BURBANK, Calif., June 24 -- Sales of merchandise tied to 'The Lion King' movie could hit as much as $1 billion worldwide, an analyst said Friday, although Walt Disney Co. is not making any forecast.
'It would be a bit of reach, but if you count everything, I could see $1 billion as a possibility,' said Frederick Marx, a marketing consultant based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
'The timing on this is very good,' Marx said. 'It's something completely new at a time when a lot of other trends have run their course.'
More than 1,000 licensed items have gone on sale as the animated film moved into about 2,500 theaters nationwide Friday after taking in well over $3 million in its first nine days at just two theaters -- Radio City Musical Hall in New York and the El Capitan in Hollywood.
With Disney devoting most of its energies to promoting the 'The Lion King' since the early spring, and Disney broadening the range of products available, some analysts have said $1 billion in merchandise sales is within reach if the film is a hit.
Retailers began stocking 'Lion King' items earlier than usual because of strong consumer demand, Disney spokesman Chuck Champlin said. He noted Disney usually advises retailers to hold off on rolling out character merchandise until a movie opens, but did not do so in this case.
Champlin said sales from 'The Lion King' are expected to surpass the level set by Disney's last animated film, 'Aladdin,' which topped its two previous animated hits 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'The Little Mermaid.'
Analysts have estimated that Disney may have sold well over $500 million of 'Aladdin' merchandise, not even including about $400 million from home-video sales.
Kurt Barnard, editor of the New York-based Barnard Retail Report, said the performance of the merchandise will hinge on the film's popularity.
'If the film does as well as predicted, the store sales are likely to do very well,' Barnard said. 'These items are a fad that will last three to six months.'
Marx said that Disney appears to have planned out its marketing strategy, which included a huge tie-in promotion with the McDonald's chain, with precision. 'This is looking very strong out of the gate,' he said.
Disney has the marketing muscle of more than 260 Disney Store outlets, located mostly in major shopping malls.
The success of the chain, which began with one store in 1987 in Glendale, Calif., has been a major contributor to Disney's profit and revenue growth in recent years and prompted Time Warner Inc. to launch a rival chain of Warner Bros. stores, now with more than 50 outlets.
Disney began running trailers for 'The Lion King' during the Christmas season. It also included a long preview of the film as part of its home-video version of 'Aladdin,' which rang up record-setting sales of 22 million copies during the past holiday season.
'The Lion King' is the studio's 32nd animated feature and an early favorite to top the summer box office with domestic ticket sales in the $200 million range. It is Disney's first all-animal animated movie and stars a lion named Simba being forced into exile by his evil uncle, Scar.
Among the items for sale are ties, boxer shorts, watches, balls, stuffed animals, party decorations, puzzles, books and children's cotton playsuits.
Disney also announced Friday it will sell a video game based on the movie along with Virgin Interactive Entertainment. It previewed the game, which will hit store shelves in the fall and work on Nintendo and Sega game players, at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago.
'Never before have game players been able to participate so fully in the emotional experience of a hit film,' said Steve McBeth, executive vice president of Disney Consumer Products. 'In 'The Lion King' game, players actually enter the world of the movie, which is brought to life with unparalleled animation, nonstop action, and dramatic confrontations.'
Disney and Virgin also collaborated on an 'Aladdin' video game with more than 2 million copies sold.