Chris Pratt may get first billing as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in this weekend's “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but when it comes down to the bottom line, the sci-fi adventure's MVP may just be its smallest: Rocket Raccoon.
The James Gunn-directed movie made $11.2 million in Thursday night screenings — the best of the year — and is projected to have a big weekend. Analysts think fans may leave the theater talking about the mouthy, gun-toting raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper.
“You can never fully predict a breakout character, but we knew he was funny and that kids especially would respond to him, since, like many kids, he is underestimated because of his size,” Paul Gitter, senior vice president of licensing for Marvel, Disney Consumer Products, told TheWrap. “Rocket is unlike anything we have in Marvel merchandise, and licensees have risen to the expected demand with a range of Rocket-inspired products.”
“This movie is fantastic for merchandising,” adds Matthew Harrigan, a media analyst at Wunderlich Securities. “Groot [the sentient tree-warrior voiced by Vin Diesel] and Rocket Raccoon are just naturals for boys. Disney tends to run a little girlie with all its princess franchises, so this is a very worthwhile complement.”
According to Chris Byrne, a toy industry analyst known as “The Toy Guy” and the content director of Time to Play Media, cartoon heroes like Spider-Man and Batman actually sell the most toys to pre-kindergarten children, while movies like “The Lord of the Rings” and the more grim “Dark Knight” trilogy do better among adult collectors, who comprise up to 40 percent of the toy market.
Byrne predicts “Guardians of the Galaxy” will try to appeal to both demographics. And while it may not earn the $482 million merchandising haul of the first “Transformers,” Byrne says the Guardians should do good business — especially Rocket.
Marvel Studios / Disney
Marvel has licensed plush dolls, 12-inch action figures, action masks and toy weapons; adult collectors are being wooed with six-inch figurines, vinyl figurines, bobblehead dolls and statues. Legos, branded headphones and backpacks with hoods and tails should attract both age groups as well.
Additionally, novels and anthologies will meet the needs of those who demand the backstories of Rocket and Groot. Marvel also launched a new Rocket comic just this month, ready-made for new readers.
Merchandising potential was certainly a consideration in Disney's $4.64 billion acquisition of Marvel in 2009. Disney cashes in on all of the comic company's characters — it profits on Spider-Man toys despite not having the movie rights — and Marvel Studios films bring tie-in opportunities galore.
Disney sold $40.9 billion in licensed merchandise in 2013, and as Byrne notes, consumer goods are often developed in concert with film and TV properties.
“It takes on average about 18 months to get a toy from Asia off the molds and into the market,” he explained, “so I would say about the time that the script is done and the cameras are starting to roll, the toys are in process.”
Sometimes even success requires contingencies.
“Due to the response and demand,” Gitter said, “we are working closely with licensees on additional product assortments for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ led by Rocket-inspired offerings.”
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