The Power Rangers Turn 20 and Morph Back Into Relevance

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James Devaney / WireImage / Getty Images

The Power Rangers visit Wall Street for their 20th Anniversary Bus Tour on Feb. 11, 2013 in New York.

Brace yourself, because this story is going to make you feel really old. The Power Rangers — those brightly colored teenage superheroes that have at various times been ninjas, space cadets, race-car drivers, samurai and everything in between — turn 20 years old today. While you were busy aging, the Power Rangers racked up more than 800 episodes battling giant, bizarrely shaped monsters pretty much every week for two decades. The franchise has had its ups and downs but is currently riding a wave of popularity the likes of which it hasn’t experienced since the 1990s.

Back when it started in 1993, the Power Rangers were unlikely candidates to become children’s-television juggernauts. The show’s original iteration, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, was a campy mash-up of action footage from a Japanese superhero series called Super Sentai and American-made dramatic scenes, a format the show more or less uses to this day. It was dreamed up by a television producer named Haim Saban, who first saw the goofy Japanese show at a hotel in Tokyo. The major networks had passed on a variation of the concept in the mid-’80s, but Fox, which was still a relative upstart, decided to pick the show up as part of its big push into kids’ television.

Some at the network were skeptical of the program, predicting that it would be a “disaster.” There were bad English overdubs. There were electric sparks illogically erupting from spandex suits. There were enough cheesy one-liners to fill a Twitter feed. And kids loved it.

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“The ability for a young, ordinary teenager to save the world is something that’s always been core to Power Rangers,” says Elie Dekel, the president of Saban Brands and a member of the original team behind the show. “It’s highly aspirational to kids.”

The show was an instant smash hit, offering a lot more action — and violence — than kids were used to from more polished productions from Disney and Nickelodeon. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers averaged 4.8 million daily viewers in its first season, according to Nielsen, and 6.9 million in its second, making it by far the most popular kids’ show of its era. Its toys, costumes and merchandise generated about $1 billion in revenue in 1995, according to Fortune. When the Power Rangers actors went to Universal Studios in 1994 for a meet and greet, they attracted 35,000 people and caused an 8-mile-long (13 km) traffic jam in Los Angeles.

“When it premiered 20 years ago, it went on to redefine what was possible in a kids’ show in terms of ratings, global appeal, pop-culture relevance,” Dekel says. “All those things kind of reset when Power Rangers got to the marketplace.”

The phenomenon peaked, as many do, with a glossy movie, in 1995. When the Rangers moved on to a different theme after Mighty Morphin, ratings and toy sales sagged. A second movie bombed at the box office two years later. Saban, who leveraged the success of Power Rangers to build a whole stable of popular kids’ programming and the Fox Family cable channel, sold the Rangers and the rest of his Fox properties to Disney in 2001. There the show did even worse, bottoming out with around 250,000 viewers as it cycled through a different gimmick each season.

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Like so many other artifacts of the ’90s, the show could have been left to wallow in obscurity. But Saban reacquired Power Rangers in 2010 with plans to reinvigorate the franchise on Nickelodeon. “We pulled out our playbook from the ’90s in terms of marketing and promotion,” Dekel says. “We rekindled a lot of those strategies, including a focus on grassroots marketing — having Power Rangers–costumed characters appear at local market events on an ongoing, regular basis. We believed in the power of new episodes.”

The first new iteration under Saban, Power Rangers Samurai, was a big hit with kids, averaging 2.3 million viewers in 2011. Toy sales also regained their pulse that year, as Power Rangers toys generated $40 million in revenue, according to NPD. That figure doubled to $80 million in 2012 when another successful season of Samurai launched. Power Rangers is now ranked No. 17 among kids’ licenses overall, according to NPD. And kids are dressing up as Rangers again too — the company says costume sales have tripled in the past two years.

“It continues to be one of the more relevant licenses out there,” says Russ Crupnick, an NPD analyst who follows the toy industry. “You’ve got a brand essentially that parents have also grown up with. Parents like brands that convey familiarity and in a sense safety.”

Though the Rangers are again popular, new challenges have emerged. The brand’s demographics skew younger than they once did, with its toys mostly appealing to boys ages 3 to 8. “Kids are kind of growing up a little faster these days in terms of the technology they have to play with,” says Matthew Hudak, an analyst at Euromonitor who covers toys and games. “You will be competing nowadays more and more with tablets.”

Saban has responded with more digital offerings. An interactive game on Nick.com is among the website’s most popular. There are also multiple games available for the iPhone, both based on the modern iterations of the show and legacy seasons.

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Meanwhile, there are efforts to keep older fans engaged with the franchise too, as other kids’ brands like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have done. On platforms like Facebook and Instagram, where the show’s main audience is too young to register, Saban posts images and trivia related to classic seasons like Mighty Morphin. The franchise now has a regular presence at Comic Con, the annual celebration of movies, video games and comic books aimed squarely at adults. Older fans are even planning a Power Rangers convention of their own next summer.

At the peak of Power Rangers mania, Haim Saban boasted in news reports that the franchise would be around for a decade. Even he might have doubted that such an offbeat kids’ show would last for a generation (or that he’d have ridden its success to a personal net worth of $3.1 billion). But the Rangers are still here, bleeding sparks and battling inside giant robots (“zords” in Power Rangers lingo). Dekel admits the show’s popularity may not be as universal as it once was, but at the 20-year mark it’s hit another sweet spot with children.

“Even now, as we enter our third decade, kids are responding in similar ways,” he says. “They want to have a Power Rangers birthday party, they want to dress as Power Rangers for Halloween, and they want to watch the next episode.”

65 comments
JakKovacik
JakKovacik

To this day, even the biggest fans of the bet365 bónusz better Disney-era Power Rangers series' like SPD or Dino Thunder as well as the latter Saban versions (like Time Force) Still regard "Tommy," "Jason" and 'Kimberly" as their all-time favorite ranger due to their characters. http://stavky1x2.com/

JakKovacik
JakKovacik

To this day, even the biggest fans of the better Disney-era Power Rangers series' like SPD or Dino Thunder as well as the latter Saban versions. Unibet bónusz

motouyuu
motouyuu

Wow 20 years. I look at the newer ones sometimes, too, and I loved the series as a kid so much. I remember not even being able to ever find any of the ones I wanted, though at Toys"R"Us or Target 'cause they were always sold out. It was such a joy to watch on Fox. Great memories for me

matfour
matfour

Power Morphicon's been going for a few years now...Linkara's even attended it at least once.

liepyear
liepyear

@EmScription Oh wow that does make me feel old. I still know the theme song by heart

Dairenn
Dairenn

The mistake Saban and later Disney made as the show was falling in popularity was not working harder to assemble the kind of cast that made people fall in love with the show in the first place.  For what it's worth, the "nerd," "jock," "pretty girl," "rival" and "urban" arch types gave the audience someone they could relate to and imagine as their own heroic alter ego.  It got harder to do that with the sometimes sudden and abrupt cast changes that a labor intensive show like Power Rangers required.  To this day, even the biggest fans of the better Disney-era Power Rangers series' like SPD or Dino Thunder as well as the latter Saban versions (like Time Force) Still regard "Tommy," "Jason" and 'Kimberly" as their all-time favorite ranger due to their characters.  "Samurai" brought back the strong individual character mojo (along with street teaming like crazy and appearing in significant things like the Macy's Christmas Parade) rejuvenated the brand.  The unfortunate thing is that while the show's ratings were falling off in the early years of "Zeo" and "Turbo," all of us have to wonder and ask what could have been had they leveraged the superior scripts of the "Power Rangers in Space" era during the time of the program when it was making incredible amounts of money and gearing up toward a movie.  As remarkable as the program's legacy is now (joining the legends of TV history like The Transformers and Voltron: Defender of the Universe), it could have been EVEN bigger.

seanf125
seanf125

@VLuck Great article! One little thing though. You say fans are "planning" their own PR convention. It's actually the 3rd edition of it.

MajestyKagiso
MajestyKagiso

@TIME Jesus Christ im old. I remember forcing my mom to buy me the action figure and hiring the movie bk in 95!!

Hope_Egypt
Hope_Egypt

@TIME EGYPT: Snipers shooting in Mohandessin reportedly to cover the escape of some MB leaders.

TRSkull
TRSkull

@TIME This must be one of those joke headlines!

JerayPeterson
JerayPeterson

@Dairenn  sorry man, time force was disney, not saban, nothing has been saban since the Lost galaxy rangers. Light speed rescue was the first season of the disney rangers, and Super samurai was sabans first series returned since 2001. 

wttm
wttm

@chrisldennison HEY! I am a HUGE fan of both the original MMPR & Super Sentai. Be nice!

JaShayla
JaShayla

haha dope!! I could see you acting like a power ranger around the house lol RT @DonYeezzy @JaShayla The black ranger of course!!!

EGVStudios
EGVStudios

@JerayPeterson Fraid you are heavily mistaken. Disney bought PR midway through production of WILD Force. The cast and crew of Lightspeed and Time Force will all confirm the franchise was very much still Saban right up until Time Force ended. The first fully Disney produced season with no influence of the old MMPR Productions crew was Ninja Storm in 2003.

chrisldennison
chrisldennison

@wttm Hehe. I used to watch the original. Had a bit of a thing for the pink Ranger in fact. ;-)

DonYeezzy
DonYeezzy

@JaShayla (cont.) Tepanga from 'boy meets world' shared me with Laura Winslow by the way lol

DonYeezzy
DonYeezzy

@JaShayla I couldn't watch tv during the week so friday night & sat morn i binged lmao... I was the black ranger & dating Tepanga lol