by James Hunt
For toy collectors, no item is more desirable than an unreleased prototype. While plenty of toys never get made, those that stop at the prototype stage attain a near-mythical status: They're important parts of cultural history that are effectively impossible to get ahold of.
Of course, you don't have to be a collector to be intrigued by the toys that never quite made it. To help you imagine what your toybox could have looked like, we've picked out some of the most interesting action figures that, for one reason or another, never got made.
1. THE DARK CRYSTAL ACTION FIGURES
Though it's a well-regarded cult favorite these days, The Dark Crystal underperformed when it was released in 1982, leading the Aviva Toy Company to cancel a planned line of action figures. Of the nine figures prototyped, six of them—Jen, Kira, a Happy Pod Peasant, a Slave Pod Peasant, Aughra, and Skeksis—would have come with accessories including a different piece of the Dark Crystal each. The other three —a Landstrider, Mystic, and Garthim—were larger and came without accessories.
But this tale does have a happy ending: In 2016, toy manufacturer Funko announced plans to put some Dark Crystal action figures into production as part of its retro-inspired "re-action" line. It might have taken 32 years, but fans of the movie can finally get their Dark Crystal toys.
2. AND 3. TRANSFORMERS UNICRON (1986) AND TRANSFORMERS UNICRON (1999)
The planet-eating robot Unicron has been a fan favorite nemesis of the Autobots ever since he was first seen in 1986's Transformers: The Movie. Despite that fact, it took over 15 years for a toy release—though not through lack of trying.
At a foot tall, the first attempt at a Unicron toy—Hasbro's blue-gray and yellow prototype—would have been the tallest Transformer of its era; it contained a voice chip and voice-altering microphone. Hasbro's partners at the Japanese company Takara also made a smaller version based on the same mold, which had a "moon system" accessory and a darker green-and-yellow color scheme. But despite the success of the line, neither company put the toy into production, likely because the expense would have been prohibitive.
After that, the idea of making a Unicron toy didn't disappear forever. Takara prototyped an entirely new version of Unicron in 1999, intended for inclusion in the Beast Wars Neo toy line. The character had featured prominently in this Japan-exclusive cartoon series, and a full-size resin prototype with huge levels of detail and a number of gimmicks was made—but again, costs got in the way of production. Despite the character's popularity, it took until 2003 for Unicron to receive an official toy release as part of the Transformers: Armada line.
4. STAR WARS ROCKET-FIRING BOBA FETT (1980)
It was long rumored that initial versions of mail-away exclusive bounty hunter Boba Fett had a missile on his back that fired, while later versions had the missile glued in place due to safety concerns—but for years, the very existence of the firing missile version of the toy was disputed. Kenner, the manufacturer of the Star Wars action figures, officially denied that it was ever released, and some fans even argued that the firing rocket was a collective false memory originating in fanciful childhood recollection.
The truth is that the rocket was advertised as firing, but the actual released version always had it glued in place, making the firing rocket prototype incredibly desirable. Less than a dozen complete examples exist, and they rarely change hands. The figure's desirability led to the issue of a similar version in 2010 which, like the original, was only available through a mail-away offer. The original is now one of the most valued Star Wars toys; one sold for $16,000 in 2003.
5. CENTURIONS SERIES II FIGURES (1987)
Centurions was a surprisingly successful cartoon with 65 episodes produced throughout 1986. But its toy line wasn't a strong seller. This meant that plans to base figures on some of the show's later characters, like Rex Charger and John Thunder, were never realized. Prototype figures were created showing Rex Charger with his Electro Charger and Gatling Guard vehicle add-ons, while John Thunder got his Silent Arrow and Thunder Knife suits. The line would have also included additional weapons systems for the original trio of Ace McCloud, Jake Rockwell, and Max Ray, but with the cartoon over and existing toys warming shelves, the second line was canceled.
6. STAR TREK TNG BRIDGE PLAYSET (1989)
The first company to obtain a license for Star Trek: TNG toys was Galoob (best known for Micro Machines). They only produced a single year's worth of toys before things went south. Prototypes for the second year included a flying Frisbee-style Enterprise and Tricorder Walkie Talkies, and the Enterprise D Bridge playset.
Shaped vaguely like the Enterprise D, the playset had space for several figures on a miniature bridge set housed inside the saucer section, while a transporter platform was integrated into the ship's "neck." Although it was advertised on the back of a number of released TNG figures, a lukewarm response from retailers and the poor sales of the initial line led to the canceling of the license and ensured that the playset never got made.
7. WATCHMEN 15TH ANNIVERSARY FIGURES (2001)
In 2001, DC Direct intended to release a series of action figures to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Watchmen, the best-selling graphic novel of all time. But frosty relations with the book's creators—including the famously principled Alan Moore—meant the line was never seen outside of a few prototypes shown off at various toy fairs. DC ended up canceling the project to avoid upsetting Moore any further. Of course, the Watchmen movie later came with a host of action figures based on the characters—not because DC had repaired relations with Moore, but because they were marketed specifically as movie action figures. According to the site Comic Book Bin, "Moore does not want to be associated at all with the film or claim any royalties due and thus would have no artistic moral copyrights over any merchandise related to the Watchmen film."