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Can ‘Black Panther’ Reverse Dwindling Blockbuster Merchandise Sales?

The “Black Panther” cultural juggernaut has shown it can sell movie tickets, but recent examples show that blockbuster films don’t always match their box office with toy sales.

Disney has launched the largest product line ever for a Marvel non-sequel, including expanded categories, such as performance wear and high-fashion collaborations. Stocks of popular toys are low at stores, and fans on Twitter are reporting that in some cases they can’t find enough stock to satisfy their love for Wakanda.

However, some toy industry analysts say that box office success is not always a harbinger for strong merchandise sales, given the track record of two of 2017’s top-selling films: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Wonder Woman.”

Those films were among the highest-grossing movies of last year, but toy sales for “The Last Jedi,” which has made $1.3 billion at the global box office, were a major disappointment for Hasbro, which has a licensing pact with Disney. One toy-industry analyst had predicted that “The Last Jedi” toy line would make roughly $500 million in retail sales last year, which would have been a 5% rise over 2016. Instead, toy sales amounted to about $350 million, down roughly 25%. Mattel, maker of Wonder Woman toys, reported in its 2017 full-year earnings report that while its entertainment business was up 12%, there were declines in sales of DC Comics products.

“It’s very case specific,” said Linda Bolton Weiser, senior research analyst for D.A. Davison. “It’s not always the case that high box office success relates to high toy sales.”

It can work the other way, too. “Transformers: The Last Knight” was seen as a flop, grossing just $130 million domestically, yet Transformer toy sales were up 50% from the year before for Hasbro, Weiser said.

Weiser said she expects retail sales of Marvel toys will exceed $500 million in 2018. That figure, however, includes toys for all Marvel properties, including “Black Panther” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” If the forecast holds, that would be a nearly flat increase of 2% year over year.

Since last week, Disney-Marvel’s latest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made more than $270 million domestically, shattering a number of records. It’s also poised to break $100 million in its second weekend, a feat achieved by only three other films.

One reason for the Transformers toy success is that merchandising is more of a long game than a one-off opportunity (and it doesn’t hurt that the entire franchise was originally based on a familiar toy). “Black Panther” could have enduring power, becoming a permanent presence alongside other well-known Marvel properties like “Spider-Man” and “Captain America,” said Adam Biehl, VP of global brand strategy and marketing at Hasbro. The film’s box office success alone is one piece of evidence toy sales will be strong, but the film also represents a cultural milestone for diverse representation, Biehl added.

“In the case of ‘Black Panther,’ box office [performance] is a reflection of the pop culture moment and the cultural moment that this film is making in America right now,” he said. The power of the film’s impact is spurring strong demand from fans for merchandise, Biehl added: “They want to collect the action figures. They want to dress up as the hero.”

Kids can choose from a wide range of Black Panther gear, including action figures like Nakia, Okoye and Shuri. There are also costumes sold by Rubies and Party City, six months ahead of Halloween. Other items, for kids and adults alike, include Black Panther masks, Funko collectible figures, shoes, jewelry, coffee mugs — and soup. Campbell’s limited-edition can features a Black Panther-emblazoned gold label with Avengers-shaped pasta. Puma and Bait offered two limited-edition shoes — just 400 pairs of two different sneakers modeled after the sleek black suit worn by King T’Challa.

At one Los Angeles-area retailer, a Walmart in Torrance, Black Panther merchandise was prominently featured in a large, center aisle display holding the superhero’s mask and claws, as well as blankets. The most popular items appeared to be the mask and claws, which were dwindling in supply. At a Culver City Target, an end-cap display showed all the available Black Panther toys, which included Lego toys and a Nerf blaster — this week, all were on sale for 20% off.

In a statement, a Target spokesman said its Avengers assortment doubled in sales last week leading up to the debut of “Black Panther,” adding that “we’re continuing to see lots of excitement from guests for ‘Black Panther’ toys, apparel, entertainment and home merchandise.”

Hasbro’s Biehl said it’s heartening to see talk of a “Black Panther” sequel. In an interview with Variety, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige hinted a sequel may be coming and said he would “absolutely” love to have director Ryan Coogler return. Fans won’t have to wait for a sequel, however, to see Black Panther in action again; he’ll be among the heroes assembled in “Avengers: Infinity War,” bowing May 4. “The rising profile of ‘Black Panther’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Biehl said, “gives us a lot of confidence as a toy company and as their partner to get behind it in a big way.”

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