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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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British Film Institute
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Where to Watch Over 300 British Animated Films for Free Online
British Film Institute
British Film Institute

The history of animation doesn’t begin and end with studios in Japan and the U.S. Artists in the UK have been drawing and sculpting cartoons for over a century, and now some of the best examples of the medium to come out of the country are available to view for free online.

As It’s Nice That reports, the British Film Institute has uploaded over 300 films to the new archive on BFI player. Dubbed "Animated Britain," the expansive collection includes hand-drawn and stop motion animation and many distinct styles in between. Viewers will find ads, documentaries, films for children, and films for adults dating from 1904 to the 21st century. Episodes of classic cartoons like SuperTed and Clangers as well as obscure clips that are hard to find elsewhere are represented.

The archive description reads:

“Through its own weird alchemy, animation can bring our wildest imaginings to life, and yet it can also be a powerful tool for exploring our everyday reality. Silly, surreal, sweet or caustic, this dizzyingly diverse selection showcases British animation's unique contribution to the art form, and offers a history ripe for rediscovery.”

This institution’s project marks their start of a whole year dedicated to animation. UK residents can stream the selected films for free at BFI player, or check out their rental offerings for more British animated classics.

[h/t It’s Nice That]

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iStock
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Why Mickey Mouse Could Soon Be in the Public Domain
iStock
iStock

Mickey Mouse debuted to the world in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, and has since transformed into an icon recognized around the world. But the mouse’s status as Disney's exclusive property is under threat. As Ars Technica reports, Steamboat Willie is set to enter the public domain in 2024, and unlike in previous years, there have been no moves from Congress to stop that from happening. Once it does, in theory, anyone could use Mickey's image for free.

This is the third time the cartoon has been on the verge of losing its copyright protection. The first came in the 1970s, back when copyright terms only lasted 56 years. That meant every book, song, and movie made in 1923 was scheduled to lose its protected status in 1979, and Steamboat Willie would follow on its 56th anniversary in 1984. But in 1976, under pressure from companies like Disney, Congress extended the statute to 75 years, keeping all works made after 1923 from becoming public domain until 1998 or later. Mickey remained safely out of the public domain for another two decades. Then, when copyright terms were again scheduled to expire in 1998, Congress extended them a second time, this time to 95 years.

Now, the clock is ticking down for these older works once again as the 2018 expiration date of that copyright extension nears. Only this time, it looks like Congress may let them become public property without a fight.

Today’s constituents tend to care more about copyright law now than they did in 1976 or even in 1998. The rise of online streaming and easily accessible pirated content has made the issue more relevant to the life of the average person than ever before. The defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012 made this clear to legislators. That bill, which would have empowered law enforcement to punish or block sites sharing pirated content, was so controversial that it sparked protests across the web. Because of the sheer scale of that public response, lawmakers are now hesitant to change any existing copyright protections, including those set to expire on January 1, 2019.

But even if those protections expire, Disney could still find a way to prevent rival studios from using Mickey’s image when 2024 rolls around. While copyrights are designed to be temporary, trademarks have the potential for serious lasting power. That’s because copyrights only protect a single work of artistic expression (in this case, the film Steamboat Willie), while trademarks are attached to images and logos that represent a brand (so Mickey Mouse, the character). As long as Disney can prove that Mickey has evolved beyond his first screen appearance into a symbol that’s synonymous with its corporation, he’ll remain a protected property. And if you take a look at their theme parks, cruise ships, media, and the dozens of Hidden Mickeys they've hidden in their movies, you’ll see that they can easily make that case.

But few works of art made in the 1920s have taken the same path to corporate dominance as Mickey Mouse, even other works made famous by Disney (like Winnie the Pooh, first introduced in A.A. Milne's stories in 1926). Even if Disney manages to protect Mickey, the public should have a big new batch of copyright-free content to access in the next few years.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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