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Summer movies drive toys full-speed to shelves


Scott Bowles

USA Today
April 29, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Forget the battle of the box office. This summer will mark a showdown of movie toys.

More than 2,000 toys and 6,000 other merchandising tie-ins — from fast-food trinkets to life-size, limited-edition busts — are flooding stores to coincide with summer's biggest movies, including Iron Man, Speed Racer, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Dark Knight and The Incredible Hulk.

And for now, Speed is in the lead. Mattel has begun its largest movie-related toy launch by releasing 1,500 action figures, race tracks and versions of the TV show's famous Mach 5. Nearly 3,000 items, including blankets, underwear and video games, will arrive in time for the movie May 9. Also vying for kids' attention and parents' wallets:

•Iron Man, out Friday, has 275 toys based on the comic book hero and another 1,475 merchandise promotions.

•The Incredible Hulk, due June 13, will feature about 260 green-hued toys and 1,340 promotional items.

•The Dark Knight, due July 18, will have 950 toys and another 4,000 merchandising items, plus hundreds of Batman toys and clothes that have been available since Tim Burton revived the franchise in 1989.

Lucasfilm, which is releasing Skull, is notoriously tight-lipped about product sales. The company is a toy tie-in veteran and has collected billions in sales from the Star Wars franchise.

The merchandise showdown is, in many ways, an ad war. "Especially for kids, they'll see the toys before they'll see the movie ads," says Paul Gitter of Marvel, which owns the rights to Iron Man and Hulk. "If they want the toy, they usually want to see the movie."

That's icing for studios. Though the toy industry staggers in the face of competition from electronic gadgetry, it still thrives when it comes to movie tie-ins, sometimes raking in more than $500 million in sales for retailers and $100 million in royalties to studios for such films as Cars and Spider-Man.

Toymakers are now being invited to movie sets so they can replicate props and costumes exactly. Even secretive Skull director Steven Spielberg divulged key plot points and photos to Hasbro craftsmen. "We were sworn to secrecy," says Hasbro's Eric Nyman. "But that's pretty cool access."

Of course, there's risk if the film flops. "It still depends on the movie," says Greg Anzalone of Sideshow Collectibles, which is selling a $700 Iron Man bust. "If people don't like the movie, they aren't going to want a piece of it."


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