People don’t rush for toys and collectibles like they did a few decades ago. Yes, when something like a new video game console, phone, or similar piece of technology comes out it is still a must-have item. However, between online purchases and appointment times at stores you won’t find crowds knocking down the doors of a retailer like they used to.
The 1980s were different. It was a time when animal collectibles, action figures, and even early video games were hitting the shelves all at once, and the only way to get them was in store. Let’s take a look at the three biggest toy crazes of the 1980s.
G.I. Joe, a military-based action figure, became iconic when it relaunched in 1982. It succeeded because it came with more than a figurine. It came with a story. The patriotic G.I. Joe would fight Cobra Command, a terrorist organization threatening freedom. Along with the toy itself, G.I. Joe had his own TV show, comics, and even movies. This became the model for all action figures. They were an opportunity for children to play out the stories they had seen on TV, with the hero of the show.
While action figures predate the 1980s, they’re still iconic to the era, and G.I. Joe, in particular, ushered in a new age of action figures. Soon it became a necessity to sell these figurines to promote media and vice versa.
Action figures are a craze that extends to today, be it through nostalgia or a simply high-quality product. Both collectible action figures and new ones are popular across age groups, leading to $1.45 billion worth of action figures being sold in 2016.
The cuddly animal collectibles have a similar story to action figures in that they thrived through their multitude of platforms. Still, the most iconic remains the plush, collectible animal toys themselves. Care Bears started as a greeting card cartoon but quickly made the jump into being a plush teddy bear for children. By the mid-1980s they had their own TV series and movie. The good times were rolling, and the Care Bears became a staple of childhood and shopping for presents, in the 1980s.
Just like action figures, the Care Bears have proven to have staying power. As recently as 2019 there was a relaunch of these animal collectibles and unique examples of Care Bears have sold for up to $10,000. That’s not bad for a teddy bear that humbly began life as a greeting card cartoon.
Cabbage Patch Kids
The ultimate in toy crazes was the Cabbage Patch Kids craze. These small dolls technically started in the 1970s, but their craze dominated the 1980s. How insane was this fad? It was reported that there were riots for the collectible dolls in 1983, as parents were desperate to land a Cabbage Patch Kid for their child’s Christmas present. To combat the chaos, many retailers introduced ticket systems for the dolls, much like at a Deli. This worked to an extent and is a precursor to companies like Apple setting appointments to purchase new products once they’re released. The issue was that supply still didn’t meet demand, and parents were willing to be violent to get their hands on a Cabbage Patch Kid.
Cabbage Patch Kids are still highly collectible today, with dolls commonly selling for thousands of dollars.
The toy world was changed with the advent of merchandising off TV and movies. This led to explosions in popularity for numerous toys, not so much for what the toy did, but for what it represented. Using merchandise to sustain a show became more popular in the 1980s because of the FCC relaxing laws related to character marketing. This flooded the market with every toy imaginable, from madballs to animal collectibles, and became what 1980s toys were known for.