In what will hopefully be the last surprise of 2020, Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit is getting its own set of Pop! Vinyl figurines from Funko. The three figurines will feature Anya Taylor-Joy’s main character, Beth Harmon, in a variety of outfits from the show, none of which are chess-related, but all of which are stylish. Fans can purchase the Pops to own a piece of the show’s unique aesthetic, filtered through Funko’s dead-eyed one, but the real question is, why is The Queen’s Gambit getting Funko Pops?
If you’ll allow me to speculate wildly, maybe The Queen’s Gambit is getting a Funko Pop, not because it’s a Netflix show that’s both critically well-received and popular according to Netflix’s own metrics, but rather because “getting Funko’ed” (coining that now) solidifies popular content that can be a little bit transient because of streaming algorithms.
Netflix has been able to maintain an aggressive release schedule during 2020 because of how many shows and movies it had already banked up. But can you honestly say you remember any of those early hits from February and March, like Tiger King or Love is Blind?
More broadly, was your media property really popular if it didn’t “get Funko’ed”? I’d argue no. And Netflix’s other Funko collaborations have immortalized similarly popular streaming mega-hits like Money Heist and Stranger Things, before they got folded into the Netflix soup, only to resurface for new seasons.
Getting Funko’ed is almost like getting a panel at Comic-Con; it signals a level of fan engagement that warrants capitalizing on, at least monetarily. A show might fade from interest (or Netflix’s many carousels), but plastic junk is forever.
Funko’s ability to spin up figurines fast certainly helps in that regard. Even if Netflix’s deal was set before the show was a hit, Funko’s fast-fashion approach to manufacturing allows it to get a Pop into production in under two months, according to a report from The Goods. Given the October 23rd premiere date for The Queen’s Gambit, the Beth Harmon Pops fall well within Funko’s compact production window. (Another weird thing: these Funko Pops start shipping on April 20th of next year.)
The Queen’s Gambit Funko Pop! is an interesting flex of Funko’s manufacturing power, Netflix’s development skills, and the weird ways popularity surfaces in culture. No one will likely be talking about the show 40 years from now, but when I’m scavenging the wastelands of California and I find a Beth Harmon Pop in a busted-out suburb, I’ll remember, and barter for water accordingly.