In this article:
- Greta Gerwig’s Barbie comes out next summer and will be the first live-action adaptation of the iconic doll’s multimedia franchise.
- Since 2001, Barbie has stared in 43 animated titles, ranging from reimagined classic stories like Barbie and The Three Musketeers to modern stories like Barbie: A Fashion Fairytale.
- Admittedly, not all of them are hits so if you’re trying to brush up on your Barbie lore ahead of the live-action adaptation, stick to these 12 most memorable Barbie movies.
Show of hands. Quick. Who hasn’t seen any of the Barbie movies?
The Barbie films are easily one of the most recognizable franchises of the 2000s, even if you aren’t the type to watch them voluntarily. For one, Mattel’s doll brand is extremely popular and the company didn’t shy away from aggressively marketing its movie-based dolls to young girls, much to the chagrin of parents on a budget.
I’d know. I’m in my twenties now and I still have the Barbie as the Island Princess doll I harassed my parents into buying back in December 2007.
Second, Barbie movies managed to make themselves an integral part of many Gen Z girls’ childhoods. Well, the older half of Gen Z, but you get what I mean. Mention the Barbie movies to any Gen Z woman today and they can probably name their favorite, but not the ones that weren’t as memorable.
Sadly, not all Barbie movies were made equal and a good chunk of them are noticeably a cut above the rest.
Out of the forty-three Barbie movies released between 2001 and 2022, these twelve are the ones that are worth rewatching for when you next have to regress as a coping mechanism from the stresses of adult life.
Ranking the Top 12 Barbie Movies to Include in Your Nostalgia Binge Session
12. Barbie and the Diamond Castle (2008)
Released in 2008, Barbie and the Diamond Castle was one of the last Barbie movies to stick to the fantasy-style narratives of the earlier films.
Diamond Castle opens with Barbie and Teresa telling the story of Liana and Alexa, two friends who stumble into a magical power struggle between good and evil. It’s similar to the Barbie as Rapunzel and The Nutcracker movies in this regard because both begin with Barbie telling a younger character, usually Stacie, a fairytale.
The movie wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that stellar either.
The male characters, Ian and Jeremy, could have been more useful, but their minimal plot contributions can be forgiven in light of their sarcastic humor in this iconic scene.
11. Barbie: A Fashion Fairytale (2010)
Move over Netflix’s Emily in Paris. If there’s one upstart American who deserves to fly to Paris to shake up the fashion industry, it’s Barbie in Barbie: A Fashion Fairytale. This movie marked the start of a new generation of Barbie films that are set in the modern era instead of some vague far away land.
It even has an extremely modern plot that sounds like what you would get if Riverdale and The Devil Wears Prada had a child-friendly baby. In this one, Barbie gets fired from her role in a movie and, as if her day can’t get worse, tricked into believing her boyfriend broke up with her.
In true “live, laugh, love” fashion, Barbie runs off to Paris to see her Aunt Millicent who tells her she’ll be closing her fashion house.
Barbie doesn’t like this and neither does Marie-Alice, Millicent’s assistant who makes killer designs but suffers from the uniquely 2000s affliction of wearing leggings under skirts. Together with flairies Shimmer, Glimmer, and Shine, they hatch a plan to save the fashion house.
10. Barbie as the Island Princess (2007)
Maybe I’m biased considering I’m a filthy Island Princess doll owner, but you have to admit that Barbie as the Island Princess was one of a kind. Though it kept the whole turning-Barbie-into-a-princess plot, it managed to stay fresh by changing how Barbie loses her birthright in the first place.
Island Princess, as the name suggests, gave us Tarzan mixed with Tangled and The Jungle Book realness. In it, a girl named Ro grows up alone on an island with only animals to keep her company (though how an elephant, a peacock, and a red panda exist in the same tropical biome is anyone’s guess).
Years later, Prince Antonio arrives on the island and makes first contact with the local lost girl. Unknown to her, this puts her on the path to discovering her heritage as the lost Princess Rosella.
9. Barbie: Fairytopia (2005)
If the Barbie movies are a cultural institution, Barbie: Fairytopia has its own dedicated department under it. This movie spawned a handful of other fairy-related movies and even a mermaid-themed sequel that definitely inspired Barbie in A Mermaid Tale.
Looking back, Fairytopia could probably be read as the story of a disabled girl who steps up and proves that just because she’s not conventionally abled doesn’t mean she’s helpless and worthless.
How could a Barbie movie be a story about disability and ableism?
At the start of the movie, and throughout the rest of it, we see Elina be bullied and underestimated for being a wingless fairy. During her quest to save Fairytopia, we see her struggle to do something as simple as traveling up and down platforms because the world of Fairytopia isn’t built for wingless fairies.
8. Barbie and the Three Musketeers (2009)
Other girls’ movies have a feminist agenda. Barbie and the Three Musketeers is the feminist agenda.
The movie is a retelling of Alexander Dumas’ classic novel, The Three Musketeers. It’s just that in this one, all of the musketeers are peasant girls who dream of becoming musketeers in an era when the official musketeering institutions refuse to admit female trainees.
Barbie, Viveca, Aramina, and Renee were about to resign themselves to a life of being palace maids when Helene, an elderly maid who’s secretly a girl boss, discovers that Corinne has the natural talent to be a musketeer.
Helene agrees to train them and girls essentially become rapier-wielding Bond agents but with lace dresses.
7. Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus (2005)
I don’t know about you, but now that I’m older, Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus feels a little darker. In Magic of Pegasus, Barbie stars as Princess Annika, the sheltered and overprotected heir of a storybook kingdom.
The willful Annika, however, is not having any of it and decides to sneak out for a night of pretending to be a regular girl.
Unluckily for her, the evil sorcerer Wenlock discovers her and delivers an ultimatum: marry him or the entire kingdom will turn into stone for all eternity. Just as she’s about to say yes, a pegasus named Brietta swoops in and takes her on a quest to destroy Wenlock once and for all.
So far, standard fare for a Barbie movie, right?
But there’s something about an evil man coercing princesses into being part of his harem that makes me a little uncomfortable because, let’s be real, we can all see what the implications are.
6. Barbie: Princess Charm School (2011)
Let me level with you here. If this list was only ranking the Barbie movies released in 2010 or later, Barbie: Princess Charm School would emerge as the victor.
Princess Charm School may not be one of the first-gen Barbie classics, but it was the most memorable one to emerge from the 2010s. This likely had something to do with the way Mattel allowed the movie to age with its audience.
At the time it was released, it was still early enough that many of its viewers were the same kids who watched the likes of The Twelve Dancing Princesses but it was also late enough that anything too child-friendly would be renounced by its aging audience.
Barbie: Princess Charm School hit the sweet spot by creating a PG-13, princess-ified version of Gossip Girl.
After winning a scholarship lottery, Blair Willows finds herself brushing elbows with princesses, fairies, and scheming royal ladies who want her dead before anyone can discover who she truly is. But that’s not the coolest part of this movie. That award goes to Barbie’s staunch advocacy against gentrification.
5. Barbie in the Nutcracker (2001)
This is where the rankings start to get harder because the movies from here on out are so good that they’re all in the same tier. Barbie in the Nutcracker only takes the last spot among them because it isn’t as well-known as the other four.
Like Three Musketeers, The Nutcracker is a Barbie retelling of a classic story about the Sugarplum Fairy and the Nutcracker’s mission to banish the evil Mouse King and break their curse.
Mattel pulled out at all the stops for this one by having renowned ballet choreographer Peter Martins work with New York City Ballet dancers to create the dances shown in the film. Also, this movie made a bunch of little girls cultured by introducing us to Tchaikovsky.
The protagonist, Clara, is easily one of the smartest Barbie movie leads. Together with the Nutcracker, who is a force of nature in his own right, they’re the definition of a power couple.
4. Barbie of Swan Lake (2003)
Barbie of Swan Lake is one of the oldest films on this list and its age really shows if you try to watch it now. But the plot, the music, and the dancing are so on point that it manages to hold up. Like The Nutcracker, it’s based on an existing ballet classic, Swan Lake.
In this version, Odette is a shy village girl who loves to dance in private while working in her father’s bakery. Odette has a rare moment of extroversion and actually goes outside to follow a unicorn to the Enchanted Forest.
There, the Fairy Queen reveals herself to announce that Odette is destined to free the forest from evil. Between you and me, though, the Nutcracker was a more compelling male lead.
3. Barbie as Rapunzel (2002)
Surprised? Barbie as Rapunzel doesn’t typically get ranked this low if any of the other Barbie movie rankings are to go by. From what I’ve seen, it’s usually either in the first or second spot. But I digress.
Don’t get me wrong: Barbie as Rapunzel is fantastic and I know in my heart of hearts this is the Barbie movie I watched the most. But as the second Barbie movie to be released, a good part of the credit the movie gets is, at least to me, driven by nostalgia.
That said, Rapunzel is a touching story about a girl who uses her paintings as a coping mechanism for the abuse she receives from the witch, Gothel. The scenes after she gets the enchanted brush and starts literally painting her way to freedom are breathtakingly beautiful tear-jerkers.
2. Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses (2006)
There are a lot of magical moments in the Barbie movies, but few can match the wonder we felt whenever Princess Genevieve and her sisters escaped to the magical dimension hidden in their bedroom.
They do a lot of that in Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses, especially after their father, King Randolph, invites his cousin, the Duchess Rowena, to help his daughters become “proper ladies.”
Rowena starts scheming to kill Randolph and take the kingdom for herself, all while abusing his daughters. The girls, who try to take comfort in their dead mother’s story about a princess who finds an enchanted kingdom, later discover that the queen was telling the truth.
Using their “unladylike” skills, the princesses band together to take down Rowena and save their dad.
1. Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper (2004)
The powerful, the iconic, the undefeated. Give it up for Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper where Barbie nearly breaks her back carrying the movie in two different roles.
Where to even begin explaining how good The Princess and the Pauper was? I’ve heard someone sing “I’m just like you!” in a college class once and I swear, on instinct, a bunch of other female students replied, “You’re just like me!” If that’s not a cultural icon, I don’t know what is.
A chance encounter between lookalikes Princess Anneliese and peasant girl Erika leads them to discover that neither of their lives is easy. Though, yes, indentured servitude sucks more and, yes, Erika doesn’t sugarcoat that in the movie.
Together, the two uncover a political plot to take over the kingdom while discovering true love with male leads who they have real, palpable chemistry with. No toxic relationships here.
Also, Anneliese is an MVP for realizing her people are suffering and actually doing something about the unfair policies that keep the underprivileged oppressed. That’s on top of singlehandedly saving her kingdom’s economy. You go, girl.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch that Barbie movie where Barbie is a Jedi.
The Princess and the Pauper didn’t have to go so hard but it did… Barbie did that for us. Hope you had as much fun writing this as I did reading it!
I did! And I spent half the time v distracted by rewatching clips of the films.