Tuesday, 6 January 2015

New sets from The LEGO Movie (Well, a few...)

There are three new sets available in 2015 based on The LEGO Movie for fans to add to their collection. Wait a minute, only three? The movie that boosted sales of all LEGO products, the movie that meant the company could barely keep up with demand, the movie that re-invigorated the Collectible Minifigures? Read on for some thoughts on why LEGO has decided to exercise caution here, based on lessons learned the hard way.


Back in 1999, when LEGO first dared to release licensed product in the form of Star Wars, everything about releasing product based on movies was untested for the company. Star Wars performed well alongside the release of The Phantom Menace, with all of the excitement that the new partnership created. As everyone knows, the early noughties were not a good time for LEGO. Sets that now command a high price were stacked from floor to ceiling in stores such as the Entertainer,  Jabba’s Palace (4480) and the Mos Eisley Cantina (4501) could be had for a mere £14.99 each (half their £29.99 RRP). It is hard to imagine now, but there was a time when LEGO had spare inventory of Star Wars product and actually had to clear it cheap (that’s right, clear it cheap!). Harry Potter suffered from the same problem, selling well in movie years and not so much in non-movie years.


What LEGO decided (and they weren’t alone among the Star Wars licensees with this), was that their Star Wars product offering should vary between movie and non-movie years. They had started to implement this in 2004, although clearly hadn’t reckoned yet how much production numbers needed to be scaled back.  What it did show was the beginning of an understanding of where non-movie years had gone wrong, with s small offering focussed on classic trilogy sets. 


When LEGO released the Indiana Jones range in 2008 it followed the pattern of the Star Wars launch in 1999, with a range of classic movie sets kicking off the year followed by sets based on the new movie in the Summer. The response was surprisingly positive, and sales exceeded expectations. LEGO had been intending to only have the line around for the year, with a couple of sets in 2009 to see whether there was still interest. But the success of the line led to extra sets being developed for release in August 2009 – unfortunately by which time Indiana Jones was no longer flavour of the month. The decision was made for no more Indy sets, and it was considered a mistake to have tried to prolong the theme with no movie out to support it.


Since then, LEGO have rigidly stuck to the movie year only formula. Toy Story and The Lone Ranger are examples of this get-in-and-get-out attitude. Rather than have a line languish on the shelves with no movie support, LEGO would rather end it gracefully and move on to something more current. This saved Prince of Persia from becoming an embarrassment – with the movie proving unpopular, it would have been baffling to see a further wave of sets the following year. In other cases, fans have been left wondering what else could have come from Pirates of the Caribbean, but despite positive sales LEGO had decided not to take the risk.


A change.org petition to keep The Hobbit in bricks
The most vocal frustration has come recently from fans of the Hobbit, which will see no new releases in 2015. Back in 2011 fans of Harry Potter had the same disappointment when it sunk in that the theme was in its final year. In these cases the long-running themes had built up strong fan bases, but LEGO once again seemed determined that without movie support they would not be successful enough. The only movie based theme to buck the trend is Star Wars, which somehow has increased sales since the release of the movie (it would take a heck of a long article to pick apart the reasons behind that strange phenomenon).


Finally, in 2015, LEGO has broken its rule and released new sets based on a movie. It makes sense to break this rule for The LEGO Movie of all things, since it is The LEGO Movie. It’s not the Star Wars movie, or the Harry Potter movie, or even the Speed Racers movie. It’s theirs. But even with its amazing success and impressive sales of the product, LEGO have still exercised caution. Three sets is not many, and they are all at relatively low price points. The Double Decker Couch (70818) smacks of LEGO wanting to get the last possible sales out of the line, which a set targeted at people who haven’t bought all of the sets so far but want all of the main characters. So even when LEGO don’t hold the line on non-movie years, they tiptoe over it rather than leap over it. 

So if you want LEGO Jurassic World, get it this year. There won’t be anything new in 2016. If LEGO are this cautious when their own movie does so well, they won’t be changing habits and going out on a limb for anyone else’s. Mistakes and under-performing themes from years gone by has taught the company to tread carefully when dealing with the fickle world of movie based product, apparently even when it’s  their own. But thank goodness they have released a Ghost Vitruvius.   

2 comments:

  1. Great post. Though there is one small mistake: fans are not upset about the Hobbit line ending, which has had a wave for each of its three films, but rather about the end of the Lord of the Rings line, which only had two waves and still has not covered many main points of the film series, including major characters and locations. The linked petition is primarily for saving the Lord of the Rings theme, not the Hobbit.

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  2. Disney Princesses continues to have sets long after the movies are gone. Obviously this is a whole different market and style for LEGO, but it's still an exception to the rule

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