How the Barbie Role Went From Amy Schumer to Margot Robbie

After five years, countless writers, and a major star swap.

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David M. Benett

Barbie has dominated toy shelved for over 60 years, but somewhat amazingly, Hollywood, known for its thirst to turn any existing beloved intellectual property into new content, has never given us a live-action version of the famous fashion doll. That’s set to change with the release of the appropriately titled Barbie later this month with Margot Robbie in the lead role. Alas, it took a long journey to get to this point. Back in 2016, Amy Schumer was reportedly set to take on the role, only to back out in 2017. Anne Hathaway was rumored as her possible replacement later that year, but never confirmed. Then in 2019, Robbie snatched the role, but the changing of lead actresses (and increasingly moving to an actress who actually kind of does look like an actual live-action Barbie doll) only hints at the long saga the film has taken through development hell over the past few years. Here, a review of Barbie’s journey to the big screen.

April 23, 2014: Sony sets its intentions on a live-action Barbie film.

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With movies based on toys like Transformers and The Lego Move doing nice business at the box office, Sony decided to knock on Mattel’s door to strike a deal about a possible live-action Barbie movie. When Deadline first reported the news, it seemed like the film, a comedy, was being fast-tracked. Jenny Bicks, a former Sex and the City writer (and more recently known for writing The Greatest Showman) was attached. Former Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal was reportedly deep into the details of the package herself. No plot details were announced, but a Sony source said the idea was an “unexpected, clever, and truly funny concept.”

March 4, 2015: Diablo Cody boards the project as the rewriter (not the writer).

You could spend a lot of time arguing as to whether or not the idea of Barbie is feminist. On one hand, she sure has had a lot of careers, hasn’t she? On the other, she’s basically defined by her unattainable, size negative 2, long-limbed, blonde-haired, blue-eyed caucasian-ness straight out of an airbrushed fantasy. Perhaps to head off the notion, Sony announced that Diablo Cody, known for her smart, feminist-friendly projects, would give Bicks’s script a good rewrite, while also attaching a true bold-faced name to the project.

December 15, 2015: Actually, just kidding about that previous script—Sony has ordered up three new ones.

Hmm, apparently that “unexpected, clever, and truly funny concept” wasn’t all it was cooked up to be, because Sony decided to throw it out, and instead hired three separate writers to write three separate scripts with the idea that the best one would win. Amongst the trio of writers is Hillary Winston, known for writing on sharp sitcoms like Community and Happy Ending. Cody is still vaguely attached to the project, however.

December 2, 2016: Amy Schumer boards the project as Barbie.

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Sony eventually decided to go with Winston’s script about a woman who lives in Barbie-ville but is kicked out for being less than perfect and forced to live in the real world. Schumer signed on to the lead role with the understanding that she and her sister would also get a crack at rewriting their own version of the script. The project was being pushed as a Barbie-fied take on a fish out of water story like Enchanted and Big.

March 23, 2017: Amy Schumer drops out.

Well, that didn’t last long. Schumer dropped out to focus on other projects, perhaps not a bad idea considering the Barbie idea she signed on to did have similar themes to her then upcoming movie I Feel Pretty. “Sadly, I’m no longer able to commit to Barbie due to scheduling conflicts,” Schumer said in an official statement. “The film has so much promise, and Sony and Mattel have been great partners. I’m bummed, but look forward to seeing Barbie on the big screen.” It’s also reported that the film has no director at this point, either.

Eventually we’d find out that executives were worried that Schumer’s idea — she’d play an inventor Barbie who got kicked out of Barbie-land for not being perfect enough — made the famous doll the butt of the joke.

August 11, 2017: Anne Hathaway is set as a replacement.

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Following some casting rumors, Sony quietly confirms that Anne Hathaway has replaced Schumer, while also giving the film a projected August 2018 release date. Alethea Jones was set as the director.

January 24, 2018: The film is pushed back to 2020.

Though Hathaway is still on board.

April 26, 2018: Diablo Cody announces she’s no longer involved and “failed so hard” at the project.

In case you’re wondering what Cody’s status was during all of this, well, maybe she was never really sure in the first place. “Dude, I never even produced an initial draft. I failed so hard at that project. I was literally incapable of writing a Barbie script. God knows I tried,” she told Screen Crush. “To be honest, the timeline coincided with my writing Tully. I was really overwhelmed at the time, and I think I was really only capable of reaching in and pulling out something super personal. Look, I think the idea of a ‘Barbie’ movie is super fucking cool and I hope something goes in there and kills it. And I mean kills it in a positive way.”

January 8, 2019: Margot Robbie is announced as Barbie at a totally new studio with a totally new writer.

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It’s unclear, exactly, what happened in the meantime, but as of this very second, Mattel has moved the project from Sony to Warner Bros. Margot Robbie is set to star and coproduce, and Olivia Milch, best known for co-writing Ocean’s 8, was now attached to write (or rewrite—who can tell at this point?) the script. “I’m so honored to take on this role that I believe will have a tremendously positive impact on children,” said Robbie in a statement.

July 15, 2019: Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach announced as co-writers

There are fewer couples as currently revealed in indie cinema than Greta Gerwig (best known for directing Lady Bird and starring in a string of art house hits) and Noah Baumbach (the former Wes Anderson co-writer who had struck on his own with films like The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha), so it came as a total shock that the pair would be co-writing the script together and replacing Milch. We’d later learn that it was Robbie herself who originally approached Gerwig with the proposition. At the time Gerwig was finishing up work on Little Women while Baumbach was polishing up Marriage Story. They’d both go on to be separately nominated for those scripts at the 2020 Oscars, so if nothing else Mattel had chosen wisely from a quality standpoint. Gerwig and Baumbach as it turned out started fresh, leaving previous versions of the script in the dustbin of Hollywood history.

July 9th, 2021: Gerwig signs on as director

Though at one point, Wonder Woman helmer Patty Jenkins was signed on to direct, the trades made it official in 2021 that Gerwig would take the director’s seat. The fact that Little Women over performed at the box office with a take of over $200 million and scored a Best Picture nomination perhaps made it a no brainer. The rest is history.

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