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"Black Panther" merchandise is also striking gold

Box office smash "Black Panther" is pop culture landmark
Box office smash "Black Panther" is pop culture landmark 04:46

Walt Disney's (DIS) box office juggernaut "Black Panther" isn't on the road to just ticket-sale riches. The film could also generate nearly $250 million in licensed merchandise sales in 2018 as companies look to cash in on the cultural phenomenon, according to The Licensing Letter, a trade publication.

Though "Black Panther" merchandise sales are dwarfed by multibillion dollar franchises such as  "Mickey Mouse and Friends," "Frozen" and "Star Wars," the movie's merch performance is "pretty respectable" considering that the main character wasn't well known to the public, even though it was created more than 50 years ago, said Licensing Letter Executive Editor Karina Masolova.

"We really don't see that happening a lot -- for a film to blow up that much," Masolova said.

 The publication's figures don't include products that Disney makes itself or "unofficial" products people are selling on Etsy (ETSY) and other sites. Burbank, California-based Disney declined to comment.

Director Ryan Coogler discusses blockbuster hit "Black Panther" 02:49

The success of "Black Panther" is lifting the fortunes of toymaker Hasbro (HAS), which is selling action figures and role-playing masks, among other things. In a recent note to clients, Jefferies analyst Stephanie Wissink raised her estimates for Hasbro's 2018 "Black Panther" merchandise sales from $60 million to as much as $100 million because retailers are "aggressively chasing inventory."

"Interestingly, we heard that Hasbro was one of the only licensees that had deep consumer insights that pointed to a breakout success," wrote Wissink, who rates Hasbro as a "buy." "They built a robust product line to support the film based on those insights. But getting the product placed and into the market is more reliant on retailers' collective confidence and excitement. I'd argue that Hasbro was more optimistic than the marketplace and they were right."

A spokeswoman for Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based Hasbro declined to comment on "Black Panther" sales.

Other Black Panther licensees include Lego, which is selling two "Black Panther"-themed sets, and Funko, a maker of "pop culture merchandise" such as bobbleheads. Fifth Sun has the license for "Black Panther" T-shirts, which are eight of the company's top 10 sellers, according to the company's website.

Not to be outdone is Lexus. The Toyota (TMC) luxury brand last year unveiled a "custom concept coupe" named the "The Black Panther Inspired LC," which Lexus promoted during the Super Bowl. The vehicle is currently arriving in dealerships, according to a spokeswoman.

Lego declined comment on the sales of specific product lines. A Fifth Sun spokesman confirmed the company's sales rose because of "Black Panther," though he declined to provide specifics. And Funko declined to comment. 

Mavericks player Harrison Barnes holds "Black Panther" screening for 150 kids 01:16

"Black Panther" tells the story of a fictional African country called Wakanda and has won kudos from critics and moviegoers alike. The film has earned 97 percent rating on the closely watched review site Rotten Tomatoes. With North American box-office receipts topping $500 million, "Black Panther" is the 10th-largest domestic release in history, topping classics such as "ET." "Black Panther" also is a hit internationally, earning more than $334 million overseas before its scheduled March 9 opening in China, a significant market.

"It's quite something, this movie," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst with comScore who tracks box-office sales, adding that February is traditionally a slow month for Hollywood.

In addition, merchandise is becoming increasingly important as box-office receipts continue to wither. North American ticket sales fell to a three-year low of about $11 billion in 2017, even with hits such as "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," "Wonder Woman" and "Get Out."

"Merchandise sales can noticeably contribute to profitability, but it depends," said Hal Vogel, chief executive of Vogel Capital Management, who tracks the entertainment sector. It "plays some role in thinking about sequels, but in this case, the success is large enough that a sequel will be made regardless of how much merchandise is sold. It's not a swing factor."

Disney has never been shy about exploiting its many popular franchises in creative ways.

For instance, visitors to Walt Disney World and Disneyland can ride "Star Wars"-themed rides and buy Kermit the Frog action figures, with the Muppet dressed as Luke Skywalker. The company reportedly is spending $1 billion on Star Wars Lands at both of its U.S. theme parks. It acquired Star Wars producer LucasFilm for $4 billion in 2012 and the non-Sesame Street Muppets in 2004. A Broadway musical based on Disney's megahit "Frozen" is scheduled to debut March 22.

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