Film industry reaps box office and licensed product riches.

Jane Neal, Content Editor

August 24, 2023

10 Min Read
Skye’s Mighty Movie Jet from “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie”
Skye’s Mighty Movie Jet from “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie”Spin Master

At a Glance

  • "Barbie" owns theaters and energizes retail
  • Turtles and Trolls
  • “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie”

As summer starts to wane, we’ve seen our share of blockbuster movie releases, as well as a few flops. Box office smashes can come from almost any genre and appeal to vastly different audiences, but the past few years have seen significant growth in children’s and family films. Several children’s films have grossed over $1 billion in cinemas worldwide in recent years. Those include “Frozen,” “Toy Story 3” and “The Lion King.” More recently, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” the animated film based on the world of Super Mario Bros., from Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment and Nintendo, was this year’s first release to breach the $1 billion mark at the global box office, earning $1.356 billion so far (as of press time). More big-screen success followed with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” sitting at $845.3 million in earnings.

With such results, it’s no surprise License Global’s compilation of The Biggest Box Office Movies Coming to Theaters This Decade teems with kid and family films, including “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” “Blue Beetle,” “The Expendables 4,” “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie,” “The Marvels,” “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget,” “Trolls Band Together” and an untitled “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” sequel.

Related:‘Barbie’ Owns Theaters and Energizes Retail

According to Statista, both live-action and animated films are on the uptick. In 2022, kids’ fiction movies sold over 123 million tickets across the U.S. and Canada, eclipsing around 65 million a year earlier – an annual increase of almost 100%. Despite the growth, the 2022 figure still accounted for less than one-half of the nearly 280 million attendance recorded in 2019, pre-pandemic. The ranking of 2022’s most viewed child fiction films in the U.S. and Canada included “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and “Lightyear.”

Another measure of the growth of children’s films is the number being produced and by whom. Previously, only a handful of major studios produced children’s movies. Disney is the original (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Disney’s first full-length animated film, debuted in 1937) and remains the leader, but Pixar and Dreamworks round out the trifecta. Recent years have seen a rise in independent film companies producing animated and live-action kids’ content.

COVID Symptoms

COVID significantly impacted films in general and caused delays and cancellations of several children’s movies. The onset of the pandemic saw Disney Pixar’s “Onward” hit Disney+ barely a month after its theatrical release. The live-action adaptation of “Mulan” was delayed for several months, and the release of “Trolls World Tour” moved from theaters to streaming. People avoiding the confines of movie theaters during the pandemic led to increased demand for streaming services. Children trapped at home needed to be entertained … a lot. According to a February survey by Statista on streaming services, 72% of respondents indicated that Netflix was a must-have, followed by YouTube (free) at 70%.

Related:‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ Brings Moviegoers Back to Theaters

Although we tend to think of movie theaters when it comes to blockbusters, the shift to streaming services during COVID opened the door to more direct-to-stream films. One such was ZAG’sMiraculous: Ladybug & Cat Noir, The Movie,” which “opened” on Netflix on July 28 as the first feature film based on the globally beloved Miraculous franchise. One film that may have benefited from COVID was “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which was released in the U.S. on June 2 after initially slated to release in April 2022. As of press time, the film has grossed an impressive $682,567,162 worldwide, making it one of the top-grossing kids’ films this year.

The PUMA x “Miraculous” collection.

The PUMA x “Miraculous” collection

And Then There’s Barbie

It’s debatable whether “Barbie” qualifies as a kids’ film; its PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association means some material may be unsuitable for young children. In this case, it’s for “suggestive references” and “brief language.” But there’s no arguing the film is a blockbuster. As of this writing, Variety says “Barbie” is the third-biggest film of the year worldwide. Almost a year before its theatrical release, License Global was already talking about the rise of Barbiecore. And Mattel announced several licensing partners for the film at Licensing Expo in June. As reported by License Global prior to its release, “Barbie” has had one of the biggest licensing and collaboration campaigns in recent history.

Related:Spin Master Releases ‘PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie’ Toy Collection

“As one of the most buzzed-about film releases in recent times, ‘Barbie’ has dominated the zeitgeist for months,” says Josh Silverman, chief franchise officer, global head, consumer products, Mattel. “This historic moment for Mattel creates incredible fanfare for our partners and consumers alike.”

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Pizza Van, Moose Toys

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Pizza Van, Moose Toys

Turtles Set a Torrid Pace

The popular kids’ franchise, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” is a global property created in 1984 by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. It began as a comic book series and became a hit animated TV show, followed by a live-action television series and six feature length films. Today the Turtles’ franchise boasts a vast range of licensed consumer products, including toys, apparel, videogames, DVDs and more. And the franchise is expanding again with the recently released “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.” Nickelodeon Movies and award-winning Point Grey Productions’ Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and James Weaver produced the all-new iteration, which hit theaters Aug. 2.

Just ahead of the film’s release, Moose Toys announced a new licensing agreement with Paramount, with the toymaker’s action-packed Akedo brand introducing the first Moose Toys lineup to get the Ninja Turtle treatment with game pieces featuring the classic characters. The agreement also allows for cross-collaboration with additional original brands from Moose Toys. Plans include the “Heroes in a Half Shell” debuting as characters in an upcoming line for Heroes of Goo Jit Zu in 2024.

“As Moose Toys continues to aggressively expand its licensing program by tapping into pop culture and nostalgia, we identified ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ as a property that ticked both boxes and engaged with Paramount to acquire the license and bring some ‘TurtlePower’ to Moose,” says Ronnie Frankowski, chief commercial officer, Moose Toys. “We chose Akedo as the first Moose brand to get the Turtle treatment because of the inherent similarities in brand DNA. ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ brings a new level of fun with a dash of irreverence to Akedo’s fast-fighting action and humor-infused play and offers the perfect backdrop to welcome the crime-fighting, pizza-loving crew to the Moose family.”

With over 400 licensees for the film, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” products are available in over 550 retailers in 220 markets globally. Other partners include Playmates, Hasbro, Mattel, Crayola, Funko, General Mills and Spin Master.

"PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie" Aircraft Carrier HQ, Spin Master

“PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie”

According to Box Office Mojo, “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” which premiered in August 2021, grossed $40.1million in the U.S. and Canada and $104.2 million in other territories. In July, Spin Master unveiled its toy collection for the upcoming film “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie,” a Spin Master Entertainment production, produced in association with Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Pictures.

Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, PAW Patrol is a consumer products juggernaut and a No. 1 preschool toy property. “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” comes to theaters Sept. 29. For the franchise’s second theatrical release, Spin Master once again leads the toy category, alongside additional blue-chip partnerships in the campaign. With hundreds of movie licensees across various categories, the brand will see A+ level activations with over 250 retailers worldwide.

 “Packed with jaw-dropping transformations, the ‘PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie’ toy collection will spark limitless imaginative play,” says Chris Beardall, president, toys and chief commercial officer, Spin Master. The “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” toy collection ranges from vehicles and playsets to plush and roleplay for preschoolers to play out their own mighty missions.

Ground Up X Foot Locker Kids ‘Trolls’ collection

Ground Up x Foot Locker Kids ‘Trolls’ collection

Can’t Stop the Trolls

Trolls,” the jukebox musical franchise, is already in the blockbuster category. Between 2016’s original “Trolls,” with its catchy Justin Timberlake-voiced pop hit, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” and 2020’s pandemic-hampered “Trolls World Tour,” the franchise has grossed over $396 million worldwide. Anticipation is high for the third film, “Trolls Band Together,” from Universal Pictures, DreamWorks Animation in November. Though it’s still several months out, licensed products are already starting to appear, including a Ground Up x Foot Locker collab for Trolls’ footwear.

Who You Gonna Call?

Whether it’s post-pandemic or just the natural evolution of kids’ and parents’ tastes, new trends can be found in the kid movie space. Sony Pictures Entertainment has seen family and kids’ movies change from just a few years ago, with interesting new trends emerging.

“At Sony, we’ve been drawing inspiration from everywhere to generate new and exciting content that audiences of all ages can relate to – video games, popular toys, classic films, books – and that seems to be a trend that other production companies are tapping into too,” says Jamie Stevens, executive vice president, worldwide consumer products, Sony Pictures Entertainment. Stevens sees kids’ and family blockbusters on the upswing, and the company has plans around several family-friendly properties. “Ghostbusters” and “The Karate Kid” will celebrate their 40th anniversaries.

Stevens says the lead-up to these anniversaries will include all-new content for kids, families and adults – including a much-anticipated sequel to “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” and two new offerings from Sony Pictures Animation – the first Ghostbusters animated movie and a Ghostbusters animated series, both in development.

To mark the 40th anniversary of “The Karate Kid,” a feature film will release in June 2024. PlayStation Productions also has some big things in the works, including the new “Gran Turismo” movie, hitting theaters in August.

“In terms of the trends we’re seeing within our consumer products portfolio around each film, we’re seeing consumers of all ages seek out more creative ways to express their fandom and support the characters and brands they love – so fashion, beauty and apparel continue to remain a large part of our program,” says Stevens. “We are always working closely with retail and key licensee partners to uncover new ways to expand these programs.”

Stevens says feature films attached to major franchises and properties, such as Ghostbusters or Karate Kid, have traditionally generated robust consumer product programs before, during and after their theatrical releases – and she doesn’t expect that to change. “Films based on popular video games, such as the forthcoming release of ‘Gran Turismo,’ have also drummed up a lot of pre-release excitement among fans and partners alike,” says Stevens. “We already have a robust lineup of licensees in place for ‘Gran Turismo,’ including Ripple Junction, BDA and Araca, all of which will launch apparel and accessories before the film launch.”

Sadly, not all kids’ and family movies are destined to be hits. Disney’s recently released “Haunted Mansion” reboot scored the lowest opening weekend gross for a theme park-inspired movie since 2003’s original “The Haunted Mansion.” Box office magic can be elusive, but whether it’s “Wonka,” coming in December, or the next installment of “Kung Fu Panda,” “Inside Out,” “Trolls” or “Ghostbusters,” there’s always the opportunity for the next big blockbuster.

This article was also published in the August issue of License Global.

About the Author(s)

Jane Neal

Content Editor, License Global

Jane Neal is a Content Editor for License Global. Working remotely in the great state of Wisconsin, Jane specializes in retail and pop-culture trends.

She has worked extensively in the communication field as a managing editor, advertising copywriter, technical writer and journalist. She detoured for several years into academia where she taught journalism, English and humanities at the college level.

A complete Marvel nerd, she enjoys food, films, fishing, friends and family … and alliteration.

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