Monsters Inc. has set all sorts of box office records for animated films by reaching the $100 million mark in just 9 days (2 full days sooner than Shrek or The Lion King), while the new Harry Potter film (which debuts this weekend) is getting great reviews and setting all sorts of advance sales records, but the retailers contacted by ICv2 in one of our unscientific coast-to-coast surveys are carrying only a minimal amount of Monsters Inc. and Harry Potter merchandise. Instead, the independent pop culture retailers contacted by ICv2 are nearly unanimous in their conviction that the The Fellowship of the Ring (the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), which debuts in December, is the best fit for the tastes and interests of their customers. The huge success of Monsters Inc. and the high probability of an equally powerful performance by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone have made specialty retailers wary of intense competition from the mass merchandisers, who sell the majority of the estimated $7.6 billion dollars in annual sales of movie and TV-related toys and games.
Created by Pixar, the computer animation wizards responsible for Toy Story and Toy Story II, Monsters Inc. promises to give Shrek a run for its money in the competition to be this year's top grossing animated film. Most pop culture retailers we talked to are carrying the Dark Horse comic adaptation (see 'Dark Horse Licenses Monsters Inc.'), and many are also carrying the Topps Monsters Inc. trading cards (see 'Topps Gets Monsters Inc.'). All the retailers that we talked with said that these paper goods were selling O.K., but no one was either disappointed or enthused about how these items were moving. Judging from our survey, retailers are keeping their distance from the Hasbro Monsters Inc. figures, which are widely available and heavily discounted in the mass market. Several retailers told ICv2 that Monsters Inc. audience tended to be too young to shop at pop culture shops and the Hasbro toys were also designed for young children. One retailer told us that the animation fans among his clientele were collecting the McDonald's Monsters Inc. figurines, which he stated were 'more collectible' than any of the Monsters Inc. toys he could acquire for his store.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone
While Monsters Inc. is already a certified hit, we will have to wait at least a week to give that designation to Harry Potter, though the film has received stellar reviews and has already set box office records in England. Most of the retailers contacted by ICv2 are carrying the Harry Potter CCG from WOTC and many of them like Buddy Saunders of Lone Star Comics indicate that the Harry Potter CCG is 'selling well.' WOTC has reported that the Harry Potter CCG is their most successful launch ever (see 'Harry Potter WOTC's Biggest Ever'), and the Potter CCG has been a consistent presence on ICv2's Top Ten Cool Games List since the product debuted at Gencon. In spite of the success of the Harry Potter CCG, few retailers we talked with are stocking any of the Harry Potter toys or action figures from Mattel. Dealers expressed concern that Potter fans might be a little too old to play with toys (and not old enough to collect them), and once again the specter of mass market competition has kept many independent retailers from adding the Potter toys to their product mix. Ironically there may some opportunities to profit in some of the Harry Potter Mattel toys, which the company has decided to limit (see 'Mattel to Limit Harry Potter Toys'). Mattel didn't limit production on all the Harry Potter toys, but it did reportedly cut back on some including the Harry Potter Levitating Challenge Playset, a Harry Potter Potions Lab, and a transparent Harry Potter with the cloak of invisibility figure. Mattel is obviously hoping that one or more of these Harry Potter items will become the 'hot' toy that everybody is chasing for the holidays.
Lord of the Rings
The independent pop culture retailers in our survey all felt that LOTR was the best fit with their existing customer base. Most dealers we talked with are already stocking the LOTR board games (see 'Fantasy Flight Gets LOTR' and 'Alliance/Diamond Have LOTR Exclusive'), and plan to carry the Decipher LOTR CCG and RPG as well (see 'Decipher Adds LOTR RPG'). Of course most dealers are also carrying the LOTR books, which have been selling steadily all year (see 'LOTR Books Selling Now'). Some dealers plan to carry the upscale Sideshow LOTR toys, which are aimed at collectors (see 'Second Series of LOTR Toys From Sideshow'), and others also plan to carry at least some of the ToyBiz LOTR items (see 'Toy Biz Gets 'Rings'), which will be widely available in the mass market. Much of the LOTR merchandise has not yet made it to retailer's shelves, so it's too early to get much of a fix on how they are selling. With a late December debut for the film, the LOTR hype machine is just starting to get into high gear. The preliminary reports that ICv2 has received indicate that the Fantasy Flight LOTR boardgame is outperforming the more complicated Games Workshop tabletop game, but it is still to early to tell if this is a trend or just an anomaly.
WhyWith attendance at the movies up some 10% over last year and with two more potential blockbusters set to open, both Hollywood and the toy industry are feeling very optimistic, in spite of the current economic downturn. The attitude of the pop culture retailers we talked to is considerably less bullish toward movie tie-in merchandise. Movie merchandise, even with proven properties, is always a gamble and certain categories like toys have been changing considerably over the past few years. Independent retailers now have access to a large number of toys that are geared for collectors and don't receive full-blown mass market distribution, so these pop culture retailers are less eager to compete with the heavily discounted mass market by ordering toys that tie-in to major motion pictures. Dealers who specialize in comics also have other big fish to fry this holiday season, notably The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and many storeowners are focusing their marketing efforts on Dark Knight and a plethora of graphic novels and comic art books that are available for this holiday season.