Top 10 Most Badass Awesome Action Figures of the 1980s

Sometimes I wonder if I'm just reaching that age where nostalgia kicks in.  Then I think, no, today really does suck.  As far as pop culture goes, it all pretty much ruled from the 70s to mid 90s.  In the middle is the golden period of absolute coolness in toys, the 1980s.  You're probably expecting to see Transformers in this list, but it's not going to happen.  Why?  Well, I happen toremember these toys listed here and pretty much every toy line during the 80s, so I remember what was actually cool and fun to play with.  But, I also remember which toys singled you out as the coolest kid who ever lived.  None came before you, and none will ever come after.  Everyone had Transformers, and Go-Bots were better anyway, and they came before so shut up. The following is my top ten list of the most badass motherforking action figures of the 1980s, but first, some details on the direction we'll be taking.

First, I'm only including action figures.  No castles, anything like that.  Second, I'm only including figures that were actually released.  So, even though the unfinished Unicron for the original Transformers was incredibly beast and god-slaying, it wasn't released.  Third, the qualifications for this list include a few traits.  The action figures had to be from the 1980s.  They didn't have to be popular and sold millions, they just had to exist.  Not only exist, but exist in such a way that you felt like the most awesome child in the world if you owned them.  The "badassness" of each toy here is based on their design, concept, and any function or feature that makes them forking ready to tear your balls off in reality or in theory.  Each toy will be listed with their name first, followed by the toy line in which they were based.  So, let's kick it off with a chick!

 

10. Wild One (Golden Girl)

Golden Girl and the Guardians of the Gemstone was a pretty obscure toy line from 1984, ahem, one full year before She-Ra.  She-Ra came out to compete, and naturally her association with He-Man pretty much killed Golden Girl, which is sad because they were better designed.  Anyway, the idea was simple, get little girls interested in tearing shit up instead of making it pretty.  How did Galoob do it?  They made a line of shapely women with cool names and awesome costumes.  Golden Girl figures came with nice clothes and such so girls could comb their hair before killing, in addition to a plethora of booster packs to change their looks, so it was a pretty genius combination of what girls are often expected to do and what they are expected not to do.  And get this, the shields they carried were diecast metal and you could wear them as a brooch when not engaged in slaughter.  Woah, how I wish I could go back and be born differently.  The evil chicks were pretty cool in general, but one stood out, Wild One.

Wild One's at the bottom of this list because she's not as totally insanely ready to tear you apart as the rest of the figures here and she has the least bit of innovation, the latter issue being the main reason. Why I put her here is she's one of the first attempts at capturing the imagination of little girls with destruction, plus she looks awesome if you look at the entire line or compare her to other girl action figures of the day.  Here we have the  'fierce barbarian huntress' of the group with a name that says all you need to know, this girl was built for ass-kicking. And she represents one thing, every metalhead's dream.  Look at dis gurl and say GAWD DAAAAIMMMMN.

Not only is she Nordic as listening to Blizzard Beasts on vinyl with the window open, snow and frost blowing all over it so it turns into ice and shatters, but she's sporting tribal tattoos that actually looked good before they were a fad, carries Viking equipment and has her hair in brutal, black metal pigtails that unearth our fetishes.  And look at those damn boots.  My God, girl, what kind of cheating male penises are you trampling with those?  Golden Girl was a nice attempt at creating a new market.  Sure, didn't really work, but Wild One could rip Perfuma into a pile of bloody spray of finely-scented viscera off any day, and she'd do it willingly, just for that stupid name alone.  Wild One proves action figures can be for girls, if done right, and she deserves her place here.

 

 9. Tyrannosaurus Rex (Dino Riders)

Technically this guy is a mount/vehicle, but there's a difference here, and you'll see it with one other toy later in this list.  T-Rex didn't come alone, he came with three evil figures to control his evil powers of devouring anything that came in his way, so really it's a giant action figure.  I'm not sure why this series didn't do so well, either.  Actually, yeah it's pretty obvious.  It could be the fact that kids had gotten use to the typical storyline of aliens etc., and this one was really a damn stretch, or most likely it was because the toys were so unbelievably, hate-inducingly expensive.

Kind of like the Inuhmanoids (we have one of those later in this list), if you were cool, or well, let's change that to rich, you could play with these things.  Otherwise, unless you wanted only one damn toy for Christmas, you probably didn't get too involved in Dino Riders.  The basic figures sans dinosaurs were horrible.  Plus, same good vs. evil plot, but you place all the action on dudes riding on dinosaurs and shooting the crap out of each other with lasers.  Good part?  These things were made to scale.  Bad part?  They generally just sort of sat there or really didn't do as many cool things as you'd expect, and they were a real bitch to piece together.  T-Rex is considered the cream of the crop for this line, and with good reason.  Look at this hulking power source of alien destruction...

Damn.  T-Rex gets his badass position on this list for a few reasons.  Dinosaurs, awesome, all kids love them.  T-Rex, even better, most killer dinosaur of all.  Lasers, awesome, put them on.  But not just one laser, how about a gagillion?  How about so many lasers the fossil of this beast will destroy the world when unearthed?  Not only can he eat you, but now he's armed with a ton of weapons that takes three guys to properly control so he doesn't go insane.  But that's the problem.  You couldn't exactly go insane with T-Rex while actually playing with it.  Sure, he walks and all, but there were some big problems.  First off, they ganked up the color of the actual release.  Why is he gray?  You even show the pre-production color on the damn box!  Second, for the love of...what looks like potentially dangerous, flying plastic missiles aimed for your eyes are stationary objects you need to use your imagination with.  What?  Damn it, so you mean this shit doesn't fly off to hurt people, it just sits there?  Screw that bullshit.  Bitch cost like $80 too.

 

8. T-Ray (TigerSharks)

Man, not only did Rankin/Bass rip-off Russian animation, they ruined action figures!  Well, maybe not, their toys were pretty cool, but the series around each line were admittingly ploys to sell merchandise and if you watch them today you might end up committing suicide, still never answering the question of "why did it all have to be like that?"  All the smart kids knew only The Real Ghostbusters had any semblance of plot.  Anyway, so these guys were responsible for ThunderCats, which you most likely know due to Hot Topic rebranding and hipsterdom hipsterisms, but they also did two other shows that weren't as popular.  TigerSharks was one of them.

Imagine, if you will, a group of humans accidentally arrives on a world almost entirely composed of water.  There, using their special machine or some junk, they can turn into half-human sea animals to save the inhabitants from the evil T-Ray and some pirate dude who looked like a complete idiot and was afraid of water.  I'm not making it sound worse, either, that's seriously the plot, but let's get on to the evil being in question who deserves a spot here in spite of the horrid show he was placed within, for eternity.

T-Ray was only one of two evil figures released, mainly because the toys sucked incredibly hard and the series tanked.  Usually, by moving an arm each one would change into a really half-assed looking werebeast, barely capturing the awesome possibility of an action figure with lycanthropy.  T-Ray, however, was all about masochism and sadism.  This dude didn't need to change to look scary, he just embodied it naturally.  He was sickly green, his left hand was permanently stuck in the black metal 'dragon's claw', his head looked awesome and probably would give you severe corneal abrasions, he squirted water, he had an awesome looking mask, and instead of some stupid transformation his arm would lash down so you could properly use his barbed whip.

There were a number of gimmick toys in those days that squirted water, such as Kobra Kahn, but T-Ray does it with style. Check out that mask. Coupled with his awesome S & M whip action, he looks like he belongs on the cover of a Pungent Stench album.  T-Ray is still pretty basic, though, as action figures go, so he's really only on this list because he looks cool and has some badass class. Otherwise, he's pretty typical, he just knows how to search it and work it.

 

7. Weapons Master (The Other World)

Man, what a lame name for a toy line. Really, what in the hell, that's the best you could do?  I guess, considering the bulk of the figures were built on the Oriental Trading-style rubber toy design, we couldn't have expected much.  The Other World was pretty, no make that basically absolutely stupid, and hardly anyone remembers it, let alone recalls seeing any of the figures in stores.  I have very, very vague memories and I was pretty up on this stuff as a kid.  Basically, it's another fantasy toy line that predates He-Man, but they decided to go with bendable figures for some damn reason, and the majority look like they're bootleg and have stupid names, like Froggacuda (seriously, click that link up there).

Some of the mounts were cool, and the castle had a rather spiffy look, but these toys tend to be incredibly rare today because no one bought them or they lost their bend and the inner wires got wack.  The figures are pretty collectible because of their rarity and strange charm, but you're lucky to find a crappy common with these stupid little monsters that came with them called Jip and Mog, which you'll see above with sticks or something (the little guys).  One figure, however, was cool enough to be included in this list of badassness, Weapons Master.  Ignoring the bendable thing, he's basically a werewolf or wolfwere (take your geek pick) who absolutely kicks ass.  How do I know that?  Just you take a God damn look at this (thanks to Toyfinity for the cool picture).

By all the Gods ever conceived by man they weren't lying about this guy!  Weapons Master comes packing.  That's right, that entire weapons rack with every possible glow-in-the-dark weapon form they could have envisioned came with him.  Axes, swords, shields, and a chain to tie you up as he uses each one against you until you're a pile of offal.  Weapons Master makes the list because, first off, he looks good for what he is.  A werewolf is a pretty safe creature for an evil figure, stupid design elements aside.  But, what makes this guy truly badass is his huge array of weapons.  Each usual figure in this line came packaged with at least one, but Weapons Master came with them all.  What child wouldn't love a figure packing this much plastic?  You'd be made fun of for getting basically anything else in The Other World, but Weapons Master, pff, no one would piss with you.  Too bad he's rare as hell.

6. Modulok (Masters of the Universe)

I tried to avoid it, because, let's face it, most of the He-Man toys involved some gimmick, had legs with joints that easily dry rotted over time, and all went to the same gym.  Honestly, some of them are pretty cool, like Leech, while others sound cool in theory but end up pretty stupid, like King Hiss.  What was with the aesculapius?  Great weapon you freaking idiot, are you going to write a prescription?  Also, no, Skeletor is not the one for this selection, nor is he anywhere on this list.  'Skeleton' doesn't mean badass necessarily, what does mean badass in every language in the world is Modulok.

This toy appeared in the cartoon in a form that totally blew, but it probably made the figure more cool since there was still only one true Modulok.  What makes this guy badass is, first off, his look.  He's a complete freak with two heads and multiple appendages.  Second, he came in a box with twenty-two separate body parts that could be put together any way you wanted.  Whereas most He-Man toys were built on gimmick actions and similar molds, Modulok required the creativity of the owner.  That's where this bad boy shines, it was an excellent example of a toy company doing something right for once, creating an impressive looking figure that required input on your part.  He's a little farther down the list simply because of one big problem, it was easy to lose his parts.  That, and we all were hoping the cartoon version would have at least had Chris Latta doing the voice. Moooooduuuuuuloooook!!!!!!!!

 

5. Skulk & Trancula (Sectaurs)

Wait, another mount?  Sectaurs is a little better known than some of the more obscure fantasy lines, but it still didn't last as long as He-Man.  The plot was basic as all Hell and reads like one of the worst sci-fi stories to ever grace the back page of Weird Tales before it sucked.  Really the only thing that distinguished Sectaurs from anything else was the fact that it revolved around insect-men battling on giant insects.  All of this came to exist through a science experiment for some freaking stupid reason.  Not sure why they threw in that bit, it could have stood on its own if you did the whole other planet thing.  Whatever, I guess The Other World ruined that already.

Most of the figures were pretty boring, made from the same general mold and differing really only in minor details or what they came with. Similar to He-Man gym syndrome, but without cool gimmicks.  That's how one prepares life for failure.  The basic figures were packaged with little bug buddies, but some of them (good and evil characters), came packaged in larger boxes with mounts.  Skulk was one of those.  Check this brute out before we get to the big issue here.

Now, yes, Skulk has basically the same body design as other figures, but his head's a lot different.  The good guys pretty much all looked like the same dude with minor facial changes, but Skulk was clearly his own man, I mean, he's half-tarantula.  His hands and feet were clawed, and, to top it off, he rode on a huge tarantula called Trancula (cue copyright).  By himself, Skulk is pretty cool, but he's right up there with T-Ray when it comes down to it, in fact he's worse because he doesn't whip it good.  The inclusion of Trancula, however, makes it a different story.

Not only do these guys look like they were summoned from the same gate of Hell in The Hyve, but Trancula makes best usage of the Sectaur gimmick.  Going along with stuff like the Fright Zone snake, Coleco figured they'd allow the owner of some of these to really get into the action by making the mounts puppets.  Strap them on, and your fingers become the legs.  Well, cool in theory, but all of them looked absolutely hideous, except for Trancula.  As you can see, this bad mattafakka looks pretty damn close to a tarantula (especially when your fingers move), and with Skulk on top it's the last thing you'd want to see if you were my wife, sleeping soundly as I put it up to your face and move the mouth of the beast with my middle finger (not a joke, that's how you do it).  So, these guys get a little higher up because of the innovation done right in spite of the blah show.  It's really the coolest thing about this line other than the incredibly rare and astonishingly huge playset, linked above.

 

4. Tendril (Inhumanoids)

The evillll that lies wiiiiiiiiithiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin.  Man, I do remember that theme song, vividly.  Inhumanoids was a weird-ass show.  The plot was actually somewhat interesting and probably a little deeper than most kids were willing to go, not to mention the dialog was occasionally more complex than crap in the ThunderCats.  I'm not even going to bother explaining the background in this one, suffice to say it shined in the toy world for one reason, holy God are you kidding me shit big motherfrakking monsters.  Not just big on the show, either (see below directly), but in real life do you hear me?

If your parents had a bit more money, chances are you owned one of these guys.  The good guys (Earth Corps) were kind of cool with some pretty typical gimmicks for the time, the vehicles were basically pointless, and some of the lesser monsters were boring or had designs that didn't really translate well from the cartoon.  However, the big boys of this line were made to "holy shit are you serious" scale.  These things are towering.  Each one is at least eighteen or twenty inches tall and take up a huge amount of space.  Not to mention they had cool powers like causing everything to rot and they had special plastic for certain areas (like teeth) that kind of glowed in the light.  And I remember a few kids swapping out the horribly stupid robeasts so Voltron had someone his size to fight, and inevitably lose to.  Seriously, who in the Hell decided to design them the same size as the regular figures?  What in the Hell is fully-formed Voltron supposed to fight if they're no bigger than his damn shoe?  Don't think so?  Look at these three and dream.

Woooah, what?  So the other two were cool, but Tendril (all the way on the left) was the man.  In the cartoon he was actually made to be the village idiot, which downplays his toy form, but his look more than made up for it.  This guy was dangerous.  I'm serious.  Sure, look at him, he's beyond huge, his lanky arms can strangle the life out of you, and his feet are built for stomping.  Look at that hulking build.  Look at those spiked tail things.  Look at that stare down.  But those fangs, man, that's where it's at.  Most people don't know it, there's a slightly rarer version of this guy that actually was dangerous, literally.  Here's the difference.

See, if you look at the one on the left, you'll see in comparison to the other that his fangs are slightly longer and pointier.  This makes him more sinister looking, but apparently they also occasionally got some kids in the eye or they broke and became nothing less than deadly weapons, so they scaled them down and created the pussy version on the right.  I'd have put Tendril a little higher on this list, but because he has a wimp ass weakling half-brother bitch, I dropped him down.  Also, in spite of his awesome size, like the rest of the Inhumanoids, his articulations were limited and having him do a kick, even, just looked dumb and the stuff of comedy legend.

3. Arkus the Evil Dictator (Power Lords)

Yeah, so this is the namesake of one of our writers, but whatever, this is not an instance of favoritism.  He calls himself Arkus for a reason, this guy was the stuff of true power.  Power Lords is a pretty forgotten toy line that was yet another company's attempt to battle the power of He-Man.  Revell, a company known for their models, took the leap with this one.  Basically, it's another similar good vs. evil plot, in space, with aliens and blah blah, nothing new.  But where Power Lords is interesting is the details.  Most of them look pretty damn original, especially for their time.  But they weren't well made and some of them had functions that goofed after a little while due to poor plastic construction, but again, these things looked weird.  Why?

Well, cool thing about Power Lords is Revell got the legendary Wayne Barlowe to design them. They didn't even mess around with toy designers or artists, they hired the man to do it. And wow, did this guy create some weird ones. I mean, yeah, some of the figures are kind of dumb, but one really shined, and that was Arkus.

First off, the guy's name, he's referred to as the Evil Dictator right on the package.  Not just Arkus, this guy is pure evil.  Second, the design of this figure is probably the most original in this whole list.  He breaks the traditions of nearly everything before and after.  He looks like a demon, his nose is insect-like, his eyes glow with this weird plastic haze, he has red butterbat wings that flap, he's partially skeletal, his hands are multi-functional claws, and he doesn't hold his guns, they pretty much graft themselves to his forearms.  Arkus is high on this list for the sheer originality of his design.  I was really the only kid I remember owning this toy, and it was the talk of the universe of the playground when I pulled it out.  Problem was he, like most of the Power Lords, had a tendency to break easily, especially with his strange joints and thin construction.  Still, just look at him.  To this day I have him sitting in my office, looming over me.  He's looking at me now, in fact...

2. Grimsword (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons)

Holy Christ.  Alright man, I'm backing away, NOW.  Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, please, I still play the older table-top version even today.  What some of us sadly remember, though, is the horrid cartoon that came out of it.  Man, I don't even want to comment on that. Luckily, the action figures had nothing to do with it.  In general, they were based off of creatures and characters from the RPG, but were pretty standard as far as action figures go.  Yawn, you had some knights, and yawn, some dragons and whatever.  However, there was one badass figure that always attracted attention, Grimsword.

Dear God, look at that man.  This is what King Hiss should have looked like.  This here, my friends, is the true leader of the Snake Men.  Holy God.  Piss.  Not only is he largely black (hint that means evil or kvlt) in his basic color, this guy has every form of snake crawling over his armor, and in awesomely artistic ways.  They throw off symmetry with one snake head on his left knee, there's a snake head on his shield, the one curls on his body as part of his armor, requiring a largely shoulder pad to accommodate its tongue, and he has a morning star with a snake for the hilt.  Grimsword is further up because he's pure artwork in terms of action figure design.  Just look at the beautiful links in that morning star.  And, his swinging action coupled with that crazy weapon makes for awesome battles in your bedroom.  He is, quite simply, a perfect action figure.  He's got the minimum amount of gimmick, and the rest is all design.  Grimsword is here to kick your God damned ass and he doesn't need to spray water to do it.

 

1. Deadeye (Starriors)

This one is weird and a number of you are probably like what, what the Hell is this clown on about?  Hush, let me explain.  Deadeye was part of a general joke of a line called Starriors.  I'm not even going to get into the plot because it's a stupid ass way to try to cover over the fact that they were just finding another way to sell robot toys.  Sure, some of them were awesome with spinning saws on their chests, rotating, spiked drills, or chisels that pulsated and looked pretty scary, but the good guys and bad guys were basically the same toy with slightly different designs and different colors; it was so obvious in most cases.  Just glancing at the ad below and you can see it.  Hmmm, those two drill chest guys look kind of similar...

Along with the basic figures, which were kind of cool because you could interchange most of their parts (though it didn't make much sense in terms of the story), you had a few larger toys that were every kid's dream, in theory.  Dino Riders did basically the same thing, except the dinosaurs were supposed to be living.  Here, they were totally robotic.  Cool, but the majority of the Starriors that came out of this ingenious vision were beyond stupid.  Runabout for example (nice asinine name), was a small brontosaurus robot that wasn't even to scale and was a stupid play on the old pull-back car gimmick.  Totally lame.  Others had stupid-looking lasers in odd positions and shitty designs.  However, one badass stands out, fakkin Deadeye mattafakkas, the number one on this list.

Why? Well, first off, this son-of-a-bitch is a dinosaur, not just any dinosaur but a T-Rex.  Not just any T-Rex but a genuinely robotic T-Rex, made of plastic.  That's not all, though.  Deadeye had an awesome background story to explain his gimmick, not paying any attention to the figure line as a whole.  Deadeye is blind.  He comes with a buddy, named Cricket, who is a robotic pterodactyl.   Cricket can see, but he's also deaf, according to the manual of course.  So, Cricket functions as Deadeye's vision, and Deadeye as his ears, and the two work together to destroy.  They're not mounts or vehicles either, they're separate figures.  So, cool design, check, cool back story minus the rest of it, check.  What do they do?

What makes Deadeye stand out are these two things (design and concept), brought together in his freaking awesome function.  Deadeye is basically a remote-controlled robot of suffering to all who live.  Cricket, in toy form, is his remote.  By clicking Cricket once, Deadeye moves forward.  Click him twice, and he stops to turn.  If you do it once again, he'll go in the direction he's facing.  But the other thing, God damn, click Cricket three times and Deadeye stops and starts to blast out these orange discs in whatever direction he's facing.

You load them in the top of his head, and he chucks them continuously until he runs out or you give a different command.  And let me tell you something, those discs didn't exactly feel that good when you got hit in the right spot.  So, Deadeye gets the top spot on this list for his design, the concept, the creativity in applying it to his function, and his absolutely awesome ability to torment pets and small children.  Even your parents if you timed it right.  Not to mention this was the toy that killed my belief in Santa Claus at the age of five, so he's got that going too.  I specifically asked for the Starriors base and I got this guy because I purposefully spoke in a general sense to my parents.  Well, good thing, because the base totally blew anyway and Deadeye kicked all ass.  My parents obviously said to themselves "...robot dinosaur?  DONE" and they couldn't have been more correct.  He deserves this one, and even today you can find him for pretty cheap and still working.

I'd like to thank all the fellow toy geeks out there who keep this kind of information alive, all of who you can find nicely linked or referenced in this article.  It would be a real shame if people let this stuff go, but luckily us weirdos still cling to the past and refuse to give it up to anyone.  Thanks to everyone on the Action Figure Archive forums for keeping it real, and Chad for the information on Weapons Master I wasn't clear on. Also give a shout to Action Figure King who runs a tight site all about you know what.  Well, I hope you've enoyed this of possibly many future lists of awesome toys and shit I feel like bitching about.  Feel free to throw out comments about what you would have chosen and why, and perhaps I'll do a follow-up list called something like "Top 10 Biggest Action Figure Bummers of the 1980s."  We'll see, research time!

 

Written by Stanley Stepanic