The $69-million opening of “The Lego Movie” last weekend has Hollywood film studios scanning the aisles of toy stores for the next hit.
In recent years, several film series based on action figures and other children’s products have found major box-office success. Among those have been pictures based on the Transformers and G.I. Joe toy lines.
Though films based on toys aren’t guaranteed hits, movie studios are attracted to such properties because of their massive built-in and often pre-sold audiences. Toy-centered films that find success also can unlock lucrative ancillary revenue streams, including more toys and related merchandise.
Movies based on the Ouija board game and the Hot Wheels toy car line are among the latest crop seeking that kind of success. Other beloved toys, including the Candy Land and Monopoly board games, also could be turned into films.
And Warner Bros. has already begun developing a sequel to “Lego.”
“If nothing else, people will see the success of ‘The Lego Movie’ and say, ‘Hey, we can do that too,’” said Lutz Muller, chief executive of Klosters Trading Corp., a consumer products consulting firm in Williston, Vt. “But it will take more than just the wish to sell toys to make it a successful movie.”
Indeed, there have been toy-based film missteps such as the 2012 flop “Battleship,” which was born out of the high-profile partnership of Universal Pictures and Hasbro. A 1985 adaptation of the board game “Clue” also bombed.
Entertainment attorney Schuyler Moore, who represented the producers of “Goal!,” a film trilogy that was largely financed by Adidas and featured the company’s apparel, believes that the adaptation of toys into movies is part of a broader trend of companies entering the “content business” in earnest.
“They key is whether the product works for a film,” said Moore, a partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.
In 2008, Hasbro Inc. in Pawtucket, R.I., one of the largest toy makers in the world, inked a deal with Universal Pictures to make at least four movies based on the toy company’s products. But several projects were shelved, including a film based on the Stretch Armstrong action figure. Though the companies continue to work together — they are making the Ouija project — Muller said “Battleship” is a cautionary tale toy makers should heed.
“The toy companies will do everything in their power to make sure [a film] sells as many toys as possible, and if they do that, it will take away from the attractiveness of the movie itself,” Muller said. “I would not take the success of Lego as a template for predictions because Lego … didn’t just use ‘The Lego Movie’ to promote Lego.”
Though there have been disappointments, toy-based films are proven commodities at the box office. Each of the three “Transformers” films has grossed at least $700 million worldwide. Both of the “G.I. Joe” pictures crossed the $300-million mark.
Those two franchises are based on properties controlled by Hasbro, which also boasts the Candy Land and Monopoly brands.
“There used to be a stigma around creating movies based on products,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for entertainment analytics firm Rentrak. “I think people are realizing that movies can come from virtually anywhere, and as long as the movies have some measure of quality then the stigma goes away.”
Paramount’s next “Transformers” picture, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” stars Mark Wahlberg and is scheduled to come out June 27. That studio, which also is behind the “G.I. Joe” movies, is developing another film in that series too.
Paramount also is releasing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in August, though that project — unlike other toy-related films — is based on a comic book that later spawned a line of toys.
Universal Pictures’ Ouija project, which Platinum Dunes and Blumhouse Pictures are producing, is slated for release Oct. 24. The film centers on a group of friends who use a Ouija board to try to contact a dead friend but instead cross paths with a dark spirit.
Universal also is behind a movie based on the Uglydoll line of quirky plush toys and will distribute Legendary Pictures’ upcoming film based on the Hot Wheels die-cast toy cars. The film would be directed by Simon Crane, a veteran second unit director whose credits include “World War Z,” and written by Paul Attanasio, who received Oscar nominations for writing “Quiz Show” and “Donnie Brasco."
Sony Pictures Entertainment, meanwhile, is developing a film based on Mattel’s Masters of the Universe toy franchise, which includes the He-Man and Skeletor characters.
Despite the “Lego"-mania, some toy-based projects appear dead — or at least mothballed.
A film centering on Hasbro’s Tonka toy car and truck line had been set up at Sony Pictures, but is no longer in active development, according to a Hasbro spokesperson.
Also, a long-in-the-works movie based on the Stretch Armstrong toy was scuttled by Universal in 2012, and picked up by film company Relativity Media — only to be dropped last year.
But Hasbro said in a statement that the gel-filled action figure, introduced in the mid-1970s, is “an incredible character who will make an amazing movie, and we have some new ideas we want to explore.”