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The search for the next great theme park IP – part 1

The world of popular IP (Intellectual Property) is always an interesting one, especially when creating a new themed attraction. Where is the next big theme park IP going to come from?

universal beijing resort

Not every theme park is owned by a mega-studio like The Walt Disney Company, which now commands the rights to its own extensive library, as well as Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox.

By Lance HartScreamscape

While Comcast owns NBC/Universal and the various IPs under that umbrella (Universal Studios, Dreamworks Animation, Illumination Entertainment, etc.), even the Universal Studios theme parks often have to resort to signing deals with other studios for the rights to use various other IPs in their theme parks.

For example, Transformers (Paramount), Men In Black (Columbia/Sony) and Harry Potter (Warner Bros).

Toy Story Land Disney
Toy Story Land, Disney

Hollywood has been in a bit of a transitory phase for many years now, as many of the smaller studios have been gobbled up by the bigger ones. Now even the larger studios find themselves the subject of possible buy-outs as well.

With greater consolidation comes less competition. It also makes it harder for smaller players to strike IP licensing deals. With this in mind, I began to think about just where the next popular theme park IPs may come from, if they are not from a Hollywood studio.

Original theme park IPs

Theme parks have not always sought out an IP deal for their new lands and rides. In fact, back when most of the major theme parks were first being created, they relied on coming up with their own fictional worlds and ideas.

Some of these resulted in beloved and unique attractions. For instance, the Monster Plantation (1981 – 2008) at Six Flags over Georgia, Phantom Theater (1992 – 2002) at Kings Island or the Knott’s Bear-y Tales (1975 – 1986) dark ride at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Six Flags actually updated the Monster Plantation into the current Monster Mansion in 2009, and I was happy to see that Knott’s announced it would be bringing a sequel to the former dark ride to the park sometime in 2020 as Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair.

Looking at Disney parks, many of the most popular rides in the park are custom concepts. For example, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Country Bears and The Haunted Mansion. Some even went on to inspire films based on the ideas of the rides.

Finding the next great theme park IP

These days, however, many major parks feel that it may be too risky to invest millions into a custom creation. They would prefer to put their money behind something with a proven track record that comes with an existing fan-base.

As the number of studios dwindles from consolidation, and the studios themselves are increasingly relying upon sequels rather than the generation of new IP, the number of options are limited.

avengers campus disneyland is an example of creating an immersive experience with IP
Disney/Marvel – concept art for Avengers Campus at Disneyland Resort

So where do the next big ideas live? Once upon a time, the best ideas may have come from novels and comic books. Unfortunately, much of the latter has already been gobbled up by Hollywood, with Warner Bros owning DC Comics and Disney owning Marvel (sharing Spider-Man with Sony).

Inspiration from comics and TV

Even now, many of the popular independent comics are signed to deals as well, both for individual titles as well as smaller comic universes. Various streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon, have been turning out some fantastic content based on these existing IPs.

For example, there are the likes of The Boys (Amazon), Locke & Key (Netflix) and The Umbrella Academy (Netflix).

halloween business of scaring theme park IP

Streaming giants have also been pumping out some fantastic and worthy content on their own in recent years. For instance, Netflix’s Stranger Things. Perhaps we have found a new source of unique IP that could be perfect for a theme park?

Universal Studios has already successfully mined the Stranger Things universe. It was used as the inspiration for popular haunted houses at Halloween Horror Nights event in 2018 and 2019.

But there is a major difference between using an IP for a temporary attraction like a Haunted House or an Escape Room, compared with the investment that goes into a themed thrill ride or even a highly themed land.

These larger projects usually exist at a theme park for 10 years, 20 years, or even longer. That’s where the “evergreen” factor comes into play.

The evergreen factor

It isn’t a term I hear often, but the meaning is very clear. Many movies and series enjoy short-lived popularity, only to then fade into the fog of history.

But then there are those special evergreen movies that withstand the test of time and stay popular for decades. Movies like Back to the Future, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter. They remain popular with the general public for decades, no matter if new movies come out or not.

Guests on the Millennium Falcom at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge theme park IP
Millennium Falcon at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Disney

While any movie can popular for a short time, theme parks need to make an attraction popular for decades. With the kind of budgets involved these days, making sure a theme park IP will be something evergreen is definitely of importance.

Is it necessary to be evergreen? Not entirely. In fact, some theme parks have managed to create popular attractions based on IP that bombed at the box office.

A successful theme park IP

Perhaps the biggest success story that defied all logic is the “WaterWorld: A Live Sea War Spectacular” stunt show. This premiered at Universal Studios Hollywood in October 1995, just a few months after the release of the Waterworld film.

While the movie was not a hit, the live-action stunt show at Universal Studios was hugely successful for the theme park. Now, WaterWorld is still a part of Universal Studios Hollywood nearly 25 years later.

In addition, it inspired new shows at Universal Studios Japan in 2001 and Universal Studios Singapore in 2010. Both of which are also still running. A fourth WaterWorld stunt show is also on the way at the new Universal Studios Beijing theme park, coming 2021.

Clearly anything is possible. In my next article, I will explore where the next such revelations may come from, if not directly from Hollywood mainstream studios.

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Lance Hart

Lance Hart

Lance has been running Screamscape for nearly 20 years. Married and a father to three roller coaster loving kids, he worked for SeaWorld (San Diego and Orlando) in Operations and Entertainment for 19 years.

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