Merch industry bigger than movies

Fans model their Twilight Eclipse t-shirts as they wait in line during the opening day of Eclipse....

Fans model their Twilight Eclipse t-shirts as they wait in line during the opening day of Eclipse. (QMI Agency)

BRUCE KIRKLAND, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:51 PM ET

Hollywood movie merchandising is an even bigger industry than the movies themselves, although you cannot sell the goods without a movie that has gone gonzo at the box office or is already part of a successful franchise.

In the summer of 1989, I wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the Bat crest. Tim Burton's Batman was a mega-hit and the T looked cool. Next week, The Dark Knight Rises for the spectacular end of Christopher Nolan's trilogy. The Bat signal is still a hot item.

Today, studios behind every big franchise spend as much research & development time on merchandise as is spent on the movies. Ideas run the gamut from the ridiculous to ... the ridiculous! Sometimes it's a disaster with warehouses full of Wild Wild West memorabilia stacked alongside Howard the Duck items. Sometimes it's just weird. You can still buy official The Passion of the Christ nail pendants in pewter or sterling silver.

Here are watersheds in movie merchandising history:

* 1934: Mickey Mouse merchandise generates $600,000, staggering for the era. As the father of movie merchandising, Walt Disney bolsters his struggling studio and saves his business partners -- companies licensing the Mouse -- from bankruptcy during the Depression. That includes the Ingersoll-Waterbury Clock Company, maker of the first Mickey Mouse watches.

* 1962: The first James Bond flick, Dr. No, dabbles in product tie-ins. But it's all still bush league, in this case a scented candle called Leather Martini. It was meant to evoke both his car and drink of choice, shaken not stirred.

* 1977: Brilliantly, but also desperately because the studio did not believe in his dream, George Lucas negotiates total control of merchandising rights for Star Wars from 20th Century Fox. Studio execs too stupid and/or naive to realize their mistake until too late. The modern era of movie merchandising begins. George Lucas' empire is built upon the $2.6 billion in collectibles from the original trilogy. The franchise is now a $27 billion monster, $19 billion of that in merchandising.

* 1982: E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial: It conjures $1 billion in merchandise sales, trumping the $793 million in worldwide boxoffice.

* 1989: Tim Burton's Batman generates $750 million for toys, figurines and those iconic T-shirts. Burton also helped re-invent the comic book movie, now a multi-billion dollar industry both at the box office and in the toy store.

* 1999: Wild Wild West: Will Smith's star vehicle bombs and its collectibles gather dust as Star Wars and Austin Powers trinkets prove more popular.

* 2010: Disney's Tron: Legacy debuts, with its toys and collectibles ranking number one in volume on Christmas shelves. But the movie does tepid business (for its inflated budget) and the merchandise goes on sale at 40 percent off.

* 2011: Disney-Pixar's Cars hits $8 billion in merchandising revenue, even before the release of Cars 2, with another $2 billion expected in each of 2011 and 2012.

* 2011: The Harry Potter franchise makes it to $7.3 billion in sales of official goods.

* 2012: The Simpsons hits $4.6 billion in its sales of branded materials.

* 2012: Total merchandise revenue for the Twilight franchise is now at $350 million, with Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 still to come in November. Official goods range from T-shirts to hats, hoodies and "I Drive Like a Cullen" bumper stickers. Weird items include the unofficial Twilight toilet paper (although cynics say you could use the books instead).

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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