15 most nostalgic holiday toys, Tamagotchi and Beanie Babies included

December 21, 2021
Cabbage Patch Kids: 1983 holiday season


The scene from the 1996 holiday movie “Jingle All the Way” is one that Gen Zers and even some millennials may not be able to comprehend. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fatherly character is seen fending off other parents in a toy store trying to capture an elusive Turbo Man action doll.

The toy in the movie is described as the hottest selling and most impossible to get if you’re a late Christmas shopper. Before Amazon orders were the norm and the internet era morphed what’s popular in the toy world, there was almost always a form of a Turbo Man dominating toy store shelves and then selling out around the holidays – meaning parents would never hear the end of it if they didn’t secure that epic toy for their children that everyone else was getting. 

In celebration of that era, USA TODAY is highlighting 15 of the most memorable holiday toys that were the clear-cut prizes and best-sellers back in the 1980s and 1990s. A trip down the nostalgia lane:  

Atari (1979 into 1980s)

Although it debuted in 1977, several years later it became the hottest selling toy around. The Atari Video Computer System (Atari 2600) dominated the Christmas of 1979 and then sold 10 million copies by 1982. 

Rubicks Cube (1980)

Nowadays it’s a common toy. And as far as long-lasting toy creations go, this one might take the cake. It was invented in 1974 by architecture professor Ernő Rubik before being popularized in the 1980s (200 million had sold by ’83). 

Cabbage Patch Kid (1983)

This was one of the first toys that might’ve prompted moms and dads to push each other in lines at department stores. It was marketed to be not just any doll, because you’d adopt the Cabbage Patch Kid, name it and give it a birth certificate. 

Transformers (1984)

Way before the Michael Bay movies in the 2000s, the toys were where it was at in ’84. Smartly marketed alongside the popular kids television show, Hasbro toys’ collaboration with Takara of Japan proved to be a hit model for TV shows and toys marrying together. 

Original Nintendo console (1988)

Before Playstation, XBox or any game console, there was the O.G. The original Nintendo sold seven million systems in 1988, and it’s important to note the allure of a gaming system in an era where home computers weren’t the norm in households. Super Mario Bros were just as important as cookies out for Santa on this holiday season. 

Original Gameboy (1989)

The RV to Nintendo’s estate, Gameboy became one of the most epic toys by following the success of the home Nintendo system, as the cartridge gaming system allowed kids to play games in the car while their parents were distracted in the front seat. 

Ninja Turtles action figure (1990)

Turtles in a half shell. Duh. No, but seriously, the television show plus toys’ marketing campaigns were checking all the boxes as the decade turned to 1990. In this case, the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film propelled the figurines to do so well.

Pogs (1991)

A collecting toy, kids were dueling it out on the playground to see who could get the best assortment of POGs. 

Talkboy (1993)

Listen, before iPhones did everything for us, the Talkboy was a major hit. A cassette player AND a recorder. What. Is. Up? Kevin McAllister popularized this in “Home Alone,” along with his affection for cheese pizza. 

Power Rangers megazord (1994)

“The Power Rangers” television show by Saban was easily one of the biggest hits of the 1990s, and while the action figures sold like hotcakes, it was the megazord (the Power Rangers had big dinosaurs they rode in like cars used to fight monsters) that became the toy prompting lines outside the door. This toy was several toys in one and was a must-have in the 1993-94 range. 

Beanie Babies (1995)

The popular line of stuffed animal toys Beanie Babies blew up once they were on shelves, winning the 1995 holiday season by a landslide. Their collectible value has lived on, with a Ty Princess Diana 1997 Beanie Baby worth over $50,000. 

Tickle Me Elmo (1996)

While there have been predecessors of the doll, this version became the epic toy of 1996 thanks to the coinciding popularity of “Sesame Street” and a dynamite marketing campaign. Another toy that saw parents fighting in stores, Tickle Me Elmo was so popular that parents were paying other parents to avoid disappointing their child. 

Tamagotchi (1997)

The Tamagotchi was basically a virtual reality pet. The premise tied to the toy that was pocket-sized took off and drew insane selling numbers. By the 2000s, the Tamagotchi toy had sold over $75 million – illuminating its nostalgic staying power.  

Furby (1998)

The pitch meeting for this toy must’ve been interesting. Furry toy that talks and blinks its eyes. Nevertheless, the “electronic friend” marketing and the timing of the Furby toy were on point as it rose in price right as the holiday season came and manufacturers were behind because of its popularity. 

Pokémon cards (1999)

Gotta. Catch. ‘Em. All. The Pokémon craze carried over into the 2000s, but boy was it something when it took off popularity-wise at the turn of the millennium. The animated series gave the cards a boost, and vice-versa. A seemingly obscure Japanese export vaulted into stardom with a Charizard or Pikachu card becoming the most epic holiday gift around. 


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