Sometimes going to the cinema feels like endless déjà vu, with a constant cycle of remakes, reboots, and unnecessary sequels. Just look at the month of May: Fast X, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, The Little Mermaid. But there’s also a new genre of film emerging this year that’s cashing in on a different wave of nostalgia—movies based on intellectual property (IP), origin stories of brands and products. They’re basically biopics, but about a product rather than a person. In other words, true stories about individuals you’ve never heard of, but end results you have.
The most legendary of these IP biopics is arguably the 2010 Oscar-nominated tech movie The Social Network. Directed by David Fincher, the story followed the rise of Facebook and its fearless (albeit unhinged) leader Mark Zuckerberg. Given recent developments and revelations over the years, it should be noted that The Social Network does now seem both dated and rather lopsided in its storytelling.
Then there’s Joy, the 2015 film starring Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the self-wringing Miracle Mop—but we should also keep in mind that this movie focuses more on her business empire and entrepreneurial skills than the product itself.
The latest in this line is BlackBerry, a biographical comedy-drama about the history of the BlackBerry line of mobile phones, aka the OG smartphone. But there’s also AIR, recently released on Prime Video, which tells the story of the Air Jordan, a legendary collaboration between Nike and Michael Jordan. And let’s not forget Tetris, which was released on Apple TV+, a biographical thriller about the race to licence the eponymous video game from within the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.
AIR is directed by and stars Ben Affleck alongside long-time collaborator Matt Damon, as well as Jason Bateman, and Viola Davis who’s playing Jordan’s mother, Deloris Jordan. This specific slice of sporting history manages to tell several larger stories. Most prevalent being the rise of Nike as a sportswear brand to rival the likes of Adidas which was thanks, in large part, to the launch of the Air Jordan, which although having been predicted to make around $3 million in sales, in the first year actually earned $162 million.
This success in turn instigated a new wave of collaborations between sports stars and fashion brands that went far beyond mere sponsorship deals—turning athletes into multimillionaires in the process, and giving them income after retiring from professional sports.
Weirdly, the film doesn’t feature Jordan himself and largely avoids even showing him onscreen as a character, instead focusing on his family. During a special New York City screening, Affleck explained this decision: “He’s too famous, and I like him being the guy above it. It’s how our relationship is with these icons and idols, they’re not in our living rooms, in our lives, they’re people who are in our fantasies.”
The director went on to add: “The only person who could play Michael Jordan, as I’ve said to him, is too old now to play Michael Jordan.” And, although he was not directly involved in the film, Jordan gave Affleck his blessing, asking for only four changes to the script before filming.
These films offer a new perspective on recent history, an insight into worlds we feel familiar with, even though we know so little about the people who actually lived within them. Everyone knows about the game Tetris, but was anyone aware of how it came to be so successful worldwide?
Developed by programmer Alexey Pajitnov, who worked for government-owned ELORG in the Soviet Union, Tetris had a messy beginning—something the new film covers in length.
Focusing on Henk Rogers, played by Taron Egerton, a Dutch video game designer based in Japan, the recent blockbuster tells his story of an obsession with the game, including Soviet paranoia and corruption, as well as the rivalry between SEGA and Nintendo (the latter were ultimately successful). Spoiler alert: Tetris and creator Pajitnov were eventually liberated from the Soviet Union. Rogers and Pajitnov even went on to co-found the Tetris Company in 1996, which still manages worldwide licensing to this day.
Both Rogers and Pajitnov reviewed the script and made suggestions here and there, but in a February interview with Canary Media, the Dutch game designer noted: “It’s a Hollywood script, a movie. It’s not about history so a lot of [what’s in the movie] never happened.”
Nonetheless, it’s impressive that the filmmakers managed to tell a story that is ultimately about licensing law in an engaging and exciting way, in large part thanks to the historical peculiarities of its setting.
The BlackBerry story is a particularly timely film, adapted from the non-fiction book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff. At a time when smartphones are now ubiquitous, this origin story explores how the technology emerged.
At its peak in September 2011, BlackBerry had 85 million users. Any gen Zer will remember the desperate need to have a BlackBerry, just so you could be involved in the proto-social media that was BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). The phones were especially notable for always having a full hardware QWERTY keyboard before, and after, touchscreens became the norm. Sadly, as of January 2022, the uniquely keyboarded phones have since met their end, with a formal discontinuation by the brand.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a of 98 per cent based on 143 reviews, higher than either AIR (92 per cent) or Tetris (82 per cent). The site summarised: “With intelligence as sharp as its humour, BlackBerry takes a terrifically entertaining look at the rise and fall of a generation-defining gadget.” The Canadian film helmed by internet favourite, Matt Johnson is yet to see a UK release.
As entertaining as they are, should we expect a greater variety of formats when it comes to this genre of film? That would be a big yes. It’s a neat way for brands to cash in on intellectual property and build their reach (even if it’s too late for poor ol’ BlackBerry).
A LEGO movie about the origins of the building blocks themselves could easily be on the cards. Or what about a film telling the story of the revolutionary Swedish flatpack pioneers, IKEA? It’s all fun and giggles until we’re watching a three-hour film about Percy Pigs.
There might be more creative and interesting ways to go about such storytelling. For instance, one of this summer’s most anticipated blockbuster releases is Barbie, by Little Women director Greta Gerwig. As of yet, not much is known about the plot, but we certainly shouldn’t expect a tale about the design and launch of the iconic doll.
Instead, the trailer has us thinking it’ll be somewhere between Toy Story, The Lego Movie, The Stepford Wives, and Thelma & Louise. We’re so here for it.
It’s Barbie’s world and we’re just living in it. On 4 April 2023, girly pops everywhere were gifted with the official Barbie film trailer. The movie, due to be released on 21 July, and directed by certified creative babe and genius Greta Gerwig, has been one of the most highly anticipated productions of this decade and it’s safe to say that we’re all hysterically excited about it.
And while everyone is quite rightly still obsessing over the casting of Aussie queen Margot Robbie and Canadian heartthrob Ryan Gosling as the film’s premier Barbie and Ken, we’re also overwhelmingly shook at the rest of the Barbie star-studded cast, and it’s something worth delving into.
So, without further ado, let’s run through ten of the most exciting A-listers set to make an appearance in what’s likely to be the film of the year. From current rising stars to OG nostalgic besties, this cast truly hits the sweet spot.
When Simu Liu isn’t saving the world in the Marvel multiverse, he’s splashing in the pool in Barbie Land and schmoozing his fellow dolls with his dazzling eyes and toned physique. The Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star will be playing one of the many Kens in the Barbie universe, and from the little we know about the upcoming film, it seems as though Liu will be competing with Gosling for Robbie’s (aka, supreme Barbie) attention.
One of the most unforeseen casting choices in Barbie has to be singer Dua Lipa, who’ll be gracing our screens as a mermaid Barbie. Lipa’s appearance in the blockbuster will mark her official acting debut. We’ve seen a number of artists sashay into the acting industry—Lady Gaga, Cher and Justin Timberlake to name a few (although, I’m not sure we can officially class Timberlake as an ‘actor’).
I can’t imagine there’s anyone on the planet who’s not a fan of OG actor Will Ferrell. Known for his iconic role as Buddy the Elf in, you guessed it, Elf, Ferrell is hanging up his jingle bells for the role of ‘unknown corporate boss’ in Barbie. Again, we’ve been kept very much in the dark in regards to the plot of Gerwig’s film and so all we can say is that Ferrell’s character seems to be some kind of business villain, but who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Any Juno or Superbad fans out there, this one’s for you. Michael Cera’s guest role in Barbie is as equally ambiguous as the rest, although in his case, we at least have a name: Allan. Fans have been going feral online, speculating what part Cera will play in the film, and reminiscing over the actor’s previous characters. Supposedly, Allan was a 1960s obscure Barbie doll created by manufacturers Mattel to be Ken’s best friends, but unfortunately, after not being received well by kids, Allan was never seen again.
Next up is British acting royalty, Helen Mirren. Heralded as one of this generation’s most celebrated and respected actresses, Mirren will take on the role as the coveted narrator of the Barbie film. With such a legendary voice, it’s no surprise that she was brought onboard to take us along the way.
If you weren’t sure whether or not there’d be a President of Barbie Land, the news is officially in: yes. Not only is there going to be one, it’s going to be none other than American actress and comedian Issa Rae. Revered for showcasing the lives of actual women, Rae has been a tour de force in the creative industry for some time and it’s safe to say that fans were thrilled when it was revealed she’d be taking on the role of President.
Not everyone in Barbie Land will be gorgeously tanned, with hair that always falls just right and an outfit tailored to perfection. SNL comedian and actress Kate McKinnon will be repping it for the slightly more unhinged dolls of the world. Described as the Barbie who is “always in the splits,” McKinnon’s costume is made up of a rather choppy and wild haircut, crayon drawings on the face, and a very chaotic pink outfit which looks like something you’d find at the bottom of the dressing up drawer.
The next three names are ones most gen Zers will be familiar with, all hailing from the iconic Netflix show Sex Education, these three British rising stars have been making serious moves in Hollywood circles. First up is Emma Mackey, a French-born actress who, over the past five years, has exploded in the acting industry. Her recent projects include a biographical drama, Emily, which follows the life of famed author Emily Brontë, and Eiffel, a romantic drama set in Paris. In Barbie, Mackey will play a Barbie who’s recently won a Nobel Prize in Physics.
Next up is Connor Swindells. Known best for his role as moody yet adorably innocent Adam in Sex Education, Swindells will now be portraying “an intern or something” in the upcoming Barbie. While it doesn’t sound like the most thrilling part, I can imagine Swindells will find a way to add some pizazz.
Last but not least is our final Sex Education alum, Ncuti Gatwa, who will be playing another Ken doll in the summer flick. Gatwa has also had an incredibly busy few years, particularly as it was recently announced that he would be taking on the role of the next Doctor Who, with his first episode airing around Christmas in 2023.