FOTR = Franchise of the Ring


Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings is hot property at the moment - everyone is buying into it. Hate it or love it, movie merchandising and related advertising is big bucks, and as such, bound to happen. Certain movies have a better chance for a successful franchise, based on a number of factors.

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings is hot property at the moment - everyone is buying into it. Hate it or love it, movie merchandising and related advertising is big bucks, and as such, bound to happen. Certain movies have a better chance for a successful franchise, based on a number of factors.

The first factor occurs even before a movie's hype-machine goes into production: does it have unique, memorable characters who can't be found elsewhere. The Franchise of the Ring rates in the stratosphere on this one, with a whole world and language it can call it's own, let alone the sheer number of characters involved.

Then, of course: is there great hype surrounding the movie before it's released? Memento was a fantastic movie, even with a memorable character (although HE couldn't remember himself) but you would be hard pressed to find a heavily tattooed Guy Pearce collectible. As it was a bit of a surprise hit, no one bought into it before it was released and now it's gone out of sight, out of mind. Sure, collectible makers might add it to their list of cult classics next decade, but that's about it. Meanwhile FOTR scored a record 1.7 million downloads of it's teaser trailer on the first day of release, months before the movie was out.

Next there is the success and quality of the movie itself. This criteria is slightly debatable, considering that there is probably a bit of money being earned from the Evil Dead (1,2 and 3) merchandise, which, while undoubtedly a cult classic, wasn't a truly successful set of movies. Luckily for Evil Dead, it makes up for this by having the first criteria (unique, memorable characters) in spades. The Franchise of the Ring... well, it's yet to out sell Harry Potter, but it's closing in, has a higher critical acclaim rating and with 100 million previous readers, success was never going to be huge problem.

Next thing that makes a movie franchise successful is, quite simply, quality product. If the toys, books, card and role-playing games are crap, there are only a limited number of diehard fans willing to buy them, and they aren't likely to support them. If some products are rubbish, they might taint buyers from getting into other products. The Franchise of the Ring really shines in this category:

  • The collectibles have had the unprecedented fortune of being made by the creators of the film props themselves.
  • The toys had the highest level of body scanning utilised to make them exacting replicas (Although Aragorn's toy had to be delayed because the initial scanning stumbled on Viggo's stubble).
  • The card game (and currently unreleased RPG) went to Decipher. Up until recently, Decipher also had the rights to the Star Wars CCG, which was aimed at an upscale market with a very high quality finish to it - it appealed heavily to the movies fans. Lord of the Rings is not any different, with the only real difference being a plus: its a slightly simpler system for the first time card gamer to approach.
  • Games-Workshop almost inevitably got the miniature wargame rights, because quite frankly they remain to be both the best and the biggest in the business. On top of this, half their product line already is so heavily influenced by Lord of the Rings that the core gaming group would logically be interchangeable.
  • Add on to the fact that Games Workshop, like Decipher, produced a high quality game that is simple enough for fans of the movie (rather than just fans of the hobby) to pick up, yet interesting enough to hold a veteran wargamers attention, and you know they are on to a winner.
  • Even the much feared Burger King promotional toys aren't that bad, although I for one am glad that here in New Zealand, we DIDN'T get those light up glow in the dark goblets. Incorporating the two tackiest features of any promotional toy ever into the same product, and throwing them on to what would otherwise be a reasonably decorative and collectible piece of dishware could ONLY occur in America.

Finally, above all else, there is one final rule that HAS to be adhered by to have a successful, long lived, on-going franchise. You CAN NOT spell Franchise without 'fans'.

Fans are an interesting bunch. Look them up in the dictionary and you are likely to come up with something similar to: "An ardent devotee; an enthusiast." You are also likely to come up with: "[Short for fanatic.]" This one strikes a little closer to the mark with "A person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm, as for a cause".

'Extreme' and 'unreasoning' are the key words - both in their love for a franchise, and their ability to turn it on when the balance starts tipping the other way. You REALLY don't want to alienate your fans, otherwise you run the risk of not only receiving annoying death threats from over enthused followers, but serious financial troubles are also likely to follow.

I mean, just look at Star Wars. The grand daddy of all movie franchises took a hit with Episode I as the toys didn't sell as well as people thought and many fans all but disowned the movie due to the wooden Anakin and the slapstick Jar-Jar. Despite this, it still has a legion of fans. But unless Mr. Lucas and Co. know that there needs to be a heck of a lot more to Episode II than it's Z-grade name and trailer suggests, it could be leading itself down the same path (I personally am looking at the two Christophers, Walken and Lee, as a shining beacon of hope despite their darkside allegience).

The reason is simple: George Lucas is making the movies more for himself than the fans. He is forsaking the fans that have built him up to Godlike status so that, in Episode I, he could play out some child like fantasy. And, if the worse parts of the Episode II trailers are accurate, vent out some much repressed teenage angst. This in itself is a bad sign, but it gets worse for the franchise.

The Star Wars card game licence has been snatched back out of the loving hands of Decipher and placed firmly in the grasp of Wizards of the Coast, who are property of Hasbro. From a business standpoint, not entirely surprising, as Decipher's game wasn't showing huge growth -- Lucas already has a big stake in Hasbro, so chucking it all under one corporate banner ensures more cash heads his way.

But nothing pisses of the fans more than making them start a fresh, especially in the middle of a trilogy. Card gamers are willing to boycott their whole product line just because the franchise appears to have sold them out with the Decipher / Hasbro move. While this may not be a huge blow, it's just one more nail in the coffin, much like the N'Sync cameo. If Attack of the Clones doesn't pull out all the stops, then the Star Wars Franchise is going to have to invest in a pretty big spade to try and halt the fans as they start filling the grave.

And of course, nothing signals the end of an old franchise quite like a fresh new franchise ready to push the dying horse out of the market place. This is exactly what the Franchise of the Ring is looking to do. Start with a huge fan base. Add a P.R department which learnt to embrace the fans and sell the production well before they have the finished product. Throw in a creative team with the right mix of old school (Alan Lee and John Howe as creative designers, who are possibly the definitive illustators when it comes to Tolkiens works), recent success stories (producer Barrie Osborne who was behind the Matrix, another major franchise movie) and relative unknowns (director Peter Jackson, the majority of his crew and the under-advertised land scape of New Zealand) and you have exactly the right mix of trust and trepidation to both satisfy and surprise fans.

This gives them stuff to argue over but also enjoy, a sense that the movie was made for them but still a unique vision, and brings up the ever growing question of what's going to happen next, despite all of them already knowing the story.

Lord of the Rings, one franchise to rule them all.

It's interesting that Star Wars might be headed down the wrong road here -- the film more or less invented franchising tie-ins, or so I'm told by people more aware of the late 70s than I was.
I wonder how all this marketing affects filmmaking and other forms of creative work? I certainly didn't expect the flood of Harry Potter products, which is in retrospect kinda dumb of me.

90% of the population is controlled by the almighty $.

I think that last comment is an interesting one. I would have thought my article actually in some ways demonstrated the opposite, that despite the mega bucks spent on some Franchises they simply won't succeed as they should, because they have somewhere along the way forgotten their fan base and their background.

This has nothing to do with selling out (I am a pretty big fan of open market environments and the general capitalistic principles, and like people to make money of good ideas) but more to do with selling a product without any OTHER motivation than selling it.

When the advertising becomes the whole point of a recreational product, and it's obvious to everyone that is the case, then people simply won't swallow it. The fact that they brought the same product before when it was only barely something slightly more than advertising, when it was still at that intangible point which makes fans believe they are participating in some part of the franchises universe, rather than slavishly throwing their money at it, makes no difference. As soon as that line is crossed you have lost your market power, and you are going to have a hard time pulling it back.

Bravo! Very well put, and I heartily agree. FOTR has suceeded thus far because of the fans; not only the diehard ones who can relate Merry's family tree back to the Creation of Middle-Earth, but also the fans who saw the movie and thought it astounding, but know no further than that. I also very much agree that George Lucas is digging Star Wars into a rut and, after such an astounding first installment of LotR and the upcoming trailer for Two Towers rumored to be coming out soon (Probably just in time for Attack of the Clones... *bwu-ha-ha*) Star Wars is going to seem more and more pathetic next to Peter Jackson's valiant attempt.

I came across this site as a link from and enjoyed your topic on fantasy films as game settings. I am no longer involved with gaming, but I am still an avid fantasy fan (especially Terry Brooks and Tolkien). Back in the 1980's when we were heavy into D&D, two films that really gave us game ideas were The Beastmaster and The Sword and the Sorceror. What DM or player did not want Talon's sword or gauntlet, or Dar's kapa and beast controlling ability. There was that eye ring from Beastmaster and those weird swamp thing/bird creatures that covered their enemies with their "wings" and then proceeded to digest them and leave just a pile of bones. Or the crypt of the Sorceror in the Sword of ther Sorceror, with its writing, bloody faces. All good gaming stuff! Aside from some poor editing in The Beastmaster (pay attention to the 3 witches and their cauldron), both movies remain some of the most entertaining in the genre. I have seen The Beastmaster on DVD/VHS and Sword is at least available on VHS.

Willow was the last great fantasy film, before the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lets just hope we see some of Terry Brook's Shannara books brought to film. Thanks for your time. Oh yeah, I do remember all my friends staying up late to try to catch Hawk the Slayer on some cable channel. Is it available on VHS?

Good article. The lord of the rings trailers are probably some of the best I've seen. I still watch them even after seeing the movie 6 times.(trailers are my favorite parts of DvDs) And yes the forbidden love trailer for Episode II had was pretty bad(i thought portman was supposed to be a good actress) but the mystery trailer was really cool, even the dialogue.
Can't wait for The Two Towers cya later

Great perspective! Thanx Man!

I too am 'victim' of George Lucas' merchandising 'machine'. I have spent waaaaay too much money on licensed collectibles offered by LFL. I was afraid that my opinions were jaded by my dissappointment in some of the 'lame' decisions that have been made of late by LFL. I have curtailed my spending to almost 0(Zero) on SW merchandise. And I know that I'm NOT alone. I felt like LFL ripped my heart out when they 'gave' the SWCCG/TCG license to WotC/Hasbro/'LFL Lackey'. It was like ... how can I pad my pocket more with your money.. I felt totally betrayed as a loyal collector. Screw me once, shame on you, Screw me twice... Never.

Funny thing, why is it, that a company like New Line Cinema/AOL (another 'mega' corp) can make such GOOD decisions in contrast to the LFL menace? I mean, the toys are totally excellent. My electronic Cave troll totally Rocks!! (or should I say 'Roars'!) I couldn't hardly wait to bust it out of it's package! Being a collector at heart, my FIRST instinct is to preserve it in it's original packaging. NO WAY... OUT it came! The last time I felt such a passion for a SW toy.. .. gosh, I can't remember. kinda sad, huh?

Even the 'imitation' Legos done by Playmates were well done for a frist set. I got all the sets and made them up, I love the interactive moria playset. Only wish there were more variation of pieces, but that will come with time from Playmates. Even the Burger King toys were some of the best food premiums I've seen yet.. Ok, so the "glow Goblets" were a bit much. But hey.. that plastic glow base comes off for washing. (or you didn't ever have to put it on in the first place). Those Glass Goblets are really nice.

And the Decipher TCG! WOW! I am IMPRESSED! I thought, geez... Just another CCG.. maybe I'll watch someone play it or pick up a starter, maybe, only if my friends do. OH.. My... Gosh.. I can say, I've played almost every CCG/TCG and NEVER have I had as much fun as with the Decipher LOTRTCG! And then, you sit down and play it 'multi-player' ... Unbelievably.. it's even MORE fun!!!!! And the quality, (Artwork, cardstock, images, finish, packaging... Everything!) That quality is what I want. I am more than willing to pay for a good quality item again and again. I say this as a collector & gamer. I'm hooked.

Congrats to all; to New Line Cinema, for choosing such excellent licensees, and putting the Fans interests first. Congrats to the Licensees for producing quality products. And Congrats to Peter Jackson & Crew. I cannot wait for the Two Towers.. Please-o-please, get here sooner! I have NO regrets about spending my hard earned money on any of these licensed products in the near AND distant future. (I think that LFL has forgotten how hard we work to earn that money.)

Thanx again, for your excellent perspective.

Bubba J

dream merchandise I would LOVE to be able to see
someday since it's NOT the standard type. see this post: