Movie magic

With previously unknown properties like Ant-Man making a splash on the big screen and in the toy aisles, Steve Reece looks at how the relationship between Hollywood and toys is evolving.
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2015 is a year that will be remembered for having an almost ludicrously strong movie slate.

And there’s nothing quite like a string of hit movies to drive strong sales in the toy market.

Between a summer movie launch and autumn DVD release, there are two distinct marketing blitzes to the tune of many millions, which usually ensure any vaguely successful movie romps home at the checkouts in terms of merchandise and particularly toy sales.

None of this is new; in fact it’s been a cyclical process in the toy business for decades. However, what is more interesting this time around is that following a huge movie year like this, there is usually a quieter period for a year or two afterwards.

The perennial toy brands that sometimes take a beating when a smash hit movie cannibalises their sales (e.g. Frozen and Barbie) have historically tended to bounce back once the movies are in the rear view mirror. That’s certainly something I’d expect to see from Barbie in 2015 and 2016 to continue that example.

The difference though between the past versus the present and future is that the structure and process of those movie studios or toy companies who produce movies likely to drive toy sales has changed.

Toy companies are ever closer to Hollywood – instead of this being an objective, it’s now a matter of fact, as Hasbro and LEGO have proven.

The Star Wars brand is now in the hands of a company more likely to be prolific in terms of output than the previous owners and founders of the franchise (combined short term with a December 2015 release for the next Star Wars movie, which will push toy sales into 2016 to a degree).

And in the super hero movie space we have never had more output.

I recently went to watch Ant-Man, a Marvel character that, while now obviously well-known due to the movie, was previously little known except among the more avid followers of retro comics.

It occurred to me while watching the film, and while seeing comparatively successful box office numbers, that if a little known comic character like Ant-Man can be made into at least a reasonably successful movie and toy line, then perhaps we aren’t going to see those opportunities for perennial toy brand resurgence that flat movie years offer.

Or to put it another way, it seems like we just aren’t going to have many quiet movie years again for the foreseeable future, which is great news in terms of top line sales for the toy industry, but represents an even stronger challenge than before in terms of perennial brands.

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