Back in the action figure heyday of the 1970s and 80s, Star Wars helped make the little 3 3/4" toys incredibly popular with kids. Just about every TV show and movie had its own line of action figures that could be sold at drug stores and toy stores all over the country. Some of these tie-in toys made perfect sense, like The A-Team, Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica, which had an element of adventure to their storylines. Why some other shows had toys was a bit of a head-scratcher.
Your Bartender, Isaac
There's no question The Love Boat was a popular show during its nine-season run. What is questionable, though, is the demand for an action figure based on "Your Bartender," Isaac.
In 1981, toymaker Mego produced a line of 3 3/4" figures that included the main characters: Captain Stubing, Vicki, Julie, Gopher, Isaac, and Doc Bricker. Mego had seen success with some of their other TV tie-in lines, like the 12" dolls based on Cher and Sonny Bono, but for some reason decided to go with smaller figures for the Love Boat line. Unfortunately, because this size was more popular for boys' action figures, The Love Boat toys were often placed in the same aisle with the likes of Superman, Batman, and Captain America, which meant the crew of the Pacific Princess had some serious competition.
In an attempt to boost sales, a plastic cruiseship playset was produced, but even this didn't help. The Love Boat action figures were sunk after only one series.
Klinger in Drag
The Cast of Dallas
Faithfully Frightening Movie Tie-Ins
When it comes to movie tie-in action figures, it wasn't so much a matter of "Why would kids want to play with that?" as it was, "They let kids play with that!?" One of the first controversial movie tie-ins was an 18-inch action figure from toy company Kenner, based on the creature from the R-rated 1979 film Alien. The toy was exquisitely detailed and very faithful to the look of the alien from the film, including a clear head that exposed a glow-in-the-dark skull, spring-loaded arms to grab its victims, a bendable tail, and a trigger-action mouth that snapped open, allowing the alien's signature set of inner jaws to shoot out.
Aside from marketing a toy for kids based on a very violent film that had all kinds of sexual imagery, parents were upset about the toy itself. It was so faithful to the creature, that parents started calling Kenner's customer service line to report their kids were scared to death of the toy. Kenner cut its losses, stopped production, and told retailers to slash the prices on remaining stock to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
Today, the 18" Alien action figure is one of the most sought after toys on the collector's market. Most examples are missing some parts, most often the dome, sometimes the inner jaws, or a removable spike from its back. Even these incomplete figures sell for anywhere between $50 - $75. A figure without all these missing parts will run you a few hundred dollars. But find one in the box and you're looking at anywhere between $500 - $1,000.
Thanks to the disaster of the 18" alien, Kenner wisely scrapped plans for a line of 3 3/4" Alien action figures before they were released. However, a handful of prototype models of the creature and some of the crew of the Nostromo spaceship were made and have become legendary among the toy collecting community.
Cozy Up With Krueger
"¨The doll, produced in 1989 by Matchbox, had a pull string on his back that made him screech such phrases as "Pleasant dreams!" and "Let's be friends!" Set to be released in time for Halloween, retailers received boycott threats from concerned parents following the lead of Reverend Donald Wildmon and his American Family Association, a watchdog group well-known for boycotting TV shows it found offensive. Bowing to the pressure, Matchbox stopped production of the doll, though plenty were still sold before the ban went into effect.
Freddy was just part of the kid-ification of many violent films from the 1980s. In the 80s and 90s, action figures aimed squarely at children were released based on such R-rated fare as Robocop, Rambo, The Toxic Avenger, The Terminator, Predator, Aliens, and later, Aliens vs. Predator.
Most of these figures were tie-ins for cartoon shows that toned down the violence from the original source material, or had simply become such a mainstay in our pop culture as to be deemed "safe" by parents.
A special thanks to Justin from WeirdoToys.com for additional research material.