It’s no secret that Hollywood can merchandise the heck out of a movie. In fact, barely a movie is made these days that doesn’t come complete with a full stock of purchasable merchandise. In recent years, sci-fi movies have gone from being a niche production type to one of the most profitable (and also costly to produce) movie types. That profitability and popularity combine to mean that science fiction movies are also hot on the train of mass consumer merchandising. Today, we’re taking a look at the trajectory of sci-fi merchandising from some of its earliest phases through today’s craziest merchandising tie-ins.
Star Wars™ – We All Love It, But Did It Start This Trend?
Though the Star Trek television series and subsequent movies had been around for well over a decade before Star Wars came along, Star Trek remained a fairly genre niche entertainment format despite it’s huge popularity. It was really the original launch of Star Wars that turned science fiction into a fully mainstream media format. But, looking back, Star Wars didn’t just launch a mainstream science fiction movement, it also showed how much money could be made through a successful sci-fi franchise in merchandising and consumer goods. Take a quick moment to search the internet for vintage Star Wars gear. You’ll find the obvious shirts and toy light sabers, but you’ll also find lunch boxes, bedding, pajamas, luggage, backpacks, dishes and even bubble bath. And, of course, let’s not forget the action figure toys and their accessories. Almost every small boy (and many small girls) had a full collection that included every single action figure released. Star Wars changed the filmmaking industry, but it also changed the profit model as well.
Of Course, This Model Extends Beyond Sci-Fi
We want to just pause and say we know that this phenomenon isn’t limited to science fiction movies. But stay with us, because we’re about to talk about why this merchandising is so effective with science fiction movies!
Science Fiction World Building and Its Benefits to Merchandising
While Hollywood will merchandise like crazy behind any movie, science fiction films have some unique “benefits” to them that lend themselves to mass merchandising. One of the big benefits is the component of world-building in science fiction. Action movies have heroes and villains, it’s true. But a car that an action movie star is driving is still just a car and the cities those films take place in are still just cities. You can see them any time. However, science fiction movies have to build entire worlds and even entire species of creatures – sometimes even entire languages. You can’t just walk out onto the street and experience these things. So if you love the story and the species, characters and worlds it takes place in, the only way to recreate proximity of that to you is to buy merchandise that captures it. Because science fiction movies are creating entirely new worlds for you, they build in huge merchandising opportunities so that fans can feel closer to those worlds. It’s fairly brilliant if you think about it. And we confess to having had a stuffed Ewok as a child as an example of that.
Science Fiction Demographics and the Double Bang of Toy Merchandising
When Disney creates a movie and then merchandises a toy line to go with it, they know that they will make a great deal of money from children insisting on their parents buying the toys. And that’s understandable. But with science fiction films there’s an opportunity to make double the money from a toy line. Science fiction viewer demographics include both children and a young adult male demographic that’s known for being collectors of things. Please note that we are not saying that young adult males are children. These are two separate demographics that have a shared interest in science fiction, which is what makes the merchandising opportunities with toys, particularly collectible ones, so lucrative for science fiction movies. Go and browse the toy section at any store and see how many of them can be tied to the most current science fiction film. We assure you that it will be a lot.
Franchising: Common in Science Fiction Which Means Longer Term Merchandising Benefits
When you create a merchandising line to go with a movie, you make money. But when you create a merchandising line to go with a series of three, six or in some cases dozens of movies you make a gargantuan amount of money. Not only will fans of the franchise buy new merchandise with each movie that is released, but the longer the franchise lasts the more new fans the series will pick up. Those fans will have an interest in buying both the newest merchandise as well as back or “vintage” merchandise. Almost all science fiction movies are designed from the beginning to be franchised. The reality of franchising is also a great example to show why world-building adds so much to the merchandising and consumerism of science fiction movies. One of the most successful movie franchises of the last decade has been The Fast and the Furious franchise. It’s set amazing box office records, but it’s a movie about a group of (admittedly sexy) humans in normal cities driving (admittedly sexy) cars. Nobody is out buying a ton of collector merchandise to go along with that film because there’s little opportunity to create such merchandise. But another popular science fiction franchise of the last decade was the Harry Potter franchise. Unless you have been living under a rock, we don’t think that we need to tell you how much Harry Potter merchandise is out there in the world.
We adore the creativity behind science fiction films, but if we’re being honest they’re among the most guilty of the Hollywood genres for leaving behind a huge eco-footprint in the production of consumer merchandise and feeding the addictive consumer machine in very, very real ways. If you love science fiction the way that we love science fiction, we encourage you to find the satisfaction of enough in just loving the story (and maybe a few action figures of your favorite characters)!
Did we miss a way in which sci-fi has become a playground for mass consumerism? If so, tell us about it on the social media channels below.
Photo Credit: fliegender via Flickr