1. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
Made by: Mattel (1982–1988)
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is the biggest and most successful toy line of the 1980s. The toys actually debuted a full year before the cartoon series began; once the toys took off Mattel approached the animation studio Filmation about creating a series. This resulted with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe being the first cartoon ever to be based on a toy.
One interesting design feature of the line was that all the figures (except Teela and Evil-Lyn) used the same body and head mold, making it easy to manufacture them quickly.
Fun fact: Originally it was Beast Man — not Skeleltor — who was going to be He-Man’s main arch rival. Also, Stratos was an evil warrior, and Mer-Man and Tri-Klops were both intended to be heroic warriors. This changed shortly before the lines release.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe commercial:
Made by: LJN (1984–1987)
Following the success of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, LJN produced their own toy line based on a cartoon series, Thundercats. But unlike the He-Man toy line, each ThunderCat action figure featured an individually sculpted body, head, and accessory.
Another memorable feature of the toy line was the ability to make Lion-O’s and Mumm-Ra’s eyes light up through a special battery-powered key ring.
Fun fact: The action figures from the third series of figures released in 1987 are the toughest to find, with Driller & Stinger being the rarest.
3. Super Powers Collection
Made by: Kenner (1984–1986)
Based on the popular superheroes of D.C. Comics, the line was created following the success of He-Man.
The toy line also included a tie-in comic book series and direct-to-video movie.
Fun fact: The Super Powers line inspired Toy Biz’s 1989 Batman toy line.
Super Powers Collection commercial:
Made by: AmToy (1985–early ‘90s)
These baseball-sized toys incorporated the gross-out humor of the very popular Garbage Pail Kids. The toys led to both a tie-in comic book and short-lived Saturday morning cartoon.
Fun fact: Starting with series 2, Madballs were made using a softer foam. The change was made following complaints from the parents of children who had been injured after being struck with the semi-hard rubber balls.
5. The Real Ghostbusters
Made by: Kenner (1986–1991)
The popular toy line was based on the animated series — which of course was based on the movie.
While the line was primarily based on the cartoon, it did incorporate some elements from the films, like the Ecto-1a and Ecto-Charger from Ghostbusters II.
Also in case you were wondering, they added “Real” to the title of the cartoon and the toy line after Filmation launched their own Ghostbusters cartoon (based on a live-action ’70s TV show), to capitalize off the success of the 1984 Ghostbuster movie.
Fun fact: The popularity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles killed the toy line and the animated series.
The Real Ghostbusters commercial:
6. Marvel Secret Wars
Made by: Mattel (1984–1985)
The Secret Wars toy line was Marvel’s answer to DC’s Superpowers and was a tie-in to Secret Wars comic book series.
This marked the first time the DC and Marvel toy lines were set up as direct competition. Prior to this split, both companies licensed their characters to one manufacture, the Mego Corporation.
Fun fact: The toy line inspired the comic book series, according to former Marvel Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter, Mattel came to them with the idea for Secret Wars .
Marvel Secret Wars commercial:
7. Star Wars
Made by: Kenner (1978–1986)
The release of both The Empire Strikes Back (1981) and Return of the Jedi (1983) ensured a slew of new toys and healthy sales for Star War toys during the early ‘80s.
Fun fact: Due to a decline in popularity Kenner discontinued production of the Star Wars line in 1986. But, they did originally have plans to continue the toy line with a new story titled “The Epic Continues.” However, Lucasfilms rejected the storyline and the idea was dropped.
Star Wars, Millennium Falcon commercial:
8. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
Made by: Hasbro (1982–1994)
Inspired by the success of Kenner’s Star Wars line, Hasbro re-launched the G.I. Joe brand as 3 3/4” action figure (he was previously 12” doll). The line came complete with play sets, vehicles, and a brand new enemy, the Cobra Organization.
The line inspired the now iconic animated series that ran from 1983-1986.
Fun fact: The line has produced well over 500 figures and over 250 vehicles and playsets.
G.I. Joe, Destro commercial:
9. My Pet Monster
Made by: American Greetings (1986–early ‘90s)
The popular blue furred plush doll spawned not only a short–lived cartoon, but also a very forgettable direct-to-video live-action movie.
Fun fact: The original nose had to be changed due to kids getting hurt while playing with it.
My Pet Monster commercial:
Made by: Tyco (1988–1990)
Dino-Riders was the ultimate toy for any kid who loved dinosaurs. It had it all: futuristic weaponry, aliens, and DINOSAURS.
The line also had a short-lived tie-in animated series.
Fun fact: The dinosaurs created for this line were astonishingly anatomically correct, in fact their molds were later used for the Smithsonian Institution’s own dinosaur toy line.
11. Food Fighters
Made by: Mattel (1988–1989)
Although mostly forgotten, these weird and imaginative anthropomorphic action figures represented two things we could never do – play with our food and have an epic food fight.
Fun fact: Unlike other toy lines in the ’80s, Food Fighters was not associated with a cartoon, comic book, or movie.
Food Fighters (French) commercial:
Made by: Kenner (1985–1988)
The toy line was an awesome mix between G.I. Joe and Transformers; It featured an elite crime fighting task force, M.A.S.K., that drove around in normal vehicles that had the ability to transform into combat, armored vehicles whenever they had to fight against their enemy V.E.N.O.M.
The line also included one of the best play sets of the ‘80s, Boulder Hill.
Fun fact: Aside from an animated series, M.A.S.K. also had it’s own D.C. Comic.
13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Made by: Playmates Toys Inc. (1988–1996)
The original series released in 1988, consisted of just 10 figures: the four turtles, sidekick April O’Neil, Master Splinter, the evil Shredder, Rocksteady, Bebop, and a Foot Soldier.
The toys were an instant hit, mainly due to the hugely popular tie-in animated series.
Fun fact: The classic ‘80s toys were the best, the line got pretty ridiculous towards the end. It included – no joke – a Star Trek crossover line.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles commercial:
No, I didn’t forget about those “Robots In Disguise.”
Made by: Habsro (1984–1990)
The most enduring toy line of the 1980s. The Transformers toy line inspired a number of tie-ins including the classic animated series, a Marvel comic book series, and a kick-ass movie (the 1986 film, not that Michael Bay shit).
The most badass toy from the line had to be Megatron, which originally transformed into a realistic Walther P-38 pistol – no way that toy could be created today.
Fun fact: The original Transformers came from two different Japanese toy lines, the Diaclone and Micro Change series. After Hasbro acquired the rights to sell both of them in the U.S. they combined them into one and renamed them Transformers.