Flash back to 5 best toys of the '80s

By Robert Elsenpeter, Contributing writer
Published On: Oct 24 2011 02:44:38 PM EDT
Updated On: May 29 2012 02:00:00 AM EDT
He-Man action figures on blue background

Mattel Image

Depending on your choice of terminology, the '80s were either "awesome", "radical", or "gnarly." Of course, it needn't be an all or nothing thing -- the decade could easily be described as all three things.

And one of the best things about growing up in the '80s, to quote the Joker from 1989's "Batman," were "All those wonderful toys."

Sure, the '70s gave us such great playthings as Stretch Armstrong and the Big Wheel, but stuff really got exciting in the 1980s. Toys became so much more than the one-note Lincoln Logs, Tiddlywinks, or any of those other crummy toys our parents were raised on.

Let's take a look at some of the decade's toy awesomeness, and we'll start with the biggest dog the decade is proud to call its own ...

Rubik's Cube in man's hands

No. 5: Rubik's Cube

You could ask anyone what a Weeble or Hippity Hop are, and some might know the answer, but most wouldn't. That's not the case with a Rubik's Cube.

Everyone knows (and has likely owned) a Rubik's Cube. The six-color puzzle was created by Hungarian mathematician Erno Rubik and took the world by storm in 1980.

The cube's sides were twisted to mix up the colors, and then you had to figure out how to rotate the sides to unscramble them. The thing was tough to figure out, but it was easily solved if you knew the secret trick, and here it is: Simply peel off the stickers and then put them back on the correct sides.

That wasn't so tough now, was it?

While Rubik's Cube was a solitary game, there were other toys that you could enjoy either by yourself or with your friends ...

GI Joe action figures

No. 4: Action figures

Action figures had been around since the 1960s, but had not achieved their peak popularity.

The first action figures that really launched the genre -- and it should come as no surprise -- were the 3-¾-inch Star Wars action figures, introduced by Kenner in 1978. And it turned out that the furious popularity of Star Wars action figures had primed the action figure pump.

By the '80s, there were plenty of franchises cranking out their own action figures of the same size.

G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, Batman (in a plethora of different costumes), and He-Man. Thought you had them all? Just watch an '80s Saturday morning cartoon, and they would unabashedly remind you which new ones you needed to convince your parents to buy.

Action figures usually didn't do much more than hold toy guys, but some action figures took a unique twist (literally) on the genre ...

Optimus Prime Transformers anniversary toy

No. 3: Transformers

Whoever thought up Transformers were either geniuses or evil masterminds. These were action figures that could be turned into a car, airplane, boom box (what? A boom box?), whatever, just by flipping and rotating different sections of the Transformer.

And it wasn't enough to simply have the Transformers change into one thing or another. They came complete with a back story that explained how malevolent Transformers faced off against the heroic Transformers, in some epic tale of good vs. evil.

Many times, however, you were stymied by the Transformer and couldn't figure the thing out. As a result, you wound up with a third type of Transformer -- one that was halfway converted between a robot and a car -- and that's how a lot of them existed, in a partially converted state.

As you can assume, action figures and Transformers were popular with boys, but the girls weren't left out ...

Care Bear toys

No. 2: The Care Bears

If you had a little sister, chances are there were about a dozen of these things lined up on her bed.

Care Bears had symbols on their tummies that correlated to their name and its particular way of "caring." For instance, Cheer Bear had a rainbow on its stomach, while Wish Bear sported a shooting star.

The line started with 10 original Care Bears: Bedtime Bear, Birthday Bear, Cheer Bear, Friend Bear, Funshine Bear, Good Luck Bear, Grumpy Bear, Love-A-Lot Bear, Tenderheart Bear and Wish Bear. After a while, more bears were added, as well as their "Cousins" that included lions, rabbits, and dogs.

And, because it was the '80s, all it took was a little fame for the Care Bears to spawn their own TV show.

The '80s saw an increase in electronics toys, and by decade's end we had peaked ...

Nintendo Gameboy closeup

No. 1: Nintendo Gameboy

Thank God for beginning and end dates. That allows us to include Nintendo's Gameboy on this list. It was introduced in the last half of 1989, but kept chugging along in popularity well into the '90s.

Until the Gameboy came out, most handheld games played just a single game -- table tennis, baseball, football, you name it. Gameboy wasn't the first handheld device with games you could swap out, but it did popularize the cartridge format in a handheld device. It had a black and white screen, but that was still high tech for the times.

The thing was awesome. And helping add to its popularity was a surprisingly simple -- albeit addicting -- game by the name of Tetris. Tetris did more to accelerate the device's popularity than the sheer coolness of it, itself.

That's it for our list of the top toys of the '80s. Now head on up to your attic or down to the basement and see how many of these relics you have laying around.

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