Collectively, the 1980s was a very special decade for toys. It was the decade that video games exploded in popularity; so too did action figures. There had been video games in the late 1970s and Mego and Kenner both had notable action figure lines in the 1970s, but the ’80s saw a boom in personal gaming systems and a massive influx in the amount of specialized action figures, with the most famous examples being G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Transformers and Thundercats.
The large booms in each of these fields have led to a highly developed collectibles market in recent years for the rarest toys from this era, as the 10-year-olds from 1985 are now in their 40s with money to spend on the nostalgia of their youth. With the way that the toy market works, there’s no way to come up with a definitive list of the most expensive toys from the 1980s, since every day a new toy from the decade is being auctioned off, but we can spotlight some of the most notable toys that sell for over $1000. Note that we’re only talking toys that you could have realistically been able to purchase back in the 1980s. So no prototypes or “need to collect X amount of tags to send away for it” toys. These were all toys that were available for a regular person to buy in the 1980s and are now worth a lot of money.
20. TEDDY RUXPIN
Nowadays, with free video games on mobile phones having better graphics than classic video games that cost 50 bucks 35 years ago, it is hard to remember how easy it is for something to look high tech just through simple robotic movements. That’s what Worlds of Wonder proved when it debuted Teddy Ruxpin in 1985. Working with a couple of servos inside the bear, a cassette tape made it seem like Teddy is telling kids one of any number of stories about the hi-jinx Teddy and his friends got into. It became a huge sensation.
In fact, it was one of the best-selling toys of the 1980s. However, three years after the toy debuted, Worlds of Wonder went out of business and Teddy Ruxpin has been sold and re-sold to numerous companies in the years since. The original Worlds of Wonder 1985 Teddy Ruxpin (along with Grubby, a bear connected to Ruxpin) unopened and mint can sell for roughly $1,000.
19. NINTENDO CONSOLE
While home video game systems had obviously existed before Nintendo, the Nintendo Entertainment System changed everything. Released in New York in 1985 (and then the rest of the country in 1986 and 1987), it revived the video game market (which was viewed by many in the United States as possibly just being a fad circa 1983) and has made Nintendo one of the most famous brands in the world.
These were so mass-produced that it is shocking you can still see people sell them (and original Game Boy, Nintendo’s pocket video game system, that debuted a few years later) for over $1,000 mint in the box, but they are so popular that the demand is still very high, creating a robust back market for the original console.
18. OPTIMUS PRIME
In general, the way action figures work on the back market is that the most popular figures are rarely the ones that are worth the most. This is because the most popular figures are produced in the highest numbers and they go through multiple series, making the original series slightly less of a big deal. For instance, Snake-Eyes is the most iconic G.I. Joe toy and he is worth a lot, but not some huge premium (a little over $1,000 at most).
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Optimus Prime, however, only had a single release in the original Transformers line. This is because he was a much more complicated figure than others. So, while there were other versions of the figure made, only one series had the original. That is why unopened, mint in box versions of the figure (that are officially graded) are worth more than $10,000.
17. BANDAI STADIUM EVENTS VIDEO GAME
Stadium Events was a sports fitness video game designed by Bandai to be used as part of Nintentdo’s then “Family Fun Fitness” series that had a mat that would connect to the games. However, soon after the game was released, Nintendo recalled the game and re-branded everything, even the mat (now it was the “Power Mat”).
Due to this recall, the original production of the video game is one of the rarest and most valuable Nintendo video games, and thus it has built up a large amount of cachet in the video game community. Since it has taken on a sort of mythical status, when original copies are placed up for sale, they go for crazy amounts of money, often at least $13,000. At least one seems to have sold for over $30,000, but that seems like an outlier.
16. G.I. JOE MOTORIZED BATTLE TANK
As noted, the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero action figures, while certainly reaching high values (once graded and mint unsealed), sold so well (and went through so many series) that they tend not to be worth quite as much as you would expect for such a popular series of toys. Therefore, the true rare G.I. Joe toys are the vehicles.
Especially the motorized battle tank, which was released with the original 1982 line of figures (it came with Steeler). The toys were quickly improved by changing the figures so that they could bend their arms. The Steeler that came with the toy also had his arm changed. Therefore, a mint in box version of the original Motorized Battle Tank (with a straight arm Steeler), is worth well over $1,000.
15. RED SEA CROSSING VIDEO GAME
This is a very tricky one in terms of our rule about being available for people to purchase back in the day. This is about as close as you come to just being a prototype, but an independent Atari game developer sold Red Sea Crossing, a game about Moses, through a small company called Inspirational Video Concepts.
It was only sold through mail order and the only advertisement that it ever did was just in one issue of a religious magazine, Christianity Today, back in 1983. So far, only two copies are known to be in existence (although there likely are more out there…somewhere). They each sold for over $7,000 — naturally, the first one up for sale sold for more before we learned that there was a second one out there.
14. SISE FROMM
During the 1980s, after The Return of the Jedi was released, Lucasfilm still wanted some sort of product out there to help keep the Star Wars brand in the limelight. However, the two cartoon series that it launched, Droids and Ewoks, did not work out that well. The Ewoks lasted just two seasons and Droids did not even last that long.
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When producers thought that the shows were going to be hits, they also developed a toy line. However, Droids‘ toy line was never fully released in the United States (one of the toys from the later series was released in Brazil, but we’re not counting toys released outside the United States for this list). Therefore, the most surprisingly expensive toy from the line was the villain from the series, Sise Fromm. It goes for about $1,000 just mint and not even graded!
13. ETERNIA PLAYSET
Masters of the Universe was one of the most successful toy lines of the 1980s. It seemed like they could toss a different head on to a He-Man body and say, “Ta da! New figure! Let’s call him, I dunno, Snout-Spout? Is that a thing? Yeah, let’s go with Snout Spout” and you would sell thousands. Things were going so well that Mattel sold an absolutely insane play set based on the fictional land of Eternia.
It came with three towers and was massive. It was so big that the company barely made any of them. It also came out towards the end of the series, when great figures like Snout-Spout suddenly weren’t selling as well as the earlier toys in the series. So it is extremely rare, which is why a sealed copy has sold for more than $10,000!
12. BIRTHDAY MANIA
Much like the Red Sea Crossing, Birthday Mania was a video game that was developed by Anthony Tokar in 1984 that was only offered up for mail order. It was only advertised in the pages of the Newark Star Ledger. Tokar would personalize the game for whomever purchased it.
The gameplay would include typical birthday stuff, like blowing out the candles, which was apparently something developers thought people wanted to experience digitally. It came out in the middle of the video game crash of the early 1980s, though, so it barely sold a dozen copies. Now, decades later, whenever copies go up for sale, people freak out and they often sell well into the thousands of dollars. It is unclear how many copies actually exist in the world today.
11. HE-MAN AND BATTLE CAT TWO-PACK
As noted, when it comes to the production of Masters of the Universe figures, they were famous for just re-using other figures. So you would just mix and match the torsos and arms from various figures to make new figures (with the heads typically being the only things that were unique to each figure). However, early on, they were even crazier than that.
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When it came to He-Man’s steed, Battlecat, they essentially just looked through unrelated Mattel toy lines to find an animal big enough that could fit He-Man so that he could ride it. They found a panther figure and they painted it, threw some armor on it and there you had Battle Cat. They were sold separately normally but then they were also sold in a rare two-pack that now sells for well over $4,000 graded in mint condition.
10. MOLLY FROM AMERICAN GIRLS
One of the most acclaimed series of dolls is the American Girl collection, which debuted in 1986. The dolls were originally produced by an independent company called Pleasant Company (created by an educator named Pleasant Rowland) that decided to sell historically-inspired dolls for kids; they came with books and all sorts of accessories.
In the late 1990s, Rowland sold the company to Mattel for $700 million. Most of the girls in the line were eventually “retired,” with them being replaced by new characters for the current series of dolls. Therefore, a number of the original girls in the line are worth a ton of money. Molly McIntire, one of the handful of characters from World War II, recently sold with all of her accessories for over $1,000.
9. BOBA FETT (DROIDS)
The concept of the TV series, Droids, is that it tells the adventures of C3PO and R2-D2 between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. These were years when no one knew precisely what went on with the characters, so the show had a lot of freedom to tell whatever kind of stories it felt like telling.
As a result, though, setting it before A New Hope also gave producers the opportunity to work in a classic Star Wars character from the films into the series — they were able to use Boba Fett on the show! Yes, the super cool bounty hunter who barely appeared in the actual films actually made as many animated appearances! He showed up twice: his introduction in the Holiday Special and his appearance on Droids, which is just as many appearances as he had in live action. He naturally got a figure, which goes for well over $1,000 today.
8. STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE BERRY HAPPY HOME DOLL HOUSE
Like the aforementioned Eternia play set, the Berry Happy Home doll house, which was released as part of the Strawberry Shortcake toy line, was a massive doll house that retailed for about $125 back in 1983. So it was a very pricey, very large doll house that was packed to the brim with all sorts of cool Strawberry Shortcake-related materials.
It came with various furniture packages depending on which version of the doll house that you bought (a basic one, a deluxe one, etc.). Here’s the real kicker, though: even the deluxe one did not come with all of the furniture sets included. It was designed so that you would inherently have to purchase an additional furniture set if you wanted to complete the house. In any event, its size made it a rarity and today a mint in-box deluxe version sells for over $1,000.
7. U.S.S. FLAGG
An interesting thing about the secondary action figure market is that very often, there are certain price points that lots of different toys come in at. For instance, most of the general graded mint Transformers figures sell for roughly $2,000. Similarly, a lot of toys sell for roughly $1,000, as it seems like people have come up with that price point as being roughly what people would be willing to pay for a rare collectible (and thus, only the really rare stuff goes for much more).
A toy that is very similar to the Berry Happy Home doll house and the Eternia play set was the U.S.S. Flagg, the giant G.I. Joe aircraft carrier that originally sold for $90 back in 1986 and was discontinued the following year. Nowadays, a mint in-box Flagg will run about, you guessed it, $1,000.
6. SHE-RA AND SWIFT-WIND TWO-PACK
After Masters of the Universe kept setting new sales records with the toy line and the cartoon series kept going strong, Mattel decided to cut a deal with Filmation, the studio behind He-Man. Mattel would finance a second line of toys geared towards little girls and Filmation would make a new cartoon series (again, paid for by Mattel) that would come up with the backgrounds and the set-ups for the toy line.
That was how She-Ra, Princess of Power was born. Presumably, her flying horse, Swift Wind, was actually custom made for the line and not a sort of afterthought, similar to its equal number, Battle Cat. Like He-Man, She-Ra and Swift Wind were sold together in a two-pack that typically sells for over $2,000 in mint condition.
5. AIR RAID VIDEO GAME
Up until now, the video games on this list that ended up being rarities were almost inherent rarities. In other words, there was one game that was recalled (thus making the initial release rare) and there were two games that were made by small independent game developers and sold through the mail. That is what makes Air Raid such a confusing game.
It was developed by Men-A-Vision as a legit release. It was a shooting game, similar to many games of its kind. However, it did not sell well at all. Men-A-Vision ended up only making the one game. Thus, it is extremely rare. However, it is rare for normal reasons (no one bought it) as opposed to artificial limitations. An original copy of the game recently sold for over $20,000.
When it comes to designing toys, there is sometimes a need for there to be a sort of “Council of Common Sense” who would help determine whether an idea has merit or if its merits are outweighed by common sense. Building a Transformer that turns into a realistic looking toy gun that shoots out real pellets? That’s not a smart plan.
In the United States, the gun that Megatron transformed into could not fire, but it still ended up looking so realistic that it was only a matter of time before the figure would be recalled and revamped to look less like a real gun. That original version of the toy, however, is still rare enough that it sold recently (graded mint in package) for over $4,000.
3. ULTRAVISION KARATE
In 1982, press releases were sent out for a new Atari game by Ultravision; a Karate game that was allegedly by Joseph Amelio, a black belt in Karate. According to the press from the time, Amelio designed the game with his expertise involved so that it would be one of the most authentic karate games around. Of course, such claims are pretty dubious considering the types of games being produced at the time when everyone pretty much looked like a blob, no matter what game you were playing.
A few years later, Karate was re-released by Froggo and it became reasonably popular (even though the game play has not been reviewed well over the years) until they ultimately stopped producing it. The original Ultravision version of the game has become a highly sought-after collectible, worth well into the thousands.
2. THUNDERWINGS LION-O
Something that most of these toy lines have in common is that when things fall apart, they fall apart fast. The Masters of the Universe toy line dropped to 5% of its previous sales in a single year! That was why the last few He-Man and Skeletor figures were not even sold in the United States. Other lines had similar things happen to them; they never bothered with the last series of toys in the United States once sales cratered.
Even when the final series did come out, they’re often produced in such small amounts that they become super valuable later. That was the case with Thunderwings Lion-O (part of the final Thundercats series of toys), an attempt at doing a new version of the toys to kickstart interest. A loose figure recently sold for nearly $500, making a graded mint in box version worth well over $1,000.
1. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK WELL OF SOULS PLAYSET
Nowadays, toy lines are often announced months in advance of the films that they are being released to tie into. However, in the early 1980s, it was often a bit unclear whether certain films would even have toy tie-ins. Star Wars figures didn’t manage to be released in time for Christmas 1977 despite the film being released in May 1977.
That, though, was far better than Raiders of the Lost Ark, which did not get a toy tie-in line until two years after the film was released in 1980! Kenner got the license, as well, and the line was not a huge seller and as a result, the play sets for the toy line, like the Well of Souls, are very valuable. A graded mint in box recently sold for over $2,000.
Do you have any of these toys hidden away in your closet? Check out these hot toys you could afford with the sales profit!
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