“Barbie” has been no different, with movie theaters employing a workaround to give audiences access to the Western films they want to watch. Russian cinemas in cities large and small are offering viewers tickets for short films or documentaries, but these come with screenings of the full effervescent, bubblegum-pink “Barbie” film that technically plays during the previews slot. At least 14 theaters in Moscow were openly offering such screenings on their websites on Wednesday, with tickets about 400 to 500 rubles, or $4 to $5.
The screenings are just one example of how Russians have been forced to improvise after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In the wake of the war, the West imposed a host of sanctions on Russia and companies fled the market. The Kremlin has also discouraged these screenings as Moscow seeks to paint an all-encompassing picture of an existential battle with the West.
Movies produced in the US made up around 70% of the Russian film market before the war, according to state media. Their exit has caused a crisis among Russian movie theaters, whose revenues dropped by 44% from 2021 to 2022, according to Russia’s Association of Theater Owners.
The association wrote on its website that it has made repeated pleas to government agencies to issue theaters distribution certificates that allow them to screen films like “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” from “unfriendly countries” without the consent of the copyright owners. But the ministry of culture turned down the request, saying that the two films “do not meet the goals and objectives set by the head of state to preserve and strengthen traditional Russian spiritual and moral values,” and that the Russian box office is “saturated” with domestic films anyway.
This year, the ministry of culture announced that it would provide financial support only to films focused on one or more of 17 approved themes, including “traditional values”; “heroism” of Russian soldiers in the war with Ukraine; and “the degradation of Europe.”
Some domestic films have successfully attracted large audiences.