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7 Overlooked ‘80s Toys Worth More Than You Think

There was a time when the old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” was especially descriptive of the world of toy collecting. For many people, when the kids outgrew their toys, those little hunks of plastic became nothing but garage sale fodder, or they wound up thrown in the trash with the leftover meatloaf from the fridge. But nowadays, more and more people have come to realize that there’s gold in the toy chest, and instead of dumping them at Goodwill, they put their kid’s Castle Grayskull up on eBay to help make a down payment on a new hot tub.

But not all of us have a factory-sealed, Mint In Box, professionally-graded Optimus Prime sitting in our basement that will sell for $3,750. What if all we have is a toy box full of figures that weren’t the star of the after-school animated cartoon? Don’t worry, there are still plenty of overlooked '80s toys you might actually have that are worth more than you think.   

1. Transformers Dinobot Swoop

$90 - $1,400

First released in North America in 1984, Transformers took kids' imaginations by storm, becoming one of the hottest toys and cartoons of the decade. In 1985, Hasbro released a new sub-group of figures, The Dinobots, five transforming dinosaurs, headed up by Grimlock, a Tyrannosaurus Rex. 

Although all of the Dinobots became popular, the pteranodon, Swoop, soon became a frontrunner due to his cool, chrome-covered wings and his heroic appearance in the second season of the animated series. For serious collectors, Swoop has become something of a Holy Grail because those chrome wings were easily chipped, the transformation process made it fairly common to break off his beak, and he was never released in the U.K., meaning some collectors never even had the chance to own him in the first place. 

Therefore, a Swoop in good condition—even one that doesn’t necessarily have all of his accessories—can sell for about $90 on eBay. In comparison, a complete Grimlock with the box, goes for only a couple bucks more. If you’re lucky enough to have a Swoop in a factory-sealed box, though, you could be looking at upwards of $1,400

2. Savage He-Man

$300

Sometime in the late 1990s, when '80s nostalgia started to become a thing, a strange He-Man figure began showing up on the collector’s market. While the original He-Man figure had blond hair, brown furry loincloth and boots, and a reddish-orange belt, this new He-Man figure had dark brown hair and loincloth, and a black belt and boots. To make matters even more confusing, the figure was sometimes found wearing black and white armor, and sporting a variety of rust-colored weapons and shields.     

This odd variation on the original 1982 toy was thought to have been part of a mail-in offer that coincided with Masters of the Universe trading cards found in specially marked packages of Wonder Bread. Others said the figure originated as a mail-in offer from Mattel if kids sent in three proofs of purchase from He-Man toys. However, some conspiracy-minded collectors believed it was part of a line of Conan the Barbarian movie tie-in toys that had to be halted when Mattel saw a preview and grew concerned over the "Sex and Violence ..., decapitation, slashing from groin to throat." But Conan's owners never mentioned a doll that looked like this in the trademark infringement lawsuit, and the possible connection with Conan gave the character the nickname “Savage He-Man” after the Savage Sword of Conan comic book. Some also called him simply “Wonder Bread He-Man.” Unfortunately, no one from Mattel or Wonder Bread has ever been able to confirm just where this mysterious action figure comes from. 

Regardless of how he came to be, Savage He-Man is considered one of the rarest toys in the entire Masters of the Universe line, simply because no one knows how many were produced. This has led collectors to pay upwards of $300 for the figure on eBay. However, because of his popularity, counterfeits are a common occurrence, so buyers must beware. 

As a winking homage to the mysterious action figure, in 2010, Mattel released "Wun-Dar: The Savage He-Man" as part of their Masters of the Universe Classics line. Along with the Conan-esque color scheme and the self-referential name, there are three circles on the back of his armor that resemble the red, yellow, and blue dots of the classic Wonder Bread logo, plus the figure comes with a plastic loaf of bread in case he works up an appetite fighting evil. 

3. Thunder Wings Lion-O

$500 - $2783

After three years on the market, by 1987, ThunderCats had run its course in the toy aisle. Kids had moved on, mostly to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so the manufacturer, LJN Toys, began winding down production. In a last ditch effort to keep the remaining fans happy, they produced a few more new toys, including Thunder Wings Lion-O, an action figure of the ThunderCats’ leader with a pair of detachable, mechanical wings.

Because the toyline was ending, very few Thunder Wings Lion-O figures were produced, meaning there are only so many to go around for ThunderCats collectors today. A loose Thunder Wings in good condition can easily bring $500 on eBay, but if you’re lucky enough to have one “Mint On Card,” you’re looking at quite a bit more—like nearly $2,800

4. Star Wars Micro Collection Millennium Falcon

$60 - $300

The Star Wars Micro Collection, introduced in 1982, was a bit of a departure for toymaker Kenner. Instead of the plastic 3.75” action figures that set the toy world on fire, the Micro Collection featured diecast figures not much bigger than 1.25” tall with no articulation at all, more in the mold of classic toy soldiers. The scale of the figures allowed Kenner to make some plastic playsets that would have been too cost prohibitive to make in the regular 3.75” size, but still offered plenty of detail, moving parts, and could be interconnected to create impressive dioramas of iconic scenes from the first two films in the trilogy. 

The line wasn’t particularly popular with kids—mainly because the figures didn’t have any articulation, and the diecast paint jobs would chip off too easily—so the series only lasted for one year. In all, nine playsets were released, as well as four vehicles, one of which was a Millennium Falcon that was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Han Solo’s famous ship was only available at Sears when the Micro Collection launched, and the toyline was cancelled before it could be released to more retail outlets, making the Falcon the rarest toy in the series. 

Obviously its rarity makes the Falcon worth quite a bit more than the other playsets and vehicles. A loose ship, without any of the figures, can fetch up to $62 on eBay if it’s in good shape. But if you’re lucky enough to have all six figures and the box, you’re looking at anywhere between $250 and $300.  

5. Jem and the Holograms Merchandise

$135 - $355

When I searched for Jem and the Holograms on eBay, I expected to find quite a few Mint In Box dolls that would sell for a pretty penny. However, I was surprised to see that they’re generally available for less than $100, which isn’t out of reach for most collectors. The last thing I expected to find was that Jem-branded merchandise was selling for prices that can only be described as truly, truly outrageous (sorry, I couldn’t resist). 

For example, to complete your ultimate Jem collection, you have to have the Pop-A-Point pencils from Spindex. To jog your memory of fifth grade, Pop-A-Point pencils were plastic sleeves that contained 11 small pencil lead cartridges inside. When the top lead wore down, you simply popped it out and put it in the other side, pushing a new lead cartridge out so you could finish your geography homework. Kids were obviously so excited to use their new school supplies that they ripped them open without a thought for future resale value, so a rare sealed package of two Jem Pop-A-Point pencils recently sold on eBay for $135. To put that into perspective, two sealed packages of Return of the Jedi Pop-A-Point pencils with 22 extra lead cartridges didn’t even sell for $8

As if that wasn’t crazy enough, a pair of glittery Jem socks in kid’s size 2-3, still in the package from 1987, garnered an astonishing $355. I guess it just goes to show that accessories really can make the outfit. 

6. The Real Ghostbusters Proton Pack

$85 - $500

Everybody loved Ghostbusters in 1984. Seriously—everybody. So when the animated series The Real Ghostbusters debuted in September 1986, it was an instant hit with kids, as were the tie-in action figures and playsets. One of the most popular toys in the Real Ghostbusters line came in 1988, when kids could strap on their own pretend ghost-zapping Proton Pack and bust themselves some phantasmagorical bad guys. 

Although the Proton Pack was a big seller, there were a lot of parts to keep track of, including small pieces like a Ghostbusters armband, a ghost-finding PKE meter, and a yellow foam tube that stood in for the stream that shouldn’t be crossed. By the time a kid’s ghostbusting days were over, chances are some of those pieces were long gone. So if you find a complete set on eBay, it’s not unusual to pay anywhere between $85 and $115 to pick it up. Of course if you’re lucky enough to come across a factory-sealed box, expect to shell out over $500 to add it to your collection.

7. Bubble Power She-Ra

$150 - $505

Princess Adora, the twin sister of Prince Adam/He-Man, could also transform into an evil-battling superhero, She-Ra: Princess of Power. First introduced in 1985 as a spin-off of the Masters of the Universe line, She-Ra was billed as a “fashion action figure.” This was a sort of “Barbie meets He-Man” concept, in that there was an emphasis on the mostly-female cast’s hair, makeup, and outfits, but it had some good old fashioned sword and sorcery adventure in the mix, too.  

Unfortunately, the line didn’t have the longevity of He-Man, sputtering out by 1987, when only a handful of new toys were released in the final wave of products. The last version of the She-Ra action figure was an odd design known as “Bubble Power She-Ra.”  

The figure came with a new pink outfit, a redesigned sword and shield, and a “bubble wand”—a pink gun that had a rotating wheel that dipped into soap solution to blast the bad guys with bubbles. The figure has since become a rarity, not only because production was limited due to the toy line’s drop in popularity, but because a bottle of bubbles came inside the package. Most kids who got the toy would instantly open it and pour some of the bubble mix into the bubble wand, so a sealed package with the bottle intact is a truly unusual find. If you happen to have a Bubble Power She-Ra—complete with the bubbles—expect a bidding war to start, ending somewhere around $500. But even if you don’t have the bubbles anymore, just having the figure and some of the accessories can still bring about $150

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10 Far-Out Facts About Futurama
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In 1999, Matt Groening followed-up the monumental success of The Simpsons with an idea for a sci-fi comedy that he’d been tinkering around with for years. With influences ranging from groundbreaking sci-fi movies like Blade Runner to shows like The Jetsons and pulpy ‘50s comics like Weird Science, Futurama proved to be yet another winner for the cartoonist. Characters like Fry, Bender, and Leela quickly became fan favorites, rivaling Homer, Marge, and the rest of Springfield for quotability. The show was also a hit with the critics, winning plenty of Annie and Emmy Awards along the way.

Never a ratings juggernaut to a larger audience, the show only lasted four seasons on Fox before being cancelled in 2003. Neither the production staff nor the series’ loyal fan base would give up on Futurama, though, and the series was revived for an additional three seasons on Comedy Central from 2008 through 2013. Here are 10 things you might not know about Futurama

1. THE SHOW’S NAME COMES FROM AN EXHIBIT AT THE 1939 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR.

Though Matt Groening’s Futurama takes a comedic look at what the future might hold for us, the name is based on a very real-world version of the world of tomorrow. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Queens, GM built a mammoth attraction called Futurama, which was a scale-model city showing off the predicted wonders of 1960.

The model was the brainchild of industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes and his team of hundreds of artists and builders. It spanned an impressive 35,000 square feet, and gave audiences a glimpse at what a city might look like in the next 20 years, with the highlight being a monolithic utopia peppered with mountainous skyscrapers and a web of superhighways for futuristic GM cars to travel on. Visitors would sit in chairs that moved on a conveyer belt around the model, showing off all the wonders they could look forward to.

To pay homage to its namesake, the first thing Fry hears when he’s defrosted in the future during the pilot episode is the bellowing sound of a lab worker proclaiming “Welcome to the World of Tomorrow,” which was one of the heavily advertised themes of the fair.

2. THE THEME SONG WAS INSPIRED BY A TUNE CALLED “PSYCHE ROCK.”

Futurama’s main theme, composed by Christopher Tyng, bears a striking resemblance to the song “Psyché Rock" by French electronic artist Pierre Henry. The songs are so similar that the Futurama theme basically acts as a remix to Henry’s work. The song has also been remixed by Fatboy Slim, which is even closer to the Futurama version. 

3. GETTING THE SHOW ON THE AIR WAS A DIFFICULT PROCESS FOR MATT GROENING.

Though Matt Groening and the team over on The Simpsons have the freedom to mostly govern themselves, getting Futurama off the ground was a different story. When asked by Mother Jones in 1999 about getting the show on the air, Groening said, “It has been by far the worst experience of my grown-up life.”

He further explained that, “The second they ordered it, they completely freaked out and were afraid the show was too dark and mean-spirited, and thought they had made a huge mistake and that the only way they could address their anxieties was to try to make me as crazy as possible with their frustrations.”

Despite the battles with the network, Groening and his team didn’t cave, saying, “I resisted every step of the way. In one respect, I will take full blame for the show if it tanks, because I resisted every single bit of interference."

4. CO-CREATOR DAVID X. COHEN IS A MATH WHIZ.

When Groening was developing Futurama into a pitch, he had one key Simpsons writer in mind to collaborate with: David S. Cohen. Cohen (who is credited as David X. Cohen for Futurama) was known for some of the most popular Simpsons episodes of the mid-‘90s, including "Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie," "Lisa The Vegetarian," and "Much Apu About Nothing."

“After I assembled a few hundred pages of ideas, I got together with David Cohen, one of the writers and executive producers on The Simpsons, who is also a lover of science fiction and has a great knowledge of science and mathematics,” Groening told Mother Jones.

The emphasis on mathematics may sound odd, but it became a hallmark of the series. Dealing with sci-fi plots allowed Cohen to bring a certain authenticity to some of the more complex episodes; he was also able to sneak in all sorts of esoteric mathematical jokes for the like-minded viewers. This is similar to how math played a role on The Simpsons for years without ever becoming distracting to casual viewers. 

Cohen’s mathematical background goes far beyond the norm. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics, and from the University of California, Berkeley, with an M.S. in computer science. This knowledge gave way to plenty of in-jokes, including the creation of a numerical-based alien language and countless background gags that only the brainiest viewers would have a shot at deciphering.

5. ZAPP BRANNIGAN WAS GOING TO BE VOICED BY PHIL HARTMAN.

The character of Zapp Brannigan was originally written with actor Phil Hartman in mind for the voice, but he was tragically killed before he would have begun recording. The role then went to Billy West, who also voices Fry and Professor Farnsworth. In an interview with The New York Times, West says he based his Brannigan on disc jockeys from the ‘50s and ‘60s. There's also a bit of Hartman's signature, Troy McClure-esque sound in there. 

6. JOHN DIMAGGIO ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR PROFESSOR FARNSWORTH USING BENDER’S VOICE.

Figuring out what Bender would sound like wasn’t an easy task for the folks in charge of Futurama. Would it be a human voice, or something more synthesized like Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet? The crew auditioned dozens and dozens of voice actors in an attempt to find the perfect Bender, with no luck.

At the same time, voice actor John DiMaggio was auditioning for a role on the show against his agent’s wishes, who worried about both the money and contract being offered. At first he auditioned for the role of Professor Farnsworth, using a boorish, drunken voice he partially based on Slim Pickens. The voice didn’t work for the professor, but according to the DVD commentary for the show’s pilot, the producers asked him to try it out for Bender. The voice instantly clicked, leading to the creation of the show’s breakout character.

7. THE NIXON LIBRARY EVENTUALLY CAME AROUND TO HIS HEAD BEING IN A JAR.

Richard Nixon famously proclaimed that the media wouldn’t have him to “kick around anymore” back in 1962; little did he know the jabs would keep coming for decades in the real world, and centuries into the fictional future as a nightmarish version of the former president with his head preserved in a jar was proclaimed President of Earth in Futurama.

With Billy West providing the jowly voice of the former Commander-in-Chief, Nixon became a villain for a whole new generation. And the Richard Nixon Library wasn’t very happy about it at first.

“[E]arly on in the show the network got a letter from the Richard Nixon Library saying they weren’t pleased with his portrayal and would we consider not doing it,” Cohen told WIRED.

But a few years later, things changed.

“We didn’t really stop, however, because we liked it, but the strange thing is that … a few years later we got another letter from the Nixon Library saying can we provide some materials because they’re going to do an exhibit about Nixon in popular culture and they’d like to include Futurama, so they came around.”

8. WRITER KEN KEELER INVENTED A NEW THEOREM JUST FOR THE SHOW.

In addition to Cohen, Futurama is staffed by a roster of Ivy League graduates with backgrounds in science and math. But while writing one episode, the staff had created a plot so complex that the crew soon found itself stumped.

The episode was “The Prisoner of Brenda” from the sixth season, and it involved a brain-switching machine that could swap the minds of any two people that stepped into it. There was only one problem: once used, the machine couldn’t be used twice to swap the same two minds back to normal. This means numerous pairs of other characters would have to use the machine in a roundabout plan to restore everyone’s mind to their proper body.

Though the idea sounded like a winner to the writers, Cohen recalled that they soon realized they had to create a mathematical explanation that could get everyone’s mind back. It was like a nightmarish SAT problem for the staff. That is until writer Ken Keeler, who has a PhD in mathematics, created a completely unique theorem that proved this plot was possible.

“Ken comes in the next morning with a stack of paper and he said, ‘I’ve got the proof,’ and he had proven that no matter how mixed up people’s brains are, if you bring in two new people who have not had their brains switched, then everybody can always get their original brain back, including those two new people,” Cohen told WIRED. “So I was very excited about this, because you rarely get to see science, let alone math, be the hero of a comedy episode of TV.”

In the episode, the mathematical heroes that solve the problem are none other than the Harlem Globetrotters, who are among Earth’s elite intellectuals in the 31st century.

9. THE SHOW’S USE OF FORESHADOWING IS INTENSE.

Futurama touts more than just science and math cred; the show is also one of the more intricately plotted animated series of the past 20 years. The show is notorious for leaving morsels of foreshadowing in episodes that pay off weeks, months, or even years down the road.

Plot points like Fry being his own grandfather and Leela’s mutant heritage were all hinted at before they became reality, but the most obscure piece of foreshadowing came right in the pilot episode. It happens right as Fry is leaning back in the chair that would “accidentally” topple over and send him into the cryogenic chamber, leaving him thawed out in the 31st century. For a brief moment, a shadow flashed across the screen with no explanation—at the time, it likely went unnoticed by many viewers.

Fast forward to the season 4 episode “The Why of Fry,” and we learn that the shadow belonged to Nibbler, who had traveled back in time to 1999 to push Fry into the chamber because he was the key to stopping an alien invasion in the 31st century. It's just one example of the type of intricate world-building that the writers of the show poured into every episode.

10. EACH EPISODE TOOK ABOUT A YEAR TO COMPLETE.

Every episode of Futurama is a labor of love, with each joke and frame of animation put under intense scrutiny. Because of this, there is a lot of work involved in the show—about a year’s worth for each episode.

“It's usually somewhere in the vicinity of a year from the beginning of a Futurama episode to the day when you can see it on TV,” David Cohen told The Atlantic.

This starts with a story idea, which is then assigned to a writer for an outline and first draft. From there, the first draft is dissected in the writers’ room on a “word-by-word, scene-by-scene basis.”

Then it’s recorded by the actors—like an old-timey radio show, according to Cohen—and then it’s given to the animators. That process involves animatics and final animation, which can take around six months to finalize. 

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12 Facts About Disney's The Jungle Book
Walt Disney Studios
Walt Disney Studios

It may not have followed Rudyard Kipling's book exactly—in fact, Walt Disney preferred that scriptwriters not read the book—but The Jungle Book was a toe-tapping box office success. Here are a few "bare necessities" you should know about the 1967 animated classic, which was released in theaters across America 50 years ago.

1. WALT DISNEY THOUGHT THE FIRST VERSION OF THE SCRIPT WAS TOO DARK.

Writer Bill Peet was brought on to script the first version of the movie, but Disney believed it was too dark. It’s not clear whether Peet left or was booted from the project; either way, a new team was brought in for rewrites. Floyd Norman, one of the new writers, said Walt wanted the film to have more laughs and more personality, and—true to Disney form—he also wanted sign off on every little detail.

2. MOST OF THE SONGS WERE DEEMED TOO DARK AS WELL.

Composer Terry Gilkyson was hired to write songs for the movie, but as with the script, Disney felt they lacked a sense of fun. Though the Sherman brothers (Richard and Robert) were brought in to write a new soundtrack, one of Gilkyson’s songs did remain in the movie: "The Bare Necessities." We'd say he got the last laugh: Not only is “The Bare Necessities” one of the best tunes in Disney history, it was also nominated for an Oscar (the film's sole nomination).

3. IT WAS THE LAST ANIMATED FEATURE WALT DISNEY OVERSAW.

When Disney died on December 15, 1966, the studio closed for a single day. Then they got back to business working on the last animated feature Disney had a hand in. It was released on October 18, 1967.

4. A RHINOCEROS CHARACTER GOT CUT.

Rocky the Rhino was intended to be a dim-witted, bumbling, near-blind character that would provide some comic relief. His scenes were completely storyboarded before he got the boot: He was supposed to appear after King Louie’s scene, but Walt didn’t want to put the funny sequences back-to-back.

5. THEY WANTED THE BEATLES TO VOICE THE VULTURES.

The Sherman brothers wrote the vultures’ song “That’s What Friends Are For” with The Beatles in mind, even giving the characters similar accents. But the Fab Four turned them down. “John was running the show at the time, and he said [dismissively] ‘I don’t wanna do an animated film.’ Three years later they did Yellow Submarine, so you can see how things change,” Richard Sherman said.

Here’s what the version of “That’s What Friends Are For” would have sounded like, as well as a glimpse of Rocky the Rhino:

6. THERE ARE MAJOR MISPRONUNCIATIONS IN THE MOVIE.

According to a guide written by Kipling, the main character’s name is pronounced "Mowglee" (accent on the 'Mow,' which rhymes with 'cow'), not “Moe-glee,” which is how Disney chose to say it. In addition, Kaa the snake is supposed to be “Kar,” Baloo the Bear should have been “Barloo,” and Colonel Hathi is really “Huttee.”

7. KING LOUIE WAS BASED ON LOUIS ARMSTRONG.

Although jazz singer and bandleader Louis Prima voiced the fire-obsessed orangutan, he’s not the Louis who the Shermans originally had in mind when they began writing “I Wan’na Be Like You” for the character. "We were thinking about Louis Armstrong when we wrote it, and that's where we got the name, King Louie," Richard Sherman told The New York Times. "Then in a meeting one day, they said, ‘Do you realize what the N.A.A.C.P. would do to us if we had a black man as an ape? They'd say we're making fun of him.' I said: ‘Come on, what are you talking about? I adore Louis Armstrong, I wouldn't hurt him in any way.'” In the end, Louis Prima stepped in.

8. A JUNGLE BOOK DANCE SEQUENCE WAS LATER BORROWED FOR ROBIN HOOD.

King Louie and Baloo’s “I Wan’na Be Like You” dance was later repeated, frame for frame, in Robin Hood, which also borrowed dances from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Aristocats. This was achieved through an animation technique called “rotoscoping,” where animators trace over the frames of old footage to use it in a different environment.

9. THE SONG "TRUST IN ME" WAS ALSO RECYCLED.

Originally written for Mary Poppins as “Land of Sand,” “Trust In Me” was recycled with new lyrics for Kaa to sing while hypnotizing poor Mowgli. Here’s what it would have sounded like:

10. THE YOUNG ELEPHANT WAS VOICED BY CLINT HOWARD.

Ron Howard’s younger brother also voiced another Disney youngster: Roo in the Winnie the Pooh movies.

11. PHIL HARRIS BROUGHT NEW LIFE TO BALOO.

Allegedly, Walt Disney chose Harris to voice Baloo after meeting him at a party. At the time, Harris was retired and nearly forgotten in Hollywood. His first day of recording didn’t go so well at first: Harris found Baloo’s tone wooden and boring, so asked if he could try a little improvisation. Once given the go-ahead, "I came out with something like, 'You keep foolin' around in the jungle like this, man, you gonna run across some cats that'll knock the roof in,'" Harris recalled. Disney loved Baloo’s new personality and rewrote lines to suit the style.

12. THERE WAS A SEQUEL.

It came out in 2003 (not direct-to-video, surprisingly) and featured Haley Joel Osment as Mowgli and John Goodman as Baloo. By most accounts, you shouldn’t bother seeing it; it currently has a 19 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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