As arcades began popping up in malls across the nation, upcoming filmmaker Steven Lisberger fell in love with Pong. He felt that the unique back-lit experience from video games would do wonders in film. So, he began plotting out an animated feature to share his vision of a digital existence with the rest of the world. Luckily, he already had the steppingstone for his project, for he had designed a character that used backlit cel animation to promote his studio, whose name was Tron.
As work on the project proceeded, the plans for an animated film shifted, with live-action becoming the main medium for the production. To maintain the original look, the studio decided to use extensive digital effects that were experimental at that time. At the time, no production had successfully generated up to twenty minutes of computer-generated animation. This feat was no small task for Tron’s production team either. Since computers could not produce animation sequences at the time, they had to spend hours upon hours rendering each frame before setting up the animated sequences.
In the end, Tron made a small profit and became a milestone for computer-generated animation. However, the film could not compete with the other box office giants of 1982. Since the small movie could not gather much attention against the likes of E.T., Disney considered the film a financial disappointment. Luckily, the merchandise around the film, especially the toys from Tomy, helped form a cult following that lives on to this day.
Presenting the top ten Tron toys
10. Tomy’s Tron – Warrior (1982)
As Disney prepared to help Lisberger-Kushner Productions release their breakout motion picture, Tron, to theaters, they made arrangements to market the movie with the merchandise. So, they shopped around for the best toy company to bring the movie to the toy aisle. Meanwhile, Tomy hoped to net a property that would propel them to the uppermost tier of manufacturers, as Star Wars did for Kenner. Seeing that Tron was a unique science fiction adventure for all ages, they happily accepted the chance to produce the first line of Tron action figures.
Amongst Tomy’s small toy line was the Warrior action figure. As with most toy lines, Tomy knew that an army-building action figure would help bolster sales. So, they decided to feature the general warrior that helped support Sark’s plans to net the MCP more power. These warriors had little personality and only served as Sark’s army. Still, they relentlessly hunted down Flynn, Tron, and any other programs that defied Sark’s orders.
As with the rest of Tomy’s toy line, Tomy created the warrior action figure with transparent plastic, with this character tinted red. Keeping in line with the feel of the film, they etched orange lines around the figure’s chest and head. Thus, this action figure felt similar to the digitized characters from the movie. Since this character was a nameless grunt, they covered its head with a visored helmet.
9. Tomy’s Tron – Sark (1982)
Unlike his underlings, Sark held one of the highest positions available amongst the MCP’s army. He oversaw the deadly games that pitted the various programs that believed in the users against each other. His gladiator games aimed to enslave or otherwise terminate these rebellious programs. To ensure that these programs would participate in the games, Sark sent his men into the games as the opposing forces. If a particularly powerful program rose in the games, Sark happily entered to challenge them. Even then, he became hesitant when a user, Kevin Flynn, was brought into the Game Grid.
His apprehension about users proved warranted after Flynn helped Tron and Ram escape from the Grid during the light cycle match. From that point on, Sark struggled to regain control over the situation. In the end, he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Flynn. Despite Flynn breaking his disc, the MCP revived Sark to protect him in the decisive battle against Tron and Flynn. Unfortunately, he once again failed to defeat the pair, which gave the pair the chance to defeat the MCP for good.
As with the warrior, Tomy created an action figure using transparent red plastic. However, Sark received a higher level of detail, where his light-red lines covered more than his chest. From head to his lower shins, Sark featured most of the same lines that defined his look from the film. Moreover, Sark came with a disc, which fell in line with his love of the games.
8. NECA’s Tron – 20th Anniversary Edition Blue Light Cycle (2001)
As Tron reached its 20th anniversary in 2002, NECA gained the chance to create a new rendition of the toys that Tron fans grew up with. Since they knew that the Tomy toys were classics, they decided to recreate the same look and feel of those original toys. So, they crafted a 20th-anniversary collector’s edition that featured a Flynn action figure and a blue light cycle.
Similar to the original toys, the light cycle came with a yellow pull tab that allowed the bike to rocket forward. To prepare the bike for racing, users inserted the ripcord into the back around the wheel. The bike also opened to allow the action figure to slip inside and ride inside.
Meanwhile, the action figure for this set came in a dark, nearly black, transparent plastic. Like the original Tomy figures, this action figure featured the light blue detailing lines that resembled his look from the film. Aside from the coloration of his plastic, he faithfully resembled the appearance of the original toy. He even came with the identity disc accessory that the Tomy toy also had.
NECA created three different sets for Tron’s 20th-anniversary celebration. While one of the other sets featured Sark with a red light cycle, the final one featured Tron with a yellow light cycle. Furthermore, NECA created stand-alone figures that more closely resembled the 1980s action figures.
7. Tomy’s Tron – Tron (1982)
Before the MCP took control over ENCOM’s systems, Alan Bradley programmed a security program, which he named Tron. Even though this program was self-monitoring, he could not save himself from the overwhelming power of the MCP. Thus, Tron became a prisoner in the Game Grid, along with multiple other programs. Thus, Sark forced Tron to participate in his twisted and deadly games, even though Tron easily handled games against four of Sark’s warrior combatants.
After escaping the Grid with Kevin Flynn, Tron sought data from “Alan-One”, his programmer, to empower his identity disc. Obtaining the data sent him on a dangerous mission into the I/O tower, where the MCP’s forces separated him from Flynn and Ram. Luckily, he gained assistance from another program, Yori, who helped him complete his journey.
Once he reunited with Flynn, the pair faced off against the MCP and his most powerful followers. Despite Sark’s best efforts, Flynn disrupted the MCP’s communication beam, giving Tron the chance to terminate the MCP.
Unlike the MCP’s underlings, Tomy distinguished Tron by using a transparent purple plastic to create his toy. Following his design from the film, Tomy painted light blue lines on Tron’s helmet, arms, chest, and legs. He also came with an identity disc, so he could participate in any games that came his way.
6. Diamond Select Toys’ Tron – SDCC Exclusive 3-Pack Set (2021)
As the years passed, Tron fans continued to fondly remember the Tomy toys that they first owned as children. While those original toys have become scarce, rarely popping up in complete or unopened form, companies have recreated their look and feel over the years. For a time, NECA offered reproductions of these toys. Recently, Diamond Select Toys has produced a 3-pack set for the San Diego Comic-Con. Similar to most exclusive toys, Diamond Select only produced 3000 of this excellent set.
This set included replicas of Tomy’s toys, featuring the characters Flynn, Sark, and Tron. As Tomy did years ago, Diamond Select modeled each of these toys with transparent plastic. For Flynn, they used transparent dark blue plastic. For Tron, they used a dark purple. Finally, for Sark, they used a transparent deep red plastic. Flynn and Tron both featured light blue etched lines that replicated the look and feel of the film’s highlights. Meanwhile, Sark’s lines were etched with light red paint. They also each came with an identity disc accessory.
Unlike Tomy’s Tron action figures, these toys stood tall at around seven inches high. So, they would tower over the Tomy originals at around twice their size. Furthermore, these figures feature modern-day joints, such as double-jointed elbows and knees. Despite their vast potential for poses, owners should be aware that transparent plastic toys tend to deteriorate over time. So, there will likely be a day where the joints would crumble.
5. Hot Toys’ Tron: Legacy – Sam Flynn with Light Cycle (2010)
As Tron returned to movie screens with Tron: Legacy, Hot Toys took the chance to bring the newest generation of characters to life. So, they crafted a 1/6th scale toy of both the star of the film, Sam Flynn, and the newest edition of the light cycle. Combined, they made an excellent centerpiece for any Tron collection.
Years after his father vanished without a word, Sam Flynn found himself in a strange and foreign digital world, the Grid. Like his father, he was initially forced to play games before he escaped and located his father, Kevin Flynn. After learning that his father’s digital duplicate, Clu, ruled the Grid and forced Flynn to remain trapped in the digital realm, Sam decided to find a way back to the human world. As Clu gained possession of Flynn’s identity disc, Kevin decided to merge with his duplicate, destroying both. Thus, Flynn returned to the real world with a new appreciation for his father.
This massive figure included two heads that faithfully recreated the look of Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn. It also came with an alternative hand that could hold onto the included identity disc. Completing the look, Sam could wear the biker helmet that he wore in the film. Unfortunately, since they designed Sam to sit on top of the bike, Hot Toys molded the arms and legs out of hard plastic. So, they lack articulation.
Meanwhile, AA batteries allowed the bike to light up while the engine rotated. The bike even featured a light-up dashboard. While the engine’s rotation made a lot of noise, the lights could be turned on with the additional motion.
4. Medicom’s Tron – Real Action Heroes 100 Red Cycle with Flynn (2002)
Not every company that created Tron toys recreated the original Tomy toys, some decided to take unique takes on the franchise. For instance, Medicom created a large array of Tron figures, with most of their toys appearing as part of their Kubricks toy line. Even though most of their Tron toys had a somewhat LEGO-inspired look, they created a few toys with more typical action figure proportions.
As Medicom released the Real Action Heroes Tron sets, they designed four different light cycles with the various characters from the film. Like the original toys, Medicom featured four characters from the movie, Flynn, Sark, Tron, and the Warrior. While Tron came packaged with an orange cycle, Flynn came with a red light cycle. Likewise, Sark came with a blue light cycle while the warrior’s set featured the yellow cycle.
Each of these action figures came with accessories. In the case of Flynn, Tron, and Sark, they all came with an identity disc. Meanwhile, the warrior action figure came with a staff accessory. Meanwhile, Medicom created each of these action figures out of a light grey, opaque plastic. Similar to their on-screen appearance, they featured colored detailing that had vague similarity to a circuit board. Each of these figures could bend so that they easily fit within the colored light cycles.
3. Tomy’s Tron – Flynn (1982)
Kevin Flynn sought to prove that Ed Dillinger had stolen his coding, which led to the man becoming an executive at ENCOM. When his first attempt to hack ENCOM’s systems failed, he broke into the company’s computers directly. Meanwhile, ENCOM’s programmers, Alan Bradley and Lora Baines discovered that they lost access to the system. So, they easily agreed to help Flynn gain access to their laboratory so that he could shut down the MCP. Unbeknownst to Flynn, the MCP had access to an experimental laser that digitized him and brought him to the system’s game grid.
After escaping from the deadly gladiator-style games, Flynn worked together with Tron and Ram to reach the MCP. During this journey, Flynn learned that his programming skills gave him extensive control over the system. So, he was able to pull some power away from the MCP. At the MCP’s tower, Flynn distracted the MCP so that Tron could permanently disable the system. This also allowed Flynn to gain access to the data that proved that Dillinger stole his work.
As with the rest of the Tron figures, Tomy molded the Flynn action figure out of a light blue transparent plastic. Meanwhile, they painted light blue lines on the character’s head, arms, legs, chest, and belt that helped it resemble the character from the film. Unlike the other action figures, Flynn wore a short toga that covered half of his chest and lower torso. Flynn also came with an identity disc accessory.
2. Diamond Select Toys’ Tron – Tron (2020)
After years of transparent plastic toys representing the Tron films, Diamond Select Toys decided to create a series of toys that closely resembled the on-screen appearance of these characters. So, they crafted detailed action figures of Flynn, Infiltrator, Sark, and Tron in an opaque light grey plastic. In the original film, these characters all appeared as monochromatic entities with neon lights coursing through their bodies. Thus, this series came extremely close to replicating the original look of the film.
In the case of Tron, he featured light blue detailed lines that resembled the look and feel of a circuit board. Unfortunately, while Diamond Select was able to etch these lines all over his body, they did not give it any glowing element. These lines would not even glow with the assistance of a black light. So, while they look impressive in a fully lit environment, they do not pop as they did in the film.
Since toy engineering has improved since the 1980s, Diamond Select Toys was able to give these action figures a broad range of articulation. Both the elbows and knees featured double-jointed movement. Meanwhile, the ankles could both swivel and tilt while the thighs featured swivel as well. Unfortunately, they did not provide these figures with the best range of movement in the abdominal area.
1. Tomy’s Tron – Light Cycle (Red and Yellow) (1982)
When most people think of Tron, one of the first images that come to mind are the iconic light cycles from the film. For many who grew up with the film, they dreamed of driving within one of these cycles. Luckily, the arcade game gave them the chance to race with these vehicles as the players attempted to track their opponents with their light tracks. However, there was another option available.
As Tomy produced their Tron action figures, they knew that they needed at least a vehicle or two to finish the toy line. So, they produced two light cycles, one red and the other yellow. Both used a ripcord to get their wheels spinning. With a pull of the cord, the bikes rocketed off across most flat surfaces.
Each of these light cycles opened, allowing for one of the four Tron action figures to climb inside. As the figures squeezed inside the cycles, the top cover closed back down to protect them. Owners could then race them against each other.
What were your favorite Tron toys?
Today, we have brought the spotlight on ten of the greatest action figures that brought the fun and excitement of Tron to life. While many of the newer toys paid homage to Tomy’s original toy line, some toys took the franchise in a new direction. Still, we decided that the beloved original toy line deserved to remain on top.
Still, we would love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments below what your favorite Tron toys are.
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Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!