Mad for ‘Hunger Games’ merch: nail polish, socks, crossbows

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Danielle Pepers is such a fan of “The Hunger Games” that she had the book’s unofficial mascot -- a mockingjay -- tattooed on her right arm earlier this month. But her intrigue with the books, and upcoming movie, didn’t stop there. On a recent Wednesday, Pepers, 27, was shopping for T-shirts and jewelry at Hot Topic, a teen-oriented chain store at the Glendale Galleria that sells pop-culture ephemera. A mound of movie tie-in merchandise greeted her at the door.

There were knee socks, pillow cases and nail polish. Mini figures, sweat bands, even a watch. Still, that wasn’t all. Stepping over to the digital kiosk, there were dozens of other “The Hunger Games” items – 60 in total -- that could be special ordered into the store, including an $80 crossbow and ear buds for $19.50.


With “The Hunger Games” set to hit movie theaters next week, the publisher of the books it’s based upon is releasing four movie tie-in titles, including an illustrated movie companion, a tribute guide and, on March 23, the day of the film’s release, “The World of the Hunger Games,” a visual dictionary featuring pictures from the film. Other publishers are also hoping to cash in, with unofficial guidebooks, cookbooks and parodies, including Harvard Lampoon’s “The Hunger Pains.” It’s Lionsgate, however, that has unloosed the floodgates on a tidal wave of licensed merchandise –- most of it sold at Hot Topic and made by the National Entertainment Collectibles Assn. in New Jersey, one of the country’s largest providers of wholesale licensed movie merchandise.

Earlier this month the Los Angeles nail polish company, China Glaze, began selling Electrify (in orange glitter), Stone Cold (in metallic flake) and 10 other colors inspired by “The Hunger Games” 12 districts, where the action of the book unfolds. Licensed through Lionsgate and available at Hot Topic and Sally Beauty, sales “have already exceeded our normal collection standards,” said China Glaze brand manager Rachel Schafer.

Huge as “The Hunger Games” is even before the film’s release, nothing says success like a Barbie. Mattel recently announced plans to introduce a collectible Katniss Everdeen doll to its Barbie Collector series before the end of the year.

The stuff “is selling like crazy,” according to the Hot Topic sales clerk, who predicted, “‘The Hunger Games’ is going to be bigger than ‘Twilight.’”

Based on the breadth of merchandise alone, it’s possible. “The Hunger Games” is nothing short of a sensation. The trilogy of books about a 17-year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen who’s forced to battle fellow teenagers to the death in front of a live television audience has more than 26 million copies in print in the U.S. alone and has been published in 47 foreign editions since September 2008. The books’ publisher, Scholastic, boasts 600,000 friends on “The Hunger Games” official Facebook page; Lionsgate’s Facebook page for “The Hunger Games” movie has almost 3 million fans.

“Every day since we had the galleys of this book [four years ago], something exciting has happened, and it’s just continued,” said Scholastic publicity director Tracy van Straaten.

In fact, it wasn’t long after “Catching Fire,” the second book in “The Hunger Games” series, was published in 2009, that it began to spawn merchandise spinoffs. Before the movie deal was inked, there were book-derived items, including posters, a calendar and pins and pendants of the mockingjay -- a fictional bird that plays a prominent role in the books, mimicking songs, whistling warnings and acting as both a good luck charm to Katniss and as a symbol of the rebellion she inspires against a superficial and oppressive government.

“I can’t think of any other book properties along this line that have had merchandising prior to a movie or a TV series,” said Jason Dravis, a Los Angeles-based film agent who’s represented numerous bestselling books that made their way to the big screen, including Brian Selznick’s “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” Kate DiCamillo’s “The Tale of Despereaux,” Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona the Pest,” and now Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.” “Merchandise is such a visual medium. It’s easier to merchandise off of a movie versus a book which is probably why so few books have a merchandise line, especially in the novel form.”

It’s “The Hunger Games” emotional appeal that merchandisers are capitalizing on, Dravis said. Katniss may be forced to battle fellow kids, but it’s her determination to stand up for the little guy, to believe in her own power, to refuse to let others do harm, especially to herself and to her family, that resonates with fans, who have a multitude of items to choose from with which to express their simpatico.

For “The Hunger Games” fan and Hot Topic shopper Pepers, it was the idea of “protecting yourself against people who want to hurt you” and “staying strong” that not only appealed but got her to buy in with a tattoo, three T-shirts, a pillowcase, a fleece blanket, a pair of socks, a pair of earrings, a necklace and, of course, a movie ticket for opening night.


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-- Susan Carpenter