Ah, I found an edited version online, so added the stuff they left out.
So, those Hulk hands were big sellers after all?
Movie-related toys no longer sure seller
By Stephanie Kang
Wall Street Journal
Darth Vader, Batman and the Fantastic Four are headed to theaters this summer for an action-movie showdown. How the action plays out in the toy aisle will reveal a lot about how much mileage is left in the once-booming movie-merchandise industry.
Traditional toys based on Hollywood movies have been a hit-or-miss business in recent years, in part because the prime customers – boys – are outgrowing action figures and miniature vehicles at younger ages than ever before.
NPD Funworld says licensed toy sales, including toys based on movies, inched up just 1.8 percent in 2004 to $5.7 billion. Toy makers hope their next round of licensed products – including “role-play” toys like “Star Wars” light sabers and toys incorporating videogame-style technology – will bring on faster growth.
The coming brawl features the movie and toy worlds’ marquee names. Toy giant Hasbro Inc. is working with Lucasfilm Ltd. on toys based on “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.” Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. has teamed up with Mattel Inc. for toys based on “Batman Begins.” “Fantastic Four” is being merchandised by Toy Biz Worldwide Ltd., a unit of Marvel Enterprises Inc., the company that created the original comic-book series in 1961 and, along with News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox, is one of the companies producing the movie.
The slugfest begins next month, when the first toys start arriving in stores, among them a remote-control Batmobile and oversize feet and hands made of foam, inspired by those belonging to a character in “Fantastic Four.” Some of the toys are made to be used with a TV set. And then there’s “Darth Tater,” Mr. Potato Head’s evil alter ego (light saber included).
“Fantastic Four” might be the most kid-friendly of the bunch: The plot concerns four friends who gain superpowers after their space shuttle gets doused with radiation. The two other films, in comparison, are expected to explore darker themes: “Star Wars: Episode III,” for example, details the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, a good-goes-bad theme that might put off some parents and confuse some kids. On the other hand, it could delight young kids who clamor for stuff that was once reserved for their older siblings. “Batman Begins” chronicles the violent events that impelled Bruce Wayne to turn into Batman.
In the past, big-budget film licensees have produced everything from bedsheets to board games based on movie characters and storylines. The company with a film’s “master toy license” usually gets the rights to make action figures, role-play toys, “plush” toys and board games. Analysts say a strong licensed-toy line can contribute up to one-third of a film’s merchandise sales, generating hundreds of millions of dollars at retail. Some think the rush of high-profile films opening this summer will help revive the movie-based toy business.
But even with their movie credentials, these licensed toys are vulnerable to the same challenges affecting the traditional toy business. Increasing competition for kids’ attention from MP3 players, video games and other electronics and media means that many kids put away traditional toys at ages as young as eight or nine.
The action-figure category in particular has taken it in the chops. Though sales of action figures make up about 5 percent of the toy industry’s $20.1 billion in annual sales, they have fallen 14 percent over the past two years to $1.2 billion, according to market research firm NPD Funworld. Sales of toy cars and trucks dropped10 percent to $1.8 billion in 2004 from $2 billion in 2003.
A few recent films, such as “Spider-Man,” have given rise to strong toy sales. But others, such as “Godzilla” in 1998, have been toy-aisle catastrophes. Earlier this week, Marvel said sales at its toy division dropped 41% to $21.8 million, mostly from decreased sales of action figures and accessories based on the movies "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hulk."
Action-figure sales will continue to slide, predicts industry analyst Jim Silver, because boys play differently than they did even five years ago. Although action figures have long been the way kids have played out movie scenarios, now costume and prop type toys infused with voice and light technology allow kids themselves to "become the hero," Mr Silver says.
These role-play toys are some of the few strong sellers among licensed toys in recent years. Among them are Marvel’s “triple action web blaster,” which kids wear to squirt water and “web fluid” and pretend they are Spider-Man, and the green foam “Hulk Hands,” the big green boxing gloves that were the best-selling toy to come out of the 2003 film directed by Ang Lee.
Toy makers working on film projects now look closely at their intended customers when planning the merchandise, industry observers say. For instance, the Batman franchise has a strong fan base of young children, many of whom first encountered the Batman franchise in the Warner Bros. animated TV series. Mattel's action figure and vehicles, including the inconic black Batmobile, which in this incarnation looks like a cross between a Hummer and a Ferrari, are inspired by the cartoon. Says Mattel brand president Matt Bousquette, the "point is not to just make souvenirs but cool stuff to play with."
Marvel, meanwhile is pegging its hopes on role-play toys, including giant hands and feet that kids can wear to become The Thing, from "Fantastic Four." The appendages are expected to retail for about $20 for a pair of feet or hands. Marvel is rolling out more products for "Fantastic Four" that for "Spider-Man" and "The Hulk" and says it is supporting the franchise with their biggest-ever ad campaign for a line of toys.
"In contrast, hasbro's planned line of "Star Wars" toys is "tighter" than in years past, says Brian Goldner, president of Hasbro's U.S. toys group. Over the past three decades, consumer retail sale of "Star Wars" - related toys, video games, clothes, shoes and other goods have topped $9 billion, making "Star Wars" one of the most successful movie related merchandise franchises ever, says Howard Roffman, president of Lucasfilm Ltd.'s licensing arm.
Lucasfilm executives expect retail sales of $1.5 billion or more for all kinds of merchandise from the coming movie, compared with $2 billion for "Episode I - The Phantom Menace," released in 1999, and $1.2 billion in retail sales three years later for "Episode II - Attack of the Clones." Believing they may have lost potential sales as a result of too little "Attack of the Clones" merchandise, they plan to ship more goods this time around, says Mr. Roffman.
The new "Star Wars" line is segmented for specific consumer groups, including collectors, young children, and tweens and teens. Action figures for the youngest fans feature bigger hands and feet, which make them easier to handle and play with. But many of the new products are aimed at so-called tweens, defined as kids from about eight to 12 years old, and even at young teens - age groups that seem to have left action-figure play far behind."
Another set of action figures are positioned on a base that has instructions on it about the character. Kids can battle the action figures like characters in trading-card games. Some of the new role-play toys include a "plug 'n' play" game, in which players hold a wireless light saber and fight Jedi and Sith on a TV screen: a Darth Vader helmet changes a kid's voice to emulate the villain's heavy breathing speech. A Trivial Pursuit game on DVD highlights factoids from all six movies as well as questions from 20 "Star Wars" fans. "We are reflecting the changing lifestyle and the other pursuits that boys are undertaking," Mr. Goldner says.
"We look at it from a long term point of view," says Lucasfilm's Mr. Roffman. "This is a day-in, day-out business for us, and although it spikes during big media events, like a movie, we can't manage the business strictly for the spikes."