Image: Wikimedia Commons

Warner Bros boss Pam Abdy has said the film studio would "love" to make Barbie 2, after director Greta Gerwig's movie "ignited audiences around the world."

The film took $1.4bn (£1.1bn) at the box office globally, making it the most successful movie of 2023.

Abdy, the co-chair and CEO of Warner Bros Motion Picture Group, said the film had "smashed so many records".

She added both parties were "always talking" about a follow-up, but that it would ultimately be Gerwig's decision.

Earlier this week, Gerwig said she is open to the idea, if she can find an "undertow" for the film.

With the Oscars on Sunday, Abdy said "of course" it hurt that Margot Robbie missed out on a nomination for best actress, and Gerwig for best director. She's a "visionary" and "one of the best filmmakers working today", Abdy said.

When it comes to Academy voters, Abdy told me: "I don't want to say that they are sexist".

But she does worry that not enough of them actually watched the movie.

The Academy has worked to diversify its 10,000-strong membership in recent years. But it's still a predominantly white, male organisation.

Abdy and I were talking at the Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, Los Angeles - 110 acres of sound stages, painted facades and recognisable streets where some of cinema's best loved movies have been shot.

This studio celebrated its centenary last year and every inch of the lot feels familiar. We all really have seen it before.

The café in Casablanca where Humphrey Bogart's Rick and Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa kindled their Parisian romance sits around the corner from the stately courthouse used in Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning Argo.

My Fair Lady's Covent Garden was created in a nearby soundstage.

We pass a building adorned with a zigzag of metal fire escape steps where Tom Cruise was chased in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling walked along these backlot streets in La La Land.

And Christopher Nolan filled a vast soundstage with water for Dunkirk.

The Oppenheimer director spent most of his career with Warner Bros, shooting the Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Dunkirk, Interstellar and other classics.

But in 2020 Nolan walked away, furious about the company's decision to put a year's worth of new movies onto its streaming platform.

Nolan then made his Bafta-winning and heavily tipped Oscar favourite about the theoretical physicist J Robert Oppenheimer with Universal, a bitter blow for the rival studio and one they seem to have learned from.

Abdy says she "can't judge what they were doing" - it was before her time - but thinks Warner Bros. was trying to adapt "in the middle of a pandemic". However, she accepts it lost one of its biggest stars and "of course" would like to woo Nolan back.

From DeVito assistant to Warner boss

Pam Abdy began her career at Jersey Films, the company behind Pulp Fiction, first as a receptionist and then Danny DeVito's assistant. The director and actor picked her, she thinks, because he liked her strong New Jersey accent.

She drove DeVito to work each day and "when he was off studying lines, I would go sneak around" on the sets, hanging out "to absorb every single thing I could and understand how each department worked and what they needed to do in a day".

"I learned everything there, I really did," she says.

Abdy rose to become president and has since worked in many top roles including at Paramount Pictures, MGM and now Warner Bros. It makes her one of the most powerful women in Hollywood.

She and her co-chair Michael De Luca were hired by Warner Bros less than two years ago, with a mission to restore the studio to its past glories.

Warner Bros hasn't won a best picture Oscar since Argo in 2013.

The company is part of Warner Bros Discovery, owner of amongst other media titles CNN, the Discovery channel and HBO. The TV side of the business has been struggling with a sharp decline in advertising revenue.

The movie side has also had its own problems.

It didn't just squander the relationship with Nolan, it laid off staff and made some embarrassing, high profile decisions, including cancelling Batgirl, a movie which had reportedly cost $90m (£70m) to make.

The new regime has set about luring big names, the biggest so far being Tom Cruise who's formed a new partnership with Warner Bros.

Abdy wouldn't tell me what Cruise is making for her with director Alejandro González Iñárritu - it's still top secret - except to say it "deserves to be seen on the biggest screens possible all around the world".

She seems to be signalling that the studio has listened to Nolan.

He previously told me he makes his films for the big screen and that, when streaming happens too immediately, "it's not good for the health of cinemas".

Abdy agrees, although she doesn't think "one size fits all". She says they've made "a shift" when it comes to the window between when a movie is released in cinemas and when it appears on the streamers.

The studio is now telling filmmakers "we all believe in the theatrical experience" (American movie-speak for films shown on the big screen).

"You're in a room, it's dark, you're with an audience, you're laughing, you're crying, you're getting scared together, you're experiencing something together."

Abdy has a good track record, including overseeing Oscar-winning films The Revenant, The Big Short and Birdman. Her tip to best picture glory is "picking the best director".

But according to a new UCLA Hollywood diversity report, only three female directors were at the helm of movies with budgets of $100m (£78m) or more, compared with 25 men. Directors of colour are slowly getting more opportunities on bigger projects, but women of colour continually get left out.

Abdy calls the slow progress for women in film "frustrating". She says it's all about educating younger people that they have "an entry way" into the business and believes that is happening.

But she also concedes: "We have a lot of work to do."

For now, she and De Luca are riding high on the commercial success of Barbie and have locked Margot Robbie and her production company LuckyChap in for future movies.

"We feel like their collision of art and commerce is just magical."

And Abdy and De Luca have reintroduced one of the traditions devised by the company's co-founder Jack Warner who would present a key to the lot to his star talent - including Marilyn Monroe - to welcome them to the studio.

They recently presented Robbie with her own key. De Luca had found some of the originals for sale on eBay.

"Margot's is actually Marilyn Monroe's key."

As she looks ahead to Sunday's Oscars ceremony, Abdy optimistically says there's "always a chance" that Barbie could win best picture.

The smart money is on Nolan's Oppenheimer. She says audiences have a relationship with Nolan's "complex" storytelling and they "show up" for his films - this one "felt like an event".

She believes the film industry had previously fallen into a rut - "everything had to be a superhero movie" - but says that isn't what people actually want.

If Barbie and Oppenheimer prove anything, it's that there are big audiences for different types of stories, if the filmmakers get them right.