(Editor’s note: Luke Y. Thompson has been known to review movies and fast food, but in this new column, we’re letting him take a crack at one of his other lifelong passions: toys. Sometimes he’ll review, other times he’ll pontificate and maybe even break news or do interviews if the opportunity presents itself. When you’re writing about toys, being able to play with how you do it seems appropriate.)
When I was a kid, I remember how excited I got first seeing the back of the cards on Return of the Jedi action figures, before the movie came out. It left me guessing for months who all these characters were, how they’d relate, and which one might be the “other” Jedi hope referenced by Yoda at the end of Empire. And if you think that last one seems like hilarious naivete about misdirection in hindsight (my mother guessed, based on the cardback only, that Bib Fortuna would be the new Jedi), consider how disappointed I was when the movie came out and nobody went to planets called “Gamorrea” or “Skiff.”
Notably, though, two figures had been “blacked out” so as to conceal their likenesses – Logray (Ewok Medicine Man) and Chief Chirpa. This was a big mystery – what was an Ewok? Why was it being hidden from me? Ultimately, Time magazine revealed Wicket before I could see the movie, so the spoiler wasn’t kept hidden. As a kid, I didn’t care. As adult geeks, we’ve found spoilers have become the most important damn thing in the whole world.
Which brings us to today, and Prometheus. The movie has come and gone, and we all have our opinions on it (mine was pretty positive, while consensus among many of my critic colleagues seems to be along the lines of “We’re still mad at Damon Lindelof over the Lost finale, so screw that guy and everything he does”), but one thing we were unanimous on beforehand was not wanting to know the details, which has to be tough for a company like NECA, when they want to blow your mind with amazing toys based on the movie, without ruining the movie for you in advance. Obviously, the coolest characters to make in plastic are the Engineers, but one of the movie’s big reveals – SPOILER if you haven’t already seen it and still care – is that these white Ubermensches are one and the same as the Space Jockey from the original Alien. All these years, what we thought was an elephant skull thing was actually a space helmet. If your first figures out of the gate are the Engineer/Jockeys in both their key looks (suited and unsuited), you can’t put those out before the movie without sustaining massive nerd-rage. And frankly, those first figures out the gate NEED to be the Engineers, unless you’re putting out the first-ever Charlize Theron action figure before that (she’s being saved till series 3, possibly because there’s a shorter window to get detailed information on actors in costume than there is on creatures being generated in make-up shops and computers years in advance).
So here’s the big hypothetical question – now that Prometheus has come and gone, with no more pre-release hype and even a significant fanboy backlash, can the toys which haven’t yet been released still be a hit with collectors? Let’s look at the arguments based on past examples, and try our hand at toy-industry punditry, shall we? (Yes, we shall. Or there wouldn’t be a column. Duh.)
Argument: People only buy toys based on movies they like. Many fanboys (please note – I consider this term essentially gender neutral, only because “fan-person” just doesn’t sound right, and plain old “fan” doesn’t convey the same meaning. I know that considering it so may not make it so, but I am by no means mentally excluding women from the discussion) claim not to like Prometheus.
Counter-argument: Have you seen the eBay prices for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen‘s Jetfire? People are even selling individual pieces of that guy.
Counter-counter-argument: Yes, but that was a PG-13 movie and kids like transforming robot toys. Prometheus is R-rated and its toys are aimed at older collectors.
Counter-to-the-third-power: Look to the franchise that spawned Prometheus. First, find me anybody who thinks the Alien versus Predator movies were amazing pieces of cinema. Second, look at how quickly toys from the first film (by McFarlane) and the second (by NECA) sold out. If you have iconic creatures, the quality of the movie itself isn’t always the key factor. Look also at the director in question – Ridley Scott’s Legend was a way bigger disappointment in its day than Prometheus, but people still buy any and all toys based on Tim Curry’s Darkness.
Argument: People buy action figures of their favorite celebrities, regardless of the property. Look at how many people bought the Heather Graham action figure from Lost in Space, or the Megan Fox toy from Jonah Hex.
Counter-argument: This bodes well for sales of the Charlize Theron (sorry, no pictures yet) and Michael Fassbender figures, for sure, but only them. Noomi Rapace is a question mark, since most of her pre-existing fanbase comes from her chameleonic turn as Lisbeth Salander, who looks almost nothing like Prometheus‘ Elizabeth Shaw.
Counter-counter-argument: That’s why we pack in a severed Fassbender head with Dr. Shaw. Customizers who want to make young Magneto, or god forbid a naked Fassbender from Shame, will buy these.
Counter-to-the-third-power: Fine. But realistically, who is going to shell out $15 a pop for Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Fifiled (Sean Harris)? Even if they are zombified? You can try making them rare one-per-case, but we suspect they’ll stay on the pegs awhile.
Realistic, pragmatic answer: The economic model for any figure line right now is to come up with a basic body that can be reused with slight modifications. Thus, if you make Charlize, you can use the same female body for Noomi. Fassbender’s parts (mind out of the gutter, people) can be recycled into two other dudes. This helps spread out costs across the line to allow for one or two completely unique figures, like…
Oh yeah, those should sell just fine.
Will you buy Prometheus figures? And if so, does your opinion of the movie factor in? Sound off below!