The 1990s represented a transitional shift for kids’ television that saw some of the biggest brands on the planet launched that are still going strong to this day.
The reason why the 90s was so big for children’s television was due to a few reasons. Firstly, colour televisions were present in more homes than ever, which meant more people were watching.
Because television was not yet digital, this boom in viewership meant bigger budgets and consequently higher quality television shows.
It was also an era when’s children’s shows grew up. Presenters would treat children as peers instead of talking at them like teachers. Adult concepts were introduced. Heroes were forged and children were more engaged than ever.
This popularity, of course, meant many of these shows spawned multi-million dollar toy lines. Here are some of the biggest.
The 90s was famous for gross-out humour with shows like Ren and Stimpy enjoying enormous popularity. When it came to popularity on the screen and in the toy stores, Street Shark toys were the pinnacle. These larger than life grotesque heroes and villains were explosions of teeth and colour that thrilled children and shocked parents.
It’s hard to believe that The Simpsons is still on the air with new episodes to this day. With 33 years under its belt, The Simpsons is the longest-running scripted American primetime show. That beats out the second-longest show, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, by a decade. However, after launching on December 17 in 1989 it was the 1990s when the Simpsons experienced unprecedented popularity.
All of the classic episodes aired through the 1990s and it was a licence to print money. During the 90s, there was all manner of Simpsons toys, from action figures to kitchenware. Basically, anything that could be printed with Simpsons characters, was printed with Simpsons characters.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
While the 1980s comics were dark and gritty, the 1990s saw the wise-cracking, pizza-chomping, sewer-dwelling turtles that were geared more toward children.
The ensuing toy line was enormous. At the time, Turtles toys accounted for about US$1.1 billion in sales in just a four year period, making them the third-best-selling toy in history after GI Joe and Star Wars.
Playmates produced around 400 figures and dozens of playsets and vehicles plus you could buy trading cards, costumes, food products (including TMNT pizza), videos, movies and much, much more.
Like The Simpsons, Pokémon is still popular today. In fact, it might be just as big now as it ever has been. Ken Sugimori, Mitsuhiro Arita, and Keiji Kinebuchi contributed drawings to the first set of cards published on October 20, 1996. Three years later, in 1999, Wizards of the Coast introduced them to the North American market and shortly after that, the rest of the world.
Pokémon Trading Card Game cards were collected by almost everyone in the 1990s. Some of the cards were difficult to find even then. Charizard, a fire-breathing dragon with a holographic background, was one of the most popular cards during the ’90s – and it is still as rare as ever. A Shiny Charizard sold for $369,000 in December 2020, highlighting the enormous rarity and popularity of the Pokémon franchise.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
While the 1980s had Volton, the 1990s had the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which followed a very common theme. Five teenagers would command Dinozords that would combine to form a Megazord that would take on interstellar beasts and robots. As the show progressed we were introduced to Dragonzords, Ultrazords, Dinozords and Thunderzords and a sprawling line of action figures and Zords that kids just loved.
X-Men: The Animated Series
Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, X-Men: The Animated Series was lovingly translating the stories from the pages of Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men comics and bringing them to the small screen. It is regarded as the best superhero TV series to this day and the toyline that was so popular in the 90s has been reproduced in the Legends line for re-sale today. These toys were highly popular back in the day for not only fans of the television series, but long-running fans of the comic books that inspired it.
Dragon Ball Z
Japanese animation had cracked the western market before, most notably with Kimba The White Lion and Astro Boy, but Dragon Ball Z was a mini-revolution. The storyline was simple. With the help of the powerful Dragonballs, a team of fighters led by the Saiyan warrior Goku defend the planet earth from extraterrestrial enemies. But the epic storyline has continued for decades and action figures of these heroes and villains were popular then – and still are today.
Beast Wars: Transformers
The Transformers were huge in the 1990s and this extended into the 1990s. While Beast Wars was not quite at the level of the original series and animated movie, it revived the Transformers brand as the Generation 2 toys were no longer selling.