From Buzz Lightyear to Game Boys, Furbies to Rubik’s Cube: the most popular toys of Christmases past

The list for the most sought-after festive gifts has been released, but how do they compare to the stocking fillers of the 80s and 90s?

Disney Frozen dolls and Transformers dinosaurs are among the must-have stocking fillers this year, according to an eclectic top toys list that includes everything from Bop-It to Benny’s Spaceship from The Lego Movie.


But how do they compare to the UK’s favourite festive toys from yesteryear? We take a trip back in time through some of the most popular Christmas toys, complete with some of the most adorably rubbish adverts ever seen on TV.

2006: Doctor Who Cyberman Mask

The must-have gift of Christmas 2006 after Rise of the Cybermen aired starring David Tennant was this voice-changing mask. If parents had known the Cybermen were the uploaded remains of dying humans, perhaps they wouldn’t have flown off the shelves so quickly?

2002: Beyblades

Beware the spinning milk-bottle tops of doom! TV cartoons usually appear after the toy has been a success, but when Beyblades were first released in Japan in 2000 the series was all ready to go. It proved to be a very smart move, leading Beyblades to grab the top spot in the UK in 2002. Since then, the game has even “spun” off and set up their very own World Championships. Just look at the tension…

1998: Furby

The blinking, bleating, cuddly interactive toy shuffled into the world in time for Christmas – but not fast enough. The BBC reported that only 350,000 made it to the UK that year, with shops selling out of the fluffy devils. The toy made a comeback in 2005 and 2012, when it came complete with LCD screens for eyes. This is the future, kids.

1996: Buzz Lightyear

Just like Tracy Island four years previously (see below), “infinity” was a bit too ambitious for makers of the Buzz Lightyear action figure. After much media hype plastic Buzz rapidly sold out in the UK, ruining Christmas for Toy Story fans at the back of the queue. Buzz has had a better history since, even taking a ride aboard the NASA space shuttle in 2008. Here he is in training with his namesake Buzz Aldrin…

1992: Tracy Island

Here’s how not to launch a toy. Stories about toy shortages are as common as tinsel in the festive season, but this is still the best. When the BBC resurrected Thunderbirds in the run-up to Christmas there was a massive shortage of Tracy Island sets. The answer, of course, was to follow dear Anthea Turner’s instructions on Blue Peter. Good news! You can still find the original instructions here.

1991: Nintento Game Boy

Literally, the game-changer: the handheld console had first been released in Japan in 1989, coming to Europe a year later. But by 1991 the £70 big grey block had become a Christmas mega-hit, probably thanks to awesomely tacky TV ads like this.

1985: Transformers

A suitably blocky 80s-style Optimus Prime first rolled onto the scene in the mid-80s, and thanks to a mammoth movie franchise this year children can still enjoy the plastic delights of the Transformers Stomp & Chomp Grimlock. Grrrr.

1980: Rubik’s Cube

34 years have passed since the original Rubik’s Cube, and we still haven’t worked out how the hell to solve it. Some generous kids share their tips…

1967: Spirograph

British engineer Denys Fisher originally used his system of gears while working with NATO to help improve bomb detonation equipment. His drawing kit would go on to be one of the most successful toys of the 60s, selling a reported five and a half million kits in two years.

1966: Action Man


It was the decade of love, of breaking boundaries, which is probably the reason why a doll for boys became so popular. Far out. You’d have thought a good old football would have been enough for well-behaved English boys in this World Cup-winning year, but apparently not.