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Is Harry Potter The 'New Star Wars' For Toy Licensing?

I was talking to an old time Toy industry guy at Toy Fair this year, and we were discussing Licensing in the toy business. He jokingly asked me this question: "Is Harry Potter The 'New Star Wars' For Toy Licensing". So let me answer that provocative question clearly – Harry Potter and Star Wars are very different properties in many ways, so the clear answer to the question in the title is NO, but nevertheless there is a lot to learn from looking at the development of both of these powerhouse franchises.

This article looks at these two major entertainment properties which can be found across Toy aisles, to learn from the analysis and comparisons and to try to be both entertaining and insightful about Toy Licensing.


Star Wars – A Perennial Best-Selling Toy License

When Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope released to movie theatres back in 1977 it was a massive success both on screen and for related products in stores. The original version had a reported production budget of $11m USD, and according to Box Office Mojo took over $300m USD at the global box office. The mass market merchandise frenzy that followed had never been seen before. I was only 2 years old, so to be honest it largely passed me by, as did The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. However, by the time Return of The Jedi released in 1983, I was a massive Star Wars nut, and I have vivid memories of watching that film at the Odeon cinema on Oxford Street, Manchester, England (pictured below), and of watching the previous two movies avidly whenever they were on TV.

I also remember deeply desiring the Toys. Unfortunately at the time the movies were all the rage, my family could not afford such fripperies as Licensed Toys, but I enjoyed playing with Luke, Han, Leia and co at my friends’ houses. Some years later (I think I was about 11 years old) I found a full set of original Toys at a jumble sale (like a UK version of a garage sale), which I bought for peanuts and cherished. Sadly I no longer have them much to my regret...

Anyway, the point is this, in many ways Star Wars was and still is the best practise template for a Toyetic movie franchise. The broad character array offers something for every child (or adult/kidult). The franchise features ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, heroes and heroines, funny characters, cute characters, weapons, robots, ground vehicles, space ships, big playset inspiring locations such as The Empire’s Death Star or Yoda’s Swamp, and so much more. Over the years I have advised various content creators about which key elements they need to include in their content output to maximise the opportunity for Toys & Games. I have often referred these clients to watch the original Star Wars movies.

This might well explain why Star Wars has been a top-selling Toy brand more or less since the originally released Trilogy kickstarted the whole thing. I began working full time in the Toy business around the turn of the millennium, and as best as I can remember, Star Wars has been a Top 10 License for Toys every year of this millennium so far.



I remember a huge buzz around the original book instalment of Harry Potter, with the release of the second and third books then being hugely anticipated. Like many people I was hooked after the first book. Such a strong storyline, empathetic characters and a unique blend of fantasy and reality.

The original movie was also heavily anticipated, and thus when it released in November 2001 went on to gross just under $1 billion at the global box office. Since then ‘Wizarding World’ (which includes the Harry Potter AND Fantastic Beasts movies) has gone on to become the fourth biggest movie franchise of all time, with reported total box office takings of $9.65 billion at the time of writing, sitting just behind the Star Wars franchise in 3rd place with c. $10.3 billion box office takings.

So Harry Potter is a huge movie franchise. But more than that, it has become an ever present in Toy aisles. As I have meandered through retail across the last 12 months, one of the ever presents was Harry Potter licensed merchandise. 

One interesting thing to note here, is that when Harry Potter Toys first launched 20+ years back, they weren’t quite as big a success as the strength of following and passion for the franchise might have suggested they would be. Mattel had the original master Toy license but struggled somewhat. One reason given by many observers at the time was that the lower than expected sales results from Harry Potter Toy & Game products was a result of the stark Gender labelled merchandising options at the time – Toys back then tended to go in aisles clearly labelled as ‘Boys’ or ‘Girls’ or ‘Preschool’. These options didn’t really suit Harry Potter which was of course a property with a strong lead boy character, alongside many strong females in the film, not the least of which being the always impressive Hermione Granger. Harry Potter was not a very obvious traditional ‘Boys’ property, a la Power Rangers, He Man or Star Wars - whereby the focus is on action, quick wit and one liners, and physical conflict of some sort. Moreover, the characters lacked the glitzy fashion most prominently found in the ‘Girls’ aisle at that point in time.

I was at Hasbro back when the first Harry Potter Toys came out. I have vague recollections that those of us at Hasbro who were fans of the books were somewhat miffed when Mattel got the master Toy license for Harry Potter. We at Hasbro did get some peripheral opportunities with rights for ‘Candy’ and some other peripheral categories. I remember we had big expectations for Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, but I don’t think we enjoyed great success from memory back then. 

So if the original Toy products were not as successful as we would have expected back then, what changed to see Harry Potter grow into a perennial Toy brand which today only seems to grow in strength and retail presence every year, despite it being more than a decade since The Deathly Hallows Part 2 released in cinemas?

We can see 3 major trends affecting and boosting the opportunity for Harry Potter to become a powerful perennial franchise:

1.      Originally when the first Toy line was released, the property was arguably equally weighted between readers of the book and watchers of the movies, because to start with there was only one movie and the book series started the whole thing. Most kids would need to be c. 7 to 8 years of age to be able to read that type of book, which as we know is older than the typical Toy demographic. Now though, more than a decade after the release of The Deathly Hallows Part 2, new generations of kids are coming to the franchise fresh and greatly enjoying the movies as a primary point of entry to the franchise. This has in effect reduced the entry point to Harry Potter for children, as the movie is more accessible to younger kids than the books were originally due to movie watching age starting younger versus reading age.


2.     The whole 'Kidult' thang – today’s young adults grew up with Harry Potter movies releasing regularly throughout their childhoods. In effect, you could argue that Harry Potter is to their generation what Star Wars is to my generation – a massive family entertainment franchise which really spoke to that generation. As such, today’s ‘Kidults’ have affection and affinity for this mighty magical franchise and buy merchandise accordingly.


3.     The Toy industry has changed in terms of broader retail channels and marketing methods. Back when Mattel had the first master Toy license for Harry Potter the 'old skool' model still applied – you typically had either a Doll or an Action Figure range to reflect the main characters, plus playsets and ideally a vehicle or two, and heavy TV advertising combined with focus on a limited number of mass market retailers meant that no bigger company wanted to chase individual Toy categories with a license. Today’s market is so much more nuanced and full of niches of various sizes, meaning that Licensing can go further than it did before, and Licensees can easily tap into ‘Community’ that was not open or accessible to them twenty years ago to sell enthusiast product.


No, of course not…it’s a stupid provocative question which we shouldn’t take seriously, it was only asked of me in a joking tone. BUT if we compare the journey of both of these mighty Toyetic franchises we can see different paths to success with Licenses in the Toy & Game business, and we can also see how changing society and changing retail landscape allow different franchises to flourish.

N.B. All trademarks and other intellectual property featured herein are the property of their respective owners.




Several of our clients have asked us to put together a training day program covering the fundamentals of the Toy & Game business.

We are currently working on rolling this training day out to a broader audience.

If you want to sign up to the waiting list, to receive more information and to get advanced ticket sale information for you or your team, please click here to sign up:

The curriculum is designed to offer an overview of how the toy & Game business works overall, and by working through key fundamental areas of the Toy business including:

  • Product concept and ideation

  • Manufacturing & shipping

  • Inventory management and forecasting

  • Distribution markets, models, methods and channels

  • Selling internationally, managing export sales

  • How to sell Toys & Games to retail buyers

  • How to get your products placed in retail

  • Toy & Game industry Trade shows

  • Toy & Game marketing

  • How brand licensing works

  • Consumer insights in the Toy & Game business

  • A non-legal look at Legal - IP/brand protection, Contracts, NDAs

  • Biggest mistakes to avoid in the Toy & Game business

  • Information sources on the global Toy & Game industry

  • And more...



This is a fundamentals training course, so by definition it is pitched at giving a basic understanding of key elements of the Toy & Games business. This course will be of help for people with c. 3 years or less experience in the business, or people who have primarily worked in one discipline and now need an idea of how the rest of the Toy business works, and for those who are in start-up or pre-start up mode.

The course will include ample opportunity to ask specific questions to aid your understanding and learning. This is not designed to be passive learning, the more questions you ask the more you will get from the training.



Steve Reece will present all elements of this course. Steve has 25 years experience working across the Toy & Games business and has a long-term commitment to helping the learning and development of people in the Toy & Game business. He has worked for and with major Toy & Game companies as well as hundreds of smaller companies and start-ups. He first ran training courses for our industry back in 2011.



We are delivering the course via online training. We are also running training days in client's offices..



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