The Death of Indiana Jones: Why the 2008 Toyline Failed

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In 2008 Hasbro fulfilled the dreams of many toy collectors by releasing Indiana Jones toys, which coincided with the theatrical release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Instead of being a smash hit, the line lasted about a year and then was gone. This post attempts to explain just how a successful movie franchises of all time combined with one of the premier action figure making companies could have been a bust when it should have been a hit.

Personally, the Indiana Jones toy line produced by Hasbro during the release of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is very near and dear to my heart. The line was out during a time when my Grandfather was very sick. I remember visiting him in the hospital several times and after leaving each time I’d see ads for Crystal Skull at a nearby Burger King and I’d pick up a few figures at the Wal-mart next door. When many other collectors deride the line, I have a soft spot in my heart for it for emotional reasons. I also liked it because I love Indiana Jones, but I feel that there’s a bit of an underdog current riding through it too.

So with that being said, I decided to revive an article for historical purposes that appeared on my classic toy collecting site that is no longer available. Please keep in mind that there’s a good amount of conjecture, but it’s mixed in with observations made at the time as well as answers from Hasbro in their Q&A sessions.

1. Hasbro Oversold the Line to Retailers: The thinking had to be that Indiana Jones is a huge franchise that was dormant for some time, so collectors would go out in droves and buy toys based on the films. This was combined with the fact that kids would be seeing the new movie and would want toys based on it. So in turn, almost every store in the U.S. ordered loads of Indiana Jones related toys in expectation that they’d sell quickly. It was insane; there were entire four way aisle displays at Wal-Mart stuffed with figures in addition to dedicated hooks in the action figure aisle.

To contrast this, the 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe line that had premiered the year before had to prove they were worthy of some dedicated peg hooks through strong sales. Likewise, the Star Wars brand proved through six movies that it could sell through a large amount of figures during a theatrical release. Indiana Jones was given a huge amount of shelf space based purely on speculation.

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2. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was not well Received: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull didn’t perform as well as expected. Sure it pulled some pretty big numbers at the box office, but there were so many people disappointed in the film that it didn’t carry over into as an enormous hunger for merchandise as was likely predicted.

3. The Cost of Oil: Oil prices soared to record highs at the time, so the figures debuted at a higher price that consumers had been used to and that price would only go up from that point.

4. Quality Issues: The sculpting on the first run of figures was simply terrible. Indiana Jones didn’t look like Harrison Ford in most of the figures, in fact he looked more like Clark Gable in at least one, which is pretty pathetic for a company who could perfectly capture Ford’s likeness in its Star Wars line. To make matters worse, not only was the Jones line made by the same company as the much superior Star Wars line, but it was made by the same team.

The biggest reason for these problems that Hasbro cited at the time was that a new Chinese factory was making the figures and they were taking awhile to catch up to the quality levels collectors demanded and expected in modern toys. This lower level of quality could have caused some collectors to not buy any of the first figures until they were “fixed” in the later waves.

5. Poor Character Selection: The initial waves were overloaded with figures that collectors didn’t care about, especially since The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull underperformed (See issue: #2) and was unpopular with many adult movie-goers (i.e. collectors). Most collectors didn’t care about a Mutt Williams figure if they hated him in the the film (boy, did they ever), and even if they did like the movie, they wanted more figures from the original trilogy than what was being offered. Meanwhile, kids that were into the line could only have so many Mutt Williams figures at a time.

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At the very least it makes a kick ass G.I. Joe display.

6. Vehicle and Playset Selection: The variety of Indy vehicles and playsets weren’t very attractive to collectors, perhaps due to Hasbro trying to milk more life out of the line while cashing in on Crystal Skull because it was “hot”. Almost nobody wanted the Jungle Cutter (again, because of it’s association with Skull) and while the Temple of Akator playset was rather cool, it didn’t tie into any of the more beloved Indiana Jones films. While there were a few things here and there to appeal to fans of the original film or even cross over into the realm of those movies, like Indy on his horse and the transport truck, that was it. Collectors didn’t even get a WWII sidecar, which had been planned!

From a 2008 Hasbro Q&A:

IndianaJonesCollectors.com: Will we see a vehicle, deluxe set, or exclusive of Henry and Indiana Jones with the motorcycle and sidecar as in The Last Crusade?

Hasbro: Unfortunately, while a motorcycle with sidecar was planned, it will not make it out.

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Did anyone want this? Really?

7. A Bad Mail-away: The mail-away incentive for buying the 3-3/4ths inch scale figures wasn’t very enticing. If you collected enough UPCs, you could send in for a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull alien on throne. With the movie proving to be a dud with many fans, nobody cared about an incentive like this. The 12 inch figure incentive was much better, since it was a 12 inch scale Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark, however the bulk of boys toys at the time was in the smaller scale figures.

8. Competition: The line had to compete against Hasbro’s other 3-3/4th inch lines in a time when they were going very strong. G.I. Joe was super hot and with the increase of toys, many collectors might have had to cut back and be more picky when buying figures. A line consisting of bad sculpts and a selection of characters they cared nothing about might have helped pushed buying decisions away from the line.

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9. Great Figures Came out too Late: Waves that contained action figures based on some of the most desired characters from the original Indiana Jones films came out very late and were impossible to find, due to the pegs being full of all the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull figures. Retailers had no incentive to order more figures when they were already overloaded with ones that had been collecting dust for several months.

Making matters worse was the fact that cases of new figures had older, unpopular figures mixed in. Take a Wave 4 case consisting of twelve figures for example:

(2) Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones (already overloaded on shelves and not a popular figure)
(1) Mutt Williams (jacket) with sword (no demand)
(2) Indiana Jones with coiled whip, pistol, rpg, in shirt (already overloaded on pegs)
(1) Indiana jones with sub-machine gun (not much demand for)
(1) Indiana Jones
(1) Chief Temple Guard
(1) Short Round
(1) Willie Scott
(1) Temple Guard
(1) Mola Ram

That’s six figures in a case of twelve that nobody wanted. And that’s just one case. A store in the best of circumstances gets several cases when a line is selling well. Open this case in a store that has pegs full of figures that aren’t moving and you have a problem.

Meanwhile, figures that fans really wanted badly were scheduled for later waves. From a Hasbro Q&A in September of 2008:

Cool Toy Review: Is the German Mechanic figure shown in the second Raiders of the Lost Ark wave scheduled for January going to include any accessories (wrench, removable hat and shirt etc…)?

Also, would it be possible to see a picture of the stands that will be included in this wave as well as Mola Ram without his head dress?

Hasbro: Right now, we are not going to be revealing any more details or information on this wave due to the likelihood that it will not make it out.

In an interesting twist, Toht’s body (the Nazi whose head melts in Raiders), ended up being used for the body of a San Diego Comic Con exclusive Cobra Commander.

It wasn’t until 2011 that this final wave of figures was actually released. A collector’s dream come true, but it didn’t help the line from dying in 2008.

10. Improvement Came too Late: While sculpting greatly improved, it was too little too late. Combined with the overstock of old figures nobody wanted and the fact that most collectors were no longer invested in the line, Indiana Jones died in toy aisles.

While there were many factors at work here, I put most of the blame on Hasbro and this is coming from one of the biggest Hasbro boot lickers around. Indiana Jones toys should never of had a Star Wars film release level of presence at retail in the first place and the rest of the issues outlined above helped to create the perfect storm for the death of the line. If only Hasbro hadn’t put so much stock in the success of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we might have seen more Indiana Jones waves. Thankfully for fans of the line they managed to release the final wave, but it would have been nicer to have a little bit longer life in stores.

  • Nice writeup! I think part of the reason this line never took off is that it doesn’t have laser rifles, space ships, or mutating monsters. The figures are a little too “real.” The 80’s GI Joe toys started off looking like standard military figures and vehicles, but it didn’t take long before Hasbro decided to shake things up, and look at how well that worked for them. I’m not saying I would have wanted an “Outer Space Indy,” but it had to be tough for Hasbro to sell a figure trapped in the first half of the 20th century.

  • I think Hasbro made some mistakes, but I don’t know that we would have ended up with much more than we got anyway. They oversold the line, overestimated kids interest in the line and released too much Crystal Skull stuff, but their isn’t enough interest in the line to maintain it. Even Sideshow’s 12″ Indiana Jones line didn’t last too long while both its Star Wars and G.I. Joe lines are still going strong. I think you are pretty spot on with all of the problems that existed, but if there isn’t enough interest a line like that can’t make it at retail. Now what would be cool is if they created a collector focused line that was sold online, much in the way Mattel handles the Masters of the Universe line.

  • Hasbro has a history of not properly gauging demand for movie-based toys. As successful as Star Wars toys have been, everyone has conveniently forgotten how the Phantom Menace CommTech figures just wouldn’t go away. Toys R Us couldn’t give those things away. I have to believe they were buried in the desert in that same hole with those ET Atari games. While the Joe movie figures weren’t as oversold, a great deal of them are sitting in TJ Maxx and Ross at what some might consider a markdown ($6.99 is still too high, IMO).

  • I’ve seen some photos of those early figures painted by hand by very talented people, and it’s pretty surprising how nice the sculpts actually were. Sloppy paint applications completely ruined them during production, though, so you’d never know it just by looking at the figures released at retail. And honestly, I think Hasbro has a lot of difficulty with Harrison Ford’s likeness in the STAR WARS lines, too. If there’d been a sufficient kid/parent market for this line, the early mistakes could have been overcome. Getting a kid to want an action figure of a 66-year-old man who carries a bullwhip and wears a fedora is easier said than done, though.

  • tribsanit

    My feeling is that movie going and the goers themselves changed (a lot) in-between 1981 and 2008. When my dad took me to see the first movie “Kids movies” as a genre didn’t really exist the kids movie exist more a family friendly movie which could be really anything from Gremlins to Disney’s Robin hood. Hell, my dad took me to see Blue Thunder. Nowadays parents don’t see Indiana Jones movies as kids’ movies, and kids don’t see them as kids’ movies. It’s weird, cause when I was a kid we played at being grown up, now it seems like kids play at being more empowered kids. But the types of movie like those of 1984 don’t exist today (and don’t give me Super 8, though maybe Pixar films come close). Makes toys based on a movie property hard to sale.

    So, the toy line lived and died by the movie, to me it seems that a better movie would have overcame all the other woes, Green Lantern merch is suffering the same problem.

    Supple and demand is a fine line to walk cause as a toy buyer when I see Dutch Dike full pegs, I hold off cause I know it means clearance sooner or later.

    Anyway Vincent great write up I like these kinds of articles, especially the personal connection that you have to the toy line. I’d like to see a few articles that go the other way to like why was DCUC a success when Mattel did everything is there power to ruin it.

  • This is an excellent article. I still really like much of this line. The German motorcycle troop is the coolest 1:18 scale WWII motorcycle in all of toydom I think.