Our Top 30 Best 1980’s Toys
Oh boy, how did I come up with the best 1980’s toys? This list isn’t based on popularity. If it was, Star Wars would win out just based on that. Don’t get me wrong, popularity factors in a little bit; however, the fact that a toy was unsuccessful means very little to me. Steel Monsters is a perfect example that many haven’t even heard of. My admittedly biased basis took three things into account: how cool the toy was, how innovative it was and if it was high quality.
I do need to stipulate that a few toys are included from the late 1970’s, I might have gotten them on clearance in the 1980’s! If I hadn’t included them it probably would have just been the best 25 1980’s toys.
Cartoons and Toys
Cartoons and toy lines went hand-in-hand since about 1981 when the FTC seriously relaxed the law. The laws in question were those that govern advertising to kids, more specifically, “deceptive ads & unfair practices directed at kids.” In the relaxation of the law, it allowed toy companies to make 22-minute infomercials every weekend!
If you didn’t know, back in the 1980s when a new cartoon was produced, it was almost always a toy company peddling a new toy, not a new cartoon that a toy company decided to make later. Many shows on this list didn’t even last a year. Putting aside those shenanigans, let’s take a look at which toys I remember the most and which I value highly. Keep in mind there are other great toys like Lego’s and Hot Wheels, but this list is about the action figures!
30. Super Naturals Tonka 1986
Super Naturals figures were produced by Tonka. This was a group of both good and evil warriors who were sealed in the Tomb of Doom for hundreds of years, and when they were finally released as ghosts, they set to do battle again. Their gimmick was the hologram sticker on their chests, a great and innovative idea. Super Naturals arrived a year before Visionaries, which had a similar gimmick. Super Naturals have glow in the dark weapons for night battling, of course, it’s what ghosts do. Unfortunately, they were only marketed for one wave as they did not sell very well and were costly to make. The absence of a show for marketing didn’t help either.
29. The Black Hole Mego 1979
First of all, Star Wars has a great name and so does Star Trek. So how come The Black Hole can’t get a reboot? The name alone is fantastic; Disney get after it! For me, the Black Hole action figures are easily the best figures Mego made. Star Wars prompted a lot of companies to try and replicate that Sci-Fi success; Disney and Mego were no different. Unfortunately for Disney and Mego, the film was a huge flop. Mego even moved from their standard size figures to the 3 ¾” figures, which were becoming standard just for this effort. Despite the high-quality figures, they almost immediately hit the clearance aisle with the line lasting for only 2 series.
28. Lord of the Rings Knickerbocker 1979
Another team trying to ride the coattails of Star Wars was Ralph Bakshi and Knickerbocker. Bakshi released “The Lord of the Rings” in 1977. Lord of the Rings already has a very strong story and character development, the film only needed some good animation. Unfortunately, the animation was quite the opposite. Knickerbocker developed the toy line, a quality one at that; however, without the movie support the toys fell flat on their faces. Again, the toys were of good quality but quickly moved to the discount bin. Shortly thereafter Knickerbocker went out of business. Overall, a tough set to put together even though it’s only a total of 8 toys, the success of the latter 2001 LOTF series didn’t help.
27. Clash of the Titans Mattel 1980
Mattel launched the Clash of Titans action figures in 1980 before the movie release. Another set in the 3 ¾” scale, which at this point was almost set as the default size moving forward. This set sold well but never expanded past the first 6 toys. I would have loved to see Medusa, it’s a shame she wasn’t made. Even worse Zeus and Andromeda were not in the first wave.
26. Dune LJN 1984
A toy line set for a revival in 2020, with a new two-part movie due to come out based on Frank Herbert’s novel. The original film did not do well and neither did the toys. A film largely about a conflict over the most important substance in the known universe “the spice.” The only source for the drug, Melange, or “the spice” is Dune. Melange allows for space travel and psychic ability. Integral to life, like oil is to us. The toys were for sale for years and couldn’t be given away, which is unfortunate given they were well made. LJN did a nice job. My only big complaint is the worm. Universal should have known better, the film was a little dark for kids and the toys weren’t going to sell.
25. Battlestar Galactica Mattel 1978
In 1978, Universal Studios and ABC brought us Battlestar Galactica to try and recreate what Star Wars did on film on weekly TV. The series was a hit, unfortunately, it was a very costly show to produce and was canceled after one year. Mattel obtained the rights and the toys did very well. The toys were designed a lot like Mattel’s Shogun Warriors line. Due to the death of a young boy, the toys were redesigned not to fire missiles; therefore, there are two versions of all the vehicles. One version fire missiles and the other does not fire. The ones that fire are worth significantly more, so be careful which version you’re purchasing.
24. Crystar Remco 1982
Marvel was actually behind this toy line. They created the franchise with the purpose of finding a licensee to make the toys. Oddly though the toys still came out before the comic which debuted in 1983. Two brothers, Crystar and Moltar, decided to ally their people with the forces of order and the forces of chaos. Crystar and the forces of order were made of crystal and are translucent. For me, the forces of order had a lot of eye appeal. Moltar and the forces of chaos were made of lava. The battle for Crstalium was set.
23. Ghostbusters Kenner 1986
Another toy line about to get a boost with Sony, set to release a new film in the summer of 2020. The Real Ghostbusters toy line was released by Kenner. It was largely based on the animated series but also included items from both Ghostbusters films as well. The line was released in late 1986 and quickly sold out. The line lasted for another 5 years and only ended when Kenner merged with Hasbro in 1991. IGN ranked the carton 22nd greatest of all time!
22. Indiana Jones Kenner 1982
Indiana Jones 5 is set to release in the summer of 2021. Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theaters in the summer of 1981. Indiana Jones figures didn’t hit the shelf until more than a year later, as no licensee signed on. For me, this is a real head-scratcher since Star Wars made toys largely what they are today, no one wanted to take a chance on this film? A film by the same guy everyone underestimated just 6 years prior? Of course, the film did great, the toys’ success was hampered given the long delay between the release of the film and the release of the toys. The line managed 4 waves of toys, with the 4th falling flat. Kenner held on to the license for the release of The Temple of Doom and released 2 waves. Then opted out of their contract due to poor sales.
21. Tron Tomy 1982
Tron was the 1982 Disney Sci-Fi action-adventure, which was the first film to largely use computer animation. The action figures were produced by Tomy. Disney believed they had a hit. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t do as well as expected so only one series was released. Only 6 figures made official release and were distributed only in the USA. Tomy bucked the 3 ¾” model laid out by Kenner and went with 4”. The figures were, at least in my opinion, quite fantastic for the time. Made of transparent plastic with glow in the dark accents which correlate to the CGI from the movie. Paired with glow in the dark accessories.