Barbiemania is sweeping Russia, but the blockbuster film won't be released there

Russian moviegoers are finding ways to show their love for Greta Gerwig's blockbuster

Margot Robbie's Barbie is a global hit, but it won't be playing in Russia. (Photo: Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection)
Margot Robbie's Barbie is a global hit, but it won't be playing in Russia. (Photo: Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection)

Record-breaking box-office. Early Oscar talk. Outraged conservatives. It's truly a Barbie world and we're just living in it. Since debuting in theaters on July 14, Greta Gerwig's blockbuster Barbie movie has officially become the world's most popular film, with a global gross of nearly $500 million. But there's one nation that isn't feeling the Ken-ergy. Even as Russian moviegoers are donning their finest pink outfits, the country's cinemas are remaining Barbie-free amidst Russia's ongoing war with Ukraine.

Here's what you need to know about why the Warner Bros. movie is unlikely to ever appear on the marquees of Russian movie theaters even as audiences are demonstrating signs of Barbiemania.

Why is Barbie not playing in Russia?

Margot Robbie in Greta Gerwig's Barbie. (Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Robbie in a dance number from Greta Gerwig's Barbie. (Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Warner Bros. joined major movie studios like Sony and Disney in putting an indefinite pause on theatrical releases in the country. That means that Barbie joins other Warner-released blockbusters from the past 15 months — a list that includes The Batman, Elvis and Evil Dead Rise — have bypassed Russian theaters completely. Upcoming Warner Bros. releases like Blue Beetle and Wonka will similarly not play in Russia while the war with Ukraine persists.

While Barbie isn't legally playing in Russia, it's very likely that many theaters will screen pirated versions of the film. That's been the case with other Hollywood blockbusters like Avatar: The Way of Water, which was widely shown in Russia despite Disney's efforts to keep the movie out of the country's cinemas. In those cases, moviegoers would buy tickets for a Russian film and then Avatar would show onscreen instead. "It's like you buy a ticket to one movie, and you're getting another," one audience member told ABC News. "It's a somewhat surprising situation but what can you do."

How is Barbiemania being felt in Russia?

Ryan Gosling as Ken in the Barbie trailer. (Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros.)
Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ryan Gosling and Ncuti Gatwa are all Ken in Barbie. (Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros.)

Since they're currently unable to watch Margot Robbie's Barbie, Russian moviegoers are being their own Barbies. Insider reports that social media has been flooded with images of eager fans attending Barbie-themed events organized at venues like bars and restaurants. Even officials at Russia's parliament, the Duma, are modeling Barbie-inspired pink fashions.

The same goes for local celebrities and influences, who are posting tributes to Barbie on their social channels.

Some of those celebrities have apparently used their influence to see what are almost certainly pirated versions of Gerwig's film. One ex-TV host, Ksenia Sobchak, posted video of her private screening from an undisclosed location.

What as Vladimir Putin said about the Barbie ban?

Margot Robbie in the 2001: A Space Odyssey parody that opens the first Barbie trailer. (Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
Robbie in the 2001: A Space Odyssey parody that opens Barbie. (Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

So far, Russia's controversial leader, Vladimir Putin, hasn't publicly commented on Warner's blockade on Barbie or the wave of Barbiemania sweeping through the country. But he made his feelings about Mattel's flagship doll known back in 2002 when he supported a ban on the toy spearheaded by the Russian Ministry of Education. Along with Pokémon, Barbie was put on a list of toys and games "of foreign production" that the ministry considered "damaging" for children. The Barbie line was specifically called out for how it would impact the sexual development and consumerist impulses of young kids.

Not everyone agreed with the toy ban, though. "People are writing that Barbie stimulates early sexual interest, but no scientific tests have been done. TV, films, Russian magazines for teenagers and porn on the Internet are truly responsible for this," Russian sociologist and children's psychologist Natalia Grishayeva told The Guardian.

At the same time, Grishayeva also echoed criticisms of Barbie dolls that have been expressed elsewhere — including in Gerwig's film. "The doll creates a particular idea about body image. Young children try to correspond and dreaming of growing up to be two meters tall, with slim hips, and huge breasts. My advice to Barbie producers would be to offer lots of different body types."

Barbie is playing in theaters now