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Other toy makers are looking to build on success of ‘The Lego Movie’

By Daniel Miller

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows characters, from left, Benny, voiced by Charlie Day, Batman, voiced by Will Arnett, Vitruvius, voiced by Morgan Freeman, Wyldstyle, voiced by Elizabeth Banks and Unikitty, voiced by Alison Brie, in a scene from "The Lego Movie."

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

LOS ANGELES — 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.”

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