Man, the 80s were awesome! And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I miss them. It was not only a decade that birthed some of the best movies, music, and video games in pop culture history, but also a time responsible for some of the coolest action figures to ever land at retail.
In fact, most of the toys to come out of this era are still held in the highest regard by fans and have gone on to become some of the most sought-after brands by collectors. And, when you consider this was the decade that gave us everyone from Megatron to Mumm-Ra, it’s pretty easy to see why that is.
What follows now is a look at the best action figures, or action figure lines, to come out of the 1980s.
Yes, they’ve all been thoroughly researched, but I’d be lying if I said each entry on this list wasn’t also influenced by a rather heaping helping of nostalgia. Hey, what can I say? 80s toys were the best! In any case, please enjoy this look back at
The 10 Best Action Figures From The 80s
Arriving on store shelves from LJN in 1985, ThunderCats toys were released in syndication with the animated series of the same name and quickly became one of the most popular toy lines of the decade.
Easily one of the most unique collections of the day, the toys were popularized for their original molds and special Battle-Matic action features, which ramped up the playability.
Most of the characters seen in the show made up largely of various catlike humanoid aliens, would get their own action figure by the time things ended in 1989.
LJN would also expand the line to include several different vehicles, playsets, a child-sized Sword Of Omens, and even a plush Snarf doll.
Launched in 1988 by Tyco alongside a short-lived animated series, The Dino-Riders franchise focuses on the battle between the heroic Valorians and the evil Rulon Alliance on prehistoric Earth.
Four different waves were released between 1988 and 1990, each featuring a range of highly detailed dinosaur figures that could be upgraded with a host of different armaments ranging from missile launchers to communications arrays. Several of the larger dinosaurs even featured motorized walking action.
Interestingly enough, the dinosaurs were so impressive that the Smithsonian would end up contacting Tyco to reproduce them (without the weapons or motorized features) for their Dinosaurs And Other Prehistoric Reptiles collection – which ran well into the following decade.
Pioneered by Kenner in 1985, this fantastic line of toys centered on the fight between the heroic task force known as M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armoured Strike Kommand) and the vile terrorist organization V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem).
A combination of G.I. Joe and Transformers, Kenner’s line capitalized on the rising themes of action features and transformation within the action figure market by giving kids and consumers a near-perfect amalgam of both human characters and a selection of transforming vehicles.
The toys were scaled for two-inch figures and featured both high build quality and solid spring-loaded auto-transformation gimmicks that have continued to make them a favorite among collectors almost forty years later.
The Real Ghostbusters
Landing at retail from Kenner in 1986, The Real Ghostbusters toys were based upon the animated series of the same name and saw subsequent releases up to 1991.
Popularized for its gimmicky toys and use of slime, The Real Ghostbusters line was a huge success – and better received than anything that came out of the sequels up to that time!
As with most brands to come out of this era, these toys have gone on to see a sizable resurgence in popularity. So much so that, beginning in 2020, Hasbro would begin releasing numerous reissues of the original toys – including the ever-popular Ecto-1 and the Fearsome Flush toilet monster to name but a few.
Based on the early 80s hit anime series Beast GoLion, Bandai’s Voltron line featured one of the coolest gimmicks of the day – taking the smaller lion mechs and combining them into a massive, sword-wielding robot!
Each lion featured its own unique color and diecast metal components that made them some of the best quality toys on the market at that time.
Sadly, the better build quality also meant that the Voltron toys came with a much heftier sticker price. Thus, few kids were able to finish building the line’s namesake bot back in the day.
Still, if you wanted real bang for your buck in your 80s toys, something that would continue to last despite the passage of time with minimal wear and tear, then this was the line for you!
Originally launched in 1978, Kenner’s Star Wars line was a hit that not only revolutionized the toy industry overnight but set the stage for the future of play for years to come.
Forcing the competition to adapt or parish, Star Wars entered the 80s with successful follow-up lines of 3.75” figures based off of both The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi – which in turn introduced a grab bag full of popular characters ranging from Boba Fett to the crimson-clad Royal Guard.
Additionally, animated shows like Star Wars: Droids and Star Wars: Ewoks would also get some love at the toy store during this time.
Come the latter half of the decade, Kenner would pull the plug on Star Wars for a time, but it would not be long before the brand made its triumphant return and quickly became one of the hottest-selling action figure lines the world over once again!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Featuring strong sculpts, crazy designs, awesome action features, killer playsets and plenty of variants, Playmates’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles assortment took everything that was great about 80s toys and successfully combined them into a single brand that is still going strong today!
Add to this the fact that the pizza-loving Heroes In A Half Shell took their dominance at the toy store and expanded it to include every major form of media available at the time, and you’ve got an assortment of action figures that are a must-own for fans of this long-gone decade.
Yes, Turtlemania is a very real thing – and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon!
Masters Of The Universe
Launched by Mattel in 1981, Masters Of The Universe introduced kids to the heroic He-Man, the sadistic Skeletor, and the fascinating world of Eternia.
Released alongside a popular Filmation cartoon and comic book series, Masters Of The Universe was a top seller for most of the decade that would eventually go on to get a spinoff series in She-Ra: Princess Of Power beginning in 1985.
Goofy names aside, Mattel struck gold with Masters Of The Universe thanks to its colorful characters, inventive vehicles, and one of the coolest playsets to ever land at retail – Castle Grayskull! I Have The Power, indeed!
Backed by a hugely popular cartoon series, strong comic book series, and the unique gimmick of offering kids two toys for the price of one, Transformers were a massive hit when they arrived at stores across the world in 1984.
Featuring a call sheet of beloved characters ranging from Optimus Prime to Iron Hide, the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons continues to rage across the cosmos even to this day – this thanks in no small part to some pretty impressive advancements in engineering and a series of blockbuster movies courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
I guess Stan Bush was right after all. The Transformers really did have the power – to keep their brand going strong for close to forty years! And, like the Ninja Turtles mentioned above, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.
Relaunched by Hasbro to capitalize on the patriotism sweeping North America at that time, the refreshed G.I. Joe line was backed by some pretty strong lore courtesy of both a popular cartoon and comic book that quickly made it one of the hottest-selling toys of the decade.
Featuring some of the coolest characters in pop culture history, as well as a strong assortment of vehicles and playsets bristling with action features and names that evoked excitement,
G.I. Joe has now become the most widely collected 80s action figure line in history – one that, like everything else on this list, is currently enjoying a strong resurgence in popularity thanks to new action figures sold in varying shapes and sizes that allow collectors of all ages to take the fight to Cobra in any way they see fit!