Planet of the Capes: Why superheroes and sci-fi are driving licensing

Last weekend San Diego was overrun with fans eager to immerse themselves in pop-culture. Here, we take a look at how these geek-friendly brands are taking over the licensing space.
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For better or worse, the Hollywood blockbuster is now firmly tied to superheroes. This summer alone has already seen DC’s Wonder Woman and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming hit screens to critical acclaim (both averaged above 90% on Rotten Tomatoes) and financial success, with Wonder Woman taking the title of highest grossing movie of the year, despite being the first superhero film with a female lead since 2004’s shocker Catwoman.

Still to come this winter is Marvel’s Thor: Ragnorak and the highly anticipated superhero team-up Justice League, both of which saw new trailers this weekend. In just two days, both of these trailers currently sit at over 20 million views on YouTube, with news of the trailers topping every news website from The Guardian to Jimmy’s Geek Blog.

For these brands, the licensing opportunities are simply endless. Given their universal appeal and worldwide recognition, there is no limit to a number of products can be enhanced with the backing of a super-charged brand. In the toys space, innovators like Sphero are pushing the envelope with their interactive Spider-man tech toys while on the grown-up side of things the potential for collectables and apparel are exploding, as the phenomenal success of Funko’s pop-culture flagship has proven.

TV also held a massive presence at SDCC. Mega-hit The Walking Dead, now readying its eighth season is still going strong, with an action-packed trailer hinting at the most dynamic season yet. The iconic characters and accessibility is what has propelled this show firmly into the mainstream, with the zombie action now being just as popular with edgy teens as it is with mum and dad.

You don’t need us to tell you that these firmly established franchises are big business, it's in the unknown quantities that firms can get ahead of the game. Comic Con also played host to the very first reveal of sci-fi opus Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s hit novel.

The film looked to be a visual feast, targeting in on the ever growing audience of gamers and with Twitch streamers and gaming YouTubers hitting the mainstream like never before, the film couldn’t hit at a better time. In licensing, hindsight is 20-20 and there is plenty of reward up for grabs for those firms that can spot a trend before it happens. It is perfectly possible that this ambitious virtual world blockbuster could be a complete and total flop, but with Spielberg’s legendary name behind it, it just could be the next big thing.

In many ways, geeks are the tastemakers for tomorrow’s blockbuster franchises. While it may seem to some as a lot of spandex and bad make-up, savvy licensees should keep a close eye on pop-culture expos like SDCC, as they just might spawn the next game changer.

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