here at Gerwig makes note of a Berkeley movie as the opening sequence in Barbie is so beautifully precise, pristine, and most importantly, pink.

Rear Window (1954)
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

There has yet to be a horror master quite like Hitchcock. His intense thrillers and atmospheric movies, that range from a frenzied shower stabbing psychopath to a cluster of winged fiends, have been unmatched. In fact, any movie that somewhat breathes similarly is branded as Hitchcockian.

Whilst Psycho is most certainly my favourite, Rear Window is a close second. Featuring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, the film revolves around a professional photographer who has broken his leg. Long before smartphones and social media, to entertain himself the photographer spies on his neighbours. However, when he suspects one of them has killed his wife, he tries desperately to help and solve the case.
With outstanding performances by Kelly and Stewart, Rear Window is one of those palpable horrors. The tension mounts, causing your toes to curl and your buttocks to clench.

The inclusion on the “Movies that Inspired Barbie” list may seem weird at first, until you think on how Hitchcock utilised sets and props in order to create the intricacies of the story. When the apartment block, viewed through the lens of Jeff’s binoculars, feels like a doll house, you can see where Gerwig was informed.

His Girl Friday (1940)
Dir. Howard Hawks

In a recent interview, Margot Robbie spoke about Greta showing this film at Notting Hill cinema to the Barbie cast for them to be inspired by the quick, snappy dialogue that’s reflected within Barbie. Of course, when it comes to spit-fire delivery and head-strong female leads, then His Girl Friday is the prototype.

Starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday revolves around newspaper editor Walter Burns whose ex-wife, and subsequently his star reporter, is leaving both him and the newspaper. However, a high-end murder case keeps them entangled to their desks.

Best known for its quick wit and insanely loquacious dialogue, His Girl Friday is an electric Hawks feature that pulls you in delightfully. Plus, the insane chemistry between Grant and Russell is absolutely impeccable.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Dir. George Cukor

Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart? How about both of them? That is the glorious question that Katharine Hepburn has in George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story.

The snappy romantic comedy follows socialite Tracy Lord, whose wedding plans are upended when her ex-husband returns. Hijinks ensue.

Cukor is one of history’s best directors, with a smorgasbord of comedies, musicals, and thrillers to indulge in. The Philadelphia Story is perhaps one of his best. It has clean and smart direction, with an impressively witty script that’s elevated by our trio of leads performing at their very best. An exceptional romantic comedy that has transcended generations and is still wildly celebrated today.

A Matter Of Life And Death (1946)

Dir Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Written and directed by the cinematic dynamite duo Powell & Pressburger, this exquisite dreamlike depiction of the afterlife is so extremely human.

Starring David Niven, A Matter Of Life And Death revolves around a young airman who miraculously survives a plane crash without a parachute. Whilst he pursues a burgeoning romance, however, the officials on the other side realise they’ve made a mistake and send an angel to collect him.

Utilising the fantasy elements and an impressive colour scape in order to enhance its depiction of the human experience, A Matter Of Life And Death is a profoundly moving and utterly compelling masterpiece.

Paired with Barbie, it’s a gorgeous double bill to explore the fleeting and painful, yet romantic and moving way of living.

An extra special mention goes to The Red Shoes (1948), which is an exquisitely dreamy yet sinister Powell & Pressburger film that also features on Gerwig’s list.

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

More like this