Fans have long sought out film merchandise to bring that little bit of movie magic into their everyday lives – but when fandom frenzy hits the manufacturing world, bizarre and sometimes wildly inappropriate items can enter mass production.
Whilst plenty of us have fond memories of playing with our Star Wars or Karate Kid figurines, there are many items of film merchandise that simply defy belief. Here we present 20 of the strangest items of merchandise that you’ve ever seen.
20. Rambo children’s annual
1988 saw the release of Rambo III, rated R in the US and 18 in the UK due to its violence and swearing. However, that didn’t stop a children’s annual based on the film from hitting the market. In the Rambo children’s annual, an offshoot of the children’s animated series Rambo: The Force of Freedom. Quite what made anyone think anything Rambo-related was suitable for kids is beyond us.
As of 2023, Sylvester Stallone has made five movies as traumatised Vietnam war veteran John Rambo, and during that time the character has amassed a body count of 493. Fun for all the family!
19. Terminator 2: Judgment Day board game
Terminator 2: Judgment Day could only be viewed in cinemas by those aged 15 and over. However, its tie-in board game was labelled as being suitable for anyone above the age of seven. It involves trying to build your own Terminator before facing off against a deadly T-1000, aiming to dispatch it in a vat of molten metal. We’re just disappointed it’s not “I’ll be backgammon.”
While this may sound uniquely graphic for a board game, it was actually not unusual to find R-rated movies with board game spin-offs in the 70s and 80s. For example, George A Romero’s 1978 horror masterpiece Dawn of the Dead was also gamified, pitched as a group-friendly alternative to chess.
18. C-3PO tape dispenser
The unmissable Star Wars brand has found its way on to an amazing range of merchandise, from lamps and guitars to toasters. But among the greatest Star Wars-themed items has to be the rather suspicious-looking C-3PO sellotape dispenser. It puts our favourite protocol droid in a rather compromising position with a surprised look on his face. While this particular item was made by Sigma in Japan, Disney too has broken out a wide range of C-3PO merch – including a $499.99 pewter figurine.
The real C-3PO costume, however, worn by actor Anthony Daniels, was made from plastic, fibreglass and aluminium. The original costume designers made a plaster cast of the actor himself to build a costume that fitted perfectly.
17. Lifelike Harry Potter dolls
Gryffindor’s gold and maroon stripes are a pretty familiar sight nowadays, but these eerie collector’s items would probably make you stop and stare. The artist Tracy Lister created these ultra-realistic dolls, made to look like Harry Potter’s most popular characters but in baby form. They include a newborn Harry with his trademark scar and a baby Voldemort with pale skin and reptilian eyes.
In fact, her babies cover a whole host of Harry Potter characters, with Lupin, Dobby, Snape, Draco Malfoy and Ginny Weasley among their ranks. One of these intricately crafted dolls had an asking price of over $900. For cheaper, unofficial memorabilia, Potterheads can buy Sorting Hat bath bombs and ‘common room-scented’ candles.
16. Rocky meat action figure
It comes as no surprise that you could purchase action figures in the likeness of Rocky Balboa, Apollo Creed and other characters from the hit franchise. But there is one figure that we’re surprised to hear made it to toy shop shelves. The side of frozen beef that Rocky pummels in the film was recreated as an action figure.
At about 6 inches tall, this niche miniature came with a bloodstained butcher’s coat. In the scene itself, actor Sylvester Stallone in the role of Rocky was punching the meat so violently that he reportedly flattened one of his knuckles. Back in 1979, you could also buy an action-figure Rocky with his wheelchair, complete with realistic bruises.
15. The Little Mermaid fish nuggets
She may have changed into a human at the end of the classic animated Disney film, but Ariel was once half fish. As a result, this unusual item of Little Mermaid merchandise was perhaps in rather poor taste. Believe it or not, you could at one time purchase officially branded The Little Mermaid fish fingers. These breaded Alaskan pollack snacks shared shelves with other frozen seafood products bearing Disney branding – including Mickey Mouse, Peter Pan and Lilo and Stitch.
Working with Disney, the senior vice president of American Pride Seafoods said in 2005: “These products will offer delicious, easy-to-prepare entrees that we hope will make seafood an easy choice for families looking for a quality product to serve their kids.”
14 Dune colouring books
David Lynch’s rather strange sci-fi epic Dune is hard enough for adults to wrap their heads around. So why anyone thought to produce child-friendly colouring books based on the 1984 film remains a mystery. But produce them they did, so if your child gets bored of colouring in pictures of age-appropriate characters, they can instead scribble on a drawing of Kyle MacLachlan or a mostly-naked Sting.
Dune, the tale of two space-dwelling royal families fighting over a desert planet, was originally a critically acclaimed novel. But its 1984 film adaptation bombed at the box office, and it was widely criticised for being too long and too different from the source material. The 2021 remake fared much better critically and commercially.
13. 300 briefs
If you’ve ever looked at Gerard Butler in Zack Snyder’s action epic 300 and thought “that could definitely be me,” then one particular item of film merchandise is bound to be right up your street. Costing around £80, these official 300 briefs are made from genuine leather, complete with a codpiece.
Released in 2007, 300 was based on a 1998 comic series, which in turn fictionalized the ancient Persian Wars. It was a box office victory, grossing over $456 million – and it seems from the merchandise that the film still enjoys a wide fanbase. Recently King Leonidas face masks have become available, along with a Spartan shower curtain and bedspread.
12. Ghostbusters energy drink
This bright green soda carries the Ghostbusters branding and the ghoulish face of the monster Slimer. It comes with a warning: “While all efforts have been made to decontaminate, this drink may contain trace amounts of ectoplasm.” Ghostbusters super-fans had plenty of merchandise to choose from, including ceiling fans, Heinz tinned pasta and underwear.
Another edible treat from the franchise was the Stay Puft Quality Marshmallow, based on the franchise’s monstrous mascot. But if you wanted a whole Ghostbusters meal, you’d have to visit the JS Burger Café in Japan. For a limited time only, the café sold Ghostbusters burgers containing an anchovy paste beef patty, purple cabbage and a black bun.
11. R2-D2 aquarium
This transparent model of R2-D2 holds 1.75 gallons of aquarium water, letting you keep your pet inside your toy. His head whirls around at vocal commands, and he issues the same bleeps and clicks as the beloved movie character. Even better, the character’s eye doubles as a periscope, which you can use to take a deeper look at your pet within. Discontinued in 2008, this aquarium is a highly sought-after collector’s item, fetching $450 on eBay.
R2-D2 secured a spot in the Robot Hall of Fame in 2003, and he appears in ten of the 11 Star Wars movies. The Smithsonian Institution even found space for R2-D2 in its list of ‘101 Objects that Made America.’
10. Matrix Reloaded cell phone
Something looks a little strange about the Samsung SPH-N270 – until you realise you’re looking at a movie prop replica. The Matrix Reloaded, released in 2003, sees characters using this phone on their missions. The Matrix design crew worked with Samsung to make the real-life mobile phone perfectly resemble the movie one – though it was never intended to be sold widely. Samsung wanted to make this a highly exclusive item, designed more for super-fans than for everyday use.
As it’s turned on and off, the phone displays the words WELCOME and GOODBYE, a reference to Neo’s first trip into the Matrix. It also has assorted ringtones from the Matrix films to choose from, and today it can sell for $1000 on eBay.
9. The Passion of the Christ necklace
This R-rated film about faith inspired a selection of commemorative jewellery, as well as a range of clothes and crockery. This Passion of the Christ necklace is adorned with a nail pendant, in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. Perhaps surprisingly, among the biggest fans of this marketing were evangelical Christian groups in the United States.
The film itself was widely promoted by church groups, as The Passion of the Christ posters, mugs and T-shirts hit the market. This 2004 biblical drama was directed and co-written by Mel Gibson, and it depicts Jesus’ final day before execution. Its dialogue is entirely in Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic, with subtitles for English-speaking audiences.
8. Operation Shrek
There’s something very grotesque about the Shrek version of the classic board game Operation. Slugs and fungi have to be extracted from Shrek’s belly, while one variant of the game shows Shrek’s sidekick Donkey dressed as a surgeon. 3D LED light displays of Shrek, plus baby clothes and clocks, are also available for purchase. Ironically, Shrek films themselves often make fun of merchandising and branding – from the Farbucks coffee shop to the Fairy Godmother billboards that parody Hollywood’s famous Angelyne advertisements.
Funnily enough, Starbucks decided to go along with the parody for one day only in 2015, as the walkthrough attraction Shrek’s Adventure! London opened nearby. The Starbucks nearest to the London Eye transformed itself into Farbucks, the coffee house popular with magical creatures, and sold Shrek Swamppuccinos.
7. 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith action figure
What began as an April Fool’s joke in 2010 transformed into a brilliant piece of marketing for Kubrick’s classic film. The toy retailer Think Geek jokingly advertised a model of the film’s black monolith. This mysterious alien artefact lies below the lunar surface for four million years in 2001: A Space Odyssey, until its discovery sets off a human quest for extra-terrestrial knowledge.
The idea proved so popular that a few companies decided to actually produce and sell monolith models. The toy is a plain black plastic oblong, which is probably more of a desktop gag rather than a children’s action figure. The packaging for a monolith by toy company Fourth Castle reads: “Superior alien intelligence not included.”
6. The Denny’s Hobbit menu
The US diner chain Denny’s teamed up with the Hobbit franchise to create truly bizarre menus that coincided with the Hobbit movies’ release dates. Denny’s made a formal press release for the 2013 menu just as the second film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, was released in cinemas. It promised “traditional holiday flavours” and “seven authentic dishes inspired by The Hobbit films.”
“Honey Cake French Toast” and “Sweet Potato Pecan Pancakes” were on offer, though the British author and WW1 veteran JRR Tolkien would certainly not recognise these dishes from his novels. Smaug’s Fire Burger and Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies also made it onto the menu. To entertain guests awaiting food, Denny’s also created Elvish language guides and put a range of Hobbit games on their official website.
5. James Bond candles
Tocca’s James Bond candle has a leathery smell, and it is simply named The 007. The scent is “based on the distinctive combination of the interior of an Aston Martin and a dry Martini,” according to the James Bond Lifestyle website. Fans can splash out on this unusual wax merchandise for $38.00 online.
Dr No, the first Bond film, was a low-budget spy movie when it was released back in 1962, but Bond grew rapidly into one of the most lucrative franchises of all time. In 2015, the film series franchise was worth an estimated $19.9 billion.
4. 007 ice lolly
Another unforgettable piece of 007 merchandise was the Daniel Craig-shaped fruit ice lolly. Dubbed ‘License to Chill,’ this lolly was actually the result of a hotly contested survey run by US food company Del Monte. The survey asked women which male celebrity they would most like to see recreated as an iced treat.
Coinciding with National Ice Cream Week in 2009, the women who participated in the survey chose Daniel Craig over Jude Law and Hugh Grant. Thanks to his victory, the Bond star was chosen as the mould for the new Superfruit Smoothie snack. It was made from a blend of blueberries, pomegranate and cranberries, and featured Craig’s topless torso and swimming trunks.
3. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Cereal
Bearing the slogan “A Most Awesome Breakfast Adventure,” this cereal was available from the late 80s to early 90s. It was based on the science fiction comedy Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. Cinnamon-flavoured, with tiny music-themed marshmallows, the cereal was designed by Ralston Purina, a company that also made dog food.
Excellent Cereal occasionally included giveaways, like a free audio-cassette holder resembling the phone booth from the movie. Although marketing-inspired cereal brands may sound like a niche category, Excellent Cereal faced plenty of competition. Gremlins cereal and E.T. cereal (with pieces shaped as the letters E and T) were also vying for the breakfast table in the 80s.
2. Letters to E.T.
The wrinkly alien from E.T The Extra-Terrestrial was so popular that fans started penning letters to him. Their letters to the fictional hero were eventually compiled into a book: Letters to E.T. Published by Weekly Reader Books in 1983, this collection included many messages about how E.T. had captured cinema-goers’ hearts.
The book includes fan mail from one recent widow, who wrote to E.T., “You have become my talisman of hope in an otherwise dreary future.” E.T.’s director Steven Spielberg, however, famously said the puppet for the character was “something that only a mother could love.” During filming, the production team used four different heads for E.T. to create changing facial expressions, spending $1.5 million to create the animatronic figure.
1. Avengers cologne
Marvel is well-known for impressive marketing feats – and the 2012 blockbuster The Avengers was no different, spawning countless collectibles. As a result, the company JADS chose to create not one, but seven Avengers-themed perfumes and colognes for superfans. One set contained four colognes: Patriot, Mark VII, Worthy and SMASH!, inspired by Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk respectively.
The SMASH! cologne smells of water lily and nutmeg, while Patriot cologne has a whiff of sandalwood. Meanwhile the Black Widow perfume and Infinity Formula Cologne have a citrus scent. The Mischief cologne, on the other hand, is unisex. Inspired by Loki, it’s made from a base of green tea.