Top 3 Movies Based on Toys: Wake Me Up Before You "Ninjago"

Each week(ish), CinemATL Podcast hosts Martin Kelley and Michael D Friedman will be naming our Top 3 picks based on the weekend’s big movie release or event. Keep in mind, these lists are totally based on our opinion, and aren’t supposed to be a definitive list of the “best” movies. If you disagree with our selections, please let us know in the comments section below!


As the third entry in LEGO's movie series, The LEGO Ninjago Movie arrives in theaters on Friday. Based on the Ninjago line of toys and a TV show of the same name, LEGO hopes to prove once again that films based on toys can be more than just a giant commercial. With a great cast, including Dave Franco, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani and Justin Theroux, the film follows the footsteps of The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie. While the property may not be well known to adults, it still has the makings of another hit for the LEGO team.

So, what are our favorite films based on toys? Read on...

Martin Kelley's Top 3 Movies Based on Toys


1. Transformers

And I thought getting a top 3 unnerving movies would be difficult. This is real work. I mean, movies based on toys seems like it could be fun but when you really think about it, it’s such a cynical reason to make a movie that it’s bound to be hard to make good ones.

That said, this is probably a surprising pick given the nature of Michael Bay’s track record with this franchise. However, this movie delivered against my expectations and was pretty decent for a cynical ploy to capitalize off of beloved intellectual property. But the original cartoon series was doing the same thing, I guess. Despite various faults it’s still an enjoyable movie. The series never really delivered on its initial promise to be simply good popcorn entertainment. Well, maybe they did for some based on the success of this franchise but not really in my opinion.

2. The LEGO Movie

This movie is probably the best movie based on toys if I’m being honest but I think Transformers deserves credit for its ambition and initially opening the possibilities to these movies being potentially real treats and not just supplemental marketing for toys. This movie does obtain legit greatness and has spawned already one entertaining sequel. It’s still a movie about merchandise which will always make it a slightly less entertaining proposition than original fare but what Phil Lord and Chris Miller were able to do was pretty remarkable. Too bad we won’t get to see what they had in store for the Han Solo prequel but I’m sure they will land on their feet again.

3. G.I. Joe: Retaliation

A better G.I. Joe movie than the first reboot, how could it not be? Retaliation actually gave some credence to this being a potential franchise. However, it doesn’t seem like that group of actors will carry the classic toy soldier’s flag forward. We’ll see a reboot again someday likely but this movie was another fairly entertaining movie. Again, at their core, these movies are all simply marketing materials for young people to stay interested in the latest line of toys, so our expectations should always be tempered when it comes to movies based on products.

Honorable Mentions: not really

Michael D Friedman's Top 3 Movies Based on Toys


1. The LEGO Movie

First off, I need to clarify that my list would include Toy Story and Toy Story 2, but for the sake of this article, we’re focusing on movies based solely on one toy property. The Toy Story movies featured original characters with additional licensed toys as supporting characters.

With that out of the way, my list would still contain The LEGO Movie, which showed that yes indeed, you can make a good movie based on toy. The great thing about LEGO is the creative, open-world that can basically be anything you want. The LEGO Movie really captured the heart of what the toy means to so many people. It allows kids (and adults) to design whatever they want and is often a child’s first foray into creativity.

But the movie is so much more. It has heart and humor, a great cast (Chris Pratt, Morgan Freeman, Ralph Fiennes and Charlie Day were the standouts) and worthwhile message that it’s OK to be different, even if that means following the instructions from time to time. It celebrates diversity in all it’s forms. And besides, it’s just incredibly funny.

2. Clue

Yes, this is based on a board game, but aren’t board games just toys? Clue was an innovative movie release at the time, because three alternate endings were filmed, with different theaters receiving a different ending. It was the ultimate whodunit. (Side note: I remember going to two different theaters as a kid and being disappointed they both had the same ending. It all turned out fine though -- the VHS release included all three versions.) But what really made this movie appealing can be summed up in two words: Tim Curry. He was terrific in the ensemble cast, which also included comedic icons Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn and Michael McKean.

3. Trolls

Yes, I was as surprised watching Trolls as you probably are reading this. If you haven’t seen the movie you may scoff at this, but I found it to be a truly enjoyable movie-going experience. It has great music, with Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel and Gwen Stefani supplying the hits. It’s also a fun, energetic and engaging movie that has a good message: that happiness isn’t something you can find in things, but inside yourself. Besides, I see so many kids movies now that I have a 5-year-old, it was refreshing to be fully entertained by one. My son also loves the soundtrack, and I can listen to it repeatedly without throwing up, so that’s a good thing.

Honorable Mention: Transformers: The Movie (1986 animated version); The LEGO Batman Movie; Transformers (2007 Michael Bay version -- and definitely NOT the sequels)