In the 1980s, toy companies began producing all sorts of action figures based on all sorts of movies and TV shows. The 1980s have to be considered the Golden Age of Action Figures. There were action figures produced for everything from classic films like Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz to old TV shows like The A-Team, Knight Rider, and Miami Vice.
However, it wasn’t just movie and TV characters that were given action figure treatment. There were action figures based on such diverse characters as comic book superheroes and even historical figures. One of my favorite lines is the line of action figures from the popular 1983 Marvel Comics series Secret Wars by Jim Shooter (the first editor of Marvel Comics’ Captain America), Mike Zeck (the co-creator of Spider-Man villain Venom), and Bob Layton (the creator of Iron Man villain Blizzard). These twelve-inch scale action figures were made by Toy Biz and they are considered collector’s items today. But there are plenty more where those came from!
Here are the most popular toy lines from the 1980s:
The A-Team was a popular action-adventure show that ran from 1983 to 1987 on the NBC television network. The show centered around four former U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers who were wrongly accused of being war criminals and who became mercenaries and worked as soldiers of fortune. The four men were renegade characters led by Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, a cigar-chomping plan man who always wore a black beret. Hannibal was voiced by George Peppard, who played him as a master manipulator with a serious gambling problem.
The other members of the team were Captain “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock, a pilot and weapons expert; Face, a con artist and master of disguise; and BA Baracus, a muscleman who was known for uttering his signature line “I ain’t gettin’ on no plane!”
The line of action figures produced by LJN was very popular in the 1980s and are still highly sought after by collectors today. The figures included Sergeant Bosco “B.A.” Baracus, Lieutenant Templeton “Face” Peck, and Lieutenant Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith. The figures were sold with accessories like the A-Team van or the A-Team helicopter.
Batman: The Animated Series
Batman: The Animated Series debuted in 1992 and ran on Fox for two seasons before moving to The WB network for another three seasons from 1997 to 1999. It was based on the DC Comics superhero Batman and was influenced by the Tim Burton Batman movie starring Michael Keaton as Batman from 1989.
The animated series was completely different from previous versions of Batman as it featured a more serious tone than any previous television series based on the character. The series was the first adaptation of Batman in any media to portray the hero as more mature and more world-weary in tone than previous iterations.
The show introduced all sorts of new characters into the Batman universe including new villains, allies and love interests. The animated series featured a very stylized appearance that stood out from previous versions of Batman with its use of deep shadows and primary colors like blue and yellow.
The series also featured several action figures that were based on both original characters from the show as well as classic DC Comics characters like The Joker, Catwoman, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. There were also figures based on villains that appeared in episodes but weren’t part of the show’s regular cast like Deadshot, Firefly, and Solomon Grundy.
The X-Files action figure line was made by Toy Biz and ran for three years from 1993 to 1995. It consisted of over 30 different figures produced in seven different series, including “Assortment Series” figures (with no specific character) and “Inaction Figure” figures (similar to role-playing game figurines).
While some of the figures were based on original characters featured in The X-Files TV series, many of them were based on popular characters from creator Chris Carter’s earlier work. The figures included Mulder and Scully, the Cigarette Smoking Man (Cancer Man), Deep Throat, alien bounty hunter Alex Krycek and alien bounty hunter Sil.
The X-Files action figures are considered to be one of the greatest toy lines ever produced. As such, they have become collector’s items and are very expensive to acquire today. Even if you want to collect all of the figures, it will cost you a fortune! Some of the rarest X-Files action figures have been selling for hundreds of dollars at auction online.
The science-fiction saga Star Wars, which was created by George Lucas, is one of the most popular franchises in movie history. The original trilogy of Star Wars films—Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi—where big box office hits in the 1970s and 1980s. Each film was listed as one of the top ten highest-grossing films ever made at the time it was released. There have been many other films and TV shows set in the Star Wars universe since then, including a series of animated series that ran from 1999 to 2003.
The first line of action figures based on Star Wars was produced by Kenner in 1978, but they were just three-and-a-half-inch figures based on characters from the movie. The first twelve-inch figures based on characters from Star Wars were produced by Kenner in 1980 (the same year that Return of the Jedi was released) and those are considered collector’s items now because they are so rare.
Kenner produced several different lines over the years based on various elements from the Star Wars universe, including two lines that were released specifically for the Holiday Season. The first was a line of figures based on the characters from Star Wars: A New Hope that was released in 1980 and then in 1981, Kenner released several figures based on the characters from The Empire Strikes Back. However, both of those lines were produced in limited quantities and they are very difficult to find today.