Critics and culture commentators may scoff, but turning to classic toys as inspiration for blockbuster movies (either by involving said toys in the plot or adapting stories/characters associated with them) has turned into big business for Hollywood. While features like Jem & The Holograms and Battleship have been noteworthy box-office bombs, the Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises have been huge hits; while the rapturous reception from critics that greeted The LEGO Movie (with many being shocked that the film failed to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature that year) proved that the genre can also produced meaningful, well-crafted features.
Now, it looks like both the toy and movie-to-toy business could get a little more streamlined and a lot bigger: Hasbro and Mattel, two of the giants of worldwide toy production, have reportedly held talks about merging their respective companies.
Such a potential merger – the news of which comes from Bloomberg Business (h/t /Film) – would create one of the largest toy conglomerates ever to exist. Collectively, Hasbro and Mattel own not only most of the biggest and most popular toy lines in the world (including dolls, action figures, educational toys, board games and more); they also own the lucrative intellectual-property rights to multimedia franchises based on those lines and the rights to create toys based on outside IPs from movies, video games, television, comic books, etc. Both companies have also been aggressive working to get their toys made into movies, with Hasbro establishing an entire studio company for that specific purpose. In an ironic twist, Mattel only recently “lost” the much sought-after rights to the $500 million “Disney Princess” brand to Hasbro.
The merger could also have far-reaching implications for the identity of many beloved brands that previously had been considered competitors to one degree or another: For decades, Mattel more or less dominated the market for toy automobiles through the well-known Hot Wheels brand; but in more recent years the line has grappled with a significant challenge from the mega-popularity of Disney/Pixar’s Cars line from Hasbro. Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe and Transformers, arguably the three most massive action-figure franchises from the 1980s “boom” for such brands, would now exist under the same roof for the first time in either’s history; and the idea of bringing Barbie, My Little Pony and the Disney Princess line together on toy shelves (or cross-promotions?) would be music to the ears of investors.
As noted, merger or not both companies are hard at work on leveraging the IPs associated with their brands to feature-film status: Along with an aggressively-planned push for a series of Transformers spinoffs in addition to the current films, Hasbro is currently planning out a “Cinematic Universe” that combines G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K, Micronauts and Visionaries franchises. Mattel has been trying to get a live-action Barbie film off the ground for years, and has spent a similarly lengthy period angling to relaunch Masters of The Universe – with McG now in talks to direct a new feature. Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Magic 8-Ball and ViewMaster all have feature-film tie-ins in various stages of development; along with already-announced narrative films based on Monster High and American Girl characters, an animated feature based on Tonka Trucks from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison and The Play-Doh Movie at Fox.
It will be interesting to see if the merger (should it eventually happen) actually serves to increase production for any of either company’s product. The traditional toy industry has been rocked by the growing popularity of mobile and electronic games with younger and younger audiences, which many see as having negatively impacted overall sales for physical playthings like stuffed animals, dolls and action figures – largely viewed as one of the reason big toymakers have branched out to more enthusiastically push for their brands and characters in multimedia. It remains to be seen whether toy-based franchises can truly make a box-office impact outside of Transformers – but given how the idea of comic book movies outside of Batman were looked at not long ago, it may not be too long before you’re reading speculation on Transformers V He-Man: Dawn of Money.
We’ll bring you more information on a potential Mattel/Hasbro merger as it becomes available.