Feel the force: 'Star Wars', 'Finding Dory' and Minnie Mouse make Disney a $57 billion franchise machine

The Disney Store in New York.
Richard Levine | Corbis | Getty Images

The Walt Disney Company is the world's most successful licensor, selling $56.6 billion worth of licensed merchandise in 2016, up $4.1 billion on 2015 and out-earning its nearest rival almost three times.

The Disney Store in New York.
Richard Levine | Corbis | Getty Images

Disney's Jungle Book, Frozen, and the Star Wars franchise contributed to its success, according to a list of the top 150 global licensors published online by License Global. Disney released four billion-dollar box office movie smashes in 2016: "Captain America: Civil War," "Finding Dory," "Zootopia" and "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," which helped it to the top spot.

But it wasn't just new releases which helped shift merchandise. Mickey Mouse, the character who made his debut in a 1928 movie, featured on a collection of Coach leather goods, while Disney also signed a deal with furniture company Ethan Allen which featured an "I see Minnie" rug for $249.

Second on the licensor list is publisher Meredith Corporation, owner of U.S. magazine titles including Family Circle and Martha Stewart Living, with retail sales of $22.8 billion. Its Better Homes and Gardens products are sold in a direct-to-retail deal with Walmart, and the brand also has a real estate arm.

Disney also out-earned competitors Universal Brand Development ($6.1 billion in retail sales), Warner Bros ($6.5 billion) and Iconix Brand Group ($12 billion), which owns Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip series.

Companies new to the list of 150 licensors include Guinness and Smirnoff owner Diageo, which made $400 million from selling licensed products in 2016, and horticulture brand Scotts Miracle-Gro, which made $96 million.

The ten largest licensors in the world, 2016, listed by retail sales

  1. The Walt Disney Corporation ("Star Wars," "Zootopia") - $56.6 billion
  2. Meredith Corporation (Better Homes and Gardens, EatingWell) - $22.8 billion
  3. PVH Corp (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger) - $18 billion
  4. Iconix Brand Group (Peanuts comic strip) - $12 billion
  5. Warner Bros Consumer Products (Batman, Wonder Woman) - $6.5 billion
  6. Hasbro (My Little Pony, "Transformers") - $6.2 billion
  7. Universal Brand Development (Trolls, "The Secret Life of Pets") - $6.1 billion
  8. Nickelodeon ("Rugrats," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles") - $5.5 billion
  9. Major League Baseball - $5.5 billion (estimate)
  10. IMG College Licensing - $4.5 billion

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Universal Brand Development and CNBC.

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