Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

25 Wacky Trading Cards From the '80s and '90s

Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

While most people associate the concept of trading cards with sports and their most famous players—even non-baseball fans are dimly aware of the value of a “mint” card of a legendary slugger—the cardboard treatment isn’t just reserved for major league endeavors. It turns out that you can make anything into a fun trading card, from musicians to toys to actual wars, and the popular wax packs of the '80s and '90s delivered on that in a big way.

The wax pack format gave the buyer more than just cards—most sets included the standard trading cards, a collectable sticker (sometimes a standalone and sometimes part of a larger picture), and a piece of bubble gum. And, yes, if you find an unopened wax pack and crack that baby open, most sticks of gum have retained their shape—though you probably wouldn’t want to pop them into your mouth. While not all of our picks here are true wax packs, they’re all just a bit too weird to believe ever existed (and still do!).

1. The Blair Witch Project

Amazon

While the 1999 horror film was one of the first big screen features to utilize the web for viral marketing (remember when people thought it was actually a true story?), The Blair Witch Project took a surprisingly traditional marketing route when it came to its 72-piece trading card set. Issued by Topps, the foil-wrapped cards were unexpectedly arty, creepy, and haunting – but they also relied on the lure of “randomly inserted” special foil cards to keep buyers snatching them up left and right. Nevermind the nightmares.

2. Yo! MTV Raps

Coroflot

Though it’s hard to imagine earning street cred from a pack of cards, the 1991 Yo! MTV Raps sort of gave that to its buyers—after all, name another set of cards that could provide you with details about Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, KRS-One, and even Young Black Teenagers. Each card included fun facts about popular acts, perfect for impressing your music snob friends. Quick! What’s Big Boi’s real name?

3. Saved By the Bell

Etsy

Of course Saved By the Bell got its own trading card set (even Saved By the Bell: The College Years got one!), because what could be more hip than a fully numbered set of snazzy promo pics of your favorite television show stars? Though the Saved By the Bell cards didn’t come with gum or a lock of Zack’s hair, they were highly collectible and fun to trade. Here, take my Slater.

4. 21 Jump Street

Etsy

A number of wax packs featured hand-drawn original art on their wrappers, and while that’s certainly a creative way to go, the results were sometimes questionable. Take Topps’ 1987 set of cards for television’s smash hit 21 Jump Street—who is that on the wrapper? Is it star Johnny Depp, or is it a weird amalgamation of Depp and Richard Greico? We will never know, but at least there’s some gum inside for you to chew while you mull it over.

5. ALF

Time Passages Nostalgia

It’s weird enough to remember ALF as just a popular television show—a popular television show about a foul-mouthed alien who unhinges his adopted human family thanks to both his hijinks and his constant attempts to eat neighborhood cats—but it’s even stranger to remember that Topps gave the show a two-series trading card run back in the '80s. Like any good wax pack, the Topps card included stickers to form full puzzles. Each pack also included one “bouillabaseball player” card, featuring one of Gordon Shumway’s favorite players.

6. Saturday Night Live


Erin McCarthy

Bad news, guys, the Saturday Night Live trading cards from 1992 are not funny. Sure, they may be funny in retrospect—or, at least, the skits and characters they try to portray may be funny in retrospect—but they are really just a big, vintage slice of the lackluster. Tucked right in next to your cool Wayne’s World cards, you’re likely to find a random black and white still of Jane Curtin doing … some role … you can’t quite remember.

7. Desert Storm

Desert Storm Cards

Wait, trading cards for a war? It sure seems a bit, well, strange, but back in the 1960s, there was even a trading card set for “The Men of the Green Berets.” There have also been card runs for World War II and Vietnam. That doesn’t sound very stealth, does it? Here’s hoping no potential combatants ever pick up their own set of the Desert Storm cards, because they’ll soon learn what a Tomahawk missile looks like in flight or what a “carpet bombing” is.

8. The X-Files

Imgur

The truth is out there and it’s also totally on one of the many trading card packs issued for the enduring Fox television classic. The “super premium” sets included character cards and creepy scenes from the actual show, a nice double dose of the fun and the informative (just like the show itself!).

9. New Kids on the Block

Etsy

It doesn’t matter who your favorite Kid on said Block was, if you were an NKOTB fan, you had a pack or two of Topps very classy trading card sets. The wax packs featured glossy concert pics, nifty stills (just imagine the fashion), and a sticker to boot. The backs of the cards also included everything you’d want to know about the Kids – like favorite color and full name. What is Donnie Wahlberg’s middle initial? Turn to the cards, kid.

10. Barbie

Etsy

Not every trading card set can be both very cool and very informative, but Mattel’s run of Barbie cards back in 1990 managed to straddle that line with nothing but style. Reminiscent of sports trading cards, each of the 300 available in the set featured a special Barbie doll on the front (including plenty of vintage options) and a bevy of fun facts on the back to feed the obsession of even the most hardcore Barbie fan. The doll maker has done a few other rounds of cards, but the 1991 run is unquestionably the most classic (and classy!).

11. Gremlins 2

Amazon

While the first film is clearly the far superior pick when it comes to movie-watching, the trading cards for the Gremlins sequel are surprisingly far better than the originals. After all, they are the only set to feature multiple cards centering on a scene that sees film critic Leonard Maltin getting overcome by angry mogwai. A must-have for any movie fan.

12. Tron

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Even a high-tech film like Tron can translate to the trading card medium—especially when some of the wax packs came with snazzy lightcycle stickers to paste all over your stuff. Even better? The cards include tips for winning the Tron video game, so maybe now is the time to pull out your old amusements and get cracking. You can finally win!

13. Garbage Pail Kids

I Miss the Old School

It’s impossible to talk about the trading card craze of the '80s and '90s without mentioning the multiple runs of Garbage Pail Kids cards, a Cabbage Patch Kids send-up that got its start as a trading card set. These things were everywhere, and whole boxes of them are still available online, at thrift shops, and around flea markets. If you’re a child of the '80s or '90s whose favorite form of humor is “gross-out,” the odds are high that the kids o’ the pails helped get you there.

14. Back to the Future II

Etsy

Is there a more classic wax pack than a Back to Future II wax pack? It has it all—the cards, the sticker, the bubble gum, all wrapped up in a handy package that assures you that you’re buying a “hit movie!” branded item. The series featured scenes from the movie, snappy lines, and even nifty numbering to keep them straight. (Don’t underestimate the power of numbered cards in a film about the complications of time travel.)

15. Jurassic Park

eBay

Any proven fan of the best cinema of the nineties still remembers Jurassic Park with tremendous fondness, and Topps’ multiple card sets reflect that perfectly. No, really, there’s some actual reflection here—at least when it comes to the random “action hologram” cards that popped in some sets. While not everyone got them, the wax packs still came with plenty of movie scenes, character cards, and behind-the-scenes peeks to feed a dino-sized hunger.

16. Cyndi Lauper

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We may never know exactly why Cyndi Lauper got her own 33-card set of trading pieces back in 1985, but they sure as shooting exist for public consumption, and they’ve got the colors to prove it. These things are bright, though you wouldn’t know it from their understated pink, black, and white packages. Inside was a nice surprise for fans—beyond just gum and cards, there were three stickers. Fun indeed!

17. Indiana Jones

eBay

There are a shocking number of Indiana Jones trading card sets out there, but the first run from Topps is still the best. It’s a classic wax pack—hand-drawn package, gum, stickers, cards—and that’s nothing to sniff at (or whip at, really). Packed with movie scenes and character cards, what more could you ask for? Fine, you could always round out your collection with some Raiders and Temple of Doom cards, if that sort of thing fills up your cup.

18. Howard the Duck

Etsy

Howard the Duck may now be remembered as one of the worst comic book movies ever made, but its wax pack proudly proclaims that the cards inside are from a “new hit movie!” Sure, you weirdo little duck, that’s just fine. Enjoy the lie. (You can also enjoy the standard movie cards, sticker, and gum, though we don’t recommend trying to blow bubbles with a beak.)

19. Creature Feature

Collection DX

The Creature Feature collection may be best known for its 1973 run, but the movie monsters got a fresh spin in a 1980 set, too. The classic baddies—think Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, and the Phantom of the Opera—got the big pack treatment with the Topps cards. Each package included one sticker, one piece of bubble gum, and 12 photo cards. It’s okay to scream about this one—even if it’s partially out of terror.

20. E.T.

Live Auction Group

Sadly, these guys did not come packaged with Reese’s Pieces—the wax packs got the standard bubble gum treatment. Crammed with ten cards and one sticker, the E.T. packs held lots of good stuff (a card depicting “Michael’s Farewell” might still make you cry) and plenty of filler (such as the card showing a confused E.T. standing around open-mouthed, punched up by the caption “Stranded!”). Brilliant stuff, really, but a must-own for any Spielberg fan. Reach out and touch them.

21. Return to Oz

eBay

Hopefully the terror of this bizarre Wizard of Oz follow-up has finally worn off, and now you can actually enjoy having a pack or two of these cards in your presence. Wait, no, no, still too soon. Pumpkinheaded nightmares ahoy, visions of “wheelers” dancing in our heads, and a strong desire to get back to Kansas—all our warning signs that you might be checking out one of these wax packs right now. Run.

22. Beetlejuice

eBay

The beloved Beetlejuice spawned its own wacky animated series that, in turn, spawned an adorably strange set of trading cards. While the packs didn’t provide many actual trading cards—five per pack—they did come with one very impressive glow-in-the-dark sticker. It’s the perfect thing to affix to your copy of the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased”!

23. Nintendo Game Pack

Sydelexia

What a racket! The five-card packs—three scratch-off game pieces and two stickers—were aimed at both people who had Nintendos (they included gameplay tips) and people who didn’t (why would you be in need of a scratcher to play Mario if you had a system at home?). Sure, it sounds brilliant in theory (at least for the team at Nintendo), but what were buyers to do with the scratched off cards once they were, well, scratched off? Those things only had one life.

24. Dune

Etsy

The 1984 Dune big screen adaptation may have been a bit of a bust, but the associated Fleer cards are still very cool pieces of movie memorabilia. No matter how modern the film itself tried to be, these wax packs are nothing short of a perfectly classic example of the standard set—ten cards, one sticker, one piece of gum. Revolutionary.

25. Pac-Man

eBay

Though the 1980 run of Pac-Man trading cards is guilty of some of the worst wax pack crimes—rub-off games, too few cards, a reliance on knowing the source material—it is ultimately saved by one key element. Cute stickers. Really cute stickers. Little munching Pac-Men, scary ghosts, funny lines—and you get two per pack. Worth it.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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