Your Flavorwire resisted the temptation to wade into the recent controversy over those collectible figures from Quentin Tarantino’s Djanjo Unchained, but we’ll say this much: it’s important to remember that those toys were aimed at adult collectors, while we can recall (or have managed to suppress our memories) of some thoroughly strange movie tie-ins from our youth that were aimed directly at kids. After the jump, stroll back to the ‘80s with us, when any movie was marketable to anyone, no matter how bizarre or inappropriate.
Princess Leia Hoth Underoos
George Lucas was the founding father of movie merchandising, famously holding on to merch rights for Star Wars (to the snickers of woefully shortsighted executives) and subsequently making a rather large fortune off them. As a result of the film’s lasting popularity and endless sequels, prequels, and re-releases, there has been a lot of Star Wars stuff out there — some of it a little on the bizarre side. Our favorite vintage item is this, one of the countless underwear sets from Fruit of the Loom, known forevermore as “Underoos.” Some of them are simply pictures of your favorite character (Luke, Han, Yoda, even Boba Fett) on a set of matching undies. But they occasionally got a bit more creative, as with this two-piece, which kinda, sorta replicates Leia’s outfit in Empire Strikes Back’s Hoth section — except that the bulky jumpsuit-and-vest combo was to keep her warm on the snow-covered planet, where these drawers would be a one-way ticket to Frostbite Town.
I don’t know about you, but the first time this grade-schooler saw his first Star Wars movie, I had two immediate thoughts about the golden droid C3PO. The first: “What a cool, eloquent, loyal robot.” The second: “He looks delicious.” According to the experts at Mr. Breakfast, C-3POs cereal was introduced in 1984 (shortly after the release of Return of the Jedi) and boasted “double crunch”: “This unique, double-O shape gives you 2 crunches in every bite — a unique experience in all the galaxy.” That “double-O” shape really meant that the cereal looked like a bowl full of 8s, for no reason we can think of except that it was the ‘80s, when you could pretty much slap a Star Wars character on anything and move some units. They didn’t last long, but fear not: there’s a Facebook group called “1 Million Strong to Bring Back C3POs Cereal.” (They’re currently a bit short of that goal: as of this writing, the group has 29 likes.)
Shirtless German Mechanic Action Figure
After the astonishing financial windfall of the Star Wars action figures, George Lucas was obviously keen to get some toys out there for his next effort (this time as producer), 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. But Star Wars had a whole galaxy of amazing characters and delightful freaks to make into toys; Raiders was a comparatively small affair, with Dr. Jones, his girl, a couple of sidekicks, and a lot of Nazis. But the (toy) show must go on, which is about the only explanation for this item: the “German mechanic” action figure, based on the shirtless henchman remembered solely for his gory demise in a propeller blade. We can only imagine kids across the country recreating that moment with their tiny desk fans.
“Bob the Goon” Action Figure
Also from “sure, make a toy of that guy, why not?!” department: Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was a triumph of hype, a film for which Warner Brothers’ marketing machine spent months working the movie-going public into a feverish intensity. And there were products galore: a Batman cereal, a Prince soundtrack album, toys by the boatload, and all sorts of action figures. The film’s dark tone and PG-13 rating didn’t seem much of a concern — nor did the importance of the characters recreated in plastic, which is how we ended up with a Toy Biz figure for the Joker’s chief goon, Bob. You remember Bob, right? No? Neither do we. He’s billed tenth on IMDb, and certainly not one of your more memorable Bat-villains, but thanks to the action figure, you could recreate such classic moments as Bob the Goon saying “It’s Knox” or Bob the Goon saying “Let him go, or I’ll do Gordon” in your bedroom Gotham.
Friday the 13th for Nintendo
The endlessly durable Friday the 13th series was like a lot of ‘80s horror: it was rated R (for the graphic blood and gore), but everyone knew their target audience was teenagers, who either snuck in to see them in theaters (or weren’t kept out by the ticket-takers and ushers, often teenagers themselves) or consumed them on VHS. Still, it must’ve seemed strange, in those pre-game-ratings days, when LJN and Atlus developed a Nintendo game based on the grisly franchise, in which the gamer controls six Camp Crystal Lake counselors who must survive a night in the woods and kill the unkillable Jason Vorhees. More problematic was the game itself: according to GamePro, which called it one of the worst movie-based games ever, it was ruined by “repetitive music and amazingly frustrating gameplay,” which mostly consisted of throwing rocks at Jason.
Alien Action Figure
This one’s a bit of a cheat (it came out in 1979), but still: you’ve got to wonder what was going on in the head of the toy exec who thought, “Sure, alien snot monster bursts out of a guy’s chest in one of the scariest and grossest scenes ever filmed — yeah, the kids’ll love playing with that! That’s not nightmare fuel, no way!” Unsurprisingly, this terrifying toy met with poor sales and complaints from the parents whose kids did pick one up; they were a huge flop, though (of course) these days they’re valuable collector’s items.
Robocop and the Ultra Police Board Game
Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi/action picture is a blood-soaked satire set in a dystopian future Detroit overrun by ruthless criminals and crooked copororate interests. So hey, let’s gather the whole family for a few runs around the Robocop game board! Collect “hero medals” and vehicle cards! Scoop up some thugs! It’s Detroit! It’s fun! Unsurprisingly, Monopoly’s status as Game Night mainstay was unthreatened.
America had Rambo-fever back in 1985 — heck, even the President dug its sophisticated, nuanced message — and the astonishing box office success of Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood sequel is about all the explanation you need for the idea of putting out a metal, grade school lunchbox for the oily-muscled, machine gun-wielding hero of an R-rated movie where he takes out 57 people.
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker Video Game
Moonwalker, the 1988 anthology of music videos (mostly) from Michael Jackson’s Bad LP, is a peculiar enough concoction in and of itself. But the idea that it was considered prime fodder for a video game — in both arcade and home console incarnations — gives you some idea of exactly what Jackson could get away with in the ‘80s. At the time, it probably didn’t seem all the inappropriate; it’s only now, in retrospect, that we feel a little oogy about its plotline, in which Jackson is “tasked to rescue children kidnapped by Mr. Big and his army.” All righty.
If you weren’t around for it, it’s hard to imagine the furor that surrounded Gremlins, the 1984 horror comedy from producer Steven Spielberg and director Joe Dante. It was mostly a matter of misdirection; parents were incensed that ads for the PG-rated movie played down the scary Gremlins themselves, as well as the film’s somewhat gory — for a PG, anyway — violence. (The film, and the Spielberg-directed Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, helped bring about the new PG-13 rating.) The official Gremlins cereal, which was kind of like Cap’n Crunch but with little Gizmos, emphasizes the cute and cuddly, pre-rampage version of the title characters. No word on what happens if you get the cereal wet, or eat it after midnight.
Feel free to share your favorite weird ‘80s movie merchandise memories in the comments!