by Doug Young
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Ever wonder what happened to the boat that got swallowed up by the ocean in the movie The Perfect Storm, or Felicity Shagwell’s Corvette from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me?
Those and other items just a few years ago would have been tucked away in a storage shed are now among hundreds of pieces of movie memorabilia making their way into the marketplace in a new era of online auctions.
Nearly all the major Hollywood studios have jumped on the online auction bandwagon in the last two years, offering items that range from the more mundane movie posters to high-profile props and trips to star-studded movie premieres.
With the Academy Awards less than a week away, there are 14 pages of memorabilia from current Oscar nominees and previous winners on one prominent Internet auction site.
With few exceptions, most of the big studios have left the handling of their auctions to Internet heavyweights Yahoo! and eBay, the former at https://www.auctions.yahoo.com and the latter at https://www.pages.ebay.com/theme/movies.html.
Studios that frequently work with Yahoo include News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox, Sony Corp.’s Sony Pictures, USA Studios and Viacom’s Paramount Pictures. The ones that have worked with eBay include AOL Time Warner’s Warner Bros. and The Walt Disney Co..
AOL Time Warner’s New Line Cinema has taken the extra step of setting up its own independent auction site at https://www.auction.newline.com, while Disney has also taken a more active role in the arena with its own separate eBay site at https://www.pages.ebay.disney.com.
A quick look at the sites reveals that items from Fox’s new animated film Ice Age and Paramount’s We Were Soldiers are being auctioned at Yahoo!; objects from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, John Q and the upcoming Blade II are on the block from New Line; and items from the coming release The Rookie are up for sale at Disney’s eBay site.
Oscar-related memorabilia may be accessed by going to eBay, then typing “Oscar” in the search window and clicking on “Movies & Television Memorabilia.”
Studio auctioneers said they use the online sales mostly to promote upcoming films and television shows. But the events can also be very lucrative, they added.
One of the all-time biggest earners at the Yahoo site was an auction last year of items from the syndicated show Xena: Warrior Princess, which ended production after a six-year run, said Rich Godwin, senior brand manager for Yahoo! auctions.
He said the auction, with objects supplied by USA Studios, ran for three months, with the average piece of memorabilia attracting 60 bids. When all was said and done, the event raised about $1.2 million.
“We knew they had a big fan base, but it was just incredible,” Godwin said. “There were props, wardrobe items, axes, shields and other stuff like that. They had a 96 percent sell through.”
While selling prices for the average movie prop tend to be on the low side, so-called “experiences” tied to movie and television releases fetch higher amounts, according to auction executives. In that category, among the most coveted items are tickets to premieres.
For example, the opportunity to attend the London premiere of Lord of the Rings went for $6,700, said Nevin Shalit, senior vice president of new media projects at New Line.
Other items attract big prices because of their inherent value, such as the $77,000 paid for Bruce Willis’ Porsche from Disney’s The Kid.
Along similar lines, the Felicity Shagwell Corvette from the second Austin Powers movie went for $121,000, while the boat from Perfect Storm was purchased by a Boston seafood restaurant for $141,100.
Many studio auctioneers also acknowledged that online sales provide a way to make some money and provide valuable mementos for fans from props that would have been relegated to warehouses in the pre-Internet era.
“The advent of the Internet and eBay created an opportunity to bring auctions to the masses,” said George Grobar, vice president of auctions for Walt Disney Internet Group. “It changed the world of auctions from a high-end intimidating experience to … taking it to the masses.”
Drawing on its vast array of properties, Disney has become one of the most aggressive entertainment companies in the Internet auction arena, offering items from movies old and new, as well as related wares like theme park and other company memorabilia.
To expand its reach beyond Disney-branded items, the company late last year launched auction sites for its ESPN and ABC television network properties at https://www.espnauctions.com, and https://www.abcauctions.com respectively.
Among the items sold on the ABC site were 20 signed scripts from the recent Stephen King series Rose Red for a combined $22,000, and a trip to ESPN headquarters during the final week of the NFL in December, which went for $8,600.