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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Black Panther toy sales reflect film’s runaway success

The Marvel film which has a predominantly non-white cast has broken box office records

Black Panther toys are displayed to attendees at the Hasbro showroom during the annual New York Toy Fair. AFP/EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ
Black Panther toys are displayed to attendees at the Hasbro showroom during the annual New York Toy Fair. AFP/EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ

Panther claws, masks and action figures are leaping off store shelves after runaway hit Black Panther — the first film in the Marvel universe focused on a black superhero — shattered box office expectations with a massive opening weekend.

Toys and accessories linked to the movie, which is also making waves for its strong black female leading roles, have the potential to become an enduring presence in stores, just as Spider-Man and other well-known characters from US comics have, executives say.

Toy tie-ins are a crucial profit driver for movie studios, even if each merchandise opportunity is not massively successful, experts say.

“It is a huge opportunity,” John Frascotti, president of US toy giant Hasbro, told AFP on the sidelines of the giant Toy Fair trade show in New York.

“We’re still in the early days of this but it certainly has all the indications that it could be over time as successful” as other major franchises in terms of staying power, he said.

The movie pulled in an impressive $242 million in its opening weekend, a record for this time of year, after it received strong reviews.

“It’s just surpassed expectations,” said Mark Robben, marketing director for Funko, which sells Black Panther bobble heads, plush dolls and fashion.

“It’s an important movie culturally,” Mr Robben said. “That is then translated into people wanting to own a piece of it for their desk or for a T-shirt they’re wearing.”

The film has generated huge support and enthusiasmwithin the black community, but also more broadly — many see the strong opening weekend as a sign that audiences will embrace heroes that don’t fit the cookie-cutter model if the story is well told.

“I think it’s filling a void. It’s serving a need and it will sell accordingly, and not just with African Americans,” said Kimberly Mosley, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association.

People “are looking for a hero”, she said.

Black Panther comes less than a year after Wonder Woman, another big superhero movie that went against the grain, and upended the long-held idea that a female superhero couldn’t attract a large audience.

But while Wonder Woman did well in cinemas, the film's toys by Mattel — were not especially hot sellers.

“There’s been a trend around movie franchises and not all of them are seeing the uptick in toy sales that they used to see,” said Michelle Chidoni, vice president of global brand communications at Mattel.

With Black Panther, Hasbro unveiled a significant line of products about six weeks ahead of the movie’s premiere and plans more items, such as a collector’s black mask on display at Toy Fair,

deals geared towards children and more detailed figures targeting collectors.

Mr Frascotti expects Black Panther items to sell widely, irrespective of race or gender.

“Kids today don’t see the world along those lines as much as adults do,” he said.

“When you look at the world through the eyes of the young kids who love these characters, I don't think colour or gender is as big an issue.”

He noted that characters in the Star Wars series such as Rey, the female protagonist introduced in The Force Awakens, has sold well with boys and girls.

The release of new items will be timed to coincide with the film's launch on streaming platforms or the holidays. Mr Frascotti said those could be supplemented at other times, such as back to school, depending on demand.

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