Merchandising: The Driving Force Behind Movie Franchises

Between the original release of Episode IV and 2016, the Star Wars franchise generated over $32 billion in revenues from merchandise sales alone.

Back in the late 1980s, legendary comedian, Mel Brooks obtained the permission of George Lucas to create a parody of the Star Wars franchise. By this time, Star Wars was already a massive success, generating not only a massive box office and home video income but also a humongous amount from merchandising. Lucas agreed to allow Brooks make fun of his brainchild on one condition: that no action figures depicting Spaceballs characters were allowed to be made. Even though this hurt some of the fans of the movie it was a sound decision on Lucas’ part. Between the original release of Episode IV and 2016, the Star Wars franchise generated over $32 billion in revenues from merchandise sales alone. And it will probably continue to grow, considering how Disney is making use of the franchise’s power to sell everything from lunchboxes to attractions at the Star Wars Lands set to be opened next year.

While no other movie franchise has even come close to the sales of Star Wars, there are many that have generated a considerable revenue from merchandising – quite often, more money than the ticket and home media sales combined. And many of them are owned by Disney, the company that seems to have a great deal of experience in this matter. Some of the franchises with the biggest merchandising revenues are owned by the Mouse House: Cars ($10 billion by 2016), Toy Story ($9 billion), Frozen ($7 billion), and the Avengers ($1 billion) are among them. But Disney is not the only company to cash in on the kids’ (and their parents’) enthusiasm to spend money on items bearing their favorite heroes’ likenesses: the Harry Potter franchise, for example, has generated $7.7 billion in revenues from ticket sales worldwide and the same amount from merchandising sales.

Sometimes, the products sold are based on a movie – and sometimes, it’s the other way around. There are numerous movie franchises that were based on successful lines of toys, generating further sales of the toys after their release. Some of the best-known movie series based on toys are owned by Hasbro, a world-renown manufacturer. The “GI Joe” and “Transformers” series are perhaps the best-known examples. And there are many others that the viewers might not even have known are based on toys – films like 1996’s “Mars Attacks!” (based on a trading card game by Topps), 1987’s “Master of the Universe” (based on a line of action figures originally inspired by Star Wars owned by Mattel), and the list could go on. And these are only the live-action examples – when it comes to animated features and series, the list of franchises transposed on the screen is huge.

Is merchandising the driving force behind some movie franchises? Well, it sure seems so. And sometimes, the resulting products appeal to moviegoers and toy buyers alike.

Ian Cullen is the founder of and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth. In the past few years he has written for 'Star Trek' Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: When he is not writing for Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics. Ian is both the founder and owner of You can contact ian at:
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