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Star Wars, Marvel memorabilia skyrocketing to $200-400 million industry all its own

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Jun 8, 2018, 12:13 PM EDT

Movie prop resales, like most industries, has gone through a cycle of ups and downs. But with franchises being the name of the game in 2018 and those most-successful franchises being those closely associated with nostalgia (Star Wars, Marvel’s comic universe), buying up one’s childhood is bigger than ever.

That could be inferred by the six-figure burglary of the original Iron Man suit, but it’s far bigger than that -- with plenty of oddball tricks, schemers, and ancillary forms of income. Studios (and fans) have found another way to profit off of geekiness, and it’ll only slow down when the franchises catering to nerdiness do the same.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s story on the subject, the Iron Man heist isn’t the most expensive listed (that belongs to a $1 million collection including Captain America’s shield, Iron Man’s mask, and a set of X-23’s claws from Logan) -- and it’s not a drop in the giant industry’s bucket.

Some involved in the movie memorabilia auction house industry estimate “it has ballooned from $20 million to $40 million in annual sales a decade ago to $200 million to $400 million today.” Hedge funds and other investors see the superhero-and-sci-fi-drenched market as an exciting alternative to fine art or more conventional antiques.

Studios are getting in on the game, creating more copies of key props explicitly for sale. That also means the real, “screen-used” version of props is valued even higher -- and even harder to identify. While fans, prop masters, and auction sites often collaborate to bring together documents and other verifying information to discern what was on camera from what is a recreation, studios are increasingly taking matters into their own hands.

Costume archivist Glenn Brown explained that a new tactic is costumers and prop artists creating outfits with DNA built in to some parts of the piece. "They document where it is on the costume," he said. He wouldn’t elaborate on specifics, but it sounds like retinal scanners and hair samples won’t be monopolized by super spy stories for long. As long as you don’t have to check the dental record of the costume before you buy it, the business boom should simply serve as another way that nostalgia has financially legitimized geek culture.