The warning signs for the toy industry started last year when "Cars 3" -- considered a surefire success -- proved lackluster for licensees like Mattel Inc.
Now, toymakers' big bets on movie tie-ins look downright bleak. Playthings based on the "Star Wars" saga -- the franchise that kicked off the whole phenomenon four decades ago -- were down in 2017 despite a new film, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," in December during the all-important holiday-shopping season.
Call it "Star Wars" burnout, or better yet "movie fatigue," said Gerrick Johnson, an analyst for BMO Capital Markets. Hollywood and toymakers have fixated on toy-friendly films at a time when kids are increasingly turning to YouTube, Netflix and social media for entertainment.
More than 20 major films, including "The Last Jedi," had robust toy-licensing programs last year. A decade ago, it was about half that. Movie attendance in the U.S. has dropped almost 14 percent in that span.
"There are so many screens now; kids aren't just at the movies," Johnson said. "A movie doesn't have the same resonance it used to."
While "Star Wars" was still the top-selling toy line during the nine-week holiday period, it fell to second place overall last year and below the all-time high seen in 2016, according to data from market research firm NPD Group shared with Bloomberg News.
"Star Wars is a force to be reckoned with in the toy industry," the brand's owner, Walt Disney Co., said in a statement. "It remains the leading film-driven property for the entire year."
Toymaker stocks declined on Thursday. Hasbro Inc. fell as much as 3.6 percent, its biggest intraday drop in almost three months. Mattel decreased 2.2 percent. Disney shares slipped as much as 0.3 percent to $111.61.
After a decade without a "Star Wars" film, Disney has released three movies since December 2015, and another one is coming in May. The latest installment, "The Last Jedi," didn't include many new memorable characters beyond those introduced in the preceding film, Johnson said. That left fans looking for newness elsewhere this year, leading to weaker results than expected, he said.