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Want to make some not-so-quick Silver? First you have to go buy some discounted Disney "Lone Ranger" merch ...

Jim Hill

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Want to make some not-so-quick Silver? First you have to go buy some discounted Disney "Lone Ranger" merch ...

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Here's a story for all you speculators out there. And you know who you are.

I have this acquaintance -- let's call him Reggie -- who dabbles in a rather specialized area of Disneyana collecting. Reggie's a guy who likes to bet on flops that he thinks will eventually become hits.

Case in point: When Disney's "The Rocketeer" came out in June of 1991 and quickly crashed & burned at the box office, Reggie was one of that handful of film fans (and I include myself in this rather small crowd) who actually saw this Joe Johnston movie while it was out in theaters.

The original preview poster for Disney's "The
" Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

And Reggie ... He really liked "The Rocketeer." So much so that -- when he went by his local Disney Store (and this was during the early, early days of that Disney-owned retail chain. Back when there were only 80 total Disney Stores in the entire world. And the Company had hopes of someday opening another 40) -- and saw that they had significantly marked down all of their "Rocketeer" merchandise, Reggie immediately bought everything that he could lay his hands on.

"I bought t-shirts and mugs. I also bought a bunch of "Rocketeer" posters & pins and then put all of this stuff in a box which I then stashed in my attic," Reggie said during a recent phone call. "I'm not entirely sure why I did that. I didn't really have a plan at that time. I just really liked this movie and figured that -- over time -- other people would come to see 'The Rocketeer' as I did and discover that they really liked this movie too. And they'd then begin searching for memorabilia associated with this movie to purchase and I'd then have it to sell to them."

Now you have to understand that Reggie did this four years before there was an eBay. Back then, when you were looking to sell Disney movie collectibles like this, you first had to go to events like the National Fantasy Fan Club's annual convention and then lay your wares out on a folding table and hope for the best.

A selection of "Rocketeer" merchandise that was available in stores
during this Walt Disney Pictures' original Summer-of-1991
theatrical release. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

But as it turns out, Reggie was right. "The Rocketeer" did have a revival. Once this Walt Disney Pictures release became available to purchase on home video as well as began airing regularly on cable, people finally discovered this very entertaining action-adventure film and then began clamoring for "Rocketeer" merchandise. And Reggie immediately took advantage of this demand, selling all of that heavily discounted "Rocketeer" merch that he had purchased during the Summer of 1991 for 3 & 4 times its original retail cost.

And once Reggie had gotten a taste of that very sweet return-on-investment, he immediately began casting about for another Disney flop that he thought would eventually become a hit that Reggie could then cash in on. Which turned out to be "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas ."

"People forget now that -- back when that Henry Selick movie was originally released to theaters in October of 1993 -- audiences just didn't know what to make of it. 'Nightmare' looked so dark & so weird that it only made $50 million during its original theatrical release. It wasn't 'til five years later that the Japanese fell in love with Jack Skellington that there was suddenly all of this demand for new merch," Reggie explained. "That's what ultimately led to the revival of this Tim Burton movie. Disney getting wind of these crazy Japanese kids who were making their own 'Nightmare Before Christmas' t-shirts because there was just nothing out there for them to buy. That's when people on the Consumer Products side of the Walt Disney Company began saying 'Maybe we should take another look at 'Nightmare.' "

One of the four collectible "Nightmare
Before Christmas" watches that
Burger King had available for
purchase in the Fall of 1993

Mind you, Reggie was way ahead of the "Nightmare" curve. Even as this stop motion movie was running out of gas at the North America box office, he was driving around to area Burger Kings and buying up all of the "Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas" watches that he could get his hands on.

"That was Disney's special promotional item for this Tim Burton movie. That if you purchased a Burger King Kids Club Meal, you could then get one of four collectible 'Nightmare Before Christmas' watches for just one dollar more," Reggie stated. "When 'Nightmare' began to tank at the box office, all of these Burger King managers found themselves stuck with boxes of these collectible plastic watches with weird characters on them that no one wanted to buy. So I'd then go in and then offer to buy a bunch of them for 50 cents, sometimes 25 cents apiece. I would up with boxes and boxes of those watches. Which I was then able to sell for 10 dollars apiece when the 'Nightmare' revival began happening 5 years later."

And over the past 20 years, Reggie has continued to seek out film flops that he thinks he'll eventually be able to cash in on. I won't bore you with stories about all of the money that he's made off of selling original, mint-in-box "Iron Giant " toys to animation fans around the world who only discovered this Brad Bird movie after it began airing on basic cable. I'll just tell you that -- when it comes to finding movies that are due to have a second flowering -- Reggie is either really, really lucky or really, really smart.

Copyright Warner Bros. All rights reserved

Which brings us to today. Or -- rather -- yesterday afternoon. When -- for the first time in a year or so -- I got Reggie on the phone and then asked what he had been up to lately. He then explained that he had just returned from his local Disney Store where Reggie had purchased a lot of their remaindered "Lone Ranger" stock.

"So you think that 'The Long Ranger' is Disney's next 'Rocketeer' and 'Nightmare Before Christmas' ?," I asked.

"They made the exact mistake on this movie that they made on 'Rocketeer' and 'Nightmare.' Disney's had absolutely no idea how to market that movie. 'Never Take Off the Mask' ? What kind of catchphrase is that?," Reggie laughed. "But the movie itself was very entertaining. And I'm sure that once 'The Lone Ranger' is available for purchase on Blu-ray & DVD and this Gore Verbinski movie then begins repeatedly airing on the USA Network & ABC Family just like the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies do now, people are going to discover how entertaining this Disney movie actually is. And that's when I'll start putting all of the discounted deluxe Tonto & Lone Ranger action figures that I just bought up on eBay for 10 times what I originally paid for them."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

So for those of you who are now looking over this Summer's box office results and are smirking because Disney's "The Lone Ranger" only made $88.5 million during its original domestic run, let me remind you of something that film director Peter Bogdanovich  once said: "The only true test of a movie is time."

And given that Reggie (who -- time has proven -- has a great gut when it comes to these sorts of things) believes quite strongly that time is going to be very kind to "The Lone Ranger" (which is why -- as we finished up our phone call yesterday -- he was already making plans to head out to another Disney Store. So that Reggie could then purchase a lot of that store's remaindered "Long Ranger" merch) ... Well, if you're looking to make so not-so-quick Silver, you might want to consider making your own trip to your local Disney Store. Where all of their "Lone Ranger" merch is currently marked 50% off and lower.

Mind you, you may have to wait a few years before you're then able to cash in on these discounted collectible purchases. So don't do something stupid like betting your kid's entire college fund on Disney's "The Lone Ranger" having this amazing revival a few years down the line, alright?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

I just figured that -- given that a number of JHM readers were pointing out  in their comments to yesterday's "Good Dinosaur" article that there were a number of ways to measure the success of a motion picture -- these same folks might enjoy this peek at a purely speculative corner of Disney fandom. Where some people are now looking to cash in on films that were once written off as flops.

Your thoughts?

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  • Great article, Jim, sure wish I had collected those Nightmare Before Christmas watches, not because of the investment, but because I really like the film.  I saw both The Rocketeer and The Nightmare Before Christmas in theaters, really liked the Rocketeer and figured that they were going to make sequels, but I guess I wasn't cognizant of the fact that it didn't do well at the box office.

    Not sure if The Nightmare Before Christmas was a box office dud as per the Wiki page, a Disney exec said that the movie didn't have to have a big box office gross because it was cheap to make (maybe around $18 million), and it pulled in $50 million at the box office, so maybe it made back it's production budget and some of its marketing, kinda getting close to break even.  The re-releases have earned another $25 million, and the film has probably made a good amount in DVD sales.

    Not sure if Lone Ranger will ever made it out of the red though.  About $300 million to produce and market, minus maybe $125 from worldwide box office to the company, so the rumors of a $190 million dollar write-off seem about right, but I guess there is DVD sales/Netflix/cable . . .

  • Well, it's certainly a better plan than thinking you'll make any money buying the really popular things that say "Collectible" on the box. Smart man.

  • Interesting article for sure.  LOTS of stuff like this ends up highly desirable later.  I, too purchased a lot of Rocketeer stuff back in the day and sold it for more later.  Missed out on Nightmare because I didn't take a liking to it until it was too late.

    Remember all the great collectibles one could buy in Suncoast?  Sigh.

  • What...no Dick Tracy merch speculation? All this stuff can still be had pretty cheaply on eBay.

  • I loved Nightmare Before Christmas from jump.

    I always assumed it was a more successful film.

  • The long-term effect of this movie is going to be really interesting to watch.  Especially when there's so many kids playing Disney Infinity's version of The Lone Ranger that might not even get a chance to watch the movie until they're older.

  • meanwhile, im still trying to figure out what to do with this Prince of Persia merch... :(

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