Funko leans into nostalgia harder than ever with its new Blockbuster Rewind line
Nostalgia is a powerful drug.
Take video stores, like, say, Blockbuster: Despite all the late fees, the new releases that instantly went MIA every weekend, the ungodly premiums for a lost tape, or the movie nights that met untimely endings because of a worn-out cassette or scratched disc, we still look back warmly on the video store. For many families, Blockbuster was a Friday-night ritual that now occupies the air of a latter-day Norman Rockwell painting in our memories, a stack of movies sitting just out of view in Freedom From Want.
There’s great power in that—and the collectible toy purveyor Funko knows it.
As a company deeply rooted in all things nostalgia, the Funko team took notice when they started seeing a cultural renaissance for vinyl records, tapes and analog media at large. CEO Brian Mariotti says it inspired an idea: a series of throwback pop culture figurines from the entertainment world that would capture the essential video store experience of yesteryear in a bottle—or, rather, a clamshell box, like the ones your movies came in.
Despite their best efforts to simply honor video store culture at large, as the team worked on the concept, Mariotti says the word “Blockbuster” kept coming up over and over again—so they ultimately decided to lean into it.
“We couldn’t get past the blue and yellow colors of Blockbuster, the fonts—and at that point it’s like, ‘oh my god, this is looking so obviously inspired by Blockbuster. Let’s just go get Blockbuster.’ It was very obvious where our heart was at with this thing.”
After tracking down the IP (owned by Dish Network), they did just that, and today are announcing their latest product offering: the Blockbuster Rewind series, featuring an array of film and TV characters, each encased in a clamshell box with, yes, a Blockbuster rental card. Rather than Funko’s signature offering of doe-eyed, top-heavy POP! figures and bobbles, Rewind represents an evolution for the brand. Each figure is smaller (around four inches) and features a new aesthetic. Yes, the head still dominates and the eyes hint at Funko’s DNA, but the figures are a bit more anatomically proportional in their stylized rendering.
“It’s definitely a form that is different than anything we’ve done before,” Mariotti says.
The line dovetails with the brand’s 25th anniversary, and the first two preview figures—featuring the company’s Freddy Funko mascot—will be available during a traveling marketing exhibition this July. When the exhibition ends at San Diego Comic-Con on July 19, the company will release the first wave of a dozen or so figures on-site before they hit stores in the fall. As for what those figures will be, Mariotti and Funko aren’t giving an inch, and are likely banking on the surprise and delight factor that earned the company its diehard fans—but a spokesperson for the brand notes that current licensing partners include Sony, Universal, Warner Bros. and more.
From obscure films to cartoon series to old TV shows to major theatrical releases, Mariotti says every form of media eventually found its way to Blockbuster’s VHS tapes—and the line will represent the best of it all.
“You’re going to see a wonderful blend,” he says. “We’re the only company dumb enough to have 2,000 licenses, because that’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of licensors to serve. But our fans expect us to have everything that is pop culture.”
One of every six sets will also feature a chase piece, a special-edition version of a figure that encouraging trades and multiple purchases. But contrasting the hundreds of new POP! figures that drop on the regular, Mariotti says Funko’s plan with the Blockbuster Rewind line is to follow the initial wave with around six to eight pieces each month.
“When we’re curating a certain fan base with a new format, we always want to go really slow,” he says.
Why stray from the original formula at all?
Reading between the lines, a move to innovate and find a new hit is logical and, perhaps, necessary. As was widely reported earlier this year, the company underwent major layoffs, and even sent $30 million of product to the landfill. Funko’s fiscal year 2022 report showed a drop in net income, but an increase in direct-to-consumer sales by 37%. Marioitti cites retail partners buying more carefully and running leaner inventories, and says he’s thankful the company pivoted to DTC at the start of the pandemic. (As Steve Nave, Funko’s CFO and COO, detailed in the 2023 first quarter financial results, boasting a 61% increase in DTC sales year over year, “While Funko’s success, built on fan enthusiasm, has shown resilience to volatility in the broader market, we are not immune to these external factors in the short term.”)
A PR rep for the company says Funko is leaning heavily into product innovation and expanding its collectibles footprint with the Rewind launch, as well as its Bitty Pop! line, which Funko dubs one of its strongest product launches in its history.
But still, don’t expect those signature POP! figures to go anywhere.
“POP! will always be our iPhone,” Mariotti says. “We love that format. It’s stood the test of time. But it doesn’t mean we can’t innovate in new, unique ways.”
Mariotti is known for his deep involvement in bringing new products to the market, such as the original POP! line, and Blockbuster Rewind looks primed to be a delightful ode to pop culture. Will it be a hit, or go the way of … Blockbuster?
“You know, we make stuff that absolutely nobody needs,” Mariotti says. “But thank God people want it. We’re always looking through the view of the collector—designed by collectors for collectors.”
Nostalgia is a powerful drug, indeed.