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Series: The Toys that Made Us
In this curious series, the minds behind history's most iconic toy franchises will discuss the rise (and sometimes fall) of their billion-dollar creations.
In 1977, after being rejected by Mattel and Hasbro, Lucasfilm signed with Kenner Products to have toys produced for their sci-fi film Star Wars. This was a huge gamble, as Kenner was a small toy company at the time and the negotiation process started late due to George Lucas' secrecy over the ship designs. Since then, toy sales of the Star Wars franchise have totaled to US$14 billion worldwide.
Since the original series went on the air in 1966, the Star Trek franchise has had a history of ups and downs in the toy business - from AMT's faithful scale model kit of the USS Enterprise to Remco's obscure tie-in merchandise, to Mego's best–selling action figure line. Following Mego's bankruptcy in 1983 and a string of flops by Ertl and Galoob, Playmates Toys picked up the toy license in the late 1980s and sparked a resurgence in the franchise's toy sales.
From the mid-2000s onwards, companies such as Art Asylum and McFarlane Toys continue to keep the Star Trek toy franchise alive.
In 1983 Hasbro bought the license of the Diaclone and Micro Change toys from Takara, then commissioned Marvel Comics to come up with a story-line and character names for the toys. The result: Transformers. Despite Tonka releasing the cheaper Gobots line six months earlier, Hasbro's Transformers took the toy market by storm in 1984, raking in US$150 million that year. At the peak of the toy line's popularity, The Transformers: The Movie hit theaters to further capitalize on its success, but the film polarized fans and collectors with the death of Optimus Prime and majority of the original characters. As Hasbro took full control of Transformers from Takara by the late 1980s, sales declined until the toy line was discontinued in 1991. After the failed Generation 2 reboot, Beast Wars rejuvenated the franchise in 1995.
In 2007, the live-action Transformers film solidified Transformers' position as Hasbro's flagship toy line.
In 1949, after decades of making wooden furniture and toys, Ole Kirk Christiansen's small factory in Billund, Denmark, moved to plastic and created the 'Automatic Binding Bricks', which would later be known as LEGO. When the company patented the tube system in 1958, LEGO became the dominant toy line worldwide throughout the 1960s and 1970s. When other competitors capitalized on the expiration of the company's patents in the 1980s, LEGO faced stiff competition until they reported their first loss in 1998. Poor business decisions with film licenses and the failure of the Jack Stone and Galidor lines brought LEGO to near-bankruptcy until Jørgen Vig Knudstorp took over the company and, by bringing it back to its roots, rejuvenated LEGO's profits.
By the time The Lego Movie hit theaters in 2014, LEGO became the largest toy franchise in the world.
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