Every holiday season, there’s one must-have toy. Customers have been known to wait in line for hours, pay massive amounts of money and even physically fight in toy-store aisles during Black Friday sales just to get their hands on the year’s hottest toy.
Read on to discover the most popular toys of the past three decades — and what the next toy craze will be.
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Cabbage Patch Kids (1983)
Created in 1978 by Xavier Roberts, these “adoptable” soft-sculpture dolls were all the rage in the 1980s. Due to a clever marketing campaign, the dolls were a virtual overnight success, raking in $600 million in sales by 1985. The dolls flew off the shelves during the holidays, forcing customers to wait in line for hours to purchase one. The success of the Cabbage Patch Kids grew and grew until they became the best-selling introduction of a doll in history.
Originally produced in 1984 by Japanese toy company Takara and the American toy company Hasbro, these shape-shifting robots quickly became a sensation. The toys became so popular that they spawned an animated series, an animated film in 1986 and the extremely popular live-action movie franchise in the 2000s.
Teddy Ruxpin (1985 and ’86)
This animatronic talking teddy bear was initially produced by the toy manufacturer Worlds of Wonder and introduced to the market in 1985. The storytelling teddy’s slogan boasted of being “the world’s first animated, talking toy.”
Koosh Ball (1987)
This delightful ball made of rubber strings was created by Scott Stillinger, who named his product after the sound it made when it hit the ground. The toy was marketed by Mattel and was a smashing success.
Nintendo Entertainment System (1988)
This 8-bit video-game console was an astounding success when it first hit the market in 1988, with 7 million systems sold the year it was released — especially during the holiday season. The market for NES cartridges that year was larger than the market for the entirety of all computer software.
Game Boy (1989)
The handheld Nintendo game console quickly sold an incredible 1.1 million units, outselling all of its video-game counterparts and becoming one of the best-selling electronic game devices of all time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures (based on the characters from the film of the same title) were wildly popular during the holiday season of 1990, selling more than 30 million units by Christmas.
Super Nintendo (1991)
Nintendo was on a roll in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and its new release, Super Nintendo, was no exception. It quickly became the best-selling video-game console of the 16-bit era.
Created by the toy-manufacturing company Dankin, the plush purple dinosaur based on the popular TV character came about because parents demanded it after seeing their kids cuddling video cassette boxes of the series.
This portable audio cassette player and recorder was conceived and used as a prop for the 1992 film “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” After the success of the film, young fans demanded a real-life version of the Talkboy. Released by Hasbro, the Talkboy became so popular during the holiday season that the company was forced to pull the product’s ads due to short supply.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1994)
These action figures were based on the characters of the extremely popular television series of the same title. The toys flew off the shelves during the 1994 holiday season.
Beanie Babies (1995)
These stuffed animals were created by Ty Warner, who would arbitrarily take certain Beanie Babies off the market, making them hard-to-find collectibles that customers would pay hundreds of dollars for. The demand for the toys became so intense that some customers had physical altercations in store aisles over the stuffed dolls.
Tickle Me Elmo (1996)
Based on the Elmo character from “Sesame Street,” this giggling doll was manufactured by Tyco and introduced to the market in 1996. Elmo was an unexpected success, and the entire stock of 1 million dolls sold out by the end of the year. Since the toy was in such short supply, scalpers capitalized on the demand and sold it for hundreds of dollars while physical altercations between customers repeatedly broke out over the doll.
At the height of this handheld virtual pet’s popularity, 15 Tamagotchis were sold every minute in the U.S. and Canada, and more than 40 million units were sold worldwide.
Originally priced at $35, these electronic, robotic toys were in such demand during the Christmas season that their resale value skyrocketed to as much as $300. An astounding 27 million Furbies were sold in 1998.
This popular franchise based on the Game Boy game was a smashing success during the holiday season of 1999. The craze involved various kinds of merchandise, particularly trading cards, and also sparked a popular animated TV series. Pokémon is still a powerhouse today. In 2017, the company reported that more than $900 billion of Pokémon-related products have been sold.
Razor Scooter (2000)
Originally manufactured by Sharper Image, this popular scooter ushered in the new millennium with a bona fide holiday frenzy. The Razor was so popular that it led to the creation of a new extreme sport: freestyle scootering.
These teen fashion dolls with the distinct look of big heads and skinny bodies were so successful in 2001 that they surpassed Barbie as the No. 1-selling toy geared toward girls. Despite the success, many parents were concerned that the dolls were too provocatively dressed and that they promoted an unhealthy body image.
This line of spinning-top toys was developed and manufactured by Takara Tomy in 2002. It dominated the market and was one of the most popular toy lines in the world from 2000 to 2005.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game has been wildly popular in Japan since 1998, and 3.5 billion cards trading cards were sold prior to the Yugi Starter Deck’s 2002 release in North America. The game caught on in the U.S., and it landed on many top toy lists for 2003. In 2009, Guinness World Records named it a top selling trading card game, with over 22 billion cards sold worldwide.
This biomorphic robotic toy was manufactured by WowWee Toys, and it sold a whopping 1.5 million units between April and December 2004.
Xbox 360 (2005)
This video-game console was rushed to shelves by Microsoft to beat out the soon-to-be-released Sony PlayStation 3. The strategy worked, because the Xbox 360 sold a total of 5.5 million units during its first six months on the market.
PlayStation 3 (2006)
This video-game console was incredibly popular in 2006, continuing the trend of wildly successful gaming releases. The system was so popular upon its release that people became violent in their attempts to acquire one.
Nintendo DS (2007)
This dual-screen, touch-screen gaming system from Nintendo swiftly became highly popular. In 2007, the DS broke records to become the fastest-selling handheld game console of all time with 653,000 units sold in one week. To date, worldwide sales on all consoles in the DS family total a whopping 154 million units.
Nintendo Wii (2008)
Nintendo was on a roll in the late 2000s, and the Nintendo Wii was proof of that. The gaming system sold 10 million units by the end of 2008, many of which were purchased during the holiday season.
Zhu Zhu Pets(2009)
Originally known as Go Go Hamsters in the U.K., these plush robotic toys were all the rage during the Christmas season of 2009. Originally sold for $9, the Christmas demand became so high that their value shot up to $60.
This tablet is beloved by adults, of course, but it also was a massively popular gift for children during the 2010 Christmas season — so popular that it sold more than 300,000 units on the first day of its release.
A tablet computer developed for kids, the LeapPad Explorer flew off the shelves during the 2011 holiday season. After its initial success, it was awarded Toy of the Year honors by the American International Toy Fair in New York City.
Wii U (2012)
This video-game console was another holiday-season home run for Nintendo. It sold like hotcakes, and customers reportedly waited in line for hours to get one.
Big Hugs Elmo (2013)
This plush talking Elmo followed the massive success of Tickle Me Elmo, and was nearly as successful during the 2013 holiday season.
Elsa Doll (2014)
The doll based on the character from the hit animated film “Frozen” was a wild success. It was crowned the new queen of dolls marketed to girls, and retailers were caught off guard by its demand during the holiday season, leaving many in short supply.
This remote-controlled droid, based on a character from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” was predicted to be the best-selling toy of the 2015 season. Upon its release, the initial supply sold out in one day.
Hatchimals (2016) This interactive toy starts as an egg and needs your child’s love in order to hatch. After enough care and attention, the egg will be ready to hatch into a furry creature that can be raised from baby to toddler to kid. The toy can learn to repeat what you say, to walk, to dance and to play games.
NES Classic (2016)
Video-game nostalgia reigns supreme with this retro-style Nintendo system loaded with 30 classic games, including “Super Mario Bros.” and “Ninja Gaiden”. The console sold out in just moments.
The New Teddy Ruxpin (2017)
The beloved animatronic bear is making a comeback. It was the most popular toy of 1985 and 1986, but the new version traded in a cassette tape for a free app. Follow along on your smartphone or tablet as Teddy reads a book or sings a song. The fast-selling throwback also upgraded to LED-screen eyes that add expression.
Nintendo Switch (2017)
The Nintendo Switch is the latest gaming system. It can be used as a handheld or tabletop device or with a TV, and it allows flexibility between single- and multiplayer games. After the console’s release in March, stores couldn’t keep them in stock for more than a few hours after each new shipment, and they remain a hot item.
These adorable baby monkeys are interactive and collectible pets. When played with, the monkeys come alive, responding to sound, motion and touch. Manufactured by a high-tech robotics and entertainment company, they’re part of the popular trend of robotic pets — and they’re flying off the shelves.
From the latest tech to the hottest fashions and everything in between, the editors at The Smart Shopper are in the know and ready share their expertise. Check out our posts on shopping secrets and product trends for those who live for a little retail therapy.