Wrapped in Plastic: Kenner’s Alien Toys

Alien figurines being packaged. From Cincinnati magazine, December 1979.

Alien figurines being packaged. From Cincinnati magazine, December 1979.

“I keep trying to imagine it…Alien dolls? I don’t see how they have any merchandising potential whatever. But I’m sure they’ll find it—maybe a little rubber Alien doll that sneaks across the room and bites your foot off. Great for people with kids and pets.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, MediaScene, 1979.

Bizarrely for an R-rated feature, Twentieth Century Fox hoped Alien’s release would encourage the sort of toy craze that had come in the wake of Star Wars (some promotional materials boasted ‘From the producers of Star Wars!’ possibly in a hope to lure kids to the shelves). MediaScene reported the high hopes Fox had pinned on the film’s merchandising, saying that, “The merchandising aspect of Alien is not being left to chance either. Charles Lippincott, whose position was to oversee the licensing and publicity for Star Wars, is performing the same function for Alien.” There were Alien egg puzzles, Alien picture viewers, Nostromo baseball caps, blaster target toys, various Alien puzzle and jigsaw sets and more that you can see in Alien Ads from Yesteryear. But most infamous of all is Kenner’s Alien figurine, released Christmas 1979.

The 18 inch figurine’s appearance was remarkably faithful to the movie’s creature, though perhaps too much so for parents to handle. Sales were reportedly low and the toy poorly constructed: the back-pipes and tail would snap off (not ideal when your packaging reads: ‘Movable tail to swing by!’) and the translucent dome was prone to falling off and going missing.

While adults shook their heads at the distastefulness of trying to make such a monster appeal to young children (another packaging blurb read: ‘Spring loaded arms… to crush its victims!’) I have never seen anyone gifted it grow up and regret its inappropriateness as a child’s toy (here’s one kid who looks absolutely delighted — Alien toys were quite common in stores when I was young, having been born in the late eighties, but I distinctly remember seeing -and wanting- a plastic Freddy Krueger glove, never realising the strangeness of wielding a child murderer’s weapon on the playground.)

Amusingly, Kenner were not allowed to show images of the Alien on their packaging throughout much of 1979, resulting in early promotional materials that replaced the creature with an amorphous cloud from which only the Alien’s hands reached out. One jigsaw set replaced it with a question mark and an explanation to assuage buyers that their children were not being asked to assemble images of punctuation marks.

alien2 - Copy

While the 1992 toy line would find more success (Alien variations included Gorilla, Bull, Scorpion, Panther and Snake Aliens, and were probably considered hokier as a result) Kenner’s original remains a more memorable and perhaps endearing attempt at rendering the creature in plastic, probably because of the toy’s fidelity to Giger’s original Alien and the inherent strangeness in prohibiting children from seeing a film and yet merchandising said film to them. As such, it remains a popular collectors item, with unboxed figurines going for as much as $2,000 on eBay. Other industrious fans have taken to restoring broken originals, with AVPG’r Windebieste chronicling his restoration of an original 1979 Kenner Alien over at Mego Museum.

Often regarded as a marketing failure, Kenner’s attempt provided a precedent for merchandising R-rated movies for younger audiences. The Terminator endoskeleton, Rambo, and Robocop would all become action figures throughout the late eighties and early nineties, with the latter two even boasting their own cartoon shows — plans for an animated Aliens series were made on the back of the new toy line’s success, and the project even entered production, but never came to fruition.

“One day, I happened to be wondering if I had any impact on the world at large. I was shopping at a drug store and I saw a plastic toy version of the Alien. That is when I realised I had reached out and in some small way, put my mark on history.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Starlog #228, July 1996.

alienbox

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9 Comments

Filed under Alien

9 responses to “Wrapped in Plastic: Kenner’s Alien Toys

  1. Connor MacLeod

    I received one of these for Christmas. My parents had no problems with it and it remained a treasured possession for many years. Eventually, it ended up in the hands of my grandmother who had never seen the movie but adored the toy. She displayed it prominently in the nook in the kitchen where she had coffee every morning. She was fascinated with it, which speaks to the alluring, yet disturbing beauty of Giger’s work.

  2. Roger

    It’s also worth mentioning the 3 3/4″ scale figures that Kenner planned and cancelled. The designs were resurrected by Super7 to kick off their ReAction figure line: http://blog.super7store.com/2013/04/17/alien-reaction-figures-new-studio-photos/

  3. I bought one in excellent condition, including box and all inserts for about $800 in a shop in Hawaii. Sold it a few years later for closer to $1000. I also had the puzzle and the movie viewer mint in box, which was actually my favourite of the 79 Kenner items. The packaging for the 18″ and the viewer are so cool.

    That said, I think my favourite toys were my die-cast Narcissus, Drop Ship and APC from Galoob. Alas, all these and many more moved on to other owners years ago. I used to have an extensive Alien/Aliens collection and there’s not much I really regret selling, except for all the items I’ve just mentioned.

    If I could go back, I’d keep all of these.

  4. Brian

    I turn 48 on Friday.The Alien that I got for Christmas ’79 is leering at me from a shelf above my computer sandwiched between Shogun Warriors Godzilla and Rodan.The shelf is also home to some Inhumanoids, The Kraken from Clash of the Titans,and Shogun Warriors Raideen.All were childhood toys except the Inhumanoids,which I bought at a comic book shop later because they seem to fit in with this motley group of monsters.Everybody that sees this shelf is fascinated ,especially by the Alien.I ‘m guessing that these toys have a universal appeal to most adults based on clever design alone, while they only appealed to a certain few children,like me.

  5. Winde also did a review of the re-releases that might be of interest to any collectors – http://www.avpgalaxy.net/website/articles/gentle-giant-alien-replica-review/

  6. Balaji Imperial

    The 18 inch figure is a ridiculously cool artefact.

    The idea of its presence on toy store shelves at the time of Alien’s release is just so surreal to me, arriving as it did in an era before collectable toys marketed towards adults, or the licensing of 18 certificate films for spin off children’s cartoons and toy lines. (In the ’90s, even The Toxic Avenger got his chance!)

    As a child, I certainly would have loved to unwrap one of these beauties on Christmas morning, and it’s great to read posts here from a few that did.

    The factory photo is awesome too – thanks for sharing it. I guess for those Kenner employees pictured, it was just another day on the product assembly line. Or did any of them stop to think, ‘Gee, this is a pretty weird looking thing we’re making today’?

  7. Michael

    I remember walking through the toy aisle at a K-Mart in 1979 and seeing this monstrous, 18″ beauty for something like $7.99?! My Mom, who appreciated my artwork from movies and other really creepy stuff, knew that I loved the film. (Thankfully I talked my Father into seeing it at 12 yrs old, because we both loved sci-fi and it was about to leave theaters). We both were terrified and thrilled at the same time. I picked it up and was amazed. My Mom asked, “Do you want that?” I was like “Yes.” (Not thinking that would make any difference). She said, “OK, I’ll get it for you.” I was so shocked… These were words that did not come out of her mouth in the toy aisle often, or if at all. That was a great day. I decided it needed some work. I painted over the glow in the dark head with matching acrylic paint, glued the dome on… (Who thought it was a good idea not to attach it?!) And painted an acrylic wash over it that gave it the look that I felt was more like the movie, although that was more lighting I believe, but much creepier just barely seeing what was underneath. Over the years, the dome had a very small crack on the side, and the arms became very loose, but still pose able. When I saw the beautiful NECA version around 2006(?) I sold it online and now have this even more beautiful version with the dome again washed over. What a wonderful and disturbing creation… Probably the greatest design for a creature ever placed on film.

  8. Sevastopol_Conduit

    I just recently picked up NECA’s Isolation Drone. By far the most detailed, well sculpted figures in my collection – a true representation of the classic Drone – and for the price NECA delivers.

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