A lot of people don’t seem to understand the difference between something being overrated (to overestimate the merits of; rate too highly), and over merchandised (excessive merchandising branching into the ridiculous or non traditional). In this, I will attempt to illustrate the difference and what these two terms actually mean in greater detail.
For something to be overrated, it has to be below the quality that would merit the hype given. This is subjective and dependent on individual opinions. For example – I would say that film franchises like “Dumb and Dumber”, “The Hangover”, “High School Musical”, “Anchorman”, “Water Boy” and similar are very much overrated. These films do not deliver on the promise of entertainment, but rather showcase abject stupidity for a few cheap and meaningless laughs that are generally undeserving. Others may have a differing point of view. However, what disqualifies a film or television show from being “overrated” is how well written and developed the story and characters are. What genuinely labels a film or television show as overrated includes shallow or nonexistent plot, too many badly clichéd or poorly written one dimensional characters (especially main or secondary characters with dialogue), an excess of low-brow humor (IE – garbage or toilet humor) or the glorification of idiotic or rude behaviour, and an over reliance on sex and sexuality (whether openly pornographic or merely sexualized characters, situations, and humor) to appeal to the audience.
For example, the characters and story written for Star Wars (particularly with 4, 5, and 6) was never overrated because at the heart of the films is a good story with characters that have interesting and fully developed back stories. These are not one-dimensional cardboard cutouts with names, these are fully fleshed out characters in a Universe that gives credence to them, and the story surrounding them has a fully written arc to it rather than things being thrown in for the sake of it being there. You can see where they came from, where they are, and where they are going. Other examples of this include Transformers, Star Trek, Alien, Predator, Thundercats, Doctor Who, G.I. Joe, Farscape, Andromeda, the sagas of Middle Earth, The Fast and Furious franchise, VR5, Riddick, X-Men, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Jurassic Park, Firefly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dark Stalkers, and many others. None of these can be considered overrated, and in fact a number of them were drastically underrated, like Firefly, Andromeda, VR5, and Farscape; while others not only got their dues, but deservingly remain in the spotlight decades after their initial release, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, and Battlestar Galactica.
Over Merchandising is a much different story and can actually be pinned to far less subjective evidence. Novelizations and tie-in books, comics, posters, toys and play sets of the characters and vehicles, along with costumes, t-shirts, and hats are merchandise well within the acceptable range. Borderline merchandise would include shoes, pajamas, and other wearable items, bedding, blankets, and curtains, dinnerware, drink ware, silverware, serving and barbeque utensils, and kitchen ware (including teapots, measuring items, and cookie jars), household, holiday, and party décor, telephones, and coin banks. Excessive merchandise includes perishables, disposables, and food items. Over merchandising is when all three of these categories are utilized to excess, especially if the third category is included at all.
For example, Star Wars was over merchandised at first, then it tapered off, and is now being drastically over merchandised again. Star Trek, Transformers, and X-Men have all been over merchandised at one time or another. Many Disney films, such as The Lion King, Toy Story, Ice Age, and Frozen have been horribly over merchandised, and many others were over merchandised to varying degrees, but not quite to the same severity. These are still good stories, many of them very well written and the characters well portrayed, but they were so over merchandised that in some cases (like with Disney’s Frozen) people became so sick of seeing everything under the sun slapped with that franchise on it, they grew to hate it altogether. That is what over merchandising means and how it can severely hurt what is otherwise a good story.
This dichotomy includes sports teams as well. Many teams are often drastically over merchandised, especially when they win a season trophy (Hockey’s Stanley Cup Trophy, Football’s Superbowl Lombardi Trophy, Baseball’s World Series Commissioner's Trophy, Soccer’s FIFA World Cup Trophy, etc), ending up with the team logo, colors, and/or name on everything from the more acceptable hats, t-shirts, jerseys, flags/banners, and blankets, to kitchen appliances and dinner ware, lamps, bathroom décor, flower arrangements and food. Literally anything you can think of to put a logo, color scheme, or name on, it will bear the mark of some sports team that won their season trophy. That is over merchandising to an extreme level (I see it all the time with Seahawks stuff, as much as I respect and support my home team). Some teams are indeed over rated, many of which either hardly win any games, habitually cheat to win, or employ players that are inappropriate as role models (criminals, etc), yet are touted as “awesome teams” by their fans or league officials.
Regardless of whether you like or dislike it, when you step back and objectively examine a given film or television franchise (or sports team), its characters and story (or team players and performance), merchandising considerations, and level of advertising, you begin to see the difference between overrated vs over merchandised, and the amount of harm that over merchandising can do.