For most of us who played with any of the mass-produced toy lines of the 1980s, our appetite for bigger and better toys was curbed by two things — limited space and limited (parental) money. Working with those restraints we scooped up as many G.I. Joe, Transformers, or He-Man action figures, vehicles, and modestly priced playsets as we could get. And that would just have to be good enough.
But we all knew that kid. The one whose parents saw fit to buy him or her anything and everything they wanted. The one for whom neither room nor funds was an issue. Through them we discovered new feelings like jealousy and despair. If you had a really cool astronaut action figure, Johnny had the 1/20th scale space station powered by a miniature fusion reactor. If you had the hottest new doll on the market, Laura had the giant dollhouse that only sold in Japan and actually hooked into the city water supply. Little fuckers, the lot of them.
Where was I? Oh yeah. So here’s a list of “holy grail” toys that helped convince a generation of kids that maybe their parents didn’t love them quite as much as they should have.
#5. Crystal Castle/Crystal Falls (She-Ra: Princess of Power)
Don’t worry, I’m not going to forget the ladies as so many other lists like this do.
If you were a girl in the ’80s and didn’t go for any of that Barbie or dollhouse jazz, there were few toys out there that afforded an experience like the boys got. So if you wanted toys that seemed a little more tough, your best bet was She-Ra: Princess of Power. And within that universe, there were two excellent playsets — Crystal Castle and Crystal Falls, the latter of which was the more original.
While Crystal Castle was quite cool, it was definitely an imitation of He-Man’s Castle Grayskull. Crystal Falls, on the other hand, was a whole new ballgame. Sure neither of them appealed to me, but I know there are a lot of women who appreciated the effort from Mattel.
#4. Eternia (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)
I never really bought into the He-Man hype back in the ’80s. I watched the shitty Filmation cartoon pretty regularly but collected a grand total of four or five action figures. But still, how could you not love the plastic colossus that was the Eternia playset — the largest He-Man toy Mattel produced? It was made up of three towers connected by a motorized monorail/cable car, proving that even a war-ravaged planet has a better mass transit system than most U.S. cities. Then again it also had a plenty of prison space, so maybe they’re not so progressive after all.
Not only is Eternia huge and expensive, it’s also pretty rare. I didn’t even know this thing existed until recently. Either way, in terms of sheer size and complexity it puts smaller sets like Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain to shame, and as a bonus it looks like a scale model of Epcot as designed by Charles Manson.
You can still find used Eternia playsets out in the wild, just be prepared to drop upwards of four figures on one.
#3. Fortress Maximus (Transformers)
For a quarter century, Fortress Maximus held the distinction of being the largest Transformers toy ever produced. I’ll admit that by the time it came out in 1987 — as part of the new Headmasters line — my interest in Transformers was waning. You can blame a little device called the Nintendo Entertainment System for that.
Fortress Maximus (subtle name, by the way, Hasbro) stood at 22 inches high in robot mode, more than twice the height of a typical Generation 1 Transformers specimen, and retailed for around $100. Its other two modes were rolling battle station and city, which is why this Autobot’s code name was “Detroit.”
#2. AT-AT (Star Wars)
In the early ’80s there may have been no cooler toy experience than to have one of these bad boys in a snowy backyard, as it lumbered its way though a hapless Rebel defense line. Sure, it took you and at least three of your friends to operate the thing, but man was it ever worth it. I had the Imperial Attack Base and it was alright, but this was easily the coolest toy from the coolest Star Wars movie ever.
If you’re like me and you missed out on the AT-AT the first time around, never fear! There is an up-to-date version for sale now, and it looks just as awesome as the original. No shoddy out-of-box originals on eBay for me, no sir!
(You might have been expecting to see the Millennium Falcon on this list but the original version came out in 1979, and was the same as the one released to coincide with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, so it’s disqualified.)
#1. U.S.S. Flagg Aircraft Carrier (G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero)
Jesus, look at this thing.
Released in 1985, the U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier was slightly smaller than the average Japanese import car of its time. It retailed for $89.99, weighed almost 40 pounds, and measured seven-and-a-half feet long. This thing wasn’t just big, it was fucking huge. So huge that it couldn’t even fit on one page of the Sears catalog.
You don’t show this off to your friends so much as you give walking tours. I knew exactly one kid who had this beast, and it was kept in his parents’ unfinished basement. I think they had to remove the furnace to make room for it but hey, freedom isn’t free you know.