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'Barbie' movie hype could be 'double-edged sword' for Mattel, Warner Bros. Discovery

It's Barbie's world — and we're all living in it.

Mattel (MAT) and Warner Bros. Discovery's (WBD) "Barbie" movie is one of the most anticipated releases of the summer — fueled by an intense marketing push that has included billboards in Times Square, Airbnb listings, and brand collaborations with companies ranging from Burger King (QSR) to Crocs (CROX).

The "Barbiecore" explosion, as it's been dubbed, has led to heightened expectations surrounding ticket sales for the upcoming film, which is set to make its US debut on July 21. Current industry estimates call for a "Barbie" debut between $80 million and $100 million with Box Office Pro expectations set even higher between $115 million and $155 million. Warner Bros. is much more conservative at $60 million.

Although headlines have focused on the boost the $100 million-budget film could provide toy maker and "Barbie" producer Mattel, it also comes at an important inflection point for distributor Warner Bros. Discovery, which has seen a string of box office disappointments as of late.

WBD's "The Flash" bombed in its theatrical debut last month following an equally disappointing debut of "Shazam! Fury Of The Gods" in the spring. Those double-whammy disappointments have added to concerns surrounding the future of the DC film franchise, which has struggled compared to Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The stakes are high even outside of the superhero genre. Paramount's "Mission Impossible 7" — despite nabbing a new franchise record — saw its $80 million debut fall short of $90 million expectations this past weekend. Paramount Global (PARA) stock fell more than 4% on Monday as a result.

If "Barbie" fails to surpass expectations as well, it will flash a warning sign about the vitality of the box office — and add further pain to Warner Bros.' film business.

"This is, sort of, the double-edged sword that sometimes the marketing is so good that it overshadows the movie," Marcus Collins, professor of marketing at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, told Yahoo Finance Live. "People get so enamored, so excited about the marketing for the movie that they never show up at the theater."

Collins added marketing excitement relative to purchase intent gives him "a little bit of pause" regarding ticket sales as the bulk of questions on Google Search center on the film's promotion — not the movie, per se.

"Since the core product is the movie, that should draw a little bit of pause for the folks who are putting this thing in the world," he said.

Ryan Gosling, left, and Margot Robbie pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film 'Barbie' on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, in London. (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)
Ryan Gosling, left, and Margot Robbie pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film 'Barbie' on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, in London. (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP) (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)

There could be other headwinds for the film beyond oversaturation on the marketing side.

According to Box Office Pro, challenges include families not showing up due to the movie's more mature focus in addition to a low number of premium screens showing the movie, with "Oppenheimer" and "Mission Impossible 7" dominating that space throughout July.

"That not only lowers Barbie's potential average ticket prices, but — as audiences increasingly favor a premium viewing experience — could have a negative impact on attendance," Box Office Pro chief analyst Shawn Robbins wrote.

Another hurdle could be the stoppage of red-carpet events, press junkets, and promotional interviews on the heels of last week's SAG-AFTRA strike, which could negatively impact yet-to-be-released titles. Luckily for "Barbie," though, the film was able to complete the majority of its marketing campaign ahead of the strike announcement.

Alexandra Canal is a Senior Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @allie_canal, LinkedIn, and email her at alexandra.canal@yahoofinance.com

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