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Retail Sales

44 Entertainment/Character Brands Make the $100 Million List

Karina Masolova, additional reporting by Glenn Demby and Marcy Magiera

Forty-four entertainment/character properties make our list of brands that generate over $100 million in retail sales of licensed merchandise in the U.S. and Canada—accounting for a total of $41 billion in sales worldwide in 2015. See the full list here.

Three brands cleared $1 billion in the U.S./Canada alone—Mickey & Friends, Star Wars, and Disney Princess. The top 5 is rounded out by Hello Kitty and Frozen, which generated over $900 million in retail sales each. Kitty had landed on the $1 billion-plus list in 2013, but didn’t make the cut last year, in part because of the Frozen effect.

While Frozen was the headline story for 2014, in 2015 we saw a greater variety of properties: sci-fi classics and superheroes were strong performers. Their pop culture status means that fans, across multiple generations, are not only buying collectibles and toys, but also fashion and lifestyle products. The miniature toy-based brand Shopkins managed to squeeze into the rankings (No. 44) in 2015; the property is expected to be one of the fastest-growing in 2016.

But let’s put it all into perspective: franchises remain king. Unlike newer upstarts, they don’t have to prove themselves to retail buyers. And they still have room to grow—many classic programs are bolstering profit margins in new areas like high fashion, food/beverage, and digital. Collectively, Disney’s and Warner Bros.’ top-selling heroes earned $1.6 billion in the U.S./Canada (we’ve restated their numbers, see here for more)—still less than the House of Mouse ($1.9 billion; counting Mickey & Friends, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Minnie’s Bow-Tique) and that other branch of Disney royalty ($2.1 billion; counting Frozen, Princess, and Sofia the First).

Overall, the top entertainment brands list grew 3% in sales in 2015—with brands fluctuating anywhere from 93% (Minions) to -65% (Disney Cars). Most (73.3%, or 30) on the list experienced flat or positive growth, while 26.8% (11) experienced falling sales in 2015.

Global View: Mickey, Kitty & Star Wars Top

A dozen properties generated over $1 billion in licensed retail sales worldwide in 2015, the same number as last year.

Star Wars made it into the top 3, jumping two spots to surpass Winnie the Pooh and Disney Princess. Frozen did the same, leapfrogging Disney Cars (which didn’t make the $1 billion-plus cut this year) and Spider-Man. Monsters University joined Cars in leaving the list, allowing Avengers to take the number 12 spot with just over a billion in worldwide licensed retail sales in 2015.

Estimated Retail Sales of Licensed Merchandise Based on Entertainment/Character Properties, Worldwide, 2015
Figures in Millions
Rank Property Licensor Global Retail Sales
1 Mickey & Friends Disney $4,096
2 Hello Kitty Sanrio $3,756
3 Star Wars Disney $2,842
4 Winnie the Pooh Disney $2,740
5 Disney Princess Disney $2,635
6 Frozen Disney $1,573
7 Spider-Man Disney $1,512
8 Peanuts Iconix $1,327
9 Despicable Me/Minions Universal $1,264
10 Angry Birds Rovio $1,065
11 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Nickelodeon $1,021
12 Avengers Disney $1,004

Power Players

The top 10 brands, ranked by retail sales in the U.S./Canada, remain relatively unchanged since last year. The two exceptions are Despicable Me/Minions, which jumped 9 places to join the top 10, and Disney Cars, which fell 12 spots to land at number 21. Frozen and WWE edged up in rank, with the former surpassing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the number 5 spot.

Mickey & Friends (-2% in the U.S./Canada), Hello Kitty (-2%), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (-1%) were the only properties in the top 10 to experience falling sales, albeit so tiny that the change is essentially flat. Mickey and Kitty are still chugging along; both programs, notably, made inroads in high fashion in 2015 in an effort to target adults under the banners of nostalgia and lifestyle. But these deals weren’t huge moneymakers, and they faced increasing competition from pop sensations Star Wars and Frozen.


Disney remains strong, with its 13 properties (29.5% of all titles!) responsible for $7.7 billion in licensed retail sales in the U.S./Canada (45.8% share). Nickelodeon is number 2 with three properties generating $1.3 billion (7.9%) and Warner Bros.’ four properties account for $1.2 billion (7.1%).

Three Brands Generate 23% of Sales

The biggest players are only getting bigger—the top 10 brands (coincidently, the $500 million–1+ billion cohort) account for over half of the list’s total retail sales at 54.7% share in the U.S./Canada, up from 52.2% in 2014.

Mickey & Friends, Star Wars, and Disney Princess account for just 6.8% of the list, but generate 23.3% of retail sales in the U.S./Canada. Most sales however, come from the $500–999 million cohort (15.9% of titles, generating 31.5% of sales). The addition of three new titles in the $100–199 bracket make it the most populous (38.6%). Just 13.6% of titles generate $300–499 million (contributing to 14.5% share).

New Faces, Familiar Places

We welcome three properties to the list this year: Scooby-Doo (No. 28), Doctor Who (No. 39), and Shopkins (No. 44).

We last saw Scooby on the list three years ago; the brand generated $107 million in the U.S./Canada and $203 million worldwide in 2012. The property sneaks back into the ranking thanks to a diverse program that includes food/beverage, health and personal products, and Lego sets. The classic cartoon has made inroads internationally; its share of domestic sales is now 39.3% in 2015, compared to 52.7% in 2012.

Doctor Who is one of the few adult-skewing properties on the list; the series lands above sci-fi classic Star Trek (No. 40) with just $1 million separating the two. While Star Trek is making inroads in China for its 50th anniversary celebrations (and should rise in ranking for 2016), the Doctors have a greater international presence in English-speaking U.S., U.K., and Australia. In 2014, BBC began cashing in on the Doctors’ cult status stateside with retailers like Hot Topic, moving beyond collector’s items into fashion, electronics, and office supplies.

The top-selling toy of 2015, Shopkins, just managed to make the cut this year. Its licensing program took off in full force in 2016, so expect to see the tiny characters closer to the top next year.

Minions, Avengers & Minecraft Break Out

The fastest-growing properties in 2015—not counting the three new additions to the list—were Minions (93%), Avengers (54%), Minecraft (32%), Star Wars (23%), and WWE (22%). The top two franchises were largely supported by new feature films, while Minecraft and Star Wars built on momentum from 2014 with expansions to existing programs. WWE’s program was bolstered in 2015, in part, by robust sales in toys.

Peanuts had somewhat depressed growth, considering it was a movie year—although Star Wars was rumored to cut into profits, licensees who don’t directly compete with the force reported strong sales.

After chilling sales in 2014, Frozen slowed down its momentum (13%). Its sequel, announced last year, does not have a release date yet (estimated 2018). But don’t despair; Disney is producing a host of spin-offs in the intervening years. Some have tie-ins to the original Princesses (up 2%, thanks to its doll business) and Sofia the First (-6%).

SpongeBob SquarePants experienced a surprising rate of growth (18%) for an older property—a new movie early in the year, followed by new TV episodes, experiential promotions, and high-end fashion collaborations all contributed to refreshed interest.

Must Come Down

Disney Cars (-65% in 2015 versus -10% in 2014) and Monsters University (-51% vs. -22%) continued their downwards momentum; they were reported to have disappeared from retail shelves in 2016. The same is true of How to Train Your Dragon and Ben 10, as newer boy’s properties and giants like Star Wars and TMNT snatch up flagging interest. Don’t write them off just yet, however—Cars is getting another sequel and Ben 10 a new TV series (first launching internationally).

Barbie continues to fall (-7% in 2015 versus -9% in 2014), but is expected to slip back into the black in 2016 thanks to rebranding efforts.

Gaming brands Skylanders (-6%) and Angry Birds (-19%) continue to face declines, although the latter will recover in 2016 by way of a new feature film and refreshed merchandising push. Activision is facing greater competition from other brands in the toys-to-life category.

Betty Boop’s merchandising program didn’t face a decline in retail sales per se, that is, consumers didn’t not buy Boop-branded goods. Rather, the fashion icon is focusing on a smaller stable of licensees and content  licensing. She remains strong internationally.

Lying Low

Amidst the ups and downs, there are some brands that are holding steady in anticipation of increased sales in 2016. From the top 10, TMNT is expected to grow next year, thanks to increased toy sales, after experiencing its biggest year in toys ever in 2014—2015 is effectively a holdover year.

The superhero properties—Avengers (54%), Batman (5%), Superman (5%), and Spider-Man (3%)—enjoyed respectable growth, but most were in between movie years in 2015 (although all have ongoing TV series or comic book runs).

Other properties that chugged along in 2015, but are expected to rise in 2016, include:

  • Pokémon (1%): Mobile game app Pokémon Go and other 20th anniversary celebrations in 2016 sparked a merchandising craze this summer.
  • Star Trek (1%): Celebrated its 50th anniversary and a new film in 2016. New TV series airs 2017.
  • Power Rangers (1%): Upcoming 2017 film.

As for the brands that simply chugging along—e.g., Thomas & Friends at 2% during its 70th anniversary celebrations, Garfield (-2%), and Sesame Street (-4%)—note that they have experienced growth in content and experiential licensing, rather than traditional merchandising. Although it is an exception this year, the Peanuts program also tends to follow this rule.

Definitions & Methodology

Note that our list doesn’t cleanly adhere to TLL’s traditional entertainment/character segment. Click here to get the complete run-down on our analysis.

See the full list here.


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