Barbie promoting feminism is not playing well in every country.
In spite of Barbie's continued box office success worldwide, critics and activists have cited South Korea's lacklustre reception of a foreign film with a feminist theme as the reason for the country's underwhelming box office results.
According to the Korean Film Council, Barbie sold slightly over 460,000 tickets between its local release date of July 19 and that date. Only 8% of the total box office receipts went to the movie during its first weekend, and only 3.9% went to it during its second weekend.
Comparatively, since its July 12 release, Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One has sold over 3.6 million tickets. After its 14 June release, the Pixar romance Elemental has amassed more than 5.8 million viewers, making it the year's most popular foreign film.
The film's themes, according to South Korean women's rights activist Haein Shim, may have turned off viewers. "I think Barbie undoubtedly highlights the fact that a women-centred film with feminist humour is still regarded as a taboo subject."
"Women might be hesitant to go watch the film. The fear of being labelled as a feminist in South Korea is real.
"The word ‘feminism’ has become a dirty word to a lot of individuals in Korea, and people are unwilling to recognise – and are uncomfortable confronting – the deeply rooted patriarchy that has driven society for so long," she said.
Among advanced nations, South Korea still has a strong patriarchal culture and low gender equality rates. The nation ranks bottom on the Economist's Glass Ceiling Index, which assesses where women have the best and worst prospects of receiving equal treatment at work and has the worst gender pay disparity among OECD nations.
Youn Sung-Eun, a film critic, stated that although South Koreans may agree on gender equality in theory, there are groups within the conservative culture that vehemently disagree with what they view as "radical feminism."
"In this context, Greta Gerwig’s gender equality education is not very appealing," said Youn on some of the likely causes for its underperformance, who has earned a doctorate in cinema studies.
"Since Barbie is intended to be an entertaining movie, presenting such sensitive themes prominently might not resonate well."
Ahead of Barbie’s release, localised Korean versions of the posters were missing the original iconic slogans "Barbie is everything" and "He’s just Ken".