Children of the 80s, let's settle this once and for all. (UPDATED with the FINAL RESULTS)
April 18, 2010

Once Kenner’s Star Wars kicked open the door to action figure Nir(and, eventually, Nerd)vana in 1977, there were three non-licensed lines that defined and dominated Aisle 7C in the 1980s.  But, once and for all, after all the different permutations and relaunches, which is our favorite?

 Is it this…




or this?


Discuss below.  But, as you do, consider the opinion of someone who works in the industry…

Before he left Mattel in 2003 to pursue other things at Jakks Pacific, former Masters of the Universe brand manager Jeremy Padawer had this to say about our subject…

"…I just wanted to thank you all for your continued support and passion for the Masters of the Universe.  It is and forever remains the most important male action brand in the history of the play pattern.

Seriously…who else can compete?

G.I. Joe: ok, I’ll give you that.  GI Joe was a manifestation of a country that had just faced a major world war and was staring down the barrel of many wars to come…Korea, Vietnam.  What GI Joe wasn’t – it wasn’t a superhero.  It was more of a statement of the day that wouldn’t end.  GI Joe was obvious.

Transformers: Transformation + Robots as a play pattern…completely revolutionary and on-point with kids.  Remember, however, Transformers came after MOTU…

…Masters: Masters was it.  A billion dollar boy action figure brand…not based in reality, but completely from a new world, where bees, mosquitoes, humanoid creatures, beasts, underwater minions, skeletal warriors, and elephant heads (what tha??)  all lived side by side…all lived with one thing in common…a propensity for being pumped up and ready for conflict.  The original Masters series embodied all that is right in kids television and toys.  In turn, kids (you in 1984) embraced the brand."

Some of the particulars aside, I’m inclined to agree with Padawer’s overriding opinion.

But, he did work for them…


And so, after a little over a month, let’s see what we have.

This wasn’t a formal poll, but among those who expressed a favorite below…

49% pledged allegiance to G.I. Joe, 29% rolled out with Transformers, and the remaining 22% felt the Power of Grayskull.

So, I guess that makes Joe the big winner at AFI.  I must confess, I went into this post with a He-bias but, of late, I’ve really felt a resurgence of Trans-love.

But Hasbro doesn’t have all that much to do with it.

More on that soon.



Jason "JJJason" Chirevas
Jason Chirevas is a toy collector whether he likes it or not (and he often doesn't). This former Would've-Been Action Hero is as interested in the humanity, psychology, and psychosis of collecting as he is in the action figures themselves. Fun guy.
Read other articles by Jason "JJJason" Chirevas.





  • George says:

    That’s a tough call, because they were all great. But if I had to go with one, G.I. Joe would be it. Everyone had them. You’d play them at your house, a classmate’s house, etc. I got a lot of use out of them.

  • darkknight30 says:

    I had lots of toys from each of these lines. It IS a tough call to make, but I think that ultimately G.I. Joe was the winner for me. There were tons of figures, accessories, vehicles and even something lost on many of todays great toy lines, PLAYSETS!!!! Everybody I knew had some G.I Joes and you had an instant connection! Masters of the Universe and Transformers were cool, but didn’t appeal to as broad of an audience. Nor did their cartoons have a public service announcement at the end of each episode! (…and knowing is half the battle, G.I.JOOOEEEEE!) Lastly, I can’t remember the Autobots or even Hordak’s Evil Horde having a beverage named after them (at least in the cartoon)! On that note, I am going to end this walk down memory lane and go enjoy a Yo Joe Cola (actually Sprite Zero….)!

    • MegaGearX says:

      Masters of the Universe was the first of these properties to have morals at the end of the story. “In today’s story,…”

  • jzachery says:

    Wow, that’s a total toss up. I consider them all pretty equal, but different… The big guns for me growing up were Transformers, GI Joe, He-man, Thundercats, and Super Powers… Since the last 2 aren’t in the running, I think I’d have to pick…
    TRANSFORMERS! I’m not a die hard collector, but I still get vintage or reissues whenever possible. These I do keep in the box!

  • Sector1014 says:

    MOTU wins for me, just cause what the 4H is doing with the MOTUC line is more fun for me than anything in the GI Joe or Transformer lines. 4H for the win. If the 4H did a 6″ GI Joe line with DCUC/MOTUC aesthetics, I’d be on board.

  • bambam says:

    Transformers is my #1 toy brand of all time, but MOTUC is my favorite line, presently. As a young 4 year old, I fell in love with MOTU first, but my attention was completely diverted when TF debuted in 1984. From then on, TF dominated my childhood until my parents bought me a NES. I’m not a fan recent movie designs, but I pick up every release of TF Classics/Universe 2.0/Generations.

  • Bathory1313 says:

    I think it was a total progression for me, growing up in the 80′s I started naturally with MOTU, simply put had playsets, figures and vehicles. Then came G.I. Joe, tons of figures (relatively) cheap, and it stood for everything every little boy wanted to be a hero. Then came transformers, again the small figures were cheap fun and it was just plan neat. I can’t choose it was a natural progression for me from one to the other. If I had to choose I would have to say G.I. Joe, I can still rummage through certian areas of my home and find remnants (guns/swords etc.) in a box here or there.

  • MegaGearX says:

    Transformers Universe Classics drops the ball so much, it’s in last place. Seaspray and Powerglide are bigger than Jetfire. Galvatron is tiny. No Soundwave, except the original, Silverbolt and Onslaught have lost their Aerialbot and Combaticon affiliations and combining powers, the whole seeker thing, etc.

    MOTUC is reaching G.I. Joe 25th, but some of the online shenanighans (Digital River, figure stands, bonus figures, sell-out times) really hurt the line by turning off would-be collectors. This shadow prevents MOTUC from becoming a great line. There’s usually some controversy every week or two.

    G.I. Joe 25th wins. Original toy versions, comic versions, cartoon versions.

  • Brainlock says:

    GI Joe was more bang for the buck, but TF got the mind working figuring out the conversions of those I didn’t have in the pamphlets.

    I had a few MOTU, but never really cared for the line.

    • Brainlock says:

      almost forgot: I’m more likely to pick up TF these days than I am Joe (incl.25th), so I guess my vote goes to TF.

  • UncleMarsellus says:

    I’d have to go with Transformers. It’s my personal favorite of those 3 and the one that has had the most lasting appeal with me. MOTU was great but it’s reign was brief. GI Joe was also a ton of fun and almost as impactful as Transformers but the robots in disguise still edge them out. Transformers also gave me the most enduring fictional hero of my childhood, Optimus Prime. I cried when he first appeared and Peter Cullen’s voice echoed through the theater in the first live action movie. I still buy a number of Transformers every year, still collect the older toys, and it’s almost as big of an obsession as Star Wars. I love MOTUC and there were some nice figures in the 25th anniversary GI Joe collection but Transformers have a special place in my heart (outside of Star Wars). Lots of memories.

  • Jeremy SpyMagician says:

    Wow, great blog and great question!

    No doubt for me these 3 are the “Trinity” of 80′s toys properties.

    Looking back as a kit my order of preference was this:

    1. GI Joe – longest running, most diverse, best bang for your buck.
    2. Transformers – being a fan of Japanese toys TFs were a longtime
    3. MOTU: I loved MOTU but in the end the lack of articulation and
    detail in the line compared to Joe and TF, as well
    as the rotting hip bands made it #3.

    Today however, the list has been shaken up. I collect for nostalgia. All the lines I collect are rooted in things I loved as a kid. And to me, the closer a line gets to what I deem the ultimate representation of those characters of my childhood, the higher it ranks.

    So today it’s:

    1. MOTU(C): To me it’s the closest to perfect modern realization of
    of an 80′s Toyline. The 4H designs, the articulation,
    modern construction and lack of gimmicks (that’s right,
    even as a kid I always wanted articulation and
    accessories over gimmicks.) all combine to make it my
    “perfect” toyline.

    2. GI JOE (25th): This line gets close to what I feel is the
    “ultimate” Joe line. The things that keep it from
    the top slot: inconsistent grips on the hands.
    It may seem like a small gripe, but for me the
    magic of Joe is the combination of articulation and
    accessories. Sadly too many of the 25th Joes have
    poorly sculpted, badly gripping hands.

    3. Transformers Classics/Universe:
    No doubt the engineering of TFs has progressed
    light years since the 80′s but compared to MOTUC
    and Joe, I feel the TF revival characters are
    furthest from the the original characters.
    Alt modes are often modernized or changed
    (i.e. Ironhide/Ratchet as SUVs). And while
    articulation and detail has improved, often
    I find modern TFs have lost the “chunky” robot
    appeal of G1 and have overly complicated
    transformations and delicate or unstable modes.

    Taking into account the TV shows, then I’d say the overall winner for me has to be MOTU. I’ve re-watched all 3 shows and neither Joe nor TF bring that rush of childhood happiness the way just hearing the MOTU theme does.

    Sure, Mattel and DR bring an unreasonable share of trials to collecting MOTUC, but for me, MOTUC figures are as close to the ultimate realization of a favored property as I’ve ever had the pleasure to own.


  • Zodach says:

    MOTU was my first action figure line growing up. It still holds a special place in my collection with the awesome Four Horsemen Classics figures. After MOTU it was TMNT and Batman, so I didn’t ever get into Transformers or GI Joe.

  • Lt. Clutch says:

    This one is relatively easy. All three were influential and became staples of 80′s pop culture. But my parents could only afford so much whenever we hit the toy aisles. I had a couple of the original “straight arm” guys when G.I. Joe debuted in 1982. I really got into them after the more colorful 1983 figures were released and stayed with the line off and on through 1991. Masters of the Universe were also a hit with me and for a while I was watching both cartoon shows. But I dropped MOTU after a couple of years because the Joes were cooler and more affordable. Transformers were too expensive for my parents although I managed to collect quite a few from 1985 through 1988 thanks to gifts from them and other relatives. So it’s G.I. Joe for me by a wide margin.

  • wesley says:

    Thats easy :D, MOTU

  • Tony C says:

    Masters of the Universe is my personal favorite, but i have to admit, a lot of those figures really don’t stand the test of time. I mean, how dorky looking are Stinkor or Spikor? And the accessories were cool, but kind of mis-matched. Why would Mekanek have a gigantic war-club? That line started out awesome, but got a little too goofy as it went on. The whole mythology and concept of MOTU didn’t really live up to its potential until the 200X series.
    Transformers had an awesome cartoon, but the toys were overrated. I remember saving up for Megatron, and being totally disappointed once i got him home. There was just not a lot of articulation and they kind of sucked to play with. Come to think of it, sitting there transforming them wasn’t all that fun when you were in the middle of trying to make them battle. They were much cooler on tv.
    Gotta say that of all these, GIJoe stands the test of time the best. Joes had the best articulation, weapons and, let’s be honest, the best vehicles of any toy line EVER, with the exception of Star Wars. Also, the Joes had a kick-butt cartoon, comic book, and those sweet file-cards on the back of the package.
    It pains me to say it, but the best toy line of the 80′s has to be G.I. Joe! Well, that or Starrior Wasters. Let’s call it a tie.

  • G.I. JOE, with Transformers a distant second. I’d take M.A.S.K. over Masters Of The Universe.

  • chad says:

    Hard to call for all the lines were good. and almost everyone had at least some for each line. though Motu was the first toy line that was allowed to have a cartoon tie in for the toys. paving the way for transformers but have to right now go with gijoe for the characters were more realistic like they were real people. plus who can top the play sets that came with the joes. mainly the u.s.s flag the grand daddy one of them all though castle greyskull was cool. though creepy as a castle in the shape of a skull. but have to go with Gijoe for now.

  • Erik superfriend says:

    I’m really a kid of the 70′s. Of these 3, Transformers. Watched them during lunch while in college.

    • Erik superfriend says:

      Disclosure: I worked for Hasbro from 1992 through 1997 in their Quality & Safety dept. Beast Wars was the Transformers era then. I think the fact that the idea was updated numerous times is part of its greatness. But I did work there. And I also love Total Justice.

  • Lightso says:

    Oddly, eventhough MOTU is so strong in popularity now, I think MOTU was the weakest of the 80′s toylines even with influencing a lot about the industry (such as licensed in-house characters and multi-media tie-ins). Transformers was fantastic quality and presentation for the time and probably the best concept overall, but no doubt GI Joe reigned supreme after kids turned from Star Wars.
    The comic influenced the line and vice versa, leaving endless possibilities for play patterns. Some of the playsets were beyond ambitious. Think about the Defiant Space station and shuttle, the Cobra Terror Drome, or especially the Flagg aircraft carrier. Hasbro seems hell bent on reliving some of that former glory now with the new AT-AT. Remarkable they can with the economy as it is, but no doubt it will sell out. Why? Because,like GI Joe used to be, nothing else in the toy aisle can touch it. But then it is Star Wars after all.

  • Dusty says:

    All three for me, my brothers and I always played GI-Joes, Transformers and He-man, they all rocked/rock IMO,

  • Fallen eldor says:

    Only One of the three had robots + army builders.

    MOTU is the best toy line of any decade because it had the most variety.

  • Shellhead says:

    I can’t choose between GI JOE and Transformers. GI Joe gave me Storm Shadow and Snake-eyes (not to mention a pretty kick@$$ comic book), while Transformers gave me perhaps the coolest thing ever: Robot Dinosaurs! The Dinobots were SO awesome to me as a 13 year old. I had a lot more Joes, though, growing up. Never got into MOTU.

    So, I guess:

    1) GI Joe (barely)
    2) Transformers (very strong second)
    3) MOTU (distant third)

    I’m digging the 4H MOTUC and I really liked the 200x series. But as a child of the 80′s, I say “Yo Joe!”

  • stewbacca says:

    G. I. Joe 100 %

    Tons more characters–awesome vehicles (a VTOL A-10 Warthog– If only in the real world)– attack pets, the best cartoon, best comic and Scarlett (a red head with a crossbow- how can you ever go wrong).

    Id go with he man second (its got spikor and snout spout)

    and a distant third for Transformers (they just broke to easily for me- and I was just never into cars or robots)– altough as noted above- you had to love the dinobots…

  • jamiwa3 says:

    If I HAVE to choose, then I gotta go with Transformers. Army guys and medieval warriors have been done before, Transformers was something totally new!

  • MisterPL says:

    Honestly, I never had an interest in any of those properties in that decade. Star Wars kept me plenty satisfied during the 80′s and still does. Once in a great while I’ll get distracted by something else in the 3 3/4″ scale but it’s never been Masters of the Universe or Transformers.

    That said, I’ve seen both Transformers movies (and slept through part of one) after getting hooked on watching Beast Wars with my son. And while I haven’t seen the Joe flick, I’ll watch it when it comes to cable and I have picked up some of the movie figures I liked. No idea who most of them are but they look fun.

    He-Man just never did it for me. I still don’t understand the appeal. I know nostalgia is a powerful drug but I’m not sure what possesses a person to get into that property in the first place.

    • MisterPL says:

      If Transformers is to be oversimplified as a “Transformation + Robots as a play pattern” and dismissed because it came AFTER He-Man, then MOTU is simply Lord of the Rings + Flash Gordon, essentially the Star Wars formula turned upside down. And we all know Star Wars came before MOTU. ;)

  • stcardinal says:

    Transformers. Loved the toys and watched the show religiously. Not so much the rest even though I had my fair share of MOTU and GI Joes.

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