20 Greatest Action Figure Playsets From The '80s and '90s
They just don’t make toys like they used to. If you grew up in the '80s and '90s, you were lucky enough to be a part of a golden age of action figures that I don’t think we’ll ever see again. It didn’t hurt to grow up with an uncle who was a collector of toys as well. It just meant that I was spoiled a little bit when it came to action figures. I owned a lot of them, and I even had a few of the epic playsets that were created for some of these action figure lines.
Not long ago, I was helping my uncle sell some of his toys. Of course as soon as I saw the collection of old G.I. Joes he was looking to get rid of, I told him to save them for me! (I’ve been slowly building up a collection of G.I. Joes from the '80s.) Anyway, I was reminded of all of the awesome playsets that were around when I was a kid and I wanted to write a list of some of these playsets you may have forgotten about.
So, here are 20 of the greatest playlets that were made during that time:
Snake Mountain: He-Man and The Masters of The Universe
Snake Mountain is Skeletor’s lair, located on the Dark Hemisphere of Eternia. This is one of those He-Man playsets that I always wanted but never got. The most notable feature of the purple playset was the cool demon-like face on one side of the mountain. There is a trapdoor inside the gate, which was operated by a switch. The major selling point for any kid, though, was the “echo” microphone that let kids sound evil as they spoke into it. As they talked, the mouth and face of the demon would move.
Cats' Lair: Thundercats
This was the biggest playset that was produced for the Thundercats toy line. One of the coolest aspects of the toy is that it came with a pivoting cat head that fired and received laser beams. The Cats' Lair's laser system also interacted with all four of the Laser Sabers that were a part of the toy line. There was even a laser-activated counter that registered hits and sounded a “piercing” alarm. There was a game you could play with the set, the object of which was to destroy the opponent's "Defense Shields" by hitting the target with the Laser Beams. The HQ also came with a secret door to trap invaders in an underground cell, and big cat paws that lifted to reveal and “Ion Beam” cannon and a secret battle station.
Death Star Space Station: Star Wars
This was the first Star Wars playset ever to be released, and in a dream come true for kids and their geek parents at the time it came out, it only cost $18! The set had four floors and an elevator shaft that would go to each one. The bottom floor featured a working trash compactor filled with foam, and the top floor included a laser cannon to fight the Rebels with. The two middle floors simulate the bridges near the Death Star’s central chasm. There’s even a trap door that leads to the trash compactor. This set the standard for action figure playsets.
Fright Zone: He-Man and The Masters of The Universe
This set was released for He-Man’s Evil Horde sub-toy line. The Fright Zone was never introduced in the animated series, but its eerie vibe with the spooky tree, prison cell, and dragon-like snake made it the perfect place for any He-Man villain to hang out. As a fan of horror, I really dug this thing. I never owned it, though.
Mobile Command Center: G.I. Joe
Here’s a G.I. Joe playset I think many of you may have forgotten about. I had forgotten about it until I came across it doing my research! This thing was basically a giant tank headquarters. It featured electronics and communications countermeasure equipment and was armed with HE-27 Shockwave guided missiles and a ton of other weapons. It came with a control center, a prisoner holding cell, and a service station for small assault vehicles. If you’ve never seen one of these in person, it’s pretty spectacular.
Technodrome: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Technodrome was the main base of operations for the TMNT villains. This was the coveted layout in the toy line that every TMNT fan wanted. It was like a giant tank Death Star. The thing was overloaded with details and cool little features like secret ooze pits, trap doors, a mutant jail cell, a gunner station, laser guns, a brain scrambler that a figure could be strapped to and spun around, and more. Even though I had a shit ton of TNMT figures, I never had this one.
The Defiant: G.I. Joe
Nobody made better action figure playsets than Hasbro did with their G.I. Joe toyline. They had the best of the best, and there are a few of them on this list. The first one in the G.I. Joe Space Shuttle known as The Defiant. This this was epic and unlike any other playset I had seen before. These are hard to come by this days, but my uncle actually has a complete set in his garage that was always fun to play with from time to time when he wasn’t looking. The Defiant is composed of three vehicles, which consists of the Crawler unit, which transports the shuttle, the booster unit, which carries the Defiant space shuttle on launch, and finally there’s the space shuttle itself, which has a three-station operations center and hatch covers that open to reveal a claw with laser gun and a cord for space walks.
Crystal Castle: She-Ra
I really didn’t play with any girl-centric toys when I was growing up, but I thought it'd be cool to represent at least one on this list, so I included She-Ra’s Crystal Castle. This was a place for She-Ra and her friends to hangout, relax, and prepare for battle. I can imagine any little girl having a blast with this thing. I know my own kids would love it. It had two levels, a purple throne, and a crystal bed with a canopy where your action figures could sleep. Since they were also warriors, there was a weapons rack as well.
Ewok Village: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Return of The Jedi was not only the first movie I saw as a kid, but it was my introduction to the Star Wars universe. I remember seeing the film at the drive-in movies with my mom and dad and it was one of the greatest experiences ever! I loved that film and as a kid, the Ewoks were so cool. What kid didn’t want to have the Ewok village!? It was the biggest Star Wars playset Mattel produced. It had two levels connected to three giant tree trunks. It even came with a roasting fire, so the Ewok heroes could cook and eat the villainous Stormtroopers.
Tomb Fortress: Thundercats
This playset featured the tomb of the main villain Mumm-Ra. It had a Large Skull “Transformation Chamber” with glow-in-the-dark eyes and teeth, and two mechanical man/beast statue guardians with moving tail, arms, and heads. I always thought this was the coolest playset in the Thundercats toy line, but I always liked the dark and eerie stuff.
Fire House Headquarters: The Real Ghostbusters
When I was a kid, being a Ghostbuster was on my long list of things that I wanted to be when I grew up. I especially wanted to work in the firehouse because it seems like it would have been one of the coolest places to work. I mean, who wouldn’t want a firepole in their headquarters! This action figure playset was the closest I ever got to living that dream. On top of the "Ghost Pursuit" firepole, it also had a ”goop grate" that would ooze Ecto-Plazm play gel and there was a "ghost containment" unit for storing ghosts.
Fortress of Fangs: Dungeons & Dragons
The Dungeons & Dragons toy line didn’t last long. One the course of two years, LJN created and released 19 action figures, 7 creatures, and this one playset. The toyline just never caught on. I had a friend that own this playset and it was pretty cool. It was loaded with booby-traps, golden treasure, and the dragon head was just a really cool design. I couldn’t find a commercial for this one, so they obviously didn’t market it very well, which is probably why it failed. I did find this video, though:
Enterprise D Bridge: Star Trek: The Next Generation
I have some very fond memories of this thing, as I actually shot a Star Trek fan-film using the Next Generation playset and all of the action figures. It turned out to be an embarrassingly bad film. The Enterprise D Bridge featured a full 360-degree environment and included all of the chairs and computer consoles that were depicted on the show. The attention to detail in recreating the bridge was awesome.
Boulder Hill: M.A.S.K.
Who would’ve thought that a gas station by a mountain would make for such a cool playset! Of course, it was a little bit more than that. Boulder Hill is M.A.S.K. leader Matt Trakker’s secret base, and like all of the M.A.S.K. toys, it transformed into an armored defensible base. Hell, the gas pumps even change into guns, which is always a good idea.
Daily Bugle: Spider-Man
Spider-Man never really had a real HQ. I don’t think a playset of Aunt May’s house or a small apartment would have gotten kids very excited. So we ended up getting a playset based on The Daily Bugle, the place where Peter Parker worked, which doesn’t seem like it would be much more exciting...but it kinda was! There were buildings that Spidey could climb up and swing from as he fought bad guys.
Headquarters: G.I. Joe
I remember the day I got the G.I. Joe headquarters. I spent hours upon hours playing with this thing with my G.I. Joe action figures when I was a kid. The memories came flooding back as I was watching commercials and looking at photos for it. This was the Joes' main place of operations. It included computer screens, a jail for the Cobra scum, and a couple of garages to place your vehicles while they waited to be deployed into action.
Eternia: He-Man and The Masters of The Universe
Yep, Mattel actually produced an Eternia playset, and it’s the largest Masters of the Universe playset that was produced. The playset featured three towers, a monorail track, and vehicles that run on the track around the entire playset. This is extremely rare to find these days, especially a complete set because not many of them were produced. This was one of the most expensive playsets around in the '80s, so not many people were buying them. I’ve never seen one of these in person, but I’d like to.
Cobra Terrordrome: G.I. Joe
G.I. Joe’s headquarters was pretty cool, but you know who had a better base of operations than they did? Cobra! The Terrordrome was a technological castle of a base for Cobra. This thing was super cool and super big. The playset came with three vehicle service and refueling garages, munitions depot, a prison cell for G.I. Joe, tower-mounted cannons, and a launch silo for the Firebat interceptor mini-jet. This is a way better headquarters than G.I. Joe, but unfortunately, Cobra management sucked ass, so they rarely won.
Castle Greyskull: He-Man and The Masters of The Universe
When I was growing up, it seems like every kid I knew had the He-Man Castle Greyskull playset. It’s easily one of the most recognized '80s playsets that exists. Not only was it a cool playset to play with, but it also could be used to store all your He-Man action figures. It even had a handle on the top of the castle so you could easily carry it around. I always loved that wicked-looking skull decorating the front of the castle. It also had a hinged Jawbridge that led the to the interior. The interior featured a throne room, elevator, and a trap door. There were also tons of accessories are also included: a ladder, removable flagpole, turret cannon, weapons rack with 9 weapons, and a "battle trainer" device.
Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. Flagg: G.I. Joe
Leave it to G.I. Joe to get the most epic playset ever created. My uncle got me this one Christmas when I was growing up and it’s one of the greatest Christmas presents I ever received! At 7’6”, The U.S.S. Flagg Aircraft Carrier is humongous and after setting up the whole thing, it nearly took up the entire floor of my bedroom! There never has been or ever will be a playset quite as spectacular and amazing as this one. It held all of my G.I. Joe action figures and the three aerial vehicles I owned. It came with a mini loudspeaker so you could awesomely yell, “Get to your battle stations!” It also had radar, missile launchers, an elevator deck, and an arrestor cable that fit into the rear stabilizers of the Skystriker jet.