Can Lego games be considered movie tie-ins?7 minute read

Stripping down the relationships between films, toys and video games brick by brick.

Some people might consider Lego games to be movie tie-ins. They have the same characters, and themes, and often the same story-lines, but can they truly be considered a movie-tie in? Some people say yes, but they are incorrect and here is why.

What is a tie-in and where did they go?

Put simply, a tie-in work is a work of fiction or other product based on a media property such as a film, board game, toy franchise, video game, television series, web site, role-playing game or literary property. Generally the work is licensed by the holders of the media property, or is owned by the same company or individual.

Video Game tie-in’s to movies have had a long and interesting history. It has always seemed a quick-fire media adaptation for movie-makers and game developers alike. As far back as the late 1970’s and early 1980’s games were being made on license from film studios. However, they have usually been generally terrible in quality. Once again we can draw reference to E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, from 1982, that caused the video game crash of 1983.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial ended up in landfill in New Mexico

The 1990’s and 2000’s market saturation

But this was 1982 and nearly four decades ago. The 1990’s and 2000’s would see another big boom in movie tie-in games. Games became favored by Hollywood once more, and certain titles – GoldenEye 007 for example – made more money than the movie. The Xbox and Playstation 2 would soon see tie-in media of franchises. Games such as Lord of the Rings, Wolverine Origins, and Harry Potter all became a common sight. They also too became a common sight in bargain bins a few years later. Games were becoming cheaper to make than the cartridges of years before and developers started to once again saturate the market.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (image credit: EA Redwood Shores)

It is undeniable that most movie-based video games are bad, even Mike Leigh agrees. Incredibly tight deadlines was one of the biggest failures of movie tie-in games. These deadlines were in order for games to perfectly coincide with a movie’s release schedule.

This explains the recent shortage of this medium, unless of course you include the Lego games produced by Warner Bros. Interactive – but you cannot. Various articles and research has been done on the demise of the video game movie tie-in, with even C. Anthony Rivera at Gamelust stating in 2019 the last video game that was a movie tie-in was Brave in 2011. People do not consider Lego games part of the movie universe.

Why are the Lego games considered seperate?

The short answer is, because they are separate – don’t let the internet trolls tell you otherwise.

Warner Bros. Interactive publishes the current line up of Lego Games with TT Fusion as the developer. The order to create the games comes from Lego Group – not the owner of the media property of the films. Lego Group own the media property of the toy franchise. This means the imagining of characters, vehicles, worlds and themes made by the creators at Lego with Lego Bricks. Lego Group obtained rights to make toy lines for movies such as Jurassic World and Star Wars. This is obviously with some financial compensation going back to the original film-makers for their troubles. So when the order comes from Lego Group to make a game it means the games are solely based on the toys. They are not based on the movies.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (image credit: Warner Bros. Interactive, Lego Group, TT Fusion)

A quick search online of video games based on toys brings up various franchises. Franchises such as Hot Wheels, Bratz, Tamagotchi and of course Lego. Sub-category the Lego titles previously mentioned as well as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Harry Potter etc. and it starts to become clear. The clarity around the question ‘are Lego games movie tie-ins?’ leads us to ‘no’.

Other media types based on toys

For some people it is hard to understand how something like a video game, or even a movie, could be a tie-in to a toy franchise, regardless of the base content. However, since the early 1980’s it has been a popular marketing strategy amongst various industries.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

After the creation of the He-man action figure in 1982 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe became the first syndicated show to be based on a toy. The structure and the huge success of the toy-based show in syndication had a huge influence over other animation houses. They began to produce half-hour cartoon commercials. This considerably changed the syndicated cartoon market thereafter.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

After Playmates Toys realised the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics had a small following they decided to change their strategy. Before the launch of their toy line in 1988 Playmates Toys ordered the creation of a television series. The series was ordered to be aired before the toy-line went live. After the debut of the initial five episodes the toys were launched. This new toy range’s popularity fed off the storm of cartoon commercial strategy.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Toy Line (photo credit: unknown)

Transformers

Transformers fiction as a whole was created to sell toys. Both Hasbro and TakaraTomy are hardwired to make sure their toys reach the sales figures they desire. Transformers is another toy brand that utilised cartoon media to sell its toy franchise. Hasbro acquired the GoBots franchise after buying out Tonka in the early 1990’s. They soon merged it with the Transformers universe. They used the techniques created by the He-man solution as another way to market toy lines.

Let’s not get confused

This is not to say that all Lego video games are based on a toy line. The Lego Movie is distributed by Warner Bros. themselves. It is therefore safe to assume that both the toy line and the video game are tie-ins to this account. The Lego Batman endless runner for Android and iOS was also based on The Lego Batman Movie. But again, this is a film both owned and distributed by the same company as the parent company for the game publishers.

The Lego Movie Videogame (image credit: Warner Bros. Interactive)

Building conclusions

The conclusion may not appear as simple as a 1×1 stud to some people. Lego games have the same names and characters as certain franchises. Those same games even contain similar scenes than the movies of the same name. But the word similar is important here as it predefines the context of media properties and how trademarked or copyrighted material is used.

Does Disney order Warner Bros. Interactive to make a game for their latest Marvel film? No.
Does Disney own the names, characters and themes therein? Yes.
Do Lego have the right to use these names for their toy franchise? Yes.
So are Lego games movie tie-ins? No.

Ultimately if the order came from Lego Group then it is a game about Lego.