Brick flicks: How toy and game brands became Hollywood's new favourite plaything

Billy Langsworthy

By Billy Langsworthy

February 1st 2016 at 3:30PM
UPDATED February 2nd 2016 at 12:12PM
Brick flicks: How toy and game brands became Hollywood's new favourite plaything

Over the last five years, our industry has been been embraced by Hollywood execs, movie audiences and film critics alike, but looking forward, the number of toy properties on the big screen is truly unprecedented. Billy Langsworthy looks at the upcoming slate (over 25 movies across the next four years) and what it could translate to at retail.

Hollywood has tapped the world of toys and games for ideas for decades now, in a trend stretching back to the Eighties with the likes of The Care Bear Movie, My Little Pony: The Movie and Masters of the Universe.

Suffering mixed results at the box office, and largely slated by critics (one said of The Care Bear Movie: ‘it has a lot going for it if you can tolerate the Bears’), the movies came and went without studios banking on toy properties to be the future of the big screen. After all, while a successful movie can boost a brand, a stinker can sink one.

There was the perception, especially among critics, that movies based on toys and games would just be 90-minute long adverts for such products. But in recent years, that has all changed.

In today’s film landscape, all three of the major toy firms have serious stakes in Hollywood. LEGO has a slate of movies on the way with Warner Bros, Mattel has set up a film production arm called Playground Productions while Hasbro Studio has produced a run of box office hits including the blockbuster Transformers series.

Elsewhere, DreamWorks snapped up the rights to the Good Luck Trolls and is set to launch an animated Trolls movie this year while Playmobil has teamed with ON Animation Studios for a big screen trilogy, kicking off with Playmobil: Robbers, Theives & Rebels in 2018.

On the LEGO front, spurred by the success of 2014’s The LEGO Movie (over $460m grossed worldwide, one BAFTA bagged and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song), Warner wasted no time is pushing ahead with future brick-pics. The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie are set to hit cinemas in 2017, The LEGO Movie Sequel wll arrive in 2018 while The Billion Brick Race is rumoured for release in 2019.

Mattel hasn’t been as involved in the movie-making business as some other toy firms, but looking forward, this is about to change. After years of successful straight to DVD CG-animated Barbie movies, the firm is pushing ahead with a live action Barbie film for 2017.

Elsewhere, the firm’s Playground Productions is exec-producing a live action Monster High movie set to hit cinemas this Halloween and the firm also has films based on Max Steel and Masters of the Universe in development.

But the most prolific moviemakers in the toy world is Hasbro Studios, with its dedicated Allspark Productions label.

Back in 2007, Hasbro dipped a toe into the world of live action movies when it licensed Transformers to DreamWorks. It became the fifth highest grossing film of that year, and a penny dropped.

Then, with 2014’s highest grossing film under its belt in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Hasbro Studios altered how it handles its properties with the launch of Allspark Pictures. It’s a move that has ensured the firm retains creative control over the entirety of its big screen output.

“We are involved at every step of the creative process,” Stephen Davis, executive VP/chief content officer at Hasbro, tells ToyNews.

“What’s exciting about Allspark Pictures is that it also gives us the ability to be even more involved in the marketing and calendarisation of our films, which is important to support our long lead consumer products strategies, tie-ins and other partner initiatives.

“We put storytelling at the centre of everything that we do and it’s an exciting challenge to use our brands as the genesis for the creative process. The Hasbro creative team works alongside some of the most talented writers, producers and directors in the industry to find original, creative perspectives for our properties.

“We like to think that all of Hasbro’s brands have the potential to inspire a great story, but we’ll only tell it if and when that story is right.”

Well, looking at Hasbro Studos’ upcoming slate, it looks like the firm has found the right story for quite a few of its properties.

This year sees the arrival of Jem and the Holograms and Ouija 2, My Little Pony will trot into cinemas in 2017 while also in development are Micronauts, Transformers 5, 6, 7 and 8, GI Joe 3, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Magic: The Gathering, Monopoly, Dungeons and Dragons and Play-Doh.

The latter has resulted in many raised eyebrows, in much the same way as when The LEGO Movie was announced. How can you turn Play-Doh into a movie? What would it involve? Davis sheds some light.

“This goes back to putting storytelling at the centre of how Allspark Pictures and Hasbro approach movie making,” he says.

“Play-Doh is a brand that everyone knows, so making it into a film requires an extremely creative approach. It’s still very early in the process, but when the film hits theatres you can expect to see a fun character-driven world that is playful and inventive and will appeal to a four-quadrant audience.”

No longer a joke toy movies are now attracting serious talent in-front of and behind the camera.

Michael Bay has already made Transformers his own, while the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Juno, Diablo Cody, is writing the Barbie movie, the guy writing the next Thor film is also penning the Masters of the Universe movie and a Game of Thrones scribe is on board for Magic: The Gathering.

Elsewhere, Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianikis and even Mariah Carey have joined the voice cast for The LEGO Batman Movie while Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake are on board for Trolls.  


“As we had the exclusive rights to grant, we had pitches with different studios and to my surprise, there was a lot of interest in creating the Trolls movie,” the CEO of Dam Things, founders of the Good Luck Trolls, Calle Østergaard tells ToyNews.

“The deal will DreamWorks will result in a film boasting the superb quality that it’s known for. Thomas Dam [creator of the Good Luck Trolls] always wanted a movie for his Trolls and now he can look down and see what it became.”

And it’s not only the toy brands themselves that have peaked the interest of movie producers. It seems the true-life stories behind some of the biggest toys and games are also inspiring a new wave of big screen dramas.

Reese Witherspoon’s production company is set to make a film about the life of Barbie creator Ruth Handler while Big Beach, the production team behind Little Miss Sunshine, is developing a film about the creation of Monopoly based on Mary Pilon’s best-selling book, The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favourite Board Game.

The guys at Dam Things are also writing a book about the extraordinary trials and tribulations of Thomas Dam, the creator of the Good Luck Trolls, and the firm is confident it will be adapted for the big screen.

“That’s the plan,” Østergaard tells ToyNews. “We are in the early stages of writing a book, and then we’ll see if we can do a movie.”

With Hollywood talent on board creating films that are igniting the box office and delighting the critics, we’re in the midst of a golden age for toy stories.

As the movies’ tie-in products line the shelves, the on-going success of, and appetite for, these brands on the big screen over the next five years can only be good news for the industry.

So grab a popcorn and get comfortable.