The new movie "Ouija" -- opening Friday, Oct. 24 -- tells the story of a group of kids who unlock the dark powers of a Ouija board while trying to communicate with a friend. While the film, directed by Stiles White and produced by Universal Pictures and Hasbro, may be the first significant exposure for many to the legendary game (or spiritual tool, depending on your outlook), it's been a popular product for Hasbro (makers of Monopoly and Scrabble) for decades.
Ouija’s story begins in the late 1890s when two men got the idea to patent an alphabet board and a planchette together as a Ouija board, according to Mitch Horowitz, author of the 2010 book “Occult America.” Horowitz says the meaning of the name "Ouija" is unknown.
By the 1960s the patent was in the hands of the toy company Parker Brothers, which became Hasbro in 1991. In 1966 the company began marketing the piece as a board game.
“There was a lot of fascination with occult and alternative spirituality in the 1960s,” says Horowitz. Parker Brothers capitalized on that fascination, and in 1966 Ouija outsold Monopoly.
Horowitz estimates that between 20 million and 25 million Ouija boards have been sold in America, but it's been in spurts. After the game enjoyed immense popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, Horowitz says, sales fell off in the 1980s and '90s. Hasbro told the International Business Times that they do not release sales figures for any of their board games, but Mitch Horowitz points to a change in the marketing strategy of the company (then Parker Brothers) as evidence of struggling sales.
“When you see a company redesigning a product, it usually means something isn’t working,” says Horowitz.
In the 1980s and 1990s Parker Brothers went through multiple iterations of the Ouija board, including a glow-in-the-dark version of the game. The overall strategy seemed to be softening the game’s image in light of fears about the game being a sinister or even satanic tool. Horowitz says the company shifted to targeting young girls who might use the board at sleepovers and parties.
However, today it seems there is renewed fascination with the Ouija board’s ability to frighten and titillate its audience. Hasbro (and Universal) are banking on that fascination.
A spokesperson for Hasbro said the company is confident the movie will ignite excitement over the Ouija board rather than scare people away: “The ‘Ouija’ film is an opportunity to tell a bigger story around the game. With the Ouija brand, it is all about the lore of the game and the fascination with the unknown -- these are core tenants that we bring to life in the film. Our goal is to engage more consumers in the ‘Ouija’ brand by giving them a new and fun way to experience it.”
Whether the Ouija Board is just a game or something more, the film will likely introduce a whole new generation to the Ouija board. “Ouija” premieres Oct. 24 nationwide.
Watch the trailer for "Ouija" below:
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