Wide Angle

Did a Beloved Indie Movie Really Cause a Googly Eye Shortage?

A Slate investigation.

A black-and-white photo of a detective type in a houndstooth cap, smoking a pipe, and holding a magnifying glass, but his eyes are covered by oversized googly eyes, which also surround the image.
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Googly Eyes. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Archive Holdings Inc. and RasselOK/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Everything Everywhere All at Once has, several months into its release, notched several respectable accomplishments: It made $50 million at the box office (and counting). It toppled Uncut Gems to become A24’s highest-grossing film ever in the U.S. and Canada. It inspired a bizarre feud between Jamie Lee Curtis and Marvel. Not bad for an indie movie. But did it do all that and cause a national shortage of googly eyes?

The studio wouldn’t mind if you thought so. A few weeks ago, A24’s Twitter account posted some screenshots alleging that the googly eye supply at craft chain Michaels had been completely cleaned out, with one blaming “that Everything movie.”

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Googly eyes figure heavily into Everything Everywhere’s plot. Main character Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is originally annoyed by her husband’s habit of sticking them all over the place, but she ultimately embraces them, affixing one to her forehead in the movie’s climactic fight scene. These dollar-store plastic decorations come to symbolize nothing less than joy, vitality, and the meaning of life. So of course A24 has a vested interest in showing that the world has gone gaga for googly eyes.

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Has it, though? Could an indie movie really be responsible for shaking up the googly eye economy so precipitously? Should we take this company that is obviously pushing a pro–googly eye agenda at its word? A24, after all, sold its own googly eyes in its online store for a while, though a representative declined to share how many pairs it moved before the product sold out. That representative also declined to comment any further on the potential googly eye famine of 2022. An independent investigation was clearly in order.

The first stop was the Michaels on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, where I observed that 1) Michaels refers to these items as “wiggle eyes” in its signage, despite no one ever having called them that in the history of this or any universe, and 2) their stock did seem to be running kinda low. There were about 25 hooks set up to display googly eyes—ahem, wiggle eyes—but only two had any eyes left on them. A harried store employee confirmed that they tend to sell out fast and recommended checking back the following week.

A wall of hooks for googly eyes, most of which are empty.
An anemic display of googly eyes at a Michaels in Brooklyn. Heather Schwedel
The sign for Aisle 78 at a Brooklyn Michaels, which lists "Wiggle Eyes" among its offerings.
Evidence that Michaels really and truly calls them “wiggle eyes.” Heather Schwedel

Other stores were more well-stocked, however: A colleague who visited the Michaels in Westport, Connecticut, found that it had about a half-full display, and I noted about the same stock level when I hit up the Michaels on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. But another colleague reported that the Michaels in Falls Church, Virginia, was, like the Brooklyn store, nearly sold out.

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These were one-off visits, of course, not hard evidence of googly eye scarcity. I decided to seek out someone with more long-standing googly eye authority. Heather Rae is a googly eye enthusiast in Asheville, North Carolina, who incorporates them into crafts she sells on Etsy. “I just have jars of googly eyes about my apartment,” she said. “I actually found one in my bed last night.” And she said she indeed noticed that Michaels has been running low in recent weeks: “I go to Michaels all the time and I kind of just cruise past that aisle and grab a couple. I was like, ‘Oh, they’re all gone.’ I just knew it had to be because of that movie.”

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Michaels employees I reached out to via a Reddit forum for staffers were mixed on whether they had noticed any changes in the realm of googly eyes. One employee named Taylor told me, “There has definitely been an increase in sales of googly eyes!! I probably sold eight packs today during my shift alone! People are also buying edible candy googly eyes for treats—so if your store is out, try the baking aisle!” Good tip, Taylor. But an employee at a different store offered, “We haven’t been bombarded nor have we been sold out.”

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There seemed to be something going on here, though not, perhaps, everywhere all at once. Sure, you can find googly eyes if you’re determined, but why do so many brick-and-mortar Michaels seem to be running low on them?

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When I put the question of the great googly eye shortage to Nichole Schneider, an expert on sourcing in the craft world, and wondered if this “supply chain” I’d been hearing so much about was involved, she said she doubted that they were being impacted by the kind of logistics woes that have befallen other products.

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She said that major chains like Michaels likely place orders for evergreen items like googly eyes many months in advance, based on sales data from previous years. So if there were a sudden run on googly eyes, it would take a while for stores to get more in. “Think about it,” she said. “Who buys googly eyes? Kindergarten teachers. And parents. So if young adults and teenagers and people that are into in this movie are going to buy these things to play jokes on people, then that’s a whole new demographic that is all of the sudden buying this thing that wasn’t accounted for when the demand planning was being done.”

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It was time to take this investigation all the way to the top by going to the source: Michael himself. Instead, I was referred to a Michaels communications manager, Adam Krell, who conceded that inventory is limited in some stores right now but attributed it to “shipping delays, which have been ongoing since January.” Based on the company’s data, there was no correlation between googly eye supply and Everything Everywhere All at Once’s release. He told me in an e-mail: “The movie was released in March, and there are no spikes in terms of additional sales around that time period or since the film’s release. Wiggle eyes are an item that usually sell quickly in all of our stores.” (They really are serious about calling them “wiggle eyes,” apparently.)

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As for why they sell out so quickly, no one could offer me a definitive answer, but googly eyes have long been a crafting staple and have been a pop culture fixture since at least a 2008 Saturday Night Live sketch in which Christopher Walken plops them on plants to make them less terrifying.

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Perhaps the googly eye economy is functioning exactly as intended, give or take some shipping delays. “These types of products are very high-volume and low-cost items,” Schneider said. “You have to produce a lot of them in order to hit the minimum ordering requirements.” In other words, it’s more cost-effective for companies like Michaels to order googly eyes in bulk, and they might then wait for that supply to dwindle over a period of months before another big shipment comes in to replenish the stock, she explained.

If that’s true, given what I’ve seen these past few weeks, it sounds to me like we might be about to hit the googly eye motherlode.

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