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10 Embarrassing Movie Tie-in Toys

More Embarrassing Movie Tie-in Toys

Princess Leia was one of many “Star Wars” characters that came packaged in Happy Meals as part of McDonald’s “Clone Wars” toy line.
Princess Leia was one of many “Star Wars” characters that came packaged in Happy Meals as part of McDonald’s “Clone Wars” toy line.

5: Star Wars IOU

Imagine that you're a young "Star Wars" fan rushing downstairs on Christmas morning 1977 to tear into some wrapping paper. Thanks to a slow start at producing toys to support the "A New Hope" release, young fans of the film were more likely to end up with an empty cardboard box than an actual Luke or Leia action figure. Knowing they wouldn't have "Star Wars" toys manufactured in time for Christmas, Kenner had the ingenious idea to sell an IOU-of-sorts, so kids would have something to open on Christmas morning [source: West]. The box contained a mail-away certificate, which promised kids they'd have Luke, Leia, R2-D2 and Chewy figures by June 1978 at the latest.

While the "Star Wars" holiday IOU may seem depressing today, Kenner managed to sell a whopping 300,000 of them during the 1977 holiday season [source: Sweetwater and Neumann]. Embarrassing? Yes, but kids who held on to these boxes and never opened them or redeemed the certificate may have the last laugh, as the '77 empty box has soared in value since it disappointed kids on Christmas morning.


4: Ridiculous Turtle Action Figures

Let's be clear — the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze produced some truly spectacular toys starting in the late '80s, and by the early '90s, manufacturers had sold a staggering quarter of a billion turtle figures. Many of the classic characters make sense to the franchise and are much beloved by kids and collectors alike. Considering the relatively small TMNT cast and the 400-plus turtle action figures on the market, it's no surprise that more than a few missed the mark as toy-makers racked their brains for new ideas [source: Lammie].

Take for example the Bodacious Birthday line of turtles, which consisted of an utterly ridiculous looking Crazy Clown Mike and a magician-themed Raph the Magnificent. If that's not enough for you, consider the baffling line of farmer turtles, sumo wrestlers and dino-turtle hybrids or a strange series of Wild West figures, including a gap-toothed Bandito-Bashin Mike. Perhaps the weirdest of all were the pizza-tossin' turtles, which shot plastic pizza discs from their chest cavities and featured some truly crazed faces.

3: The Meat Action Figure

The "Rocky" franchise brought out a number of questionable action figures to accompany its classic movie star, including an odd wheelchair-bound Rocky and an even weirder caveman Rocky toy. Despite these small missteps, toy-makers really jumped the shark when they released The Meat action figure in 1976, which consisted of a slab of beef and a bloodstained apron. Sure, this action figure might have made more sense if it was actually packaged with Rocky, who famously punched a side of beef during a training scene in the film. Shamefully, The Meat came sans any figure at all, making it more accessory than toy and making it appear more like a desperate cash grab than an attempt at thoughtful merchandising. To be fair, the meaty marvel was roughly the size of a standard action figure, but had relatively little play value on its own, making it one of the most embarrassing movie tie-ins ever released.

2: Clone Wars Happy Meal Toys

With the release of the animated "Clone Wars" in 2008, McDonald's launched its first ever line of "Star Wars" toys, consisting of 18 different toys packed in special collector's meal boxes. While the concept of a McDonald's/"Star Wars" combo made sense on paper, the excitement was short-lived when the actual toys were released. Rather than sticking to the classic character designs, McDonald's went with a wacky bobble head concept, with oversized character faces jutting out of tiny vehicles [source: David]. Darth Vader looks a whole lot less intimidating when he's been reduced to a giant head wobbling above a TIE fighter, and Han Solo loses a bit of his heroic style when you see his face dwarfing the Millennium Falcon. And of course, let's not forget poor Chewy, who ends up stuffed awkwardly into an all-terrain transport vehicle. Despite the large number of incredible "Star Wars" tie-ins released since the series began, this is one line that falls flat.

1: Human Torch on an ATV

When the "Fantastic Four" film hit theaters in 2005, fans were inundated with the usual line of movie merchandise, including a series of action figures. While figures of Dr. Doom and the Invisible Woman seemed appropriate, the Human Torch figure rubbed fans the wrong way. In the film, as well as the original line of comics, the Human Torch was fully capable of flying anywhere he needed to go, yet for some inexplicable reason, his 2005 action figure came perched on an ATV. Totally unnecessary, but also a pretty bad example for kids — after all, the last place you'd want to sit if you were on fire is atop a gas-powered vehicle.

Even more embarrassing, the toy came with real light-up headlights, which would make sense if the Human Torch weren't already emitting plenty of light thanks to the fact that he's on fire [source: Taylor].

Author's Note: 10 Most Embarrassing Movie Tie-In Toys

While researching this article it occurred to me just how badly it could reflect on a brand when licenses were handed out with abandon. It's truly impressive how some companies, like Barbie, manage hundreds of different licenses with few hiccups along the way. It wasn't until 2014 that Barbie executives finally picked a production company to launch a live-action motion picture — more than 50 years after the doll was first introduced. Another company that does licensing right is Lego, which carefully distributes licenses only to products that make sense for the company's brand and mission.

Related Articles


  • David, Collin. "Star Wars Comes to McDonalds." Collectors Quest. (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Gamble, Cole. "9 Baffling Movie Merchandise Tie-Ins." Mental Floss. June 29, 2012. (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Lammle, Rob. "The Complete History of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Mental Floss. May 3, 2014. (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Marche, Stephen. "How to Read a Racist Book to Your Kids." The New York Times. June 15, 2012. (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Mattise, Nathan. "Awesome New Action Figures for Alien and Other '80s Classics." Wired. Aug. 14, 2014. (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Quenqua, Douglas. "Advertising; The Force Lives On, As Do the Toys." The New York Times. July 1, 2008. (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Robot Vs. Badger. "9 Awesome TV and Movie Themed Micro Machine Ranges." (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Robinson, Sherry. "Hulk Toys Will be a Smash with the Kids." Tampa Bay Times. June 10, 2008. (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Sansweet, Stephen J. with Anne Neumann. "Star Wars – 1,000 Collectibles – Memorabilia and Stories From a Galaxy Far, Far Away." Abrams. 2009.
  • Silverman, Stephan M. "Clones' Is Here – At Toy Stores." People. April 24, 2002. (Nov. 24, 2014),,623884,00.html
  • Taylor, Catharine P. "Flaming Man on a Gas Tank. Great Idea." Ad Week. July 15, 2005. (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Time Magazine. "Top 10 Dubious Toys." (Nov. 24, 2014),28804,1927306_1927313_1927329,00.html
  • West, Jay. "'Star Wars' Flashback: Christmas '77 Left Fans with Empty Feeling." Los Angeles Times. Jan. 10, 2012. (Nov. 24, 2014)
  • Zimmerman, Ann. "Mattel's New Playbook: Toy First, Franchise Next." The Wall Street Journal. June 3, 2010. (Nov. 24, 2014)


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