Toys and movies have a unique and long-running relationship. In the beginning, toys were just props in movies. Somewhere along the line, someone figured out that toys could be used to help sell movies, and vice versa. Merchandising began, and children everywhere could find either the toys featured in their favorite movies or toy versions of things from their favorite movies on the shelves of their local toy stores. Some toys also graduated from being props to being characters. First animation, then stop-motion, puppetry, and later CGI helped to bring them alive on screen. More recently, movie studios have begun making movies based on toys.
Throughout all of this, one thing has remained consistent: the important role that toys have played in film. However, there have been some toys that are more important to their film than others. In some cases, the toys themselves are the star. This is a look at the 20 most iconic toys in film. They are the ones that create an immediate recognition to their film, and often times you can’t refer to the film without referring to these toys.
To make this list, I had to lay some ground rules to make it possible. First, I defined a toy as an actual toy – something that a child would play with. Guns, boats, cars, and other grown-up things don’t count. Next, I had to limit each movie franchise to one entry. There are a number of movie franchises that feature a ton of memorable toys, and if I had included them all, there wouldn’t have been much variety. The toys on this list also have to have a prominent role in their film. Finally, I included games, but not video games. In my mind, video games are a separate topic in film. That eliminated things like Wreck-It-Ralph or Tron.
Here are my picks for the 20 most iconic toys in film. Did I leave off your favorite movie toy? What ranking would you choose? Let us know in the comments below!
20. Cymbal-Banging Monkey – The Devil’s Gift
The cymbal-banging monkey makes this list less because it is famous for its role in this film, but because the toy has since become a near-trope in horror films since then. In The Devil’s Gift, the toy becomes the manifestation of an evil spirit. It’s the first of many toys on this list that are iconic in film because of how frightening they have been.
19. Sally – A Nightmare Before Christmas
Sally is a rag doll in Tim Burton’s claymation masterpiece, and one of several characters who could be considered based on toys. Sally by herself may not be that memorable, but the film is a cult classic and remains very popular with audiences of all ages to this day. For that reason, this memorable movie deserves a nod.
18. Chip Hazard – Small Soldiers
Small Soldiers made a notable addition to the list of films where toys come alive. Although the film may not be as treasured as some of the other films on this list, it nonetheless made an impression on audiences with its memorable (toy) characters brought to life with good special effects. Chip earns his place on the list as the most recognizable toy character from this film as well as representation of a movie that largely has more to do with toys than humans.
17. Little Bear – The Indian in the Cupboard
Based on a popular children’s book of the same name, The Indian in the Cupboard makes real a fantasy shared by most children – bringing their toys to life. The film is considered a classic by many people, and its legacy is at least in part due to Little Bear himself.
16. Turbo Man – Jingle All the Way
Turbo Man is an action figure created in the mold of real life toys who had been incredibly popular at one time (Cabbage Patch dolls, Beanie Babies). The film focuses on two men trying to secure Turbo Man as a gift for their sons, but this toy happens to be the most popular one of the Christmas season which makes it difficult to obtain. The movie is memorable in that it revolves around this toy, and is otherwise an entertaining holiday film.
15. Billy the Puppet (Jigsaw Doll) – Saw movie franchise
Billy is the demonic ventriloquist style puppet used by the antagonist to communicate with his victims throughout the saw films. The protruding cheeks and red coloring on the face have become a representative symbol of the popular and long-running shock-horror franchise.
14. Sony Talkboy – Home Alone 2
Kevin McCallister uses several different toys in the Home Alone films to thwart the robbers that are trying to steal. In Home Alone 2, he ingeniously uses a Sony Talkboy on several occasions to his advantage. At least partly because of its use in this film, the toy became popular in the 90’s.
13. Ted – Ted, Ted 2
Ted is a grown-up version of the traditional teddy bear, which is what makes him unique and memorable. The foul-mouthed bear comes alive when his owner John wishes that he could speak. Voiced by Seth MacFarlane, Ted is quite literally a party animal.
12. Lego Batman – The Lego Movie, Lego Batman
In the original Lego Movie, Lego Batman was not the star, but he stole the show. His character was so well-received that they gave him his own feature film, and it did not disappoint. Lego Batman also makes this list as a representation of the Lego movie franchise which has been a lot of fun so far.
11. Hoggle + others – Labyrinth
Most of the characters in Labyrinth are representations of toys and other objects from Sarah’s bedroom that came alive on her journey. Hoggle is a dwarf who has the biggest role in the film of any of these toys, and can be seen as a bookend in Sarah’s room. Labyrinth is a cult classic, and even if we don’t recognize these lovable characters as toys, that is ultimately what they are, and why they’ve made this list.
10. Hoola Hoop – Hudsucker Proxy
Everyone knows what a hoola hoop is, but not everyone knows where they came from. This movie solves that problem. The toy isn’t so well known because of the film, which is why it doesn’t rank higher.
9. Pinocchio – Pinocchio
Pinocchio may have been born from a classic children’s tale, but Disney took the character (and the toy) to new heights when he was rendered in their 1940 feature animated film (the second Disney feature film). That film, and the character, is still beloved and well known to this day.
8. Winnie the Pooh – Winnie the Pooh
Ok, so Winnie the Pooh didn’t originate on the big screen, which is why he isn’t ranked higher. However, this stuffed bear is one of the most iconic animated toys ever created. Instantly recognizable and loved by millions, Pooh deserves to be here.
7. Giant Floor Keyboard – Big
Few scenes in film are as iconic as kid-in-adults’ shoes Tom Hanks dancing along with Robert Loggia on a giant floor keyboard to a catchy tune. That scene might be more memorable than the rest of the film.
6. Bicycle – E.T.
Some people may claim that the Speak-and-Spell is the most iconic toy from this film, but I disagree. The scene in which E.T. makes the bicycle fly is perhaps the most memorable scene in this memorable film, and truly a unique and awe-inspiring moment in film. That’s probably why Spielberg uses the image of the bike in the sky in front of the moon as the logo for his production company (Amblin Entertainment).
5. Jumanji – Jumanji
In this case, the movie is a game, and the game is the movie. This means that almost the entire movie is a toy. Very fun, and very memorable.
4. Chucky – Childs’ Play franchise
Child’s Play might not be the most well-known film on this list, but everybody knows Chucky. He wasn’t the first creepy plaything to come alive and scare audiences, but he is easily the most iconic. He’s so iconic that he has been featured in 6 films so far.
3. Red Ryder BB Gun – A Christmas Story
Holiday-themed movies tend to feature the greatest amount of toys, and this is perhaps the most famous toy from one of the most famous holiday movies ever made. It also helps that it is associated with a movie line that everyone knows.
2. Rosebud – Citizen Kane
Yes, this is a spoiler, but I couldn’t use that excuse to keep this one off of the list. The opening line of the greatest movie ever made sets up a story that revolves around this toy. The end of the films also has one of the most legendary revelations ever made on screen regarding what “Rosebud” actually is. Can’t get much more iconic than this, except…
1. Woody – Toy Story franchise
Woody is the face of a franchise in which nearly all of the characters are toys. As an animated film, Toy Story was groundbreaking in its use of CGI, and the success of that film gave us Pixar. Oh, and Toy Story is one of the most successful, award-winning, and highly regarded franchises in all of film by both kids and adults.