Children of the 1980s and 1990s were truly lucky. It was a golden age where there was an action figure for just about any situation and most seemed to come with cartoons designed to promote them. Even Transformers, one of the biggest cartoon and film franchises of all time, started life as a glorified commercial to sell toys. Of course, it was selling some of the most incredible toys ever imagined.
But with so many options at the toy store, back in the day when Toys ‘R’ Us not only simply existed but reigned supreme, there are definitely some items not remembered quite as fondly as G.I. Joe, Cabbage Patch Kids, and the Nintendo Entertainment System. For every He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, there’s a Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. Every Micro Machines has a Ring Raiders sitting in its shadow.
We jumped in the wayback machine to once again get up close and personal with some of the coolest forgotten toys of a bygone era. While in 2021, everything seemingly has to have a computer in it to make it worthy of play, there’s something special about an action figure in which its defining characteristic is a holographic sticker with the image of a lion on it. Take a look at these forgotten gems then sound off in the comments with your favorite toys!
Dinosaurs are pretty intimidating by themselves. Now imagine them retrofitted with missiles and lasers guns and ridden by aliens into battle. That’s what Dino-Riders was. You must be thinking, “Wow. That sounds like the greatest toy line of all time.” You’re not wrong. Everything about these figures and the dino vehicles they came with was so insane and over-the-top that it’s surprising they’re not still being made today. Alas, after three years of production (1988-1990), the line was discontinued. That’s two years longer than the cartoon created to promote it, though.
Mobile Armored Strike Command, otherwise known as M.A.S.K., was one of the most clever toy lines of the 1980s. Channeling Transformers, M.A.S.K. featured vehicles that transformed into battle machines–imagine a Camaro that becomes a flying fighter jet–and came complete with figures to drive them all. It even got a cartoon meant to promote toy sales. Its only major misstep was having figures be a different scale than G.I. Joe. It made making your own crossovers very difficult. Thankfully they were the same scale as Dino-Riders, so that made for some very interesting battles.
3. Mighty Max
Given the success of Polly Pocket, Mattel decided to make a version marketed toward young boys. Mighty Max was essentially a pocket-sized Indiana Jones playset, featuring a kid as the hero. Like many other toys of the era, a cartoon was produced to promote it.
4. My Buddy and Kid Sister
Were you an only child in the 1980s? If so, you probably had My Buddy or Kid Sister. It was essentially the sibling stand-in every parent thought their kid needed–including mine! And, somehow, it worked. Sure, it’s just a doll, but wherever I go, he goes. My Buddy and me.
5. Pound Puppies
Pound Puppies were a lot like My Buddy and Kid Sister dolls. Except, instead of standing in for non-existent siblings, they made for good imaginary pets. These stuffed dogs came in a variety of colors and, thanks to an animated series, even introduced some characters. The best, of course, was Cooler. He was the leader of the pack and wore a members only jacket.
6. Action Max
Did you have a Nintendo or Sega Master System in the ’80s? Of course, you did. What you probably didn’t have was an Action Max, AKA possibly the worst video game console of all time. It wasn’t so much a console as it was a light gun you used to shoot at ghosts, jets, and whatever else was used as targets in various Action Max “games.” In reality, these games were VHS tapes you played in your VCR. Still, if you remember The Rescue of Pops Ghostly, you’re one of the few and proud.
7. Super Naturals
There was a period in the 1980s where holographic images were all the rage. Based on what angle you looked at the image, you might see something different. The undisputed king of this gimmick was Super Naturals, which printed some seriously haunting imagery on these ghost and demon toys.
8. Battle Beasts
These little figures that were essentially weaponized animals wearing body armor–a trend in the ’80s–were fun, but not much of a breakaway hit. After all, the coolest thing about them was the tiny holographic square on each, which paled in size compared to what Super Naturals had to offer.
Centurions were a bizarre line of action figures. While the base figures themselves left a lot to be desired, the entire gimmick was everything you could attach to them. From body armor to wings to weaponry to helmets, just by swapping parts around you could construct your own custom figure. Sure, they were big and bulky, but who cares? They looked awesome.
10. Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light
Another toy that, more or less, existed just to cash in on the holographic image craze. Visionaries were a line of mystical knights that fought against the Darkling Lords on the planet Prysmos. Yes, it sounds like I made that up. No, I didn’t. If you don’t remember them, you’re not alone. The toy line bombed and led to the cancellation of the cartoon series and comic book associated with it.
11. Food Fighters
“Don’t play with your food!” It’s something everyone heard as a child at some point. Food Fighters were the exception to that rule, though. These actions figures looked like pizza slices, hamburgers, and chicken drumsticks–but were packing some serious heat. They might not have lasted long after being introduced in 1989, but they were definitely a blast to play with. FOOD FIGHT!
12. Sky Commanders
Sky Commanders deserved to be much more popular than they were. These action figures, and the vehicles they traveled in, essentially traveled via a variety of zip lines that came with the toys. If you ended up with a decent collection of Sky Commanders, chances are your bedroom was a tangle of strings that sent them flying everywhere. While G.I. Joe may have been the gold standard of action figures and vehicles, these were just so different and fun to play with.
13. Ring Raiders
Ring Raiders were essentially Micro Machine airplanes that attached to plastic rings you could wear. It was a weird idea and, just like Micro Machines, you couldn’t help but want to collect them all.
These tiny flesh colored figures couldn’t be posed, but looked like someone had mashed together anime and pro wrestling into a fantastic hodgepodge. One question that never seemed to be answered, though, is what M.U.S.C.L.E. is an acronym for. It turns out it’s short for Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere.
15. The Incredible Crash Dummies
How did a PSA for auto safety become a line of action figures? It’s a question for the ages, but somehow the misadventures of Vince and Larry–the crash dummy characters– became fodder for action figures that would explode into pieces on contact, making for many fun car crashes, falls, and just about anything else you could do to them.
16. Barnyard Commandos
What Food Fighters did for slices of pizza and chicken drumsticks, Barnyard Commandos did for sheep, pigs, and the like. One of the cardinal rules of the ’80s seemed to be that if all else fails, strap guns to it and kids will love it. In this toy line–and the accompanying cartoon series–it was the R.A.M.S. (Rebel Army of Military Sheep) facing off against the P.O.R.K.S. (Platoon of Rebel Killer Swine) in the farm war to end all farm wars.
17. Computer Warriors
Computer Warriors were essentially Transformers if Transformers turned into things far less exciting that jet fighters and fast cars. Instead they transformed into items like a soccer trophy, a can of Pepsi, and a pencil sharpener. Try to contain your glee.
Everyone remembers Gak. Thanks to Gak, everyone could practically bring home their own vat of Nickelodeon slime. Sure, it made a mess, but it was so cool. Less memorable was Gak’s cousin, Floam. Originally called “bubble gak,” Floam was less slimy and more like little beans of foam that clung together. Not as messy or fun, but still cool in its own right.
Crossfire! You’ll get caught up in the…Crossfire! All it takes is that one line to immediately implant the commercial for this strange board game in your mind once again. While the real deal wasn’t quite like the space fight club the commercial promised, it was still a lot of fun.
20. Eliminator TS-7
What’s better than one toy weapon? Seven toy weapons. What’s better than seven toy weapons? Seven toy weapons built into a single toy weapon. The Eliminator TS-7 is the very definition of overkill. And just in case you think it’s an amazing Nerf gun, it doesn’t actually shoot anything. It’s just blinking lights.
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