'Star Wars' Force Friday to Return in September as Strong Box Office Helps Drive Toy Sales

Ahead of Toy Fair, the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association says there are nearly two dozen "licensable" movies this year, with 'Star Wars' leading the toy charge for the past two years.
'Star Wars' toys
Ahead of Toy Fair, the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association says there are nearly two dozen "licensable" movies this year, with 'Star Wars' leading the toy charge for the past two years.

Walt Disney and Lucasfilm on Thursday unveiled plans for Star Wars Force Friday II, a global fan event celebrating the launch of new products inspired by this year's Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Toys, collectibles, books, apparel and more will go on sale beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 1, with stores around the world opening for a weekend-long celebration of all things Star Wars.

“The first Star Wars Force Friday event was truly unique, uniting fans across five continents in an unprecedented global live unboxing event ahead of thousands of midnight openings at retail,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. “We’re excited to confirm that Star Wars Force Friday is back for The Last Jedi. Plans for this year’s worldwide event are top secret but expect something befitting the excitement around the next episode of the Star Wars saga.”

Star Wars fans around the globe embraced the inaugural Force Friday in 2015, with hundreds of thousands turning up to stores at midnight to get their hands on merchandise from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Toys from the new line were revealed via a global live-stream unboxing event that unfolded over 18 hours in 15 different cities and 12 countries, attracting millions of views on YouTube. Fans took to social media to share their experiences, with nearly 3 billion Twitter impressions using #ForceFriday.

Details of how fans can participate this year will be revealed closer to the event, but the company said the worldwide launch will tap into new technology and Star Wars mythology. Just like in 2015, products for The Last Jedi will be kept under wraps until Force Friday II. The company promised, though, that it would be introducing "new characters from the movie in toy form."

“Toys play a unique role in the Star Wars universe, and we’re proud to have been part of that incredible legacy for the past 40 years," said Samantha Lomow, senior vp at Disney toy partner Hasbro. "The new line for The Last Jedi is our most innovative yet, and we’re excited to unveil it on Force Friday II.”

Star Wars has been a boon for U.S. toy sales, leading the charts for the past two years. U.S. toy sales grew by 5 percent in 2016 to $20.4 billion, according to retail sales data from NPD Group. The industry was 16 percent larger in 2016 than 2013, which amounts to a compounded annual growth rate of 5 percent.

Star Wars has been the top toy property in the U.S. for two years in a row helped by Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. During the week of Force Friday in 2015, $1 for every $11 spent on toys was spent on a Star Wars item. The popularity of the first movie in the franchise in years also propelled Star Wars onto the top 10 toy list for both boys and girls for the first time ever in 2015. Last year, the property even brought in $60 million more than in 2015 to reach $760 million.

"The first Force Friday was pretty extraordinary," International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association (LIMA) executive vp Marty Brochstein tells The Hollywood Reporter. "What it does is focusing attention on the film and toy line two and a half months before the movie comes out. It is getting people all keyed up." 

He adds: "The first one was extraordinary because there hadn't been a Star Wars movie in 10 years, and they were really priming the pump. What they were also doing was getting out ahead of the collector business, with many of the early toy cycle releases being more expensive things harking back to the original Star Wars. Later on, in the more traditional window, about four to eight weeks ahead of the film, the mainline toys attached to The Force Awakens came out." 

How does this compare to this year's event? "You are bound to see a similar kind of thing here," says Brochstein. "It will be a huge promotion again. Because of the fact that there has been Star Wars in the marketplace for the past two years, I don't think it will be quite the same kinds of volume, but it will be huge. It will probably be the biggest marketing event for this upcoming Christmas season."

Other movie properties have also helped to boost U.S. toy sales thanks to two consecutive U.S. box-office records in a row. Three of the top 10 growth properties of last year were movie-based, namely Trolls, Batman v. Superman and Finding Dory.

The LIMA says that the broader character-related merchandise category (encompassing entertainment/TV/movies and celebrities) accounted for $113.4 billion in retail sales in 2015, including $43.0 billion in the U.S.

The outlook for the toy business will be a topic at Toy Fair in New York, which runs Saturday through Tuesday at the Jacob Javits Center. LIMA's Brochstein tells THR that there are nearly two dozen "licensable" movies this year, which will be filling up the toy aisles with action figures, play sets, dolls, plush and more. 

Importantly, they also target different age groups and females and males, ensuring various groups have something to consider buying. The exec mentioned the coming Transformers, Despicable Me and Smurfs films as being among the family offerings and Wonder Woman as possibly providing a role model for females.

Brochstein cited a slew of established or known franchises (Disney's Star Wars, Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Warners' Justice League, Sony/Marvel's Spider-Man: Homecoming, Universal's Despicable Me 3 and The Fate of the Furious, Paramount's Transformers: The Last Knight and Fox's War of the Planet of the Apes and Logan, among others), films based on major brands that have not been seen in theaters in many years, or ever, (such as Warners' Wonder Woman and Kong: Skull Island, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Beauty and the Beast and Cars 3, Lionsgate's Power Rangers, Fox's Alien: Covenant, Universal's The Mummy and Sony's Smurfs: The Lost Village) and such new intellectual property as Sony's The Emoji Movie.  

Disney, the world’s top licensor, is expected to have another big year in licensing, including toys. The company will be at Toy Fair to show off such products as Beauty and the Beast dolls; Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 products, including a dancing Groot figure and a Marvel Legends Electronic Star Lord Helmet; a die-cast character car assortment for Cars 3; and Marvel Legends Series Thor Mjolnir hammer toy, inspired by the Thor films.