19 July 2017 // Thoughts

Pop Culture Shorthand – An Inside Look at IP with Colin Cronin

Here at JRA Insights, we love handing over the posting reigns to our “folks in the trenches” – the designers who create memorable experiences everyday. In a three-part series, Colin Cronin breaks down the what, why and how of intellectual property, sharing the ins and outs of this transformative trend.


In recent years, there has been a major shift in the theme park industry. While the advent of technology has certainly contributed to many of the new rides and attractions you see today, it’s another factor that seems to be tying them together:

Intellectual Property.

Of course, the use of Intellectual Property, or IP, in theme parks isn’t something new. One of the major players, Universal Parks and Resorts, has an identity based almost solely around recreating films and television as attractions – where else could you “Ride the Movies”? And The Walt Disney Company obviously started as a film company first, before opening Disneyland in 1955.

So it hasn’t been unexpected to see IP in theme parks in the decades since. But in recent years, it feels as if IP has become even more influential, driving every aspect of theme park development. And we can probably track that shift to one thing: a boy wizard with a lightning bolt scar.

Today’s IP Stars: A Wizard, a Monkey, A Navi, and a Joker

It’s easy to argue that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal parks has been one of the more influential developments in the theme park industry since it opened in 2010, and one whose impact is very apparent to see in the last 7 years. While there had of course been IP-inspired lands in theme parks before (including several in the same park) there had never been anything quite to this scale. Wizarding World was a fully immersive, and beautifully realized, recreation of the world of Harry Potter, and the village of Hogsmeade.

For the first time, fans could actually live out their magical fantasies. They could wear the clothes, eat the food, even perform the magic – with a little help from RFID-activated souvenir wands, of course. This wasn’t just an attraction, or even just a land. This was a living, breathing, actual world – one that, if attendance numbers are any indication, guests have come back to again and again since.

Intellectual Property Theme Park

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was of course implemented at the other Universal theme parks, and the inevitable expansion was opened in 2014, adding Diagon Alley to the mix. Since then, Harry Potter has been the example to beat, and these immersive re-creations of different IPs have become the new standard in theme parks around the world.

Just last year, King Kong made a triumphant return to the Universal parks in the form of a new attraction, Skull Island: Reign of Kong. And at that other Orlando-based park, Disney has re-created the world of the film Avatar, with a Pandora-themed land in Animal Kingdom. Just a few months ago, Disney also completed a renovation of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at California Adventure, incorporating characters and storylines from the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and transforming it into Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (This is especially interesting as Guardians of the Galaxy is a relatively new property, the first film having been released in 2014, only three years before the new attraction opened!)

Future developments are also IP focused, with Universal and Disney planning expansive Nintendo and Star Wars based lands, respectively. Even smaller regional theme parks are getting in on the action, with Six Flags opening a Justice League attraction in seven of their parks in the last two years. And with a new swath of movie-inspired theme parks being opened or planned around the world, including Motiongate in Dubai and Warner Bros. World in Abu Dhabi, the trend is not likely to end any time soon.

Next week, we’ll discuss why IP is so popular, as well as the essential ingredient for IP success.