From Screen to Toybox: A Brief History of Sci-Fi Toys


Star Trek
As the biggest Sci-Fi franchise in the history of TV and film, it isn’t surprising that Star Trek has received the most licensed toy lines. Good old Mego started the ball rolling in 1975, cashing in on the cult status of the original series that was enjoying TV re-runs despite being cancelled in 1969. The most popular figures were the aliens, which was rather ironic considering many bore little resemblance to their TV counterparts. With the release of The Motion Picture in 1979, Mego launched a new range of figures that were the same size as the Star Wars line. The human figures looked very similar to the actors that portrayed them, but were shipped with no accessories, leaving them woefully unequipped for the inevitable ‘Trek vs Wars’ battles that were to ensue! A second wave was released featuring aliens that didn’t even appear in the movie, but overall this range was another flop for Mego.

Mego's Star Trek figures from the mid 70's

Mego’s Star Trek figures from the mid 70’s


Ertl was the next company to issue Star Trek figures with a short-lived range based on the third movie in 1983. All was quiet for five years after this until the launch of the Next Generation TV series. The action figure license initially went to Galoob, who produced a reasonably successful range of 4-inch figures containing a mixture of human and alien characters. The toys were to really take off however when Playmates took over the license in 1992. Their series of 4.5” figures were aimed squarely at the collector’s market, with exquisitely detailed figures packaged with trading cards, limited edition repaints and store exclusives becoming the hallmarks of their range. The sad outcome of this is that many figures remain sealed in their packaging to this day, never having the chance to fulfil their destiny of being played with by children.

The Playmates Star Trek range was designed with collectors in mind

The Playmates Star Trek range was designed with collectors in mind


Die-cast Toys
Although the action figure ranges are most memorable, many other types of toy were released to milk the popularity of Sci-Fi films and TV shows. A popular choice was to create die-cast models based on the many iconic spaceships and vehicles. Dinky were pioneers with a selection of detailed models from the Gerry Anderson series’ including Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, U.F.O. and Space:1999. They also produced some impressive replica Star Trek spacecraft including a U.S.S. Enterprise that fired plastic photon torpedoes.

A selection of Dinky die-cast toys based on famous Sci-Fi vehicles

A selection of Dinky die-cast toys based on famous Sci-Fi vehicles


Corgi followed suit with versions of Buck Rogers’ Starfighter and the Liberator from Blake’s 7, while Ertl released four vehicles from Blade Runner, the only toys to be licensed from that film. Both Corgi and Ertl also issued Star Trek ships in the early 80’s. Not to be outdone, Kenner produced a nice selection of Star Wars die-cast toys, including all the popular spaceships and the only opportunity to get a toy based on the TIE Bomber from The Empire Strikes Back.

Ertl's die-cast Blade Runner vehicles

Ertl’s die-cast Blade Runner vehicles


And the rest…
Believe it or not, we’ve barely scratched the surface of licensed Sci-Fi toys. Maybe you remember the transparent, glow in the dark Tron figures, or LJN’s range of 6-inch figures from David Lynch’s Dune? How about the Centurions (“Power Extreme!”) with their bolt-on power suits, or Bandai’s series of toys based on Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks? Then there was the Buck Rogers line (another Mego failure) and the UK-only range based on the short-lived Automan TV series, which featured just one figure! And there were not one but two Robocop collections at the dawn of the 90’s, neither of which left a lasting impression.


The success of these licensed toys seems to depend on the popularity of the source material and the quality of the products themselves. But whether they have been successful or not, the last 40 years have taught us one thing – if there is a big budget Sci-Fi movie or TV series in production, a licensed toy range will not be far behind!


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