The 70’s brought a lot of things including the end of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the end of the Beatles, and the dawn of personal computers. Looking past all of that, there were a number of incredible toy lines released during the 70s as well. Many of the lines listed below played a critical role in helping shape the industry and the toys from the 70s paved the way into the 80s and what many consider to be the Golden Era of toys. Make sure you check out our podcast that covers all of these in detail! You can listen to it here.
So, what are the top 10 action figures and toys from the 70s?
Let’s count them down. Keep in mind, top 10 lists are always subjective, but we think you’ll agree on the lines included even if you don’t agree with the exact order!
Evel Knievel (Ideal Toys)
It feels safe to say that if you were a child of the 70s, you know of Evel Knievel. Evel inspired many with his acrobatic and death defying stunts. In an effort to capitalize on his popularity, Ideal Toys produced a fairly sizable toy line featuring the iconic stuntman.
Ideal’s toy line featured a wide variety of figures and playsets, including Evel’s Stunt Cycle, a funny car, and even a van to jump over! Ideal recycled and rebranded toys from their other toy lines to create the Evel Knievel offering. The Van, for instance, was a repurposed Big Jim camper.
Adventure People (Fisher Price)
Fisher Price’s Adventure People line targeted a much younger audience than many toys on the list, but had just as much of an impact on the youth of the 70s.
Kenner would later use modified Adventure People to create the earliest Star Wars prototypes. These figures, known as mockups, were used to pitch the iconic Star Wars line.
Mego’s Micronauts line offered a fairly distinct run of action figures. Even today, the figures remain very recognizable at quick glance. The figures themselves were licensed via Takara’s Microman figures.
An interesting fact regarding Micronauts- Mego turned down the license to make Star Wars action figures in order to focus on Micronauts. While Micronauts weren’t exactly a failure (they did, after all, inspire Marvel Comics to create a Micronauts comic in 1979) – they certainly didn’t match the success of Kenner’s Star Wars action figures.
Six Million Dollar Man (Kenner)
Kenner’s mid 70s release of the Six Million Dollar Man line came with a lot of experimentation with various features and functionality. Things like Bionic Grip, fake skin to cover the bionic parts of Steve Austin, a bionic eye, removable faceplates, an exploding briefcase… and well, you get the idea.
The Bionic Bigfoot has always been a favorite of mine, and it’s worth mentioning that he also played a large part in the creation of Kenner’s Large Size Action Figure Chewbacca offering, as the earliest known version of Chewie was a modified version of Bigfoot.
Shogun Warriors (Mattel)
The surge of space and robot toys and action figures of the 70s had many toy companies looking for opportunities to import, and Mattel was no exception. Importing from a Japanese license, Mattel offered the gigantic Shogun Warriors.
Mattel produced other sizes of the Shogun Warriors, but the most iconic were the 24 inch versions (it’s worth mentioning that the smaller 3.5 inch die-cast versions were capable of transforming before Transformers was a thing). The toys themselves featured spring loaded weapons and body parts, giving kids a tremendous amount of play value (despite the risk to their own eyeballs).
AHI Monsters (Azrak Hamway International)
Azrak Hamway International (AHI) was one of a few companies churning out cheap toys, affectionately known as ‘Rack Toys.’ These toys were the nickel and dime ones that you’d find hanging around the aisles of a store, especially around the checkouts.
AHI acquired the Universal Monster license when Mego was not willing to pay the reported high licensing fee that Universal was demanding. AHI only produced the monsters for two years (between 1974 and 1976), however the design and details of the figures changed a significant number of times during that time.
These changes left us with an incredibly awesome line to collect today- there are literally dozens of variations, including hard and soft heads, paint variations, different body colors, as well as very distinct hand orientations (cupped hands, palms facing in, palms down, jointed wrist, etc.)
Lincoln International Monsters
Lincoln was another company pushing Rack Toys. Unlike AHI, they did not own the Universal license, but that didn’t slow them down at all. Inspired by both the AHI and Mego monsters, the Lincoln Monsters are truly a sight to behold. While I’m sure there’s a lot of personal preference in this one, they rank highly on my list of best 70s toys.
The monsters were distributed in both the UK and the US, which feature slight variations. The Lincoln monsters can be found on cardbacks, in solid boxes, and even a catalog mailer box! (The catalog mailer included Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Wolfman, as well as a ‘Female Victim’ which bears striking resemblance to the Dawn dolls.)
GI Joe Adventure Team (Hasbro)
Following on the massive success of the first action figure (the 60s 12 inch GI Joe) – Hasbro pursued a themed line of new GI Joe offerings. Produced in the same scale as the original GI Joe, the Adventure Team series included a huge variety of vehicles, playsets, and outfit/accessory packages that greatly increased the play value of the GI Joes.
The adventure sets feature a wide selection- everything from deep sea diving, pyramid treasure hunts, helicopter rescues, and much more. These toys helped maintain the success of Hasbro’s GI Joe action figures, and are a huge reason for GI Joe being a household name today.
Mego’s 8 Inch Lines (World’s Greatest Superheroes, Monsters, Star Trek)
Mego’s action figure success came from their 8 inch lines. The earliest of these were based on Marvel Comic Superheroes, and the line was officially named ‘World’s Greatest Superheroes.’
Following the success of the Superheroes, Mego created a number of other 8 inch offerings, including Star Trek, Monsters, Western Heroes, Action Jackson, and more! These set the standard of action figures for many of the 70s toys.
Star Wars (Kenner)
You may have guessed this was coming, but it would be impossible to talk best action figures and toys of the 70s and 80s without Kenner’s Star Wars figures being at or near the top.
Kenner set the bar with their Star Wars line. While they technically launched in 1977, figures did not hit the shelves until 1978 and in many cases they hardly hit the shelves at all due to the popularity. While distribution and production runs improved into the early 80s, the first releases of Kenner’s Star Wars offerings created an enormous buzz around an already popular box office hit.
Beyond the fact that the toys stand tall as one of the greatest lines ever produced, Kenner’s decision to create them as 3 3/4 inch (in order to keep vehicles feasible, the scale needed to be small enough that would forever set the standard for action figures from the 70s through today.