While action figures came into being before the 1990s, there’s no denying the fact that this particular decade was a great one for some absolutely ridiculous toys. Back then, it felt like almost any franchise could spawn some plastic shelf-fillers. And that’s not even mentioning the TV shows created specifically to sell merchandise – of which there were plenty. What’s more, while some action figures produced during the ’90s have had real sticking power with collectors, there are plenty of examples that just seem bizarre today.
20. The Real Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters was – and still is – a seminal American comedy, and you might think there’d therefore be a great tie-in line of action figures to be had from the movie. Unfortunately, though, for some reason, these toys were actually based on The Real Ghostbusters – a spin-off animated series. And even though The Real Ghostbusters ran for seven seasons and was nominated for an Emmy, let’s face it: we’d all rather have had toys based on characters from the original film.
What came first – the ThunderCats TV show or the ThunderCats action figures? You may be surprised to learn that this apparent chicken-or-the-egg riddle’s answer is actually the latter. Yes, the show was based on the toys, which themselves are basically about as ’90s as it gets. After all, there’s no way we’d buy into these weird anthropomorphized felines today, as the swift cancelation of the 2011 revival of the TV show proved.
18. Small Soldiers
Small Soldiers landed in movie theaters back in 1998, and the film’s warring action figures basically made a complementary range of toys a no-brainer. However, thanks in part to a misguided ad campaign, the movie didn’t go down brilliantly with critics and audiences. As for the action figures? Well, at least they didn’t actually come to life…
17. Street Fighter II
In the early ’90s two martial arts-based video games received spin-off movies – and, naturally, both films got tie-in toy lines too. Street Fighter II came first, although the action figures were strangely part of the G.I. Joe line. In fact, the Street Fighter II toys even reused G.I. Joe parts. And in hindsight, the weird mix of aesthetics really isn’t doing anything for us.
16. Mortal Kombat
The second martial arts-based video game-turned-movie to appropriate G.I. Joe’s parts for its own line of action figures was Mortal Kombat. In contrast to Street Fighter II’s figures, though, these toys weren’t included under the G.I. Joe umbrella. And we totally understand it if collectors turned their noses up at the range. After all, reusing so many pieces hardly made many of the toys very accurate replications of their source characters.
15. The Incredible Crash Dummies
When you think of kids’ toys, does your mind instantly leap to recreating a crash test? If not, you probably never experienced the joys of The Incredible Crash Dummies. Launched in the early ’90s, these action figures were based on a series of public service adverts that used crash-test dummies to teach people to wear seat belts. Totally obvious choice for children’s playthings, then…
14. Street Sharks
The Street Sharks now seem like quintessential ’90s toys. And in true ’90s fashion, purely to help sell more action figures, there was even a TV show featuring the mutants. But while the half-man, half-shark concept may have been cool at the time, it’s now almost certainly best left at the back of the closet.
13. Biker Mice from Mars
Much like Street Sharks, Biker Mice from Mars tried to capitalize on the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with anthropomorphized animals. Biker Mice didn’t stick around for long, though, with the tie-in show airing from just 1993 to 1996. And while the toys inspired by the series can be pretty difficult to locate nowadays, we can’t say we’re that bothered about digging them out.
If while growing up you liked Transformers, there’s a chance that you may also have been into M.A.S.K. Only a chance, though, because M.A.S.K.’s line of vehicles that could turn into slightly more armored vehicles wasn’t quite as cool as the likes of Optimus Prime. Still, the toys lasted for four years – even longer than the TV show produced to promote them.
Let’s face it: Beetlejuice isn’t the most family-friendly film. In fact, while the movie was rated PG in the U.S., some European countries – including the U.K. and Sweden – certified it suitable only for ages 15 and over. And yet Kenner saw fit to produce a wave of goofy action figures based on the flick. Somehow, we doubt many parents would rush to buy them these days…
10. Police Academy
The Police Academy series is very much a product of its time – not least because it often handled issues such as race and sexuality somewhat less than delicately. Kids are unlikely to have picked up on any such matters, however, so it sort of made sense for Kenner to produce action figures based on the franchise. Even so, the toys in question are probably best consigned to history.
9. Terminator 2
Producing action figures based on Terminator 2: Judgment Day is odd enough on its own, given the film’s mature themes, but Kenner’s launch took the cake. Not only were there no human characters beyond John Connor in the line, but the company didn’t even have the rights to Arnie’s image. Essentially, then, the range mostly just featured a bunch of weird, nondescript robots.
8. Swamp Thing
Swamp Thing may not be DC’s most legendary superhero nowadays, but back in the ’80s and ’90s he was a huge hit. Yep, during that period the monstrous anti-hero featured in comic books, movies and even a TV series. Naturally, then, Swamp Thing action figures were all the rage, and at the time they were pretty cool – with some of the toys even glowing in the dark or changing color.
7. Captain Planet
It’s difficult to argue with Captain Planet’s admirable aims: to encourage people to take care of the planet and rally against pollution. But looking today at the oddly colorful designs of the toy spin-off line, it’s also hard not to think that there may have been better ways of going about promoting that eco-friendly message.
6. Stone Protectors
Remember troll dolls? They first appeared in 1959 but enjoyed brief renaissances right up through the ’90s. It was at the tail end of the craze, though, that the Stone Protectors arrived – and yet the animated series fell flat, and the action figures didn’t have much staying power either. Tying them to a passing fad may not have been such a great idea after all…
While there have been plenty of forgettable sci-fi cartoons over the years, Exosquad was different. As an American version of Japanese anime, it was raved over by critics at the time. And the series went on to generate comic books, a movie, a board game and, yes, a series of toys – the latter of which actually survived long after the original show had been canceled.
4. Earthworm Jim
Back in the early ’90s, Playmates Toys was enjoying plenty of popularity with its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons toys. But perhaps in an attempt to have a bigger slice of the pie, Playmates ultimately dreamt up its own franchise: Earthworm Jim. The character actually began life in video games; in time, though, there were also some zany action figures for sale.
3. V.R. Troopers
In the ’90s it wasn’t uncommon for companies to try to replicate hit franchises. Take Saban Entertainment, for instance, which attempted to recreate its success with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers through the 1994 launch of V.R. Troopers. But alas, the sister series couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle for a second time, and its tie-in toy line died just as quickly as the show did.
2. Big Bad Beetleborgs
Like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and V.R. Troopers before it, Big Bad Beetleborgs was a Saban Entertainment production that reused footage from Japanese Metal Hero shows. And as with those series, Big Bad Beetleborgs also enjoyed a short wave of tie-in action figures – which were all bright colors and gaudy plastic. Really, it’s hard to tell how the toys would ever have stood out on the shelf in the ’90s.
1. Toxic Crusaders
Ultraviolent 1984 B movie The Toxic Avenger may not have been totally appropriate source material for toys, but the ’90s TV series it spawned, Toxic Crusaders, apparently was. The crazy cast of characters were represented though glow-in-the-dark and neon action figures that perfectly captured the wacky essence of the franchise. Okay, maybe these were terrible on purpose…