History of Trek Movie Merchandising

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.


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Great article! I have the Mr. Spock decanter (sans libation, unfortunately) and, dare I say it, the ‘marshmelon’ dispenser….

I bought a medallion from Lincoln for STIV which I still have.

I also have the marsh-melon dispenser somewhere…

What about Taco Bell’s “Star Trek III” Glasses?

Cool – The TMP Enterprise was able to seperate the saucer section *and* had a landing gear!? Take that, “Enterprise-couldn’t-have-been-built-on-earth”-canonites! :-)

Bring on the goods! My wallet needs to lose some weight!

Paramount needs to heed Yogert’s words of wisdom !

They need to hit the public upside the head with mer-chen-dise-ing the likes we’ve haven’t seen in a LONG time !

Put it in peoples face and they’ll know that there’s a new film on the way that has a huge promotion behind it.

If you sell it, they will come ;)

Dont’ forget the ST V walkie talkie communicators! http://www.yourprops.com/view_item.php?movie_prop=8579

I have a bunch of the FC stuff. Interesteing to note that the FC Enterprise-E wasn’t exactly as it ended up appearing in the film. Always assumed it was like the Generations uniform thing.

Wow, I don’t remember the happy meal klingon, or the frankenberry commercial for star trek., I do remember the tv spots and movie trailer for TMP..I had the activity book by the way. I was 15..what can I say.

If Roddenberry wrote the TMP novelization, that puts us one-up on Star Wars (where George Lucas put his name on the novelization even though it was really ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, IIRC).

I had that photo-story/fumetti book and really liked it. I remember having a couple for some of the TV episodes as well, at one point … Most of that stuff got tossed out in moves long ago, though.

Spaceballs and Galaxy Quest were two good movies!

If only there was Galaxy Quest 2 !!!!


Just to veer off-topic for a sec –


*We now return you to your regular programming*. ;-)


…that the STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE Happy Meals came with little toy spaceships…

…however, NONE were of the TREK universe vehicles, and they were all made from some rubbery/spongy material, like really flacid erasers.

Very bizarre, but I played with them anyway!

…Of course, one of the “Holy Bat’leth’s” of Klingon Language Scholars is the full transcript, sans human announcer, of what the Klingon was saying during that Happy Meal commercial. There’s a few words spoken that aren’t in Orkand’s books, especially “French Fries”, IIRC.

I have the Happy Meal containers in my collection. How sas is that? A cereal (I forget which) had cards on the back of their boxes of ST:TMP characters. I was sick of that vile stuff before I got the whole set.

I hope that there is a happy meal tie-in. What town doesn’t have a Mickey D’s?


I’ll always have a soft spot in my Trekkie heart for TMP and the Mego figures, but Mego really shot themselves in the foot by producing such BORING figures. Not very dynamic or kid-friendly colorful, like the Kenner STAR WARS figures, and NO phasers??? Or tricorders or communicators? In the post-WARS toy world, you NEEDED to have guns and/or gadgets to go along with your little 3-1/2 inch figures. Mego tried to remedy that slightly with their (slightly superior) BUCK ROGERS and BLACK HOLE lines, but alas, the hands were made of such flimsy plastic, the thumbs would BREAK OFF every time you stuck a gun in there!

Really a missed opportunity to one-up the Kenner Corp. Losing the STAR WARS license could have only been only a minor hiccup, but putting out sub-par product of TMP and their other licenses was indeed the beginning of the end for poor old Mego.

#7 – I have those tucked away somewhere too. :)

An electronic Reman Warbird Scimitar from Nemesis would have sold like hot cakes.

I would very much like to see a mass-merchandising deluge associated with this new Star Trek movie. Part of the appeal of Star Wars is its association with new toys. Parents can easily find and afford the latest action figure based on the newest reworking of Star Wars characters, vessels, and equipment. The Star Wars movies seem designed with merchandising in mind, with their broad variety of easily distinguishable yet familiar aliens, hardware, and settings. This synergy contributes to the franchise’s success, since each generation can clamor for the latest version of the same basic things that their parents played with.

To be “cool” again with the younger set, Star Trek should consider aiming for the same goal, although, naturally, never at the cost of sacrificing its core artistic and universalistic principles. Trek phasers should be broadly marketed, as well as playable versions of Federation and alien ships. Above all, Kirk, Spock, and other heroes of Star Trek should be at least as broadly marketed to the younger set as Star Wars figures such as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.

We have today a golden opportunity to revitalize the the Trek franchise by making it a full franchise equal of Star Wars in every respect. No longer will Trek fans have to search far and wide for new products to buy and collect. At the same time, “brand loyalty” to Trek will be instilled in a whole new generation of youngsters — who will then grow up and encourage their own children to enjoy Trek through by buying them Trek collectibles and toys.

Marketing is the name of the franchise game at the levels at which we want to play. There’s a whole new universe of collectibles and toys out there, waiting to be explored. What better way to do it than through Trek?

I worked at McDonald’s when all this stuff came out. I was so excited–at 17–I built so many of those stupid communicator things for the kids ( I had to give the b-day parties). But they came out before the movie so I had an idea of what was going to happen.
Oh the memories –I can’t believe it’s been 29 years since ST-TMP came out!

I used to have that electronic Enterprise. I loved it. I’ve been checking Ebay for another.

I remember many of the 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture promotion. That Klingon happy meal ad, I remember that minor music a bit and the warship laser blast. At that time, I had not watched TOS (well back then it was just plain ol Star Trek) but I remember seeing the movie for the first time and I liked it. It had the right look and feel for science fiction. The first movie gets a lot of shit, but it should be pointed out that it was an amazing science fiction movie that most definately took the Trek franchise… well it was starting to make it the franchise, but it took things in a very different direction. It was bold, edgy, and a film in the trek movie series I still like a lot. I even had that stupid communicator wrist watch thing from the McDonald’s happy meal. It wasn’t until about the time of Trek III’s release that I was able to watch TOS on TV. Some of you Iowans may remember KCBR “The Great Entertainer” Ch 17 (now KDSM) featured Star Trek and had a fanclub Star Base 17. That is where I watched most of TOS as often as I could. How did we do it before DVD boxed sets?

the ST-TMP soundtrack also came on 8-track. Look it up on wikipedia if you don’t know what that is :-)

In general I like the more low key style marketing. Let the movie speak for itself. Also, how do you think the internet influenced the TNG era films? That’s something all of the classic TOS films didn’t have access to.

A couple of friends presented me with original TMP Star Trek Happy meal boxes, with toys included for my 40th birthday last year. (one friend gave me a whole stack of them) I remember loving them… and trying to draw the Enterprise from the movie from the illustrations on the boxes. And the Federation logo has never looked better as it did in the lovely airbrushed art on those Happy meals.

Fond memories, indeed.

I have a bunch of Genrations plastic cups that I thought were from Jack N The Box, but I could be wrong.

Heh, I have most of the above souvenirs. :-)

I have all the STTMP stuff, everything! I have the megos, happy meals, games, ships, cards, movie programs, etc. I enjoyed that movie alot, as I still do! That is why I have such a large set of stuff from that movie! They missed a couple of things in the article in regards to merchandising:

STII: Large card set, models, pewter action figures, corgi’s
STIII: Action figures, models card set, glasses from taco bell (I have 30 or so!)
STIV: Movie program, glow in the dark cups, card set
STV: Large action figures, dinkys, models, marshmellon dispensor, audio book, book,
STVI: Virtually nothing!
STVII: Action figures, comic books, playsets, ships, micromachines, role play (communicator,etc.) and the promotion was at Jack in The Box not at a hamburger stand or something, they had a large array of cups and toys and all the bags that were given out with the food were Generations full color ones, I have a couple, and they gave out movie posters and had a big display at the one near me.
St insurrection- 9 inch dolls, and the usual, books, etc.

From what I understand, there will be a toy fair in the states on Feb 17. They will be introducing the Star Trek 2008 movie crew.

I can’t believe I missed “First Contact: The Food!” The Rice Krispies look awesome!

A klingon hawking McDonald’s happy meals…now I have truly seen everything…

I still have a Saurian Brandy bottle. It makes me quite happy. I also have the cut-away poster of the 1701 that was for sale in the theater concession stands as well as a beautiful mylar poster of the 1701 with the logo for TMP in the corner.

I was three when TMP came out and four when they still had the Trek Happy Meals; good times.

Yeah, I don’t remember much merchandising from Star Trek 6. Of course, I was just thankful to see that movie get made! (it is my second favorite film, next to Wrath of Khan.) Nemesis really had next to non advertising or marketing to promote it. A new TNG film is actually something I think the world would like to see. Problem with Nemesis (besides it being a bad movie) was that no one even seemed to know it was coming out!

What I would do for one of those TMP Happy Meals.. and yet I haven’t even looked on eBay yet to see if they’re there.. they probably are!!

I’m laughing my head off over the 70’s commercials. Can you say CHEEEEESEY? xD

Cool merchandise.

TMP is a truly epic film and Roddenberry’s novel is an authentic realization of the idea and the characters.

The Trek movies need to feel like EVENTS. I agree.

Lovely stuff.

But do we really need to perpetuate the myth that Star Wars made movie merchandising big for the first time? Look at ‘Planet of the Apes’, the mid 60s Bonds (particuarly ‘Thunderball’, which has a staggering number of items) or the 280 separate tie-in products produced for the Rex Harrison ‘Dr Doolittle’ in 1968..

10 – GR really did write the TMP novelisation. Lucas started writing the SW novelisation but didn’t have time to finish it (or even get very far into it) so ADF finished it. Lucas has never denied it though and even wrote a foreword for reprints which basically said ‘I didn’t write this, Alan did. If you like it, thank him not me.’

Ha! I remember those Happy Meals! After (or was it right before? Can’t remember that little detail) seeing TMP in the theaters at the ripe old age of 7, my folks took me to McD’s and I got – I believe – the Ilia pack. I ended up sticking all the decals on a tacky blue sweater. I think I still have that sweater, but haven’t looked at it in over twenty years. I do know I have an Ilia sticker on my old dresser (amongst old NHL, Star Wars, and Wacky stickers), which is now in my son’s room growing his own memories.

Ah, the memories. Unfortunately, the only artifact I have from the old ‘good toys’ McD days are my Star Wars glasses.

Wow! It’s not even funny how much of this stuff I have or had.

And I do have the complete set of ST:3 Taco Bell Glasses, too!

I still have a Dr McCoy glitter iron on from the McDonald’s Happy Meals!!

I believe that was some of the first items offered in Happy Meals…

And of course, the obligatory Saurian Brandy bottle…

ST:TMP being an event is an understatement. In my little world, at 19 years of age, it was more like the Second Coming of Star Trek. It was one of the most exciting things I could imagine. That December will live in my memory at the Christmas That Star Trek Lived.

By the time ST:Nemesis came out, the ST movies were like shuttle launches to the general public… except for the occasional newsworthy tragedy, they were so commonplace as to be ignored.

#46 –


Sadly, that’s one of the best analogies I’ve ever heard in regards to the general decline of the TREK franchise.

Star Trek: The Flame Thrower! (the kids love this one)

#46 Egads… right on. I think that timing be wrong fur a successful film… Trek is still on teevee quite a lot… Why it’s like making a Simpsons movie…

Star Trek XI will need one good ol’ push to stand out… if it can at all…
Maybe a NASCArrrrrr sponsorship…
Or have Beckham get a Spock tattoo on his cheek…

I have such fond memories of that ST:TMP Happy Meal, but only recently did I learn about it being the first such movie tie-in. History in the making…

As others have said, TMP was an event on many levels. Just try to imagine what Star Trek might look like if there had never been that first fairly-successful (in ticket sales, especially) motion picture? Without TMP, Trek might have simply died away after a decade of dedicated fandom. Instead, in 1979 Star Trek was given a boost and a new direction, a new sense of hope for new adventures, “Out there. Thataway.” (sigh…oh, the nostalgia) That’s it, I’m going over to Ebay now to shop for ST:TMP stuff. Y’all be nice and don’t bid on anything for a while, okay?