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Hasbro And Hollywood: Transforming Toy Sales

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen comes to theaters today, and you can bet the executives at the Hasbro toy company are excited.

The film is the second in a series featuring Hasbro's 1980s action figures. The first Transformers movie made nearly $750 million at the box office and helped the company sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of toys and other merchandise. Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner hopes the sequel — and the forthcoming movie featuring army man G.I. Joe — will inspire similar sales.

"Transformers and G.I. Joe needed to become motion pictures," says Goldner.

Goldner joined Hasbro in 2000, when many of its most famous toy lines — including Transformers, My Little Pony and G.I. Joe — had fallen fallow. Since then, he has watched Spider-Man and the X-Men jump lucratively from comics to movies, and then on to video games, mobile phone content and toothbrushes.

The move to the big screen represents a natural evolution of the toy company's marketing efforts. In the mid-1980s, Hasbro figured out that it could boost toy sales if it gave kids more than just ads in the middle of cartoon shows. Instead it began to make cartoon shows of its own, featuring its own toy lines.

The early animated shows were, in effect, giant ads. While Goldner admits that the shows weren't very sophisticated, he notes that they were "very enjoyable at that time," adding that "consumers' expectations were very different than they are today."

The new blockbusters, meanwhile, feature bombastic special effects and involve partnerships with some of the biggest names in movies — including Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks, Paramount and Universal. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which opens in August, will try to duplicate the success of the Transformers franchise by offering its own explosions and action.

The big-screen strategy is one that seems to be working: "It's pretty much as close to printing money as you're going to get in the toy business," said Cliff Annicelli, who runs the toy industry journal Playthings.

Annicelli says that by letting the movie companies take the financial risk of producing the films, Hasbro is playing it smart with the Transformers and G.I. Joe movies. Though the company misses out on the box office take, it gets to sell all those toys to a new generation of fans.

Up next: a string of movies based on some of the most famous names in Hasbro's toy chest, including the board games Monopoly, Ouija, Candy Land and Battleship.

And while it may be hard to imagine how board games might translate on the big screen, Goldner is undeterred. He's already lined up Academy Award-winning director Ridley Scott for the Monopoly feature.

"[People] are willingly interested in and accepting of Monopoly in any form you might want to present it," he says.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nate DiMeo