Revisiting ‘Barb Wire,’ the Movie That Should’ve Made Pamela Anderson a Superstar Actress
There is one unusual, particularly vivid image from my childhood that stands out to this day. It’s neither good nor bad, just there, always present by my side. It’s the sight of Pamela Anderson, emblazoned on a promotional coffee mug for her 1996 film Barb Wire, sitting atop the checkout counter at a local video rental store.
The sight is burned into my brain as plainly as the ink from the pens that the mug housed, which stained its white rim. That sensual ceramic might have been my very first introduction to sex. Despite being very gay, its wanton leather-and-boob combo perforated my burgeoning queerness forever. When Barb Wire was around, the world fell away.
No doubt that “sex” came before “narrative cohesion” on the list of importance when developing Barb Wire. The film, adapted from the Dark Horse comic book series, is set in a not-so-distant, apocalyptic future where the United States democracy has been overthrown, leaving every city under martial law. Well, except for the one remaining free city of Steel Harbor—home of the gun-toting, skintight-leather-wearing titular hero, Ms. Wire (if you’re nasty).
With Anderson—the actress, activist, and philanthropist—permeating the news cycle in a way she hasn’t in years thanks to her new Netflix documentary, Pamela, a Love Story, and her unconventional memoir, Love, Pamela, it’s time to revisit and reevaluate Barb Wire for the campsterpiece that it really is.
Barb Wire (trailer)
Barb Wire was developed at the tumultuous peak of Anderson’s stratospheric fame. After captivating the public for a handful of seasons on Baywatch, Anderson became even more of a tabloid fixture when she married Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in February 1995, after the two had known each other for only four days.
It was just three months after their marriage that Barb Wire was announced at the Cannes Film Festival, which was closely followed by the publishing and litigation surrounding Anderson and Lee’s stolen sex tape. By the time Barb Wire was released in May of 1996, Anderson was no longer just a household name, she was inescapable. Had it been a success, Barb Wire would’ve catapulted Anderson from tabloid darling to legitimate A-List actress.
Instead of helping the film, Anderson’s mega-fame hemorrhaged it. Barb Wire took a nosedive the minute it hit theaters, returning just a paltry $1 million opening weekend—a fraction of its $9 million budget. By the time it was wheeled out of cinemas on a stretcher, a critical panning and negative audience buzz had it returning under $4 million for its total worldwide gross. In short: it was a catastrophic flop.
But like a fair amount of critically reviled stinkers, Barb Wire’s shocking schlock holds up far better than it has any right to nearly three decades later. It’s packed full of whiplash-inducing fight scenes and fantastic set pieces, but its bottom-line bombshell is what makes the film so damn delectable. Even with all its technical achievements, Barb Wire wouldn’t even be worth remembering if it weren’t for Anderson.