Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Top Ten Things: Obscure 1980s Toys

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  Today I'm thinkin' about old toys I wish I still had.  Because apparently I'm eleven.

The 1980s was an amazing era to be a kid.  We children of the 80s were treated to some of the most badassistic (Yeah I made up a word) action figure lines ever offered up.  Think about it, in the same decade we had Star Wars toys, He-Man, Transformers, and GI Joe (plus the short-lived DC Super Powers and Marvel Secret Wars), and those are just a handful of the toy lines that were hits!  We also had a fuckton of action figure series that were either short-lived or outright flopped, and those are the ones I'm here to talk about today.  I got to thinking about some of the more obscure toys I had as a kid and the list just kept growing on me.  Some of them I had trouble finding on Google because the name escaped me, but eventually I found 'em all.  Not only does this piece feature a top ten but I've included three Honorable Mentions.  So, strap on your nerd hats and join me for a look back at some of the best obscure toys of the 80s!

HM: Karate Kid (Remco)

Yeah this set came with giant chopsticks to catch a giant rubber fly.

From the hit 1984 film Rocky But With Karate, these stupid, one-note toys had some inexplicable charm to them.  Literally the only two characters I ever found were Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi (apparently Johnny, Kreese and others were available later on), but each figure had one arm and one leg that were spring-loaded, so when you pushed a button they would either chop or kick.  This one set I got came with both characters and a litany of structures for them to chop through or break.  Wooden boards, ice, brick walls, this coat rack-lookin' thing, you name it.  Destroying fake wood with these figures was stupid fun.

HM: Clash of the Titans (Mattel)

They released the first wave and then they RELEASED THE KRRRAKEN!

What a promising line this was, until it wasn't.  The wonderful 1981 fantasy film Clash of the Titans had so many colorful characters and creatures that lent themselves to toy designs, in the same way the Star Wars trilogy did.  The first (and thanks to poor sales, only) series included Perseus (a fantastic Harry Hamlin likeness), his buddy Thallo, Calibos, and for some reason Charon the ferryman (who only appears in the film for like four seconds), plus a Pegasus toy (with zero points of articulation) and a huge Kraken (who looked boss).  Insanely the coolest looking character in the movie, Medusa, never got a toy, but maybe she, Andromeda and some of the Greek gods would've been included in series 2.  Regardless, these were solid toys that deserved a better run.

HM: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Kenner)/Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (LJN)

This is one of my favorite films, but what are you supposed to do with these?

Two different toy companies tried to make "fetch" happen in the 80s with Indiana Jones.  When Raiders of the Lost Ark came out it was a no-brainer that Kenner, fresh off its colossal success with the Star Wars line, would introduce a similar-in-scale line of Indy toys.  Only problem was, beyond the main character no one else in that movie does a whole lot that lends itself to action figure play.  Indy does all the heavy lifting.  What are you supposed to do with Marion in a removable evening gown, or the black-clad swordsman whom Indy shoots like a dog in the street?  Or Belloq or Toht or Col. Dietrich, who are all excellent baddies in the film but have no action sequences to speak of?  The one character Indy has a fistfight with is the nameless bald German mechanic, but that'd keep you busy for what, five minutes?  It's a shame, these were good looking toys for the time, but aside from Indy himself there wasn't much you could do with 'em.  Even the few playsets they had were pointless (more on that HERE).

Damn good detail on these but again, what do I do with 'em?

Then in 1984 LJN tried their hand with 5-inch figures for Temple of Doom, releasing five characters but running into the same problem.  Playing with these toys was all about Indy performing daring stunts and escapes.  Beyond that you're stuck.  Thus when The Last Crusade came out, no one even bothered with a toy line.  'Twas a pity. 

Okay now for the meat of the list....

10. Dune (LJN)

That sandworm is way too small....

Man, what an insane movie to try and turn into a toy line.  Despite being marketed at the kid-centric Star Wars crowd, David Lynch's Dune was a ponderous, confusing, unpleasant sci-fi political thriller that had roughly no big action set pieces.  But what it did have was some colorful-looking characters that LJN figured would work as action figures.  You literally couldn't do anything from the movie with these toys except the Paul Atreides-Feyd Rautha knife fight at the end.  'The hell are you supposed to do with the fatass Baron Harkonnen or his useless nephew Rabban?  But damn these toys looked great - I had Paul and Feyd, and stopped there.

9. Chuck Norris Karate Commandos (Kenner)

Chuck was kinda the least memorable toy in this series.

One of the deeper cuts of 80s action figure lore, the Chuck Norris Karate Commandos line featured highly detailed molds and innovative spring-loaded action moves.  My favorite was the Super Ninja character, who performed a reverse mafia kick when you twisted his torso.  These were fantastic-looking toys for the time, but of course they didn't last, how could they?  Fuckin' Chuck Norris toys?  Get the hell outta here.  What's next, Rambo toys?  Oh wait.....

8. Warlord/Warrior Beasts (Remco)

I mean, they're fucking He-Man toys.  Come on.

The poor man's He-Man line, the Lost World of Warlord took obscure DC Comics characters and gave them impossibly muscular physiques and cheapo wardrobe accessories.  Warlord for example had a thin vinyl cape reminiscent of Darth Vader's Kenner toy, while Arak had a crappy little vest.  The Warlord line consisted of little-known DC heroes and villains, while the affiliated Warrior Beasts series provided scary-looking foils for them to fight (my favorite was Skull Man, who looked like Skeletor on 'roids).  Amusingly Remco eschewed any sort of coyness on their packaging and included a disclaimer, "For use with Masters of the Universe toys."  This was a very blatant cash-in on the exploding popularity of Mattel's golden goose, and as a kid I loved every bit of it.  Later on of course I used these guys and He-Man as wrestling toys (and Remco famously released the first-ever wrestling figures in 1985).  Yeah yeah, shut up.

Skull Man and that Moon Knight-lookin' dude are literally the same toy.

7. ThunderCats (LJN)

Literally the cartoon come to life...

ThunderCats were an example (one of two on this list) of a cartoon show I wasn't even that into, but I had to have the toys because they were so cool-looking.  These oversized figures featured pretty spectacular detail and faithfulness to the cartoon, plus some fun action features.  I had Lion-O, Mumm-Ra, and S-S-Slithe, all of which I later repurposed as wrestling toys (Hey, LJN had to figure this would happen, they were after all in the wrasslin' toy business).  These figures were as colorful as He-Man but with much more sophisticated molds.

6. SilverHawks (Kenner)

Ditto for these guys...

Almost a cousin to Thundercats, this space adventure cartoon was another show I didn't care much about, but when the toys hit the shelves I needed them (NEEDED them) because they were so cool.  The detail on these was fantastic, the good guys all had fabric wings that hooked onto their wrists and expanded when you pushed a button on their backs (making their arms shoot straight out), and the main villain Mon-Star was BOSS; his spring-loaded head changed into a robotic one when you pushed his button and he looked badass in this form.  I quickly got over these toys since I wasn't invested in the show, but these were some of the better-designed figures of the day.

5. Real Ghostbusters (Kenner)

And these....

I loved this cartoon when it came out.  It was like having new installments of the movie every Saturday morning.  And Kenner's toy line captured the characters to a goddamn tee.  The four Ghostbusters looked EXACTLY like their cartoon counterparts and came with proton packs that allowed you to spin the plastic "streams" so it looked like they were shooting.  Not only that but there was an oversized Slimer toy and a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man (I still have both of them), plus a host of new ghost characters to collect.  These were fantastic toys that sadly didn't stick around very long.

4. MUSCLE (Mattel)

They should change the official US currency to these goddamn things

These have gotta be the stupidest toys I ever fell in love with.  Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere.  In my case they were mostly just lurking in my toy bin.  It's absurd how much I loved these damn things - tiny, pink, eraser-lookin' dudes with no articulation with which you could promote the world's smallest wrestling federation.  They came in four-packs, ten-packs (in a clear plastic garbage can), or a box of like thirty.  There were different "species" of MUSCLEs, the signature one being the fellas with mohawks, some of whom looked like Mad Max characters.  But there were brick guys, all sorts of weird alien types, and once in a can of Nestle Quik I got a Hulk Hogan MUSCLE and just about wet myself.  At this point I had three wrestling federations going at once; the giant rubber LJN guys, my DC Super Powers/Marvel Secret Wars guys, and MUSCLEs.  These stupid toys were the tits.

3. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (LJN)

These toys were gorgeous looking.

Here's what's strange about these toys - they coincided with the D&D cartoon show (which I loved at the time), but were totally unrelated.  None of the characters from said cartoon made it into this toy line, and in retrospect that's for the best; these characters were WAY cooler.  There was Strongheart, the heroic paladin, Warduke, the evil warrior, good and evil wizards, dwarves, titans, horses, and my personal favorite, Dragonne, a cross between a dragon and a lion.  Simply stunning.  This series was one of the more imaginative of the era and could've gone anywhere had it taken off.  Sadly it only lasted two waves.

2. Power Lords - The Extra-Terrestrial Warriors (Revell)

Look at these fuckin' things - just bizarre.

Alright, we're finally done with toys from Kenner, Mattel, LJN and Remco - Jeezus those companies were big.  For sheer batshit insane originality, the Power Lords line has to take the cake.  Designed by sci-fi artistic wizard Wayne Barlowe (author of Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials - an incredible book), Power Lords was your typical galactic good vs. evil story, but these toys looked unlike anything else on the market.  Barlowe was a creative genius who afforded these figures an insane level of detail and a ton of articulation for the time.  The main character was Adam Lord, an earthling who had stumbled onto a Power Jewel that turned him into a blue superhuman cosmic being.  When you pushed a button on his waist, his entire torso would flip around to reveal his alter ego.  I friggin' LOVED this toy when I had it.  The only drawback to these figures was their fragility - drop them on a hard floor and you'd risk some breakage.  But this is another toy line that could've gone literally anywhere had it been successful.


1. Sectaurs (Coleco)

These were so fucking badass.

I'm still pissed my number-one pick never took off.  This concept was pretty simple (and weird) - humanoids and insects on the planet Symbion have accidentally cross-bred to become Sectaurs.  The good guys were led by Dargon, who rode a giant dragonfly, the villains led by General Spidrax (legit one of the best-looking toys I've ever seen), who rode a huge, magnificent flying spider.  I only ever had the villain characters because they were way cooler than the good guys.  Commander Waspax was Spidrax's second-in-command who had designs on taking over the evil army, and Skito was a mercenary dude.  These were incredible looking toys with a unique concept and singular execution.  Problem was they were mighty expensive and even the good guys were kinda too scary-looking for younger kids.  Release them now and they'd probably do very well.  Seriously, someone release them now!  Sectaurs for me are the greatest 80s toy line ever to flop and I want them back!

My god.  LOOK AT HIM.

Well thanks for reading - hope you enjoyed this trip back to the 80s toy chest.  If anyone has mint condition specimens from any of these series, send 'em my way.  I'll give them a good home.

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