After the unexpected success of Star Wars in 1977, every studio in Hollywood went nuts green-lighting projects that they hoped would give them some time in the science fiction spotlight. From Black Hole to Buck Rogers, it seemed as though everyone in the industry was looking to ride the massive wave of momentum that Star Wars had dropped on the world. However, not just any property would do.
For you see, Tinseltown had learned a very valuable lesson from George Lucas’ space epic. When it came to the successful summer blockbuster, tie-in merchandising – particularly toys – was now the name of the game. Thus, while science fiction was big, what was even bigger were science fiction properties that could be successfully transformed into toys.
With the release of 1979’s Alien, which sees the crew of an interstellar scrap hauler hunted by a terrifying biomechanical beast, 20th Century Fox sat poised to capitalize on what they felt would be another science-fiction sensation. And this time, they’d retain full control over licensing.
However, there was a problem. One that seemed to go completely unnoticed by both the executives at the studio and the toy-makers at Kenner. Alien was not a family-friendly flick like Star Wars had been. No, it was instead a frightful psychological thriller restricted to anyone under the age of 17.
Thus, the key demographic most interested in toys would not even be able to see the movie without being accompanied by an adult. Far from a recipe for success in the toy aisle.
Still, plans pushed ahead. Leading up to the film’s release that summer, Kenner would release an Alien board game and a movie viewer that actually allowed kids to watch a short film called Alien Terror. However, these were nothing when compared to the centrepiece of the merchandising campaign – an 18-inch Alien action figure that looked to take one of the most nightmare-inducing monsters of the modern age off of the silver screen and into bedrooms of kids across the globe.
And Kenner pulled out all the stops to ensure the crown jewel of their Alien collection was as true to its big-screen counterpart as possible! Complete with glowing brains, mechanical jaws, spring-loaded arms and plenty of other unsettling details, the toy was about as kid-friendly as the film it was based upon.
Unsurprisingly, sales were not as strong as Kenner had hoped.
Even with a $16 price tag, few kids – let alone their parents – wanted a mega-scale Alien in their toy room. It was just too horrifying to behold, even in plastic form. Add to that a rather poor build quality and the fact that anyone who actually saw the movie quickly came to realize they didn’t want their kids exposed to something so grotesque, and future plans for Kenner’s Alien line heading into 1980 were quickly blown out the airlock. Deemed too frightening for children, the toy was quickly pulled from store shelves. Only to become one of the most sought after collectibles on the secondary market today.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that anyone thought it was a good idea to market such a malevolent monster to kids. That said, it was an idea ahead of its time. One that not only captured the imagination of a generation but would go on to pave the way for other toylines based around such adult-oriented entertainment as Police Academy, Rambo, Robocop, and Terminator to name but a few.
In the years since its release, interest in the Kenner Alien has only increased.
While original examples in good condition are becoming more and more difficult to come by, companies such as Gentle Giant and Super 7 have brought new versions of the controversial toy to an entirely new generation of collectors!
With every last detail painstakingly recreated – right down to the chrome teeth!
It has been the feature subject of more than a few YouTube videos, resulted in countless articles across print and cyberspace and even showcased on such popular shows as Toy Hunter with Jordan Hembrough.
Not too shabby for one of the most misguided marketing decisions of the 20th century!