Today we’re going to take a look at the Top Ten Toylines from the 1980’s. Obviously we’ve seen lists like this before and the content could be debated till the end of time. Doesn’t mean that I don’t find them amusing and that’s why I’ve created what I feel is the definitive Top Ten Toylines of the 80’s. Naturally you can be sure that the rankings are subjective, but I don’t think you’ll be able to deny that these lines were the best lines of their time.

These aren’t necessarily my opinions on what I felt were my favorite toylines of the 1980’s, but moreso what I felt were the best overall toylines of the 1980’s. Not my favorites exactly, but what historians could look at as the best. Take a look, then decide for yourself.

Honorable Mention: WWF Wrestling Superstars – A little known company by the name of LJN produced these big rubber monsters from 1984 till the end of the decade. The figures are rather famous for their complete lack of articulation, large size and relatively decent likenesses. Although there weren’t many playsets or accessories, LJN cornered the market with these WWF rubber wrasslers and they still maintain a following to this day. Jakks the current holder of the WWE license began releasing supplemental versions of LJN style wrestlers of classic “modern” stars like Steve Austin and the Undertaker. These weren’t as coveted by kids as many other figures because they didn’t have as much going on as comparable lines of the time. Still many children had one or two of these guys in their collection and since they were virtually indestructible it’s fairly unlikely that if you did have one that you ever needed to replace it. A few years later Hasbro would have success with smaller hard plastic versions of the characters with limited articulation.

Honorable Mention: Battle Beasts – Takara and Hasbro teamed up to bring these strange little rubber figures to the market in the latter half of the 1980’s. Although they only had two points of articulation they offered a wide range of sculpts and appealed to many kids because they were colorful and unique. The figures were animals and looked a bit like robots as well. In Japan they were tied into Transformers, but in America they were their own separate entity. Each figure had a special heat sensitive sticker that told you their power, either wood, fire or water, creating a game aspect to the characters. This would predate the American Pokemon fad by well over a decade but it played into a similar demographic and laid the groundwork for the influx of toy action figures that could also be battling game. Vintage Battle Beasts now command a high resell value and just recently MiniMates obtained the license to produce new Battle Beasts.

#10: M.U.S.C.L.E. – With an incredible amount of sculpts and a wide range of figures MUSCLE was another Japanese import that was thrust onto the public with much success. Similar to Garbage Pail Kids in the sense that they offered illogical characters, MUSCLE was a relatively big hit for Mattel. Part of the reason that MUSCLE was a sensation was their relatively cheap price. In hindsight MUSCLE wasn’t a lot different than your standard green army men but with more fantastic designs. These also appealed to the wrestling demographic. Nearly every child of the 80’s owned a muscleman or two and for years afterwards their little pink legacy lived on through cheap knock offs and bubble gum machine clones. In early 2000 MUSCLE made a brief comeback with a new cartoon and figures in various scales.

#9: M.A.S.K – A lot of people will tell you that MASK was essentially GI Joe meets Transformers and it’s a logic that’s hard to argue with. However the show and toylines were much more than that. Backed by one of the most adult cartoons of the era, MASK offered up a wide variety of pocket sized heroes and villains with cool vehicles that could transform into other vehicles. The major advantage that MASK had over Transformers was that the little figures fit inside the vehicles quite nicely and the figures themselves were quite articulated. MASK had a fair amount of crossover potential although the property has had no real revival in recent years making it one of the few toylines that lived and died entirely in the 1980’s.

#8: The REAL Ghostbusters – In the mid 1980’s Kenner would capitalize on the success of the Ghostbusters feature films as well as the incredible cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters creating one of the most fun lines of the 1980’s. Not only were the Ghostbusters toys fun but they essentially defined an era. Based entirely off the cartoon incarnations these toys would be perhaps the best selling non-movie, movie line of all time. Ghostbusters toys never rose to #1 during their stint in the era but they did at a point become Kenner’s best line. With a wide variety of ghosts and Ghostbusters, Kenner was able to create a line of characters that rarely had anything to do with the actual cartoon or the feature films but could slap the Ghostbusters name on it and sell. Just recently Mattel picked up the Ghostbusters license and plans at some point to release Real Ghostbuster figures. To many fans that line of toys is more exciting than the actual film versions, a strong statement about how great these 1980’s Busters were.

#7: Thundercats – A controversial choice this low in the rankings, but Thundercats fans often see things through a set of rose colored glasses now. Thundercats was not that popular in the 1980’s although the toyline and cartoon survived for a few years. Thundercats played into the He-Man demographic and the cartoon was relatively intense for it’s era. Reruns of the show aired in prime time on Cartoon Network’s Toonami in the later 1990’s causing a huge surge of Thundercats fandom. Since many cartoons such as MOTU didn’t hold up, Thundercats has gained a much larger following today than it ever had in the 1980’s. However the toys by LJN were quite good and because they were sturdy are still sought after today. No new toys have been made of the characters in decades but with a proposed movie in the works the classic designs would undoubtedly be a gold mine for any toy company that would get to produce them. Thundercats is a unique case where the toyline is more popular now than it was then.

#6: DC Super Powers – You need only look at the love this toyline recieves now in Mattel’s various lines to know the impact this toyline made in the 1980’s. Although popular, the toys weren’t as widely available as they should have been and many of the later figures were nearly impossible to find. Super Powers sparked a collector frenzy in the more recent years and this toyline helped shape the opinions of many of today’s leaders in the toy world. Although they were hardly the most popular figures in their era, they had an indelible mark on everyone they touched. Toy Biz would create some much despised but remarkable similar figures just a few years later, essentially stretching the Super Powers line a bit longer than it actually truly lasted.

#5: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The undeniable king toyline of the 1990’s was a massive force in the 1980’s as well. Although the figures didn’t debut until 1988, they immediately made an impact. Preceding the cartoon in some areas of the country, the Turtles were part of a craze that essentially changed the market and led it into the 1990’s. A very small Californian toy company by the name of Playmates would go on to become a industry leader off the shelled backs of Peter Lair and Kevin Eastman’s creations. Had they hit just a few years earlier they very well could have dominated both decades. TMNT toys have remained on the shelves pretty consistently since 1988, although there have been several droughts the toyline continues to reinvent itself.

#4: Star Wars – Some would argue that Star Wars dominated the 1980’s but truth be told the true Star Wars toy domination came in the late 1970’s. By 1983 the Star Wars line was facing tough competition and by 1985 not only was the line coming to a close it was nearly non-existent. Of course Star Wars changed the landscape of toylines in the 1980’s with it’s small figures and large vehicles. Star Wars and Kenner would reign supreme for the first few years of the decade and would create their most fierce competitor in GI Joe. Years later Kenner would lead a Star Wars toy revival that essentially brought the toy aisles back to life much as it did in the early 1980’s. In today’s market it’d be tough to find a toyline stronger than Star Wars. Ironically most of the people who bought Star Wars in the 80’s are the same ones buying them today. No matter what anyone tells you, Star Wars has survived and thrived as a result of collectors moreso than kids. Those collectors were just kids in the 1980’s however and couldn’t bring Obi Wan and his cohorts to the top of the list.

#3: Transformers – To some fans this WAS the line of the 1980’s with it’s many robots in disguise. Transformers is perhaps the strongest of any of the 1980’s lines because of it’s ability to stay on the shelves off and on for many years. In recent years with the release of the movies and various new cartoons, Transformers has become one of if not the most popular toyline of today. It was incredibly popular in the 1980’s as well, but nowhere near #1. For starters Transformers were terribly expensive, deemed too complex for many children and ultimately not very good toys. The major issue with most Transformers was they either offered two crappy modes or one good mode. That is to say either you had a cool toy car or a cool toy robot, or a mediocre both. With the high price and relatively confusing nature of some of the figures as well as their chances of being broken off of wrong transformations, Transformers never quite made it to the top. However there is something about the toys and subsequent cartoons that has allowed Transformers to stay on shelves way past the 1980’s and even become a bigger powerhouse than it was in it’s prime.

#2: Masters of the Universe – Simply known as He-Man by a large majority of kids, MOTU is the most infamous story of a boom and a bust within the 1980’s. Although the figures didn’t hit until around 82 and remained on the market until the later 1980’s, they only had two really good years. The thing you must understand about Masters of the Universe is that during those two years they were so far ahead of everyone else that the market was literally flooded with toys ensuring that every child of the 1980’s had their hands on a He-Man toy at some point. Mattel also offered up a unique strategy by creating She-Ra for girls which allowed boys and girls to play together for the first time with essentially the same toys. This powerful brand is revived today with it’s best figures to date and remains a collector’s favorite. It’s also a incredible testament to how a company can vastly underestimate their audience and destroy a profitable franchise.

#1: GI Joe – As if there was any doubt who was the kings of the 1980’s, it was without question GI Joe. If you need one simple explanation as to why Hasbro’s 3 3/4 figures became king, I point you to the evidence known as the USS Flagg. Hasbro actually got a 7 foot aircraft carrier toy onto the market as a result of the popularity of these toys. While I have no idea how well the Flagg itself sold, it was the biggest playset ever released for a toy of the 1980’s and only GI Joe had the power for it to even be a reality. Many Joe fans will point you to a specific year when GI Joe went off the rails, 1985, 86, 87, 88, 89… There is no one answer. That’s because GI Joe truthfully remained a power entity up until the early 90’s and they managed to stay several years after as well. During the 1980’s however GI Joe managed not only to see hundreds of individual characters, dozens of playsets and hundreds of vehicles of varying sizes, Joe managed to kill off Star Wars, help put the final nail in the coffin of MOTU and essentially create a dozen other ripoff lines that Joe then subsequently obliterated. No other toyline commanded as much presence in the toy aisle that GI Joe did in the 1980’s. Although Joe has dipped in and out of the toy aisles several times since their introduction in 1982, they have never been gone for long. One key to Joe’s success of the 1980’s was price. GI Joe was one of the cheapest toys on the market and offered a ton of bang for your buck. Loaded with accessories and articulation as well as a storyline for each character. Futhermore GI Joe had vehicles, playets and plenty of other add-ons that appealed to wealthier kids making it a line that everyone wanted a piece of. GI Joe had something for everyone. Returning at various strengths through the years Hasbro’s 3 3/4 heroes have stuck around and are currently producing one of the best revivals in recent memory. Joe may never regain the crown that it had in the 1980’s but if you look back on that decade you can only conclude that GI Joe was the clear victor. Hail to the king!

So obviously you disagree, you know you do. Tell us what you think the top ten were! Leave a comment below.

4 Responses to Top 10 Toylines of the 1980’s

  • Actually, I don’t agree at all. Very well written article. As a child of the 80s I can attest to exactly what you wrote.

    The major lines I collected were GI Joe, MOTU, Transformers, Mask, & MUSCLE. Man I MISS the 80s.

  • Rocketman says:

    Wow, well done. This seems well thought out, not just some fanboy’s “my favorite toylines” list.

  • Sam says:

    Nice list, I’d put Ghostbusters higher. A strength Joe and others had were toys that were pulled from the toons or really toys that were put on screen. The poor Ghostbusters guys were toys first, and in fact their line didn’t match up with the toon at all, and yet THEY SOLD. That’s gotta count for something.

    Joe may have been king in the 80’s but Tfs have become the all time king (sadly 🙁 I love em but I’m more a Joe fan)

  • Anonymous says:

    Top 4 were right but in wrong order, I dont know if I agree about GI Joe #1, Star Wars ruled for the first half of the 80’s …so I’d split it 1a and 2b He-Man #3 , Transformers #4,
    Superpowers #5,

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