What were the most popular 80s Christmas toys that you remember? For those of us who were kids in the 1980s, one of the best memories was opening your presents on Christmas morning! We would spend hours making a lovely list for Santa, or as we got older, the highlighter came out to show our parents what we wanted from the Argos catalogue.
Toy marketing had become much more sophisticated in the 1980s, with makers such as Mattel advertising their products on TV, as well as selling franchise rights for related items like bedspreads, stationery, games etc. This created ‘pester power’ from children and made toys much more desirable. Some even sold out before Christmas, adding to the demand.
I remember all this only too well, so here is my own top 10 list of the most popular 80s Christmas Toys.
Probably one of the last additions to a child’s christmas list but still essential to have every year was an Annual. This could be from your favourite comic such as The Beano or The Dandy, or a tie in with a TV show like The A Team, Postman Pat, Button Moon, Terrahawks to name but a few. There were also Annuals from favourite toy franchises such as Care Bears, My Little Pony, He-Man, Transformers etc.
9. MB Games
Another popular Christmas toy was the latest board game, and usually from the biggest manufacturer of the time, MB Games. Popular games included Guess Who, Operation, Connect 4, Downfall, Mr Pop, Perfection, Mouse Trap, and much more! One of the ones I remember wanting the most was Ghost Castle.
Opening the games on Christmas morning usually meant a bit of setting up, dissecting parts from their plastic moulds, applying stickers etc. However by the time Christmas dinner was eaten, they were ready to play and could be enjoyed by the whole family!
8. Rubiks Cube
Voted toy of the year in 1980, the Rubiks Cube puzzle cube became a craze as people young and old tried to solve it in the early 80s. The aim is to get all 6 sides back to their original colour block, via an internal swivel mechanism that works in all directions. Most people could only solve one or two sides so there also were numerous books published to help, as well as speed-cubing championships for those would could solve it easily. It continued to sell throughout the 1980s although not in as many numbers at its initial craze. Definitely a toy you would love to find in your Christmas stocking!
7. Cabbage Patch Kids
These cloth dolls with plastic heads were one of the most popular toys of the 1980s. Cabbage Patch Kids were invented by an art student and first produced by Caleco industries in 1982. They came with their own birth certificate and initially doll manufacturers manufacturers declined to make them for being too ugly. However they went on to become a top selling toy in the 1980s and even caused the ‘Cabbage patch riots‘ in the US in 1983 at the peak of their popularity as parents fought among each other to get their hands on the dolls for their own children’s Christmas list.
Robots that could change into an alternative form, such as vehicles is the Transformers toy line manufactured by Hasbro and launched in 1984. The tagline was ‘Robots in Disguise’ reflecting their ability to change. A TV cartoon of the same name was also released, helping to sell the toys and a movie followed in 1986. There were other licenced items such as video games and the franchise still continues today. However for 80s kids receiving one of the the original Generation 1 of Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the Decepticons, led by Megatron, under the tree will remain one of the top Christmas memories of the day.
5. Care Bears
These cute multi-coloured Care Bears were a hit with little girls in the 1980s. Initially they were created as illustrations for greetings cards made by American Greetings. However in 1983 a line of plush toys based on the characters was introduced and made by Kenner and Parker Toys. The franchise was born! Later followed poseable plastic figures, and even miniature ones as well as playsets, cars etc. There was also a TV series and a movie in 1985. The original 10 Care Bears were Bedtime Bear, Birthday Bear, Cheer Bear, Friend Bear, Funshine Bear, Good Luck Bear, Grumpy Bear, Love-a-Lot Bear, Tenderheart Bear, and Wish Bear. One of my all time favourite toys of the 80s!
4. He-Man and The Masters of the Universe
Another major toy franchise of the decade was Masters of the Universe created by Mattel. The main characters were He-Man, a blond muscle man (the secret identity of Adam, prince of Eternia) and his nemesis, the skull-faced Skeletor. Their world consists of sorcery and magic, as well as sci-fi elements. The franchise debuted in 1982 when the original 5.5 inch action figures were launched. There were accompanying playsets and accessories such as Castle Grayskull (which took an age to set up on Christmas morning!). A cast of accompanying characters helped to complete the line up such as Battle Cat, Man-At-Arms, Stratos, Teela and Ram Man (the goodies), and Evil-Lyn, Trap-Jaw and Mer-Man.
3. My Little Pony
More cute multicoloured plastic toys aimed at little girls came in the form of the My Little Pony franchise developed by Hasbro and launched in 1982. Each pony had a different coloured body, contrasting manes which could be brushed and styled, as well as a unique symbol on their flanks, later known as ‘cutie marks’. The original six ponies were called Blossom, Bluebelle, Butterscotch, Cotton Candy, Minty and Snuzzle. This series continued until 1992 and is now known as Generation 1, or G1 Ponies. As with all good franchises there was an animated TV series, movie and video games, as well as jigsaws, stationery, books, etc. One of the most coveted items for Christmas was the larger play sets such as the Dream Castle, Pretty Parlour and Show Stable.
2. Star Wars Action Figures
The original Star Wars movie came out in 1977 and was one of the first to successfully launch a toy line featuring its characters on a large scale.This helped George Lucas finance his next two films in the series, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983). The toys were made by Kenner and the first to be introduced were 4 inch action figures based on characters from the movies: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and R2-D2 initially. In 1978 more were released; C-3PO, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Jawa, Sand People, and Death Squad Commander. Later that year came vehicles and playsets. As the sequels were released, more action figures came to market and in 1984, the range totaled 79 unique character designs. By 1985 demand for the toys had slowed and Kenner stopped making them, but were re-introduced in 1995.
1. Barbie Dolls
Little girls were no stranger to teenage dolls by the 1980s, with Barbie being invented in 1957 by Ruth Handler. She was disappointed to see that the only dolls her daughter could play with at the time were babies that re-inforced the care-giving role. She wanted her daughter to play with dolls that were more inspiring and allowed her to dream bigger, so she set about making them!
By the 1980s Barbie had changed. She was more glamorous, tanned, had bigger hair, and even bigger shoulder pads! Her boyfriend Ken was more muscular, and a black and hispanic Barbie had been introduced. Several Barbie’s were introduced in the decade such as Crystal Barbie, Peaches & Cream Barbie, Day to Night Barbie, Loving Your Barbie, and more! One of the most coveted items was a Barbie Dream House and there were loads of accessories and playsets to put on your christmas list such as clothing, cars, shop counter, furniture, and even pets!