Ridley Scott made quite an impact with his second feature, unleashing the Dan O’Bannon-scripted ALIEN on audiences in 1979. Films like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and HALLOWEEN had by that point already become ingrained in the nightmares of movie-goers, and Scott’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece rounded out that golden age of truly terrifying films by giving rise to an otherworldly new movie monster.
Released with an R rating in the United States and an X rating over in the United Kingdom, Ridey Scott’s ALIEN was anything but a movie for kids, both certifications ensuring that nobody under the age of 18 would be allowed to sit down in their local theater and live vicariously through the explicit terror of the doomed Nostromo crew. A good call on the part of American and British censors, to say the very least.
What’s interesting about ALIEN, however, is that despite the fact that kids weren’t permitted to watch it, they were oddly encouraged to play with it. 20th Century Fox partnered with toy company Kenner – known at the time for their mega-popular STAR WARS figures – for a board game and target set that were tied to the release of the film, and Ben Cooper even put out a children’s Halloween costume that year.
But parents drew the line when Kenner dared to release an 18″ action figure of the titular Alien, movie-accurate and incredibly detailed even by today’s high standards. The poseable toy featured a mechanically-operated inner mouth that shot out when the head was pushed down, and the commercial (below) made no bones about the fact that the toy’s target audience was not the movie’s.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long after the toy hit shelves that Kenner was swamped with complaints from angry parents, who wrote in to let the company know that their latest offering was far too terrifying for their children to play with. Sales of the 18″ monstrosity were incredibly poor, and in the wake of all the parental outrage, Kenner had no choice but to control the damage and pull the action figure off shelves.
It’s hard to imagine how Kenner could have not expected precisely that turn of events, but by all accounts, they had planned on turning ALIEN into a full-blown children’s toy line. The company went so far as to whip up prototypes of 3 3/4″ figures based on the R-rated movie, depicting characters like Ripley, Ash, and the Alien itself, though the outrage over the 18″ toy spelled the end of those plans.
As a truly awesome footnote to this fiasco, toy-makers Super7 and Funko partnered up a couple years back to bring those original 3 3/4″ prototypes to life, and in doing so they ended up launching an entire line of Kenner-style action figures under their ‘ReAction Figures’ banner. We now have retro-inspired toys based on films like JAWS, TRICK R TREAT, and HELLRAISER, and we owe them all to the 1979 disaster.
It’s also interesting to note that Kenner went back to the drawing board over a decade later, releasing a huge line of ALIENS toys that were supposed to be tied to the launch of an animated cartoon series that never got off the ground. The 1990s toy line, though still based on an R-rated film, was decidedly more kid-friendly, comprised of colorful and wacky monsters that weren’t actually seen in the movies.
Perhaps a reflection of the way that the times change, or simply a result of the new toys being far less frightening than Kenner’s first attempt to market the ALIEN franchise to kids, the ’90s line inspired no complaints, and it proved quite successful on toy shelves. One of the coolest exports of the line was an ALIEN VS. PREDATOR two-pack, available to kids a decade before the monsters clashed on the big screen.
Those who want to get their hands on the highly controversial 1979 ALIEN figure will have to shell out a pretty penny to add it to their collection, as they often sell for upwards of $1,000 on eBay. Capitalizing on the toy’s enduring popularity, Gentle Giant recently put out a jumbo-sized 24″ reproduction of the original 18″ figure, packaged in a period-authentic box. They went for $500, and quickly sold out.
Kenner’s misguided attempt to give ’70s kids an Alien friend to play with may have been disastrous for them, but it was nothing short of a win-win for all of us. Not only did we get one of the best horror toys ever made, but the company’s mistake directly led to an incredibly cool toy line that is showing no signs of slowing down. I’d have to call this one an error in judgment that ended up working out for the best!