There is more to movies than just going to the theaters. There is, of course, the merchandising. The Star Trek film franchise kicked off shortly after Star Wars really brought film merchandising into the big time. As the merchandising for the new Star Trek movie is just gearing up, TrekMovie.com takes a look back at some of Trek’s past forays into this world, with a close look at a couple films in particular.
This article will especially discuss the "introductory" Trek films, The Motion Picture in 1979 and First Contact from 1996. Both of these films reintroduced audiences to their version of Star Trek. TMP was available in theaters 10 years after "Turnabout Intruder" was shown on TV. Although Generations was the first film with the cast from Next Generation, it was put out only months after the finale and still carried with it elements (and cast) from the TOS era films. First Contact was the Next Generation movie with years between the show and the feature film. Both TMP and FC involved design changes for uniforms, sets and of course Enterprise(s). The challenges TMP and FC faced, reminding the generic audience about Star Trek while generating enthusiasm with the fans, are similar to those of the 2008 Star Trek feature film.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – epic merchandising
Although it may not have met with Paramount expectations, Star Trek The Motion Picture is still the most successful Trek film in terms of total ticket sales. The film was a big event Christmas 1979. Why? Some of it was the wait for new Star Trek. Some of it was the special effects. Some of it was the popularity of science fiction during the 1970s. Some of it was the merchandising. There has never been a Star Trek film as heavily merchandised as TMP.
TMP was a truly multimedia event. The film was adapted as a novel (written by Gene Roddenberry) as well as a Marvel Comic. There was also a behind the scenes book, books on tape (or record), coloring books, ship blueprints and art activities books. The trading card company Topps provided fans with an 88 card set and a 22 sticker set. And of course there was Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack (LP and cassette). Most of these items were available before the film was in theaters. .
Just some of the many forms of Star Trek The Motion Picture
In terms of toys, TMP was huge. MEGO put out eighteen action figures (12 small sized and 6 large figures) and an Enterprise playset. For younger kids Knickerbocker made soft figures. MEGO also had large ship toys of the Enterprise, Klingon cruiser, and Vulcan shuttle. Dinky Toys had smaller cheap ship toys and AMT made model kits so you could build your own. There were also wrist communicators, water pistols, a phaser game and more. And if you couldn’t have enough fun with all of that, Milton Bradley made a board game and a video gamed called "Phaser Strike" for their short lived Microvision hand-held platform (one of the first licensed video games). Almost all toys, games and figures were made available before the film (see below for commercials MEGO ran promoting the toys and the film).
Star Trek The Motion Picture also broke new ground in mainstream merchandising, especially with food merchandising. The first movie themed McDonalds Happy Meal ever was for TMP. Starting weeks before the theater showings, fans could enjoy six different Happy Meal designs with movie-themed toys. McDonald’s advertised the meals on TV (see below), providing more promotion for the film. General Mills also had special Star Trek TMP cards in select cereals (see commercial below). Coca-Cola offered a set of 3 special TMP-themed collector glasses. TMP also provided a strange foray into liquor licensing with a Mr. Spock decanter from Grenadier.
Next Generation of merchandising
Star Trek First Contact is the most successful of the TNG era Trek films and it also happens to be the most heavily merchandised. Like TMP, there were versions of the films in various media aimed at different age groups. There was a regular novel (w/ audio book), junior novels, a Marvel comic book, journals/diaries, and a Borg video game. Also the Skybox trading card made a set of 72 widescreen cards. And as usual there was a soundtrack.
First Contact comic and kids book
For toys Playmates rivaled MEGO with their First Contact selection. They offered eleven 6" figures and five 9" figures. Plus Playmates had three ship toys (1701-E Enterprise, Phoenix, and Borg ships), a phaser toy and more.
Some of Playmates First Contact Figures + Phoenix toy
In terms of mass market merchandising for First Contact there were two ‘making of’ television specials (one on the Sci-Fi Channel and one for HBO). The film was also promoted during "Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond" TV special on UPN, hosted by Ted Danson. Plus the weekend the movie opened QVC did a special that sold movie items such as T Shirts and Posters. In 1996 Paramount did a promotion with Kellogg’s for cereals for Trek’s 30th anniversary which included images from First Contact (before the film was out). There were also candy bars from Leaf available mostly at video rental stores like Blockbuster.
First Contact: The Food! Assimilate the Flavor!
Mixed bag for other Trek films
Other Star Trek films were successful with less merchandising. Two of the more successful films, Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV The Voyage Home, had very few toys and little merchandising beyond a soundtrack and novels. However, in neither case did the film going audience need to be introduced (or re-introduced) to Star Trek.
Other Trek films dabbled in mass market food merchandising (Search for Spock had glasses from Taco Bell, Generations a movie poster from hamburger restaurants, and Del Taco offered Nemesis items), but TMP is the only one to get the full McDonald’s treatment. Possibly the weirdest food product was the Star Trek V The Final Frontier marshmallow dispenser from Kraft.
How could Final Frontier fail with this?
If any Trek film could have benefited from a reintroduction set of marketing and merchandising, it would be Star Trek Nemesis. The film came out in 2002 after the longest period between any two Trek films. Yet, Nemesis was merchandised with a only four action figures from Art Asylum, a novelization (and junior book), a Rittenhouse trading card set and a soundtrack. There was also regional promotions limited to Southern California with Safeway Grocery Stores and Del Taco. Most retail stores around the country had no Star Trek presence in 2002. With the limited ad spend, most film goers didn’t even know the film existed.
A gift certificate from Del Taco? This movie will be huge!
Modern film merchandising
For the new film to compete in today’s marketplace, Star Trek (2008) must step beyond how Trek has been handled any time since Star Trek The Motion Picture. Films like Superman Returns and Batman Begins offer guides to how to market and reintroduce franchises to modern audiences. Both films were merchandised with many toys, soundtracks, comic books, novels, restaurant premiums, food items, etc. And, most importantly, almost of the merchandising was done before the films came out. For example Toys R Us had giant displays of the characters weeks before premiere dates to help the film audience be reminded of Batman or Superman (see video below). And most modern films have novel adaptations out over a month prior to the opening of the film.
Although Star Trek The Motion Picture sold more tickets than any Trek film, it was still not as big a success as Paramount had hoped (falling short of Star Wars-like sales). Since then no Trek film (until today) has matched it in terms of budget and epic scale. The question is, will the new Trek film match it in terms of fan and mainstream merchandising. Star Trek (2008) needs to be marketed to help enthuse fans and to tell the generic audience about the film. More, it must say that this is not merely a sequel, but something new. Trek toys at retail stores or Happy Meals would alert the generic audience that Trek (like recent outings for Star Wars, Batman, Transformers, Superman, Spider-man, etc) is back…and cool again.
More merchandising news coming soon
This article has taken a look back at the past, but later this week TrekMovie.com will take you to the future with an inside look at the state of merchandising for the new Star Trek movie.
Yogurt said it best
We will leave you with these words of wisdom, from the all wise Yogurt.
Special thanks to the Star Trek Comics Checklist, Mego Museum, and New Force Comics for some of the research, videos and images used for this article.