What happens after a child (or in some of our cases—us) sees the latest comic book/sci-fi movie? They will generally look to see if there is LEGO set's based on their newest favourite characters. But why do they do it? Why is it that they instantly assume there will be a LEGO minifigure of Batman or Spiderman? The LEGO formula is why.
The turn of the century was right around the corner and LEGO had just acquired their first 'intellectual property'—Star Wars. Little did they know that this would become their largest selling and well known theme. Selling sets from the original trilogy in 1999 documenting Luke Skywalker's rise to Jedi shortly followed by sets to coincide with The Phantom Menace's release the same year. Prior to the LEGO Star Wars toys release, the only thing children had to play with was wax and plastic figurines. But now, they could build their own version of their favourite movies. Not only did it give LEGO an increased revenue bump, but it also gave the prequel trilogy an extra marketing boost. Watch the movie—Go home and recreate it in your own room.
A LEGO figurine is not the same as a trading card or Tazo. They weren't something that you took to school and traded. Rather, you brought your Luke Skywalker and your best mate brought his LEGO City police man, and they fought the galaxy side by side. You then went home and brought two different characters the next day. One day Luke could be taking on Darth Vader with his sandy blonde hair and the next long flowing brunette strands... or even bald. It was this freedom which gave LEGO the advantage over any other form of toy which shared the same intellectual property.
It didn't take them long to realise what type of advantage they had over the toy market and all at the same time, producers were also realising the marketing power and opportunity that LEGO had opened up for them. Shortly after Star Wars' introduction, Winni the Pooh was introduced onto the LEGO shelves, however it only lasted until 2001 where it was discontinued. When that was discontinued, LEGO acquired the rights to Harry Potter which would also be one of it's largest selling themes. The fact of the matter is this: You didn't have to watch the movie to play with the LEGO. That was it. It certainly helped you understand what was going on in the sets, but you could make your own story with whatever you had. You could have Harry infiltrate Jabba's lair and battle Winnie the Pooh. The Harry Potter theme was discontinued in 2007 due to decreasing sales however was re-acquired from 2010 to 2011 to release a series of video games based on the final movies.
In around 2006, SpongeBob SquarePants LEGO was released and eventually discontinued. However it was not widely released. In Australia, it was very rare to find a set until the later years. And when sets were found, they were very simple and scarce in variety. 2009 brought Buzz and Woody to the LEGO world to coincide with the release with the third Toy Story movie.
Rise of the Super Hero
Comic book superheroes have been around since earlier than the 1930's and citizens of all ages have been enjoying them for those 80 years to fluctuating degrees. So why not have Darth Vader present Spiderman to the Emperor rather than Luke? I guess LEGO thought it was a good idea and in 2002 acquired the rights to the Spiderman franchise. As a side note to any who are not aware of the not so Marvel-ous rights battle that spans two centuries. Late in the 20th Century, Marvel was going bankrupt and decided to sell particular superheroes off to the highest bidders. Example 1: Spiderman was sold to Sony. They then have the rights to make movies, create video games and toys separately of Marvel Entertainment. Example 2: X-Men was sold to 20th Century Fox meaning they could do their own thing.
So when LEGO received the rights to Spiderman from Marvel Comics and Columbia Pictures, they were not receiving rights to the other Marvel superheroes. Sets were made to coincide with Spiderman & Spiderman 2. However this was short-lived and the line was discontinued in 2004.
Not two years later in '06 LEGO were given the rights to Batman and it's affiliated characters. As with Star Wars, they didn't realise the amount of money this franchise would bring home every day. But this franchise wouldn't bring the dough solely on the minifigures and physical blocks. The majority of money would be brought with the 2008 release of LEGO Batman The Videogame. This wasn't the first video game LEGO released nor the biggest. (Details on LEGO video games to come) but it was this game that initiated the renewed interest in LEGO Superheroes. But the line was discontinued—much to everyone's shock and upset. The license had reached the end of it's tenure.
The years following this upset, more and more franchises attempted to use the LEGO formula to boost their products. LEGO Indiana Jones lasted from '08 to '09. Ben 10, 2010 to 2011. Harry Potter attempted once more from 2010 to 2011. Unlike Star Wars—which was still running strong—none of these franchises were able to capture the minds of the young and long time fans.
2012 was, in many opinions, the year of the superhero. Two of the most highly anticipated 'sequels' were released; Marvel's The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. And what would be the greatest marketing tool and interactive toy to accompany these blockbusters? LEGO. 2012 brought the release of a shared theme, LEGO Super Heroes, which included licenses from Marvel and DC comics. It had been 10 years since Spiderman had first entered the world of LEGO and now, he was joined by Glamour Pants, Shellhead and their motley crew to loosely tie in with the recently released movie. However the DC comics were not specifically related to TDKR, but rather the comics with the first set released being a nod to the Dynamic Duo and the Joker. The DC comic sets included many characters including Superman, Wonder-Woman and The Flash. There was only one set, released in 2013, which reflected a scene in TDKR—The Bat vs. Bane: Tumbler Chase.
Now, you really could have a proper Marvel vs. DC crossover.
These new themes have been a great success, DC more than Marvel, with Batman and Superman about to star in their third feature length film based on the video games. The same year the license was received, a second LEGO Batman game was released, with lower ratings than the original. LEGO Marvel Superheroes was released October 2013, featuring it's own original storyline. However, the LEGO sets that were released were strictly based on the comics. The DC approach has been to base sets on their New 52 comic book line whereas Marvel has released sets for their movies with mixed success. The sets that succeed in their line follow Spiderman's adventures from the television show, Ultimate Spiderman.
In around '07, if LEGO was to be mentioned, Star Wars would always come to mind—explanation below—however after 2008, it was always Star Wars and LEGO Batman primarily due to the success of their respective video games.
Playing a Universe
What is our generation known for? Playing video games. And when LEGO realised that, they came out on top. But they didn't begin with LEGO Batman, rather, they begun way back in 2005 with LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game. (This is not including previous games which are not part of a licensed theme.) The highly anticipated game encapsulated the prequel movies in their LEGO form. Often relying on tongue-in-cheek (literally) dialogue to replace dialogue from the movie. And it worked brilliantly. Anyone who had seen the movie understood exactly what they were playing out. About a year later LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy was released, documenting as the title suggests, the original trilogy. Similarly, '07 brought the release of LEGO Star Wars The Complete Saga and I will leave it up to the reader to interpret what that means. These three hit games developed by TT Games begun the huge money making venture that LEGO would pursue.
It was just something for someone to watch their favourite movie characters turn into LEGO figurines and then be brought to life on their screens.
Soon following was LEGO Indiana Jones [1&2}, Batman [1&2], Star Wars The Clone Wars, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit with the recent hits, LEGO Marvel Superheroes and (much anticipated) LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham in 2013 and '14 respectively.
The Little + Big Screen
Stop motion animation has been a popular past time and entertainment form since the early days of television—Gumby—and many entertainers recognized the 'ease' with which LEGO suits that style of film. From the day YouTube was invented, there has always been some form of LEGO stop-motion animation present. However, it takes hours upon hours to make just a small, low budget short and the idea of a feature film was beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
However, after seeing the great success the cut-scenes in LEGO video games were combined with the constant interest in stop-motion movies, LEGO released many animated shorts and feature films (Bionicle, The Adventures of Clutch Powers) which had their own tie-in merchandise. But the right spot had not been hit with such releases. How about a TV series for children, based on the sets? How about a feature length film? That sounded much better. Although, TV shows were made (Ninjago) when rumours were confirmed that a feature length film was in production and would actually incorporate real stop-motion activity, well LEGO fans and non-LEGO fans rejoiced. However, it didn't stop there.
Although the movie would have original characters with an original story, it featured stars such as Batman, Han Solo & Chewbacca, Superman, Gandorf, Ninja Turtles plus many many more. Seeing these small references on the 'mini' screen were just special to LEGO fans all around the world because that movie captured what they had grown up experiencing.
To have Darth Vader present Spiderman to the Emperor is something only someone with LEGO can do and understand. And when you can literally bring hundreds of characters into the fold to 'mix & match' scenarios with, you can create a lifetime of memories. No one can tell you that Batman can't beat Superman. Or that Chewie flying the Quinjet will beat Hawkeye in the Millennium Falcon. It' only LEGO that can give you that sense of freedom and ability. For they understand the desire to do that sort of thing. They understand the imagination and how powerful it is. When it comes to being able to nail childhood experience, The LEGO Formula always wins.
A Mind + LEGO = Infinity