There aren’t many kids that were born in the 1980s out there that haven’t reached the age of thirty yet. This is a big deal because if you’re thirty and surfing the web, there’s a good chance you’ve graduated from college or a trade school and have finally found a decent paying job that provides a wage you can live off of and still have some disposable income. Many adults like to use this disposable income to re-capture their youth. That’s extremely easy when it comes to the television programs and movies we loved as children. Many old cartoons and movies are on YouTube for free. While this is a little bit shady legally, there is probably a streaming service, a DVD/Blu-Ray set, or a Roku channel out there that will bring you the shows and movies necessary for a stroll down memory lane. While this accessibility is great, there is one thing we can’t get from a streaming service:
All those glorious hunks of rubber and plastic that we call action figures.
There are some great action figure lines out there today, but many of them aren’t “new”. Power Rangers are still a major seller, but that’s an old property that just happens to still be going strong. Comic book figures are nothing new. Neither are Ninja Turtles or Star Wars figures. Everything out now has been out for twenty years or more. Many lines, like DC Direct or Marvel Legends, aren’t meant to be played with – they’re meant to display.
The 1980s had amazing lines that weren’t based on some old property – action figures in the ’80s created the properties. We’re not talking about action figures that were made to tie-in with a series or movie. We’re talking about toys that spawned series and movies of their own. Everyone wanted to make an action figure line in the ’80s. Even greeting card companies were trying to create their own line of action figures. If you’re wondering just which line that might be, keep on reading!
15. Battle Beasts
These guys were some of the best toys because there were just so darn many of them. They were highly collectible and they looked damn cool. You always felt like you were getting more bang for your buck because they were usually sold with multiple figures in a single blister pack.
Battle Beasts took the various animals we humans share the planet with and turned them into mighty, armored warriors. They even released a platypus Battle Beast. Why not? There were a total of 76 different 2″ Beast figures in all. Each figure came with a heat sensitive chest plate. When you pressed a thumb or finger on it, the plate would reveal a log (Earth Clan), a flame (Fire Clan), or waves (Water Clan). A common misconception was these figures were to be used as a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors where kids would each select a Beast and reveal its hidden clan – fire beats wood, wood beats water, water beats fire.
14. Food Fighters
Food Fighters, an obvious nod to the concept of a ‘food fight’, were a group of action figures that took pieces of food, gave them limbs and a face, dropped them into military fatigues, and said, “Have fun, kids!” The line had potential to be very collectible. There could have been a figure for any food item imaginable.
While many of us ’80s kids remember these figures with their weird human limbs and twisted faces, they didn’t quite catch on. This might be due to the fact that the material they were made out of was similar to that of dog toys. They were largely sold in discount stores and there wasn’t a cartoon, comic book, or video game to support them.
13. Army Ants
Army Ants was another line of highly collectible 2″ figures similar to the Battle Beasts line. The line, like Beasts, was released in groups with three or eight figurines coming in every blister pack. Each pack consisted of Ants from one of two warring factions: the Orange Army and the Blue Army. In case you aren’t sure, the Orange Army consisted of orange Ants and the Blue Army consisted of blue Ants. This made things difficult for the Ants in terms of espionage and subterfuge.
Each squadron had a substantial number of collectible Ants (forty in all) that all had their own unique names. Considering these toys were not pose-able and they all looked nearly identical, how anyone could tell which figure they had just by looking at it is a mystery. Hopefully you saved the cardboard backing to your blister pack for easy reference. I know I did!
12. M.U.S.C.L.E.: Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere
If you were a kid in the ’80s, whether you were a boy, girl, or other, you probably had a few of these scattered around your room somewhere. When I was a child I had a shoe box full of these and where they actually came from remains a mystery to this day. It’s likely that Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere, or simply “M.U.S.C.L.E.”, just multiplied when no one was looking.
Mattel made over 400 of these weird little figures and they could be purchased in a number of ways. There was the blister pack of four, a small plastic garbage can of ten figures, a box of twenty-eight, and their small size allowed them to even be acquired in vending machines for a single quarter. This accessibility combined with their low price point made them a huge success and a staple in any toy chest.
11. Monster In My Pocket
Monster In My Pocket was a line very similar to M.U.S.C.L.E. and Army Ants, except it focused on your traditional monsters from movies, mythology, and literature. Not many people remember this line but when it was huge, boy was it huge. This line of 2″ tall, “eraser-style” figurines had almost every tie-in product imaginable. There was a comic book, a board game, a video game, clothes, kites, an animated special (though it never launched a full series), stickers, and trading cards.
Each monster in the line was assigned a point value that seemed to only hold any kind of weight when the figures were used as pawns in the board game. Higher points also seemed to have a higher degree of rarity.
10. Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light
Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, weren’t necessarily the best toy, but they had a selling point that was pretty intriguing to a kid in the ’80s so you probably had (or knew someone who had) one or two of them. Each Visionary was able to turn into an animal, and they had a staff and chest plate with a holographic sticker that changed into the animal when you tilted it. Unfortunately for Hasbro who produced the action figures, it wasn’t enough of a selling point.
Back then, toys were usually made to sell cartoons/comic books and vice versa. When the toy line failed to perform as expected, the cancellation of the show quickly followed after only one season. For some reason, this action figure line was still produced a little after cancellation of the cartoon series. Had things gone well, the line was to be increased dramatically, featuring almost twice as many items as the first line.
Dino-Riders was a Tyco line that also had an animated series made with the specific intention of selling a new line of action figures. In a time when vehicles were typically more expensive pieces sold alongside the action figures, the Dino-Riders gave you both a mount and a figure in every box.
The premise behind the line was simple: Two warring alien races were inadvertently hurled through time and space, only to find themselves on prehistoric Earth. The righteous Valorians befriended and worked with dinosaurs using telepathy, while the evil Rulons used mind control to bend the dinosaurs towards servitude.
We can only imagine what this kind of messing with the timeline did for human existence. It could be argued that neither the Valorians or the Rulons are “the good guys” as it’s very likely they shifted the entire trajectory of Evolution on earth. Way to wipe out the human race, Valorians!
Madballs was an odd little line of action figures (or well, balls) that saw mass popularity. Most kids had at least one laying around somewhere. Because of their lack of parts, they didn’t really break and there were no pieces to lose. There’s a good chance you might have one in all its original glory. The original run was made out of a hard material that resulted in causing a number of injuries. Subsequent Madballs were made from a foam-like material. If you have one of those harder Madballs, a collector might want to give you a decent stack of cash.
Madballs did so well they spawned a show and comic books. They also made a line of headless bodies that could host the Madballs as interchangeable heads. There were also a number of copycat toys with names like Odd Balls, Ugly Balls, Weird Balls, and Blurp Balls.
7. Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was a pretty incredible action figure line with an amazing concept – they interacted with a tie-in television series. It’s unfortunate as to why this line didn’t catch on. The show surrounding it was designed to appeal to both children and adults. It featured more mature and dark story lines about nuclear annihilation and Nazi parallels. Even the romance was elevated to attract an adult audience.
Many parents felt using the toys as weapons that interacted with the more realistic violence the show offered was just a little too violent for the kids. The action figure tie-in, along with the extremely childish title, also didn’t help with the idea that the show was made for adults as well. To this day, the writers insist that the toys and show were separate, and the toys/interactivity never exerted influence over the writing.
6. Barnyard Commandos
Barnyard Commandos were very similar to the Food Fighters action figure line that we mentioned earlier. They were made of a material similar to dog toys and sold in discount stores, but they were slightly more popular. Barnyard Commandos were able to get an animated series off the ground by 1990, a second wave of figures, and they were even popular enough to spawn a series of bracelets/vehicles offered as a toy inside Burger King Kid’s Meals.
Believe it or not, these characters were designed for the American Greetings Corporation. That’s right. Toy lines were so lucrative back then that even the greeting card companies wanted a piece of the action.
The Inhumanoids line is actually named after the antagonists of the series as opposed to the hero characters. This is probably because the most interesting part of the line and the obligatory
twenty-two minute commercials animated series is the villains. They were hulking subterranean beasts while their adversaries and our heroes, the Earth Corp, were just a bunch of stupid scientists. The scientists did get aid from the elemental Mutores, but their designs were basic. The Inhumanoids made for much better action figures.
The Inhumanoids also served as the massive 14″ figures in the line, while the humans were a mere 6″ and the Mutores clocked in at just a little taller at 7″. Who wanted a dinky Redlen Mutore when you could have a massive Tendril, am I right?
4. Filmation’s Ghostbusters
Fans of The Real Ghosbusters animated series and action figures, combined with fans of the live-action movies, have some pretty strong opinions about Filmation’s Ghostbusters. If you can remove yourself from the nostalgia or whichever Ghostbuster’s property you were first exposed to, you’ll notice that both lines had their shining moments. While what I’m about to say could get me executed by a firing squad, I’m going to say it anyway:
Filmation’s Ghostbusters had the superior toy line.
It’s true. They were bigger, they looked more like their cartoon counterparts, the car was cooler, and the villains were fully fleshed out characters instead of random monsters. The gear used by the Filmation Busters had a goofier, more child-like aesthetic, which really appealed as accessories to the figures as they were harder to misplace. The mascot characters like Belfry and Bat-A-Rat were cooler (though far less memorable) than Slimer. The female characters, which there were more of, featured realistic hair.
There have been a good number of different runs of Zoids over the years, but it’s possible their peak popularity was in the 1980s as this marks the original release that used the name Zoids. In the earlier end of the 1980s, the Zoids model kits were known as Mechabonica. Mechabonica was an entirely different line, it didn’t sell well, and the line was dropped by TOMY (who also released the Zoids figure models). Despite being a dropped and totally different line, those that remember Zoids consider them as the same line as three Mechabonica figure models were re-released as Zoids (Garius, Glidoler, and the popular Elephantus).
M.A.S.K. is your classic case of a toy-line that was packaged immediately with an animated series to help sell the toy line. Even the show was launched by Kenner. It definitely worked as four different series of action figures were sold. The latter two launches focused more on racing, as opposed to the original launch that had a focus on counter-terrorism.
Rumors circulated that the star of the line, Matt Trakker, is to make an appearance in the next G.I. Joe film. Shortly after, Paramount announced that G.I Joe will be part of a shared universe that will include M.A.S.K. and the earlier mentioned Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. This shared universe will also include the Micronauts and Rom.
1. Golden Girl and the Guardians of the Gemstones
Not many of us remember this line. It might be due to the fact that it looks a lot like the figures from the She-Ra: The Princess of Power line, a line spun-off from the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe line. Both the Golden Girl and the She-Ra lines had figures that consisted mainly of female characters, both lines were roughly the same size, the armor and weapon designs were strikingly similar, and both lines featured realistic hair for the characters. It’s possible Golden Girl figures were just lumped in with She-Ra in our memories. They also came with horses as their “vehicles”, just like the She-Ra line.
The series was produced for only a year before the line was dropped by Galoob.
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