It’s absolutely astounding where filmmakers get their inspiration from nowadays. It’s not uncommon to see video games, television shows, comic books or novels turned into cinematic features but one of the oddest trends over the years has been movies based on toys. I mean it makes sense. The formula seems like it would be a winner. What kid doesn’t want to see their toys come to life before their eyes and watch their imaginations be reflected on the big screen? Well, with a new toy-based movie coming out this weekend in “The LEGO Movie: The Second Part” I came to realize that there really are quite a few movies, good ones too, that were inspired by the play things we grew up appreciating. So to celebrate this week’s likely biggest box office draw I took a look at some of the best and most memorable toy-based movies to ever hit the big screen. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movies Inspired by Toys.
For this list I looked at movies based on or inspired by real toys, board games, card games or electronic play things by excluded any films based on books, comics or video games. In fact I already did several lists about video games movies last year and you can view my picks for the Best Video Game Movies here. I did allow for movies that included real life toys but were more focused on original characters designed for the movie (so yes you may see a “Toy Story” movie on this list).
As for how these movies are ranked: I looked at not only their critical and box office success but, mostly, how well they captured the spirit or build on the legacy of the toys that inspired them as well as how well they capture the imagination associated with toys and board games in general. I should also probably remind everyone that this blog does NOT focus on direct-to-video films so there will be some big films that never hit theaters that are left off of this list.
Finally a minor SPOILER ALERT is in order as at least one of these movies will have a HUGE moment explained.
Before I get to the countdown here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Battleship” (Based on the “Battleship” board game)
- “Digimon: The Movie” (based on the virtual pets of the same name)
- “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” (based on LEGO’s Ninjago collection)
- “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (based on the “Ouija” board game)
What is your favorite movie based on toys? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list.
10. “The Care Bears Movie”
Let’s start with a classic. “The Care Bears Movie”, released in 1985, is based on the classic greeting card characters that were transformed into teddy bears in 1983. As one of the first major films based on a toy line and to date one of the most iconic and nostalgic, “The Care Bears Movie” does a fine job capturing the spirit of its source material and played a huge role in reviving the interest in children’s animated features in the 80s. It also spawned toy spinoffs of its own through the Care Bear Cousins which made their debut in the movie and continued to be a part of the brand through the early 2000s. The film even spawned a television spinoff and several sequels. While it’s far from the best or most critically acclaimed movie on this list, the “The Care Bears Movie” earns its spot here for its sheer impact alone setting the stage for many of these movie to even exist.
9. “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl”
A year after “The Care Bears Movie” debuted, the American Girl dolls were first released spawning a new craze of collectible toys that taught children about cultures around the world and throughout time. While many movies have been made about the characters in the series only one ever hit theaters, 2008’s “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl”. Focusing on the titular character who represents Depression Era American, “Kit Kitteridge” takes a lot from the books that accompanied the doll of the same name as she strives to be a reporter and solve the mystery of her mother’s missing box of treasures. While not initially a hit in theaters, “Kit Kittredge” has since become one of if not the most respected and beloved of the “American Girl” films and continues to earn critical praise to this day. The movie’s relevance helped create a resurgence of popularity for the dolls which have since been rebooted for store shelves several times.
I think a lot of people forget that this DreamWorks Animation modern classic was inspired by one of the most intriguing popular toy fads ever, the Troll Dolls. The original Troll Dolls were created in 1959 and quickly became collector items with different themes, cloths and characteristics to help each one stand out. For the movie in 2016 the characters received a remodel but kept their unique personalities and hairstyles while music was incorporated into their characterizations. It wasn’t the first time the toy had been adapted to film, but the theatrical “Trolls” movie gave the property new life resulting in a critically praised box office smash that spawned a television special, a TV series, an upcoming sequel and a whole new slew of collectible modernized Troll Dolls to fit the new design from the film. The “Trolls” movie builds on the reputation of its beloved inspiration ensuring these quirky dolls will remain a staple of pop culture for a new generation to appreciate.
7. “Mars Attacks!”
“Mars Attacks!” is a cult classic science fiction comedy that, in my opinion, deserves so much more love than it tends to get. Even for those who DO enjoy this Tim Burton film from 1996 it’s often surprising to learn it’s actually based on a card game. “Mars Attacks” was a popular trading card series debuting in 1962 that featured numerous different collectible cards each depicting different parts of a story about Martians invading Earth. The film explores this concept, showcasing different scenarios in a Martian invasion with aliens that look very similar to their card game counterparts. The film includes an all-star cast and contains ground breaking computer animations (for the time) as well as creative deaths, unique characters, and an all-around fun tone that takes itself just seriously enough while also providing effective comedy that holds up surprisingly well. While “Mars Attacks” was an odd subject for a film adaptation this film version manages to capture the game’s charm and theme, and then some.
The Transformers toys have had numerous film adaptations over the years including five Michael Bay movies we’d all like to forget and an animated classic film, but more on that soon. Fortunately despite the live action adaptations being nothing short of disappointing, 2018 brought us the first live action entry to meet expectations. “Bumblebee” focuses on the titular Transformer’s introduction to Earth as the war on Cybertron grows more and more destructive. For the first time fans were given a product that captures the heart, charm, and style of the original with toy-accurate vehicle and character models as well as more focus on real character development than the junkyard porn previous films were known to embrace. This is the kind of adventure boys (and girls) dreamed about for years as their beloved transforming toys were brought to life and thankfully we can now forget the last ten years of disappointment and lean on this film as the one that finally gets it right.
5. “The LEGO Batman Movie”
The first of two LEGO movies on this list, “The LEGO Batman Movie” was sparked from the success of “The LEGO Movie” and the popularity of the Batman character. Seeing as Warner Bros. owns the rights to DC Comics they decided to explore the Dark Knight in a new light, giving us a film that tackles the loneliness Batman feels while never taking itself too seriously. Many have even argued that this is among the best Batman movies ever made. Not only is it a good Batman film though, it also uses its LEGO themed world to perfection while incorporating numerous other Warner Bros. properties into the mix. The best thing is “The LEGO Batman Movie” never feels like an advertisement for the products that inspired it which is cool considering that the original LEGO Batman series of toys came out 11 years before the film. The movie even earned its own version of the Dark Knight’s LEGO collection proving just how effective this product tie in formula has become for Warner Bros.
4. “The Transformers: The Movie”
As promised, here is the animated movie that scarred a generation of kids for life. “The Transformers: The Movie” was release in 1986 and was based on the “Transformers” television show, itself inspired by the transforming toys that made up most of the cast of characters. Its most iconic moment is the death of popular Autobot leader Optimus Prime leading the story to focus more on his comrades as well as introduce Megatron’s second incarnation, Galvatron, and the planet-sized Transformer Unicron, both of which have become staples in the series ever since. “The Transformers: The Movie” takes everything fans loved about the original series and toys, building the action to epic levels while also not-so-subtly begging kids to buy the newest characters featured in the movie. In the end “The Transformers: The Movie” is a surprisingly emotional and fun adventure that anyone familiar with the history and story of these Robots in Disguise can appreciate.
3. “The Lego Movie”
While “The LEGO Batman Movie” is great it’s hard to top the level of entertainment and commitment to style that comes with “The LEGO Movie”. This film is a celebration of everything LEGO while also providing a fun story to rise above simple product placement. It wasn’t the first movie ever made to use LEGOs as a theme, but it was the first theatrical film to do so and it proved that even by today’s standards it is possible to take a popular product and build a successful and worthy franchise around it. “The LEGO Movie” balances hilarious comedy with a neat and unique story that pays homage to all kinds of LEGO products and the legacy of the brand in general. What’s more the entire story takes place through the imagination of a real life boy speaking to the child inside us all and the limitless potential for creativity with these toys.
Released in 1985, “Clue” is an adaptation of the board game of the same name that challenges players to deduce who committed a murder, where and with what item. Unfortunately the film didn’t do well at the box office and received mixed critical reception. So why is it so high on this list? Well since its release “Clue” has become a cult classic and for good reason. This film was famously released with three alternate endings, so each theater would have a different outcome for the mystery, playing off of the different possibilities in the actual game. Furthermore the weapons and rooms seen in the game are present in the film as are the characters who are expertly adapted through costumes and an ensemble cast. With all that in mind “Clue” was one of the first movies inspired by a toy to successfully adapt elements of its source material to the screen in a fluid and sensible manner, reminding us all why the game we’ve played for generations remains just as enjoyable today as it did when it was first released in 1949.
1. The Toy Story Franchise
A little anticlimactic I know, and some may see this as a cheat considering that I’m including all three “Toy Story” films on this list and they follow mostly fictional toys, but let me explain. The concept of “Toy Story” and its sequels makes for a great tribute to childhood as we follow the toys of Andy as he grows up over the course of the films. But what makes this series so awesome isn’t just the original characters like Buzz and Woody. The inclusion of classic properties like Mr. Potato Head, the Green Army Men, Barbie and Ken, the Cymbal Monkey, and the Fisher Price Chatter Phone among others help provide nostalgia for anyone viewing the film to recall their childhood and the fun they had playing with these very toys. Most of all though, the “Toy Story” movies successfully capture the imaginations of our youths while also speaking to the unique bond between a child and their favorite toys. Whether you consider it a series based on real toys or films that just happen to feature real toys in its cast, it’s hard to deny that the “Toy Story” movies pay fitting tribute to the play things that defined the childhoods across generations and the impact that toys, real or fake, have had on everyone’s lives.