It’s pretty safe to say that the 1980s was the birth of action figures as we know them today. With the explosive popularity of lines like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Ghostbusters, M.A.S.K., He-Man, and Ninja Turtles, every company that could mold a piece of plastic was making a toy line.
Lurking in the shadows cast by the mega toy lines of the 80s, was a plethora of lines that never got the popularity they deserved. I could go on for days about all these lines, but I chose the ones that I had some kind of emotional attachment to. These lines, as I remember them, were pretty popular at the time but quickly slipped into obscurity as quickly as they had hit the toy aisle.
As a child of the 80s, there is a pretty good chance you had these. As an adult though, you may have forgotten they ever existed.
#11 – Sectaurs (1985)
I remember being kind of grossed out by this line because of the 80s remake of “The Fly”. All I could ever think of when I saw these figures was the scene when Jeff Goldblum was putting his detached body parts in the medicine cabinet. Gross factor aside, this line was actually pretty cool.
Despite only a 5 episode cartoon run, we got quite a bit out of this line. There were 5 individual figures released, each with a heavy arsenal of weapons, and accompanying insects with various gimmicks. There were also 4 vehicle/figure combo packs, and a giant playset called the “Hyve”.
The vehicles were really cool because of their very unique gimmick. Each vehicle was actually a glove, with your fingers acting as insect legs. Two of the vehicles let you control either a chomping mouth action, or a grabbing claw action with your middle finger. The other two had motorized flapping wings.
#10 – Supernaturals (1987)
I remember visiting some family when I was younger- one day they gathered all of us kids up, and took us out for a toy run. While everyone was fiending over the latest G.I. Joes, I was mesmerized by this line. The spooky packaging, the large creepy figures, and best of all- the holograms.
Supernaturals utilized every gimmick it could get its hands on. The figures came with removable gear, glow in the dark weapons, and hologram stickers. The stickers were by far the best part of the line though.
Each figure had its own unique hologram sticker in place of the face and torso. Some figures had removable chest pieces that would reveal some pretty gruesome body parts. From one angle you could see a normal looking guy, another angle could reveal him as a skeleton.
Sadly, this short-lived line only produced 14 figures, 4 vehicles, and 1 playset.
#9 – Visionaries (1987)
Like Supernaturals, this line utilized holograms as part of their gimmick. These guys had a lot more to offer than holograms though.
The figures had the same articulation as a G.I. Joe, but stood 4.5” tall. Each figure was equipped with a basic weapon, a holographic power staff, and removable helmet. The figures also had interchangeable holographic chest pieces.
The vehicles were by far the best part of the line. Each of the vehicles came with 1 figure. They all had a projectile of some sort, and were plastered with holograms. The sizes ranged from small to gargantuan. Anyone who has ever had their hands on the “Dagger Assault” vehicle knows what I’m talking about.
This line was as short lived as the cartoon it was based on. We only got 8 basic figures and 4 vehicles out of it. Anyone that watched the cartoon probably understands why this line vanished. As much fun as it was, there were no likeable characters. The good guys were just as much D-bags as the bad guys.
There was a 2nd series planned, which included new figures, vehicles, and a giant playset. This line was actually advertised in magazines, but never made it to the shelf.
#8 – Captain Power (1987)
This line produced some really great items. Not only did you get some cool figures, vehicles, and playsets, you actually got to interact with the live action show.
If you were lucky enough to get your hands on the “Powerjet XT-7”, or the “Phantom Striker”, you could actually fire at the “bad guys” on the show and keep score. The bad guys fired back though, and if you got hit your jet exploded. In addition to that, you could get the “Power On Energizer” which would light up when Captain Power would say his famous line, “Power On!”.
Unfortunately, this gimmick didn’t go over well. Parents weren’t into the adult-oriented story lines of the show, and it cost $1 million an episode to produce.
With the popularity of M.U.S.C.L.E., miniature figure lines started popping up left and right. Cleverly named, Army Ants was a fun line that I have some fond memories of.
Split between the Orange Army and the Blue Army, these little guys had all sort of fun characters. Pirates, commandos, and dive bombers, Hasbro spared no expense in the creativity department. The fun part about these was the fact they had interchangeable rubber butts that came in a variety of colors.
Every now and then, while going through an old box, I find one of those butts.
Another line that rode in on the coat tails of M.U.S.C.L.E., Battle Beasts were heavily armored humanoid animals packing some serious firepower. This line was unique because they actually made mini-vehicles to accompany the figures.
Domestically, we got 76 mini-figures over a span of 3 waves. Overseas got an additional 36 figures in wave 4, but they were re-named “Laser Warriors”.
#5 – Starcom: The U.S. Space Force (1987)
As a kid, I always thought this line was a part of M.A.S.K. The 2 inch figures looked pretty close to M.A.S.K., the vehicles would do all kinds of transformations, and the packaging looked almost identical. Think someone at Mattel might have been spying on Kenner?
Like most of these lines on the list, this one is based on a short-lived cartoon series spanning 13 episodes. Despite the cartoon’s brief run, the line is pretty expansive. In less than 2 years, we got 23 figures, 6 playsets, and 13 vehicles for the Starcom forces. The enemy Shadow Force fought back with 15 figures and 11 vehicles.
In terms of gimmicks, this line was king. The figures, vehicles, and playsets were all covered in magnets (aka “Magna Locks”). Figures could be placed on the magnets and stay in place, which was cool when flying vehicles around. The magnets also doubled as switches. When a figure or vehicle was placed on a weapon or a platform, it would activate a mechanized function.
There were also wind-up features, which would let you wind-up a switch, and when triggered would cause some kind of transformation on the vehicles. Wings would unfold and doors would open, all without the use of batteries.
This line and cartoon ultimately failed in the states. It was however, very popular in Europe and continued to be through the 90s.
My poor mom must have stepped on dozens of these. I recall having one for each finger, and running around the house waging air battles on the house plants.
Calling this line short-lived is an understatement. The cartoon and the toy line combined, ran for about 6 months. The toy line was a neat concept though. Little jets were mounted onto rings via a clear plastic pivoting peg. This allowed a little bit of maneuverability for the jets, and made it possible for them to be mounted on the playsets.
There were a handful of jets made, all based on actual aircraft. The line was heavy on the repaints though, as most jets were repainted at least 4 times.