“UglyDolls,” adapted from a line of plush toys, was a smaller-scale box office disaster for STX Films in 2019. Mattel itself got bruised in 2016 when “Max Steel,” a modestly budgeted film based on an action figure, arrived to near-empty theaters. It received a zero percent positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site.
Daily Business Briefing
July 8, 2021, 3:31 p.m. ET
“Unless you can make something that feels really sticky and really interesting and really authentic, there’s no point in doing it,” said Robbie Brenner, who heads Mattel Films, which was created in 2018. (Mattel’s previous movie division, Playground Productions, was started in 2013 and folded in 2016.)
Ms. Brenner said she had approached all of Mattel’s properties with the same question: “How do we flip it on its side a little bit while still respecting the integrity of the brand?”
Mr. Kreiz said he was not interested in making thinly disguised toy commercials. In a shift from the Mattel of the past, “we want to give our filmmaking partners creative freedom and enable them to do things that are unconventional and exciting,” he said. “Focus on making great content and the rest will follow.”
He added, however, that Mattel did not “sign a deal and disappear.”
The message appears to be resonating in Hollywood, allowing Mattel to attract A-plus talent. The “Barbie” team is one example. Tom Hanks has agreed to star in and produce an adaptation of Major Matt Mason, an astronaut action figure introduced by Mattel in 1966; Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar-winning writer of “A Beautiful Mind,” is working on the screenplay. Marc Forster (“World War Z”) is directing and producing that “Thomas & Friends” movie. And Daniel Kaluuya, who won an Oscar in April for his role in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” is involved with a Mattel film project based on Barney, the interminably perky purple dinosaur.
Even Ms. Brenner has a sophisticated film pedigree. She produced the AIDS-medication drama “Dallas Buyers Club,” which received six Oscar nominations in 2014, including one for best picture. (It won three: actor, supporting actor, and makeup and hairstyling.) Before that, she was a senior executive 20th Century Fox and Miramax.