12 Most Awesome 1980s Action Figure Toy Lines
I have to admit that growing up in the '80s we had some pretty badass toys. They don't make toys like this anymore. I loved playing with action figures growing up, what kid didn't!? I have a lot of fond memories of those days and the hours upon hours I would spend playing with my action figures. I just unleashed my imagination. I wish I still had some of these toys from when I was kid, but I don't. Some of them have literally been shot and buried. Damn my kid self for not taking better care of these things! It was always fun to mix and match the toys while playing out my ridiculous crossover storylines.
You can check out my twelve selections below, and I've included a vintage '80s toy commercial for each one. If I left out one of your favorites, please let me know in the comment section below! These are in no particular order, just a mix of '80s badassery.
G.I. Joe is my all time favorite toy line. I probably owned hundreds of these action figures over the years, and several of the playsets and vehicles, such as the G.I. Joe headquarters and even the aircraft carrier! G.I. Joes have been around since the 1960s, but the toys I grew up with were based on the classic animated series. Over the years the line has produced over 500 figures and over 250 vehicles and playsets.
What geek didn't own a Star Wars toy as kid! These things made George Lucas more money than his movies did! Over 250 million action figures sold between 1978 and 1986. My favorite Star Wars toy was the Rancor. I just enjoyed playing with him and having him eat all of the other Star Wars characters I owned.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
Apparently this was the most successful toy line of the 1980s. The toys were already out and being played with by kids everywhere a whole year prior to the premier of the animated series. That was the first ever cartoon that was based on a toy. I probably owned one of every character, plus Castle Grayskull. They playset I had the most fun with, though, involved slime. It was the "Evil Horde Slime Pitt." All of the figures, except for the female characters, used the exact same body and head mold so Mattel could manufacture them fast. I have one more little tid-bit for you, Beast Man was originally supposed to be He-Man's main nemesis, not Skeleltor.
LJN saw the success of He-Man and basically came up with their own thing to cash in on. The result was Thunder Cats. One thing it had going for it was that each toy had an individually sculpted body head and accessory. Kids don't think of that stuff, though, as long as they are playing with cool toys, and Thunder Cats was just as cool as He-Man. One of my favorite things about the toy was the fact that you could make Lion-O's and Mumm-Ra's eyes light up with the help of a special keyring. The third series of figures from 1987 are incredibly hard to find, along with the Tongue-A-Saurus and Astral Moat Monster. Driller and Stinger are the toughest figures to track down; Stinger's wings are very fragile, making it next to impossible to find a loose, complete figure. If you do find one, let me know.
DC Comics Super Power Collection
Seeing some of my favorite comic superheroes brought to life in toy form was a dream come true for a kid like me! These included multiple playsets with individual franchises for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Teen Titans, Lois Lane, and the Super Jrs. One of the things I thought was so cool about these was that when you squeezed the figures' legs together they would strike an action pose. This emphasis on each figure's "super power" led to the naming of the line - The Super Powers Collection. Each figure also came along with a mini-comic featuring that character's adventures.
Marvel Secret Wars
This line of toys was made in response to DC's Super Power collection. it was also a tie-in to Marvel's Secret Wars comic book series. According to former Marvel Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter, Mattel came to Marvel with the title "Secret Wars," and Marvel ran with it. The toys didn't have any kind of special action feature. They were still fun to play with, though! All the figures came with what they called "Secret Shields." The Heroes came with round shields and the Villains came with square shields. These shields came with a series of two-sided inserts that changed the scene when tilted.
The Real Ghostbusters
This fun toy line was based on the Ghostbusters animated series, which was based on the film. I've been a huge Ghostbusters fan since I first saw the movie in theaters, so of course I watched the cartoon and had to own the toys. Each figure came with a little pet ghost. The popularity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ended up killing off the toy line and the cartoon.
The ultimate toy for any kid who loved dinosaurs, and what kid didn't like dinosaurs?! Especially when they were loaded with all kinds of badass sci-fi weaponry. There was an animated series attached to the toy, but it didn't last very long. The toys were acclaimed for their anatomically correct bodies and color. The Smithsonian Institution was so impressed that they contacted Tyco to reproduce the dinosaurs for their "Dinosaur and other Prehistoric Reptile Collection,"
These toys were made in a time when Transformers were king. They had the animated series, the comic book series, and the amazing animated Transformers: The Movie. The toys were also way better than they are now. My favorite toy was Megatron because he turned into a realistic looking Walther P-38 pistol. There's no way you'd see anything like that today!
This was a fun toy series that was like a G.I. Joe and Transformers mashup. It featured a group of regular looking vehicles that had the ability to transform into armored combat vehicles. The vehicles came with one or two drivers, and each one had a mask with a certain ability. The only problem with these toys was that I kept loosing the cool masks!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Playmates Toys Inc. (1988–1996)
I had a whole collection of these toys. I was a fan of the comic book before the animated series came around, and as fun as it was, I was still more a fan of the comics. It was just a lot more hardcore. It didn't stop me from watching the series or buying the toys, though! The action figure line had a huge impact on the toy industry as it has generated billions of dollars in licensing revenue. Everyone still loves the Ninja Turtles, and with the new movie coming out, we'll see even more toys.
Kenner - (1987-1988)
The toys were based on really fun animated series, and they only ran two series of toys. Each figure was packaged with a companion bird and, like the popular Super Powers Collection, each figure had an action feature of some type. I had a few of these and I loved them.