Children’s toys make up an industry worth about $22 billion. When the toy industry and the movie industry meet, they seem to have a seamless and mutually expedient relationship. Whenever a hot new movie is preparing for release, the movie’s characters have already hit the shelves in the form of a toy, giving consumers a sneak peek at the adventures that await them on the silver screen. Manufacturing toys in tandem with the movie industry not only drives sales for the toys – the toys, too, act as a form of advertising for the movie. Movie merchandise has, on countless occasions, demonstrated its power to become a trend and fad: According to Bloomberg, if a movie hits one billion dollars in sales, it’s a safe estimate that toy sales will average $250 to $300 million.
Playtime aside, toys linked to popular movies have also become hot collector’s items for the grown ups. Toy manufacturers like Mattel and The Lego Group will often create ‘special edition’ lines to go with the newest movie, marketed as adult collectors items with adult price tags to match.
Predictably, some of the world’s hottest movies became the hottest toys. A combination of marketable characters, a strong fanbase and a universal appeal across generations contributed to these ten most successful movie merchandise machines of all time.
10. The Avengers – $150 million
Shocked? The reason why “The Avengers” – one of the highest grossing movies of all time – isn’t higher on this list is because Hasbro and retailers made quite an error in judgement. Joss Whedon’s movie wasn’t anticipated to be quite as successful as it eventually was. Boasting so many of our favorite heroes and characters like Iron-Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, and more, it’s puzzling that Hasbro didn’t better predict the explosion in popularity of the Avengers, but the fact remains that Hasbro didn’t push the toy line very hard, and retailers didn’t jump to order the products.
So of course, when the movie exploded, stores were struggling to keep up with sales and Hasbro couldn’t generate toys fast enough. Another theory as to why “Avengers” didn’t do as well as it should have in terms of merchandise is that the toys were primarily targeted towards young boys.
9. Spider-Man – $155 million
Based on Marvel’s report in 2004, their toy sales were over $155 million thanks to the movie adaptation of Spider-Man. Given that the comic book franchise has released two lines of Spider-Man films made in the last ten years, it’s safe to safe that toy sales remain steady for the comic giant. From Tobey Maguire playing a sincere Spidey to Andrew Garfield taking the comedic reins, Spider-Man will continue to be a popular toy franchise that’s set to take up quite a bit of shelf space in the future.
8. Despicable Me – $230 million
When Dreamworks’ first “Despicable Me” was released in 2010, the only licensed toys were the plush minions. However, when “Despicable Me 2” was released in 2013, the business executives were wise to the enormous popularity of the animation and prepared a new plan with a full line of toys. During the summer of the sequel’s release, Universal made $230 million in home entertainment sales. The movie was such a huge hit that stores had a problem keeping toys in inventory to meet the demand. The hilarious “Fart Blaster” was the most popular product of them all and the hottest toy of the summer. Even a year after the movie was released and had moved to DVD, toy sales continue to remain steady.
7. Batman – $245 million
Thanks to Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale, the Batman franchise saw quite a boom in toy sales when each of the three movies were released. Of course, with the new Batman film set to bring yet another new angle to the franchise, plenty of new toys are predicted to be released to support it. The dark vigilante has inspired an incredible diverse range of merchandise including, lately, varieties of action figures that can do more than ever before, making it easier for the average kid to live out their fantasies of being Batman.
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – $450 million
Michael Bay’s adaptation of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise had a booming opening weekend with $65 million. Of course, children of the 80’s will protest that our favorite turtles were around long before this movie – and indeed, TMNT merchandise has been popular for generations. But, whether you like Bay’s movie or not, it’s hard to deny that the film has resurrected the turtles’ popularity by reaching out to a wider and younger audience. TMNT has had a few hugely popular TV shows, too – one currently being aired on Nickelodeon. With the franchise’s legacy in mind, it’s no surprise that the toy sales are so big. In 2013, the television show alone earned $450 million in retail sales.
5. Toy Story – $2.4 billion
What better way to drive toy sales than to make a movie about toys? Even before the first “Toy Story” movie was released, Disney was selling 250,000 units of each character from the popular animated movie. It seemed that kids wanted to bring their favorite characters to life, initiating their very own adventures with Woody and Buzz. The movie franchise included familiar toys that we know and love like Mr. Potato Head, Barbie, and Barrel of Monkeys, but it was the main characters of the Toy Story franchise that fans really wanted to get their hands on in real life. It’s estimated that “Toy Story 3” alone brought in over $2 billion in merchandise sales.
4. Transformers – $3 billion
Toy revenues for the “Transformers” line between Michael Bay’s first movie in the series to the most recent movie total out at a little over $3 billion. At first look that’s pretty impressive. However, when you take into account the number of movies in Bay’s franchise, plus the television show, plus the previous adaptations – and the fact that the Transformers were in fact toys before they made the transition to screen – the numbers are low compared to other franchises that have done better with much fewer movies and no previous presence in toy stores. The “Transformers” line, first conceived by Hasbro, is still undeniably successful, of course, as one of the top 5 biggest movie merchandise sellers in the world.
3. Frozen – $5.3 billion
“Frozen” has become one of the highest grossing animated movies of all time, making many shoppers keen to grab as much merchandise as possible. The ever-popular movie was nearly an overnight blockbuster with speculations that it was heralding the return of the “classic” Disney we know and love. Not only are little girls begging their parents to buy their toys of Elsa and Anna, but even boys love “Frozen” and want to join in on the fun, which is probably why toy sales did as well as they have. There was a famous shortage of Frozen dolls over Christmas 2013, compelling parents to pay wild premiums to land one of the coveted dolls for their little ones.
2. Cars – $10 billion
The “Cars” franchise shocked Disney fans around the world as it surpassed most of Disney’s beloved movies with a whopping $10 billion in sales. How is it that “Cars” was such a surprisingly successful merchandising machine? It was with ‘Cars’ that Disney started to think outside of the box, making many more products with these automotive characters and expanding the Cars toy universe drastically. Of course, this $10 billion isn’t all toys – it includes DVD sales and assorted paraphernalia – but the number is hugely impressive. Cars marked a new era for the Walt Disney Company and many believe it changed how they marketed their brand to the new generation of movie fans.
1. Star Wars – $12 billion
The Star Wars franchise, the longest-standing entry on our list, has garnered $12 billion in toy sales. Since the series has been around for decades, dating back to the release of the first movie in 1977, “Star Wars” continues to be one of the most popular franchises in the world. It shows no signs of stopping; in fact, it’s set to accelerate. Since Disney bought the rights to “Star Wars”, there’s plenty of anticipation over a new set of sequels with brand new actors – a departure from even the expanded universe fans know. The combined star selling power of Disney and Star Wars make it certain that the $12 billion figure will soar in coming years.