One of the reasons Star Wars is one of LEGO's most succesful themes is because it sells enough that royalties don't hurt LEGO's profits. Plus, if kids get into LEGO because of LEGO Star Wars, sales on other themes will go up also. Consistenty, City (in all its various forms) and Star Wars have outranked BIONICLE in sales. BIONICLE was one piece of LEGO's rebound, but the deal with Lucasfilm brought consistently profitable sales which helped LEGO get out of the muck in the early 2000's.
Actually, in 2002 (according to TLG's Annual Report from that year, page 23), BIONICLE was TLG's top-selling product line, immediately ahead of LEGO Harry Potter. LEGO Explore (the rebranding of LEGO Duplo at that time) was TLG's third-highest-selling product, and LEGO Star Wars was only their fourth-highest-selling product. The 2001 annual report doesn't give an organized list of top-selling product lines, but it does treat BIONICLE, Harry Potter, and Bob the Builder as some of the lines that were especially influential in the overall sales for the year. But of course this may be skewed to favor product lines that were brand-new in 2001.
In 2003, "LEGO Company’s own BIONICLE® range performed better, although sales fell by up to 20 percent." However, it was still their top-selling product, immediately ahead of LEGO Sports, LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Racers, and LEGO Creator. In 2004 and 2005 it remained top-selling product line, but "sales did not live up to expectations in 2005." Star Wars once again advanced in relative popularity, becoming the second-most-successful product line in terms of sales. LEGO City was introduced in 2005 but had not yet reached its peak success.
LEGO City and LEGO Star Wars are both mentioned as more successful than expected in the 2006 annual report, while curiously, BIONICLE is not mentioned at all, even though BIONICLE-related images appear throughout. The 2007 annual report reported an increase in sales. "The sales increases are still driven by the classic product lines LEGO City, LEGO Technic and LEGO Creator as well as LEGO Star Wars, which is well on its way to become another classic line," the report says. "BIONICLE is still one of the LEGO Group’s best selling product lines, although the line did not show any growth in 2007." The report also mentions an agreement that Tinseltown Toons will be producing three BIONICLE movies to be released between the years of 2009 and 2011.
Increased sales in 2008 are attributed to the same four themes as in 2007, with no mention of BIONICLE. Likewise in 2009, Duplo, City, Creator, and Star Wars are listed among successful product lines. BIONICLE is not mentioned. Needless to say, BIONICLE was never mentioned in the 2010 annual report, although it is mentioned that new lines like Atlantis and Hero Factory contributed to the company's growth along with the unmatched sales of City and Star Wars.
I have no intent of denying that BIONICLE was quite a phenomenon in its early years, and it certainly helped them regain their success, but I just feel that BIONICLE's impact on TLG's fiscal success is often exaggerated on BIONICLE fansites, just as LEGO Star Wars's impact is exaggerated by many LEGO Star Wars fans. As I understand it, TLG's return to glory was a process of many facets and many stages, and there was no product line or decision that can be treated as TLG's "saving grace" during this time period.
The exaggeration of BIONICLE's success led to a lot of misconceptions when the decision to cancel the theme was made. Some fans were confident that TLG would learn their lesson after cancelling "their most successful product line" and suffering an obvious loss in sales. Some people even were so bold as to suggest that cancelling BIONICLE would undo all the economic recovery that had been accomplished during the theme's lifespan. But BIONICLE's success did not remain consistent, unlike the success LEGO Star Wars and LEGO City would later be able to maintain.
If TLG's success had depended as heavily on BIONICLE as some fans thought, then its lack of growth from 2007 onward would have been reflected by overall declines in TLG's success. But instead TLG continued to grow throughout this entire period, defying these predictions. Replacing BIONICLE was not a foolish risk or a decision taken lightly, but a well-planned response to the trends of the previous several years.
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