2016: year of the superhero

2016 is set to have a clear focus on superheroes, with upcoming film releases featuring new and exciting heroes, and the toy industry looking like it may become inundated by new action figures for both girls and boys.

The market for action figures has been bolstered with the likes of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and The Avengers for a while now, and there is a much more varied selection on offer for children, thanks to upcoming film releases that include female superhero characters.

Stuart Grant, buying director from The Entertainer, explains: “For us, Captain America: Civil War is going to be the big superhero movie for this year.

“DC is an interesting one as well, because the movies have been incredibly successful.”

Last year, Marvel presented Avengers: Age of Ultron. Although the film was filled with many well-known male superhero characters, such as Iron Man and Thor, the highly-trained female spy known as Black Widow also enjoyed a vital role.

Disney has since gone on to launch various Black Widow toys after a backlash from fans last year, when there was no sign of any.

But why is it important to offer young girls a superhero range?

Mattel has unveiled its first line to target this sector with a selection of brand new action figures: a collection named DC SuperHero Girls.

Wendy Hill, brand activation director at Mattel, says: “Through our research, we know that nine out of ten girls wish there were more superheroes for them, so we’re working with DC Entertainment’s deep and rich roster of strong female characters – both heroes and villains – that have inspired girls and young women for decades.

“From the iconic Wonder Woman and Supergirl, to the complex but compelling Harley Quinn and Catwoman, there is a character to whom every girl can relate, no matter what stage of life in which she finds herself.”

Poison Ivy, Bumblebee, Batgirl and Katana are also included in the line-up of super dolls, which will hit stores in early 2016, alongside a new animated series.

Aimed at girls aged from six-years-old and over, the new characters have been designed to look like ‘they can save the day, instead of being saved’, and it seems like the range is set to stick around.

“Girls want to experience the strength, action and optimism of superheroes too, and with DC Super Hero Girls, we are pleased to offer a diverse array of strong female characters in a fun and action-packed universe,” claims Hill.

The dolls have certainly taken a step back from the ‘fashionista’ likes of Bratz and Barbie, instead boasting quirky costumes that any superhero would be proud to wear.

Hill adds: “These characters are attired practically, with important feedback from girls themselves. They can’t have a lot of adornments that can get caught on something, or uncomfortable footwear.”

But it isn’t just toy firms that are shining the spotlight on female superheroes. Disney will be launching its first female-centric Marvel movie in Captain Marvel, set for release in 2018. The film will follow a character who receives powers following an alien encounter.

The fact that toy vendors such as Mattel and film studios are finally embracing the world of female superheroes, it looks like the superhero sector of our industry is set to get bigger and bigger.

Grant concurs: “The category actually has had a complete revitalisation since Disney launched Avengers Assemble, and the spin-off movies that have come from there.

“Superheroes now dominate our action and adventure areas in the stores, whereas once upon a time that absolutely wasn’t the case.”

However, although some retailers dedicate their shelf space to superhero toys, Grant remains sceptical about how much traction these female lines will have in the market.

“Retail space and shelf space is incredibly scarce. I’m confident there is a market, but I’m not sure how big the market is, because I think girls will buy Iron-Man and Hulk just as much as boys will,” comments Grant.

“I’m not quite sure that those stereotypes and gender divides exist, and so by producing a pink superhero, you have absolutely cut the boys off, and you have lost half of your market.”

Other superhero films set for release in the near future, boasting iconic names as well as brand new superheroes, includes Suicide Squad, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Doctor Strange, X-Men: Apocalypse and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.

There seems to be no doubt that these new films will all cause a stir in the industry, and will lead to the development of more toy figures and ranges looking to pack a punch at retail.

One firm to have enjoyed success with such ranges is Hasbro, as the company’s marketing manager, Louisa Parast, explains: “We have seen continued interest from fans as Hasbro’s toy lines continue to reflect the foothold Marvel has in additional entertainment mediums, with two to three films being released every year and several television series supplementing the wonderful storytelling already found in the company’s comics.”

Currently fans of Marvel’s superheroes can get their hands on various toys, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron 2.5-inch Movie Action Set assortment of play sets, and Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors action figures and vehicles.

Parast adds: “Collectors will often gravitate toward the highly detailed and articulated Marvel Legends line of six-inch figures, which includes a wide range of characters from different Marvel films and comics alike.”

While action figures are flying off the shelves, costume vendors such as Rubie’s are also enjoying a boom in fans wishing to don a cape and tights combo.

Thanks to the variety of styles and price points on offer, children and adults are able to dress up as their favourite character from a whole host of different film franchises.

“Our licensed superhero ranges are some of our most popular products, and the recent slew of Marvel and DC films have certainly given them a boost, as well as given us plenty of new looks for Rubie’s to produce costumes of,” explains Struan Robertson, trade marketing and digital manager at Rubie’s.

“Our recent range for the hugely successful Avengers: Age Of Ultron did very well, as did our ranges for other recent Marvel Studios films like The Amazing Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Even though many superhero films have helped to spur on the toy market, the chosen demographic of certain films can be a hindrance on toy sales, as Grant explains: “If you look at Superman and Batman from a toy perspective, the movies are very dark and they appeal to a much older age group.

“Therefore, the toys are actually quite a hard sell, because it’s a different age group to the viewers going to the cinema.”

Despite this, there is an abundance of superhero toys that have launched, which resonate well with many kids, and are proving to be some of the bestsellers for toy vendors and retailers alike.

Robertson concludes: “Superheroes have been among the biggest pop culture icons for more than 75 years, and today they’re more popular than ever with their films shattering box office records and taking over the airwaves.

“With characters like Doctor Strange and Deadpool being brought to the big screen, it’s looking like it could be an exciting year.”

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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