50 bizarre examples of movie tie-ins and merchandise

Movie merchandise is big business. But some people will try and slap the name of The Avengers or Batman on anything...

Cool film stuff can be almost as fun as actually going to the movies. Think of a Batman cape, an Arnold Schwarzenegger action figure, or Goldeneye on the N64. Hell, the merchandising can often be more enjoyable than the actual film – remember how much fun the first few months of 1999 were before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was actually released?

Yet, in the chase to make a quick buck out of devoted fans, some… let’s just say less relevant, movie merchandise is churned out and flogged to the public.

Here then are 50 of the strangest (not ranked in order!) – expect action figures of obscure henchmen, 16-carat gold Twilight jewellery and some truly vomit-inducing burgers…

1. Spider-Man 3 / The Dark Knight – Burger King’s Dark Whopper

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In Spider-Man 3, Peter Parker gets lured over to the dark side by an evil alien symbiote. Burger King chose to promote this with a special edition ‘Dark Whopper’, which was basically just a regular Whopper with pepper sauce on it. It also had ‘web-shaped’ fries.

That’s not the weird bit though. The weird bit happened the next summer, when to tie in with The Dark Knight, Burger King released exactly the same burger, claiming it now was inspired by Batman’s dark side. God damn, Burger King! A burger can’t represent Spider-man and Batman! Didn’t they get the memo that it’s the law to pick a side?

2. First Blood – 1987 and 1988 Rambo Annuals

We’ve already covered this in detail (right here in fact), but long story short: John Rambo is a unstable, violent Vietnam veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Someone thought he’d be a good character to base a children’s Christmas annual around. Including colour-in machine guns. Hours of fun!

3. Mean Girls – Mean Girls for Nintendo DS

Mean Girls might seem like an odd film to adapt into a digital format, but if you’re trying to appeal to the severely underserved but rapidly growing teen girl market for video games, it’s not a bad shout. By the time the game came out in 2011 however, seven years after the film’s release, star Lindsay Lohan had gone somewhat off the rails, and was maybe not the sort of person a parent would really want their young daughter to look up to. Therefore the producers decide to erase her from the cover of the box (but still leave Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried on there), meaning that the game was released with no reference to the film’s star on the packaging.

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4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula – The Novelisation

In case the author’s name in the title didn’t give it away, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula movie was based on a book. A rather famous book called Dracula. So there’s no need to write a novelisation, right? But that’s what happened. So when the film came out, you could buy the original Bram Stoker novel. Or you could buy the novel, based on the James V Hart screenplay, which in turn was based on, er, the Bram Stoker novel. Face and palm.

5. The Blair Witch Project – ‘Soundtrack album’

Popularising (if not quite originating) the concept of found footage film, The Blair Witch Project doesn’t have any music in it. But when it became one of the most profitable films of all time, a soundtrack CD was rushed out to cash in on its success.

Albums of music ‘From And Inspired By The Motion Picture’ only tangentially connected to a film are not uncommon, but this came with the terribly lazy conceit of being a ‘mix tape’ of lame goth rock and spoooooky black metal found in the car of the guys who disappeared in the film. Sigh.

6. Step Up – The Official Dance Workout

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Are the parade of DVDs starring soap stars and reality TV contestants that come out every January not enough for you? Well, now you can get in shape with all your favourite characters from Step Up, including Channing Tatum, Moose, er, some others! Of course, none of them are in the DVD, just a load of jobbing backing dancers, but still…

7. Alien – Original Kenner 18” Alien action figure

Wanting to follow up the unexpected stratospheric success of its Star Wars toys, Kenner was keen to pick up any big sci-fi movie that it thought might be the next big thing. Unfortunately, the one it picked was Ridley Scott’s Alien. It was not a kid friendly space romp, but instead a violent claustrophobic and terrifying horror. Before it realised this though, it released a quite frankly awesome 18” xenomorph figure that was quietly dropped after a host of complaints that it wasn’t really a suitable plaything for children. Parents. Tsk.

8. Aliens – Micro Machines

Following its more action orientated sequel, and toys being based on R-rated movies becoming more common, more action figures based on the Alien characters were eventually released. Yet we’re still pretty confused by the combining of Aliens and late-80s tiny car franchise Micro Machines.

9. Transformers – Play Shave Set

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I get that kids like to pretend to do things that adults do. It’s all part of growing up. But fake Transformers-themed razors? These actually happened.

10. Dick Tracy – Madonna’s I’m Breathless

The ill-fated Dick Tracy movie – which we looked back at here – had a whopping three soundtrack albums: Danny Elfman’s original score. An Original Soundtrack featuring such early 90s icons as Ice-T and Erasure. And then there was Madonna’s I’m Breathless, a bizarre combination of soundtrack, Madonna studio album and quick cash-in.

In the film Madonna played nightclub singer Breathless Malone, so the album featured the handful of songs sung by her in the movie itself (written by musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim). But that was only a few tracks, so the rest of it was bulked out with a really awkward Madonna album trying to be in the style of a roaring 20s jazz singer, but clumsily updated through late 80s soul. And then tacked on the end because they needed a hit single, is Vogue, one of Madonna’s biggest ever hits, but completely out of place with then-innovative interpolation on New York deep house.

Again, it’s a testament to the record industry logic that people will buy anything as long as it’s got the name of a film they liked on the cover.

11. My Neighbour Totoro – Totoro onesies

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Okay, this one might just be me. But when I think of Studio Ghibli’s wonderful film, I just think about one of the most beautiful animated films ever made, and the touching low-key tale of the power of children’s imagination to overcome horrible tragedies. I don’t, however, think of something for teenagers to wear at music festivals. Plus a skinny Totoro just looks so wrong.

12. Django Unchained – Action figures

In the 21st century, high-end toys for adult collectors are an established thing. Occasionally some out of touch moral crusader will kick off about there being ‘kid’s playthings’ of Sin City or something, but they are generally ignored in this day and age.

The Django toys were something different though. With the film’s unconventional depiction of slavery already being controversial, criticism of the toys from African American activists, including Rev. Al Sharpton, led to the figures being pulled from stores.

Of course there was no malicious intent behind their creation, they were only made to give movie nerds something cool to put on their shelves. Yet it’s one thing to have figure of violent badass Django – it’s a whole other kettle of fish to produce dolls of ‘house slave’ Stephen.

13. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Monolith ‘actionless’ figure

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As a 2010 April Fool’s joke, toy retailer Think Geek advertised the ludicrous idea of a toy based on the iconic black monolith from Kubrick’s sci-fi classic (the packaging proudly proclaimed ‘zero points of articulation!’).

But the joke went down so well, that it ended up producing the figure for real. Which is kind of cool. It’s still just a slab of black plastic in funny packaging though.

14. Rocky – Meat action figure

Just as crazy as the monolith figure is the fact that Jakks Pacific’s line of Rocky action figures, alongside Mr Balboa, Ivan Drago and Clubber Lang, contained a toy of the meat that he uses as a punch bag in the freezer. Yes, really. It even comes with a bloody butcher’s smock, for completion’s sake.

15. Super Mario Bros. – Colouring book

The Super Mario Bros. movie is a pretty baffling pop culture artefact on its own (we found 10 remarkable things about it here), but somehow the film’s events take on an even more surreal turn when depicted in colourless, fine line style. Possibly the most disturbing image is that of a realistically-rendered dinosaur (probably meant to be Yoshi) tenderly licking a sleeping Samantha Mathis’ Princess Daisy on the face.

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16. Dick Tracy – Novelisation

Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy adaptation is, for its many qualities, full of plot holes and clumsy storytelling. When Max Allan Collins (then-writer of the Tracy newspaper strip) was hired to write the novelisation, he attempted to deal with the script’s issues. But he hit his own problems.

The film ends with the shock reveal of the identity of Tracy’s mysterious antagonist The Blank. Not wanting the surprise to be spoilt before people saw the film, Disney chose to release the book without its final chapter, thus leaving the story incomplete, but without the movie’s reveal spoilt. Later printings restored the full ending, but it’s still an insane move.

17. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Marvel comic book adaptation

Trying to adapt Stanley Kubrick’s superlative space saga into a comic book seems like a crazy idea. Even more crazy is making it an ongoing series continuing the story. Even more crazy than that though is getting the bombastic Jack Kirby (co-creator Captain America, Fantastic Four, X-Men and possibly the greatest cartoonist who ever lived) to write and draw it.

It’s difficult to imagine a bigger clash of styles than Kubrick’s slow, controlled minimalism and Kirby’s dynamic, pulse-pounding art and over-the-top prose. Like virtually everything Kirby did, it’s fantastic, but not really in the spirit of the original. If you’re interested in finding out more, I highly recommend this great piece by Noel Murray comparing Kirby and Kubrick.

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18. Little Shop Of Horrors – DC comic book adaptation

Before the days of VHS, let alone DVD and Netflix, comic book adaptations of popular films were a common thing – along with novelisations they were one of the few ways of reliving your favourite movies once they left cinemas.

Not all the magic of cinema can be captured on the printed page, however, especially if it’s a musical. The DC adaptation of Frank Oz’s cult musical decided to take the unusual step of having all the song lyrics included in the comic as thought bubbles of the various characters. Of course, there’s no music. Strangely, the lyrics don’t have the same pizzazz when rendered in block text.

19. E.T. – Atari 2600 video game

One of the most notorious movie tie-ins of all time. In order to get the game of Steven Spielberg’s hit film out in time for Christmas, it was rush-developed in just over a month by just one programmer. Unsurprisingly, the finished product was terrible, and bombed completely. So badly in fact, that Atari ended burying thousands of unsold copies in the New Mexico desert – and earlier this year a documentary crew dug them up and found them.

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20. Dune – Activity book

Frank Herbert’s original Dune novel is a dense, long, heavy sci-fi epic. David Lynch’s film version is complicated, overly ambitious and confusing mess. That sounds like the sort of film kids would love to colour in and complete word searches about, right?

Sample colouring page: Brad Dourif and Jurgen Prochnow’s characters lying dead in a laboratory, with the caption ‘Duke Leto and Piter die’.

21. Thor – Dumbbell alarm clock

Want to get muscles like Thor? You can’t just work out with any dumbbell, it has to be this Thor-branded dumbbell. Oh wait, it’s actually an alarm clock. Erm, OK….

22. The Avengers – Cologne

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Want to smell like a superhero? Well now you can with this special Avengers range of colognes.

Choose between Patriot, the scent of Captain America (want to smell like a guy who’s been comatosed since the 40s?), Iron Man’s Mark IV (metal?), Thor’s Worthy, Hulk’s Smash or Nick Fury’s sexy-sounding Infinity Formula. Or for the less heroic of you, Mischief, the scent of Loki.

Ladies, don’t feel like you’re left out either, as makers JADS International has also released a Black Widow perfume. Lovely.

23. The Avengers – Cologne (cheaper version)

Want to smell like a super-hero, but can’t afford the fancy-pants version? Well, you’re in luck, as Marvel has also released a budget all-purpose Avengers Eau de Toilette, combining four heroes’ smells in one. It’s the super-hero equivalent of getting Kalvin Clein or DKNW fragrances down the market.

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24. Despicable Me – Adult Minion Costume

‘For Halloween this year I’m just not trying’.

25. Scooby Doo – Dog costume

Yep, you can dress your dog up as a dog. Just in case he didn’t look enough like a dog already. Just think of the existential issues you’re putting him through…

You might just have spotted that we’ve had to do that thing where we annoyingly have to break an article up. Then we have to write a piece of text up here, else the formatting goes all funny. Hopefully you will forgive us on both counts. It just keeps load times manageable. We promise not to do it very often. Back to the list…

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26. The Empire Strikes Back – Tauntaun sleeping bags

This is another one that started out as a Think Geek April Fool’s prank, but got such a good reaction that it ended up producing it for real. It’s actually pretty cool, and looks really cute, until you think about it and realise it means you’re meant to be sleeping in the eviscerated carcass of an innocent animal you just cut open. Which isn’t that cute. It’s bit icky to be honest.

27. The Matrix Reloaded – Samsung SPH-N270

In the original Matrix, the Nokia 8110 was prominently featured. With its effortlessly slick spring-loaded slider, it perfectly fitted into the super-cool technological world of the film. It instantly made it the coolest phone in the world, and everyone wanted one (fun fact: the spring was actually added to the 8110 by the filmmakers for dramatic effect, but was incorporated into it’s follow-up 7110, which colloquially became known as the ‘Matrix phone’).

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When the sequel came around, Samsung signed up with the producers to steal a bit of Nokia’s cool, and produce a tie-in phone of its own. However, instead of producing something sleek and desirable, it released a lumpy looking ugly thing that destroyed everything that people liked about the first one. The Wachowskis kind of did the same thing with Reloaded and Revolution, to be fair.

28. Street Fighter: The Movie – Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game

Street Fighter is one of the greatest fighting games of all time. It is a true classic of its genre. The 1994 Street Fighter movie is not such a classic. In the digital equivalent of writing a novelisation of a film that’s already based on a classic book (Dracula, perhaps), a terrible video game spin-off was released, that did away with everything that was great about Street Fighter 2. Instead of the original, beloved representations of the characters, we got crummy digitised versions of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kylie Minogue.

It did not go down well.

29. Moonwalker – Mega Drive video game

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is pretty demented on its own. Yet the Sega Mega Drive adaptation (one of several video games based on the film) manages to be even more insane.

To the strains of 16-bit versions of his greatest hits, you play as Jacko himself, going around trying to find kidnapped children (maybe not a brilliant idea, in retrospect), and when you unleash your most powerful attack, you make all the on-screen enemies, including guard dogs, do the Thriller dance. It is incredible. The dogs even stand up on their hind legs and everything. More like this, please.

30. Monsters University – Huggies potty training

Potty training is a fact of life. I get that. And Monsters University – despite being a take-off of Animal House – is a film young kids will enjoy. But having official branded Monsters University training pants, and a full branded potty training programme just seems like the corporatisation of your child’s bodily functions. All together now: “What Do Little Monsters Take? A Potty Break!”

31. Star Wars – Underoos

In the US, I believe Underoos are a nostalgic part of many Generation Xer’s childhoods. But to us in the UK, not having been raised with them, they just seem a bit odd. Hey kids! Want to dress up as Luke Skywalker or Boba Fett? But not a whole costume, just your pants and vest? It just feels a bit wrong.

32. Dawn Of The Dead – Board game

George Romero’s zombie classic doesn’t seem like an obvious choice to be turned into a board game. It’s much more a serious game for hard core gamers, think Warhammer rather than the family playing Monopoly at Christmas. It also comes with some legitimately awesome zombie and SWAT figurines. And of course, the board is the layout of the shopping mall.

33. Star Trek – Coffins

Fandom can dominate people’s lives. It can also dominate their deaths, I guess. If geeky stuff is what someone loved, and that’s how their friends and family choose to celebrate their life at their funeral, then that’s genuinely quite sweet. But is there really now enough demand for official Star Trek coffins to be produced on a commercial scale? Apparently so. Die long and prosper?

34. Batman – Bob, the Joker’s Goon figure

Imagine you’re a nine-year old in 1989 (maybe you actually were). You’ve just seen Tim Burton’s Batman. It was awesome, wasn’t it? And now you want the toys. Which figures do you? Batman? The Joker? Obviously! Commissioner Gordon? Vicky Vale? Well, maybe…. Alfred? Er…. How about that super-iconic character Bob, The Joker’s Goon? Well? Come on, he even has Power Kick action!


35. Raiders Of The Lost Ark – German Mechanic figure

Okay, so the bit where Indy fights the big German guy in Raiders and then his head ends up getting jammed in the propellers is pretty damn awesome. But is he really worthy of a figure? Especially one without an ‘Exploding Head Action’?

36. Sex And The City – Thongs

There are no words.

37. James Bond – Tocca Candles

James Bond appreciates the finer things in life. A fine Martini. A vintage Austin Martin. A beautiful woman. And apparently a really expensive candle.

Yep, only 40-odd dollars can get you a lump of of wax that promises to emit ‘a rich leathery aroma designed to turn your living room into Bond world’. We’re really not making this shit up.

Why a leathery aroma? Because it’s the ‘distinctive combination of the interior of an Aston Martin and a dry Martini’, of course. But don’t just take our word for it – a commenter on jamesbondlifestyle.com raves ‘The scent is masculine and very pleasant. I keep one in my bedroom and I take one with me when travelling. It really sets the tone in a hotel room and makes it your own. A lady will instantly know she is in a man’s room when she smells the leather’.

Er, sold?

38. James Bond – KFC ties

James Bond is an international icon of style. And what says ‘style’ more than promotional ties that you get free with a KFC meal?

39. Being John Malkovich – Russian dolls

Most movie promo items are basically tat. A cheap pen, an iPhone case, a horrible T-shirt you’ll never wear, all having little to do with the film apart from the branding. So kudos to who ever came up with the idea for these classy little knick-knacks tying into Spike Jonze’s surreal headtrip. Not only do they make a stylish desk ornament, they also fit the film’s themes perfectly.

Aren’t we all John Malkovich on the inside, ultimately?

40. James Bond – Franklin Mint Plates

Are you the sort of movie geek who likes to buy their movie memorabilia from the back of the Daily Express weekend magazine? Then these plates, with their loving depictions of a slightly pudgy and off-model looking Sean Connery, are for you. They’ll go great next to your Royal Dalton Predator.

41. Ghostbusters – Ectoplasm Energy Drink

This is pretty cool, but also pretty disgusting if you think about it. Would you really want to drink the gloppy green slime left behind by ghosts? Of course, it’s a joke. It’s really just a cheap Red Bull knock-off. Which sounds even less appealing than ectoplasm, to be honest.

42. Twilight – Engagement Ring

It’s easy to make jokes about Twilight fans. But I’m not going to do that. If you want to symbolise your love for your betrothed by spending £1,300 on an officially licensed replica of Bella’s engagement ring, made from diamonds and 14 carat gold, that’s your decision. Good luck to you.

43. James Bond – Daniel Craig Ice Lolly

In order to ‘celebrate National Ice Cream Week’ (sigh), an ice lolly company commissioned a poll to find out which male celebrity British women most wanted to get their tongue around on the end of a stick. Again, flame us all you want, but we’re not making this up.

Surprisingly, they didn’t pick leathery old Roger Moore in a safari suit, instead picking Daniel Craig emerging from the ocean in Casino Royale. An ice lolly was made. Do your own gags here.

44. The Passion Of The Christ – Nail Pendant

If you are a religious person, you might wear a necklace or a pendant depicting a symbol relating to your religion, to show how important your faith is to you. But why not also have that object also officially endorse a hit film as well?

There’s nothing wrong with that, right? That’s not exploiting people’s faith at all. That’s why the producers of Mel Gibson’s ultra-violent Christian docudrama set up www.sharethepassionofthechrist.com, where you can buy not only jewellery based on the film, but also mugs, key rings and leather bible cases!

45. Disney Princesses – Disney Bridal

As part of the wider ‘Disney Weddings’ wedding planners, Disney offers wedding dresses inspired by the likes of Ariel, Cinderella and Jasmine. Considering that that Disney animation has given many generations of young girls unrealistic expectations about being swept off their feet by dashing princes, it’s nice that it offers something to their big day more like a fairy tale.

46. Star Wars – Black Darth Vader burger

To celebrate the release of the 3D conversion of The Phantom Menace – a release that really, really wasn’t worth celebrating – French fast food chain Quick unleashed a ‘Dark Vader Burger’, which was basically a normal burger that had the bun dyed jet black. It looked utterly, utterly disgusting.

47. Star Wars – R2D2 Aquarium

So I have a dilemma. I really want a good sized model of R2D2. I also really want a fish tank. But I only have a small apartment, and don’t have room for both. If only there was a way to combine them…

48. Batman Returns – Penguin Commando figures

People say that Tim Burton’s Batman films managed to destroy the image of the silly, camp Adam West TV series. But have you seen those films recently? In the first one, The Joker dances around a gallery to Prince with a giant boom box. In the second one, The Penguin has literal Penguins as henchmen.

I really like the idea of some kid in 1992 taking his official Batman models of little penguins to school and trying to convince everyone that they really are Batman toys when the other kids ask him why the hell he’s got toy penguins instead of superheroes.

49. Jurassic Park – Dennis Nedry figure

Dennis Nedry, played by Wayne Knight, is one of the most memorable characters from Jurassic Park – an overweight, egotistical computer programmer who steals valuable dinosaur embryos, shutting down the park in the process and meeting a sticky end and the hands (claws?) of a Dilophosaurus. He’s a very big dude in a Hawiian shirt. How is he depicted in action figure form? A buffed-up dinosaur wrangler wearing sunglasses who looks a bit like Jean-Claude Van Damme in Timecop.

50. Various William Castle films

It might seem like terrible movie merchandise is a recent occurrence – something that happened when Hollywood discovered how well Star Wars toys were selling. That’s mostly the case, but we couldn’t let this go without a little tip of the hat to infamous 50s & 60s movie producer William Castle, affectionately known as King Of The Gimmicks.

In order to get people to go and see his (often low rent) horror productions, he gave out all sorts of crazy merchandise, either as gifts with admission or just to promote the film. 13 Ghosts came with a ‘Ghost Viewer’, a pair of cardboard glasses with red and blue lenses that made on-screen ghosts appear or disappear. Zotz! came with a glow in the dark ‘magic’ coin. For Straight-Jacket, he gave out cardboard axes.

Perhaps the greatest though was with his 1958 thriller Macabre, for which every cinema goer received an insurance policy with their ticket covering them if they died of fright during the film!

Leave your own suggestions in the comments below…

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