The Top Ten Mail-Away Action Figures of All Time

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For young action figure collectors in the 1980s, the most desired, treasured, magical items were those enigmatic mail-away (or “mail-in”) figures. Unavailable at regular stores, they required a quest in order to get them.

It was a quest that required begging one’s parents for enough action figures to cut out the required number of Proof-of-Purchase cards, then begging them again to write out a check for the $5 or so needed for “shipping and handling.”

And even once that was done, you had to wait six to eight weeks for the figure to arrive–an eternity in childhood.

But one day, your parents would come back from getting the mail and hand you a small, nondescript brown or white box, labeled only with your address and a return address of “Hasbro” or “Kenner.” And inside would be a little clear baggie, and inside that

At that moment, you knew what it felt like when Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb–or when Indy first laid eyes on the Ark.

While many mail-in figures were simply popular “regular” characters (like the Emperor or Boba Fett), the best mail-ins were for figures that were unusual in some way. Some were bigger and more complex than the figures sold at retail (e.g., the B’omarr Monk), and others were completely different sculpts of another figure (Mumm-Ra).

Here’s a list of some of the coolest mail-in figures.

10.) B’omarr Monk (Star Wars: Power of the Force, Hasbro, 1997)

potfpreviewmonkYou may vaguely recall the scene in Return of the Jedi where C3P0 and R2D2 enter Jabba’s Palace. As they walk in, a giant spider-looking thing skitters across the background, scaring the crap out of Threepio as usual.

Now, you might think a character seen for a half-second in vague silhouette in the background wouldn’t even warrant a name, much less an action figure, but if you thought that, you’re apparently very, very unfamiliar with Star Wars fandom. Not only does that thing have a name–the B’omarr Monk–but it’s a member of an entire fraternity of monks living beneath Jabba’s palace who often put their brains inside BT-16 perimeter droids. Right, whatever you say, nerds.

What’s more, according to the endless Star Wars “expanded universe” fiction, Bib Fortuna eventually had his brain tossed into one of these things, until he had it transferred to another Twi’lek body. Kudos to you if you even know who Bib Fortuna is!

Ridiculously extensive background story aside, the B’omarr Monk did make for an awesome mail-in figure. With its completely unique design and fairly low cost (about $8), it’s a great example of what a mail-in figure can be. I was lucky enough to get one of these back in my Star Wars collecting days. I eventually must have sold it on eBay, though.

clarkkentloosec71a9.) Clark Kent (Super Powers, Kenner, 1985)

[Updated] A reader rightly pointed out to me that I’d forgotten about good ol’ Clark. Superman’s alter ego cost 5 proofs-of-purchase. He was originally supposed to be released at retail in Super Powers’ fourth wave, but that wave didn’t happen, making Mr. Kent a relatively rare item.

This is another example of what I think makes for a good, inexpensive mail-away (or exclusive) figure. Most kids may not have really wanted an action figure of Superman in his day-job clothes, but it’s a nice treat for those who did, while making sure those kids who didn’t get one wouldn’t feel as if there was a gaping hole in their collection.

8.) Reflector (Transformers, Hasbro Direct, 1986-1987)

reflector_g1While appearing only briefly in the 1980s Transformers cartoon, Reflector is probably the best-known mail-in Transformer from that time. While he was released at retail in Japan, in America you could only get him by mailing in $10 and two robot points. Remember those?

The figure was composed of three different robots who combined to form the camera. I seem to remember my older cousin Elye owning it, since he had pretty much every G1 Transformer made, but other than that Reflector remained one of those impossible dreams for young Poe.

7.) Crystal Skeleton w/ Throne (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Hasbro, 2008)

redempt_crysskelOK, so George Lucas managed to lucasify Indiana Jones. But at least it was an occasion for Hasbro to produce new Indiana Jones toys from all the movies, and it even produced at least one cool figure of its own: the Crystal Skeleton w/ Throne.

And what a figure! For a mere $6 and 6 “relic stickers,” you got a throne and a super-articulated 3 3/4″ alien skeleton. It was probably the best of Hasbro’s revamped Indy offerings, which is ironic considering it comes from what’s arguably the worst movie.

6.) Steel Brigade (G.I. Joe, Hasbro Direct, 1987)

steelbrigadeHasbro sure is dominating this list, huh? I guess they realized the value of mail-in promotions for getting kids to beg their parents to buy lots of toys they only kinda wanted. Genius!

The Steel Brigade figure was a particularly clever gimmick, because the idea was it was a figure of you. Since the face was hidden in a helmet, Hasbro didn’t have to worry about sculpting thousands and thousands of little kids’ faces (or even a few generic faces, which might have been a decent idea).

You filled out the application and got a unique filecard based on your character. The promotion proved so popular, Hasbro offered it from 1987 to 1994.

2755455364_5620513c385.) Hooded Cobra Commander (G.I. Joe, Hasbro, 1984)

Another example of Hasbro’s shrewd/evil marketing. The only Cobra Commander you could buy in stores was the one with the metal plate mask, but the one depicted in the cartoon and Marvel comics often wore a hood. Naturally, that was the Cobra Commander kids have to have.

But to get it, they needed to send in $1 and 7 Flag Points. Not too bad, considering the number of G.I. Joe figures your average kid had.

mummra4.) Mummy Mumm-Ra (Thundercats, LJN, 1985)

On Thundercats, the big bad guy, Mumm-Ra, usually went around dressed in a red robe and looking like a decrepit mummy. But when he left his pyramid, he chanted a spell that transformed him into a giant, muscled-up version of himself a la Skeletor.

The retail toy line only offered the muscled-up Mumm-ra, so to obtain the mummy version, you had to send away for him. However, LJN seems to have produced quite a few of the mummy Mumm-Ras, because they’re pretty easily available on the aftermarket these days.

3.) The Fridge (G.I Joe, Hasbro, 1986)

Jeez, I’m kind of glad I never collected G.I. Joe figures–you guys had to clip ‘n save those Flag Points every time or risk missing out on some awesome exclusive.

William “The Refrigerator” Perry was an integral part of the Super Bowl Shuffle. He was also part of the 1986 Chicago Bears, who humiliated us New Englanders in the Super Bowl that year and forced us to wait fifteen more years for our first Super Bowl victory.

Perry was so popular, he achieved the highest honor that could be accorded to a celebrity in the 1980s: he was made into an action figure. And not just some random character, but a figure of himself.

Yes, Perry was incorporated into the G.I. Joe mythos and given a figure complete with a football-on-chain-accessory. The figure was even featured in its own television ad.

2.) The Emperor (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Kenner, 1984)

Polybagged to seal in that old-man smell!Return of the Jedi introduced a greater evil than our childhood boogeyman, Darth Vader. This was the Emperor, a creepy old man with a face that seemed to be sloughing off his skull, with teeth that were rotten and eyes filled with hate and malice.

With Jedi, the Emperor replaced Darth Vader in kids’ minds as the main villain of the Star Wars trilogy. His gleeful lightning-torture of Luke and slow speech patterns weren’t particularly endearing traits. Of course, you had to have him as an action figure.

The only way to get him, though (initially, anyway) was to mail in 5 proofs-of-purchase–no cash required! Again, not a bad deal, although the offer warns you to allow an epic 10-12 weeks for processing.

My cousin Ed had this figure (as well as #1 below), for which I always envied him. I think I eventually got my own Emperor, but only after he’d been released at normal retail, when he wasn’t nearly as cool anymore.

1.) Boba Fett (Star Wars, Kenner, 1979)

starwarsbobafett1979Ah, Boba Fett. Fett first appeared in the much-maligned Star Wars Holiday Special before playing a major role in The Empire Strike Back. In 1979, the year before ESB hit theaters, a Boba Fett figure was offered by Kenner as a mail-away. So was Fett the first figure from The Empire Strikes Back or the only figure from the Star Wars Holiday Special? You decide!

The original Fett figure was infamously intended to have a firing rocket pack, but the feature was removed from the production figure. One wonders whether any child or parent was “dissatisfied” with this and returned the figure for a new Luke to replace the one whose hand was chewed off by the dog.

I’m not sure whether Kenner was incredibly prescient in making an early figure of Fett, who would become arguably the most popular Star Wars action figure, or whether the figure became popular because of its notoriety as an early mail-in figure for what was an immensely popular toy line.

As media studies professor Henry Jenkins states,

The action figures provided this generation with some of their earliest avatars, encouraging them to assume the role of a Jedi Knight or an intergalactic bounty hunter, enabling them to physically manipulate the characters and props in order to construct their own stories. Fans, for example, note that the Boba Fett action figure, far more than the character’s small role in the trilogy, helped to make this character a favorite among digital filmmakers. The fans, as children, had fleshed out Boba Fett’s intentionally murky character, giving him (or her) a personality, motives, goals, and conflicts, which helped to inspire the plots of a number of the amateur movies.

All of this makes Boba Fett the greatest mail-away action figure ever. Even if he eventually was released as a carded figure, the mere fact that he was once a mail-away secures him the top spot on this list.

Honorable Mention: Night Fighter Robocop (Robocop and the Ultra Police, Kenner, 1988)

robocopnight1cThis is the only mail-in figure I actually got as a kid, so I’m giving it an honorable mention.

I didn’t really like the glow-in-the-dark aspect of the toy, though the blue looked pretty good against the yellow-white. What made this figure so badass was the arm-minigun, a concept that was incorporated into the later movies and comics. Annoyingly, it was eventually offered as a carded figure, but hey, I had him first.

Comments now closed (42)

  • I feel so deprived. I never had a single mail away figure. Oh how I wanted a POTF2 Han Solo, but alas, no…

  • Good list, however it is lacking, IMHO, one of the greatest mail-ins of all; Super Powers Clark Kent.

  • DUDE! I totally sent in five proofs of purchase to get the Emperor – I *remember* receiving him in the mail. I also remember receiving the ghost of Ben Kenobi (some time in the late nineties, to coincide with the reissues), but ghost Ben was lame as hell. No articulation, pallor of a first gen imac. BOO HISS.

  • Granted, they weren't as cool as Reflector, but I kinda wish you'd have included the Omnibots. I really liked Overdrive when I was a kid. They were easily cooler than a glow in the dark Robocop, IMO.

  • @Mario: Dammit, you're right, Clark Kent is sorely lacking here. Maybe I should swap him with Robocop…

    @Frowny: As for the Omnibots, yeah, they were cool, but since I didn't even remember them until I started researching this article, I'd have a hard time putting him on this list 😉

    Robocop got a boost from the fact that I actually owned the guy, and I never actually collected Super Powers. Also, when I did a few generic "mail-in figures" and "mail-away figures" searches, he didn't come up…odd.

  • I'm gonna go ahead and throw another name in the ring.

    Back when Jakks Pacific was first doing their laser scan figures through Gentle Giant, they released a Lita figure through mail-away (you had a choice of either Lita or Vince I think)– but it was back when she was first really becoming popular with Essa Rios and I remember it was big deal for wrestling figure fans.

    There's a picture of her here.

    http://www.toywiz.com/litaspecialgiveaway.html

  • I remember in 96 one day we took a trip to Southern Ireland I found a whole bunch of Vintage Star Wars figures in clear bags. Emperor, Anakin and the Rancor Keeper. I bought the lot and traded most of them. They were only £1 each.

  • i had that b'omarr monk. i used to be crazy about having every star wars POTF2 figure til i realized how impossible that was. but for a while i was goin' strong. it later got re-released (with pink instead of blue "liquid" in the jar) in one of the jabba's palace multipaks.

  • Say what you want about GI Joe or Flagg points, but they offered tons of stuff for them. You could use your points for all sorts of promotions and get some very unique and cool figures.

    And you know how awesome Hasbro is? They let you use your OLD, crusty, 1985 Flagg points to redeem the 25th Anniversary Doc as well! (Extras that is, the first Doc you had to have the new slips for, but still) that's awesome.

  • Of all those, they only one I ever owned was the Emperor. I think I lost him sometime during the late 90's. Was orignally on the fence about the B'O Marr Monk but eventually didn't get him for whatever reason. I think this was around the time Phantom Menace debuted so the horrible rating of the film halted my Star Wars activity for a good while.

    Always wanted to own Reflector and that has been a thorn in my side for many, many years. Do I get a knockoff or buy a used one? Or what for a reissue or a Classics remake..or..

  • @MG: Really? Huh, could be…I just feel like I would remember an agonizingly long wait like that as one of the defining experiences of my childhood.

  • I was one of the lucky few to have Reflector. I don't know how, but I got it.

    Wasn't Serpentor also a mail away? I seem to remember a piece of paper that had Serpentor with his chariot that you had to mail away for. Maybe it was just a promotional thing.

  • Not that I would ever doubt Poe’s memory for toy acquisitions…but I am pretty darn sure that we mailed away for the Emperor. I know that you had 2 of them,as well.

  • I've still got my mail-away B’omarr Monk. A very neat toy.

    As a kid, I had the mail-away 4-LOM and Admiral Ackbar. I also remember one day writing a letter to Kenner listing all of my missing weapons; about a month later a small box of Star Wars weapons/accessories arrived at my house. I couldn't believe it, because they threw in not only what I was missing but a ton of other stuff as well.

  • @PrfktTear: That may be true about Serpentor, but does he really belong on a list of the "top" ten mail-away action figures? 😉

    @Phillip: That's awesome about the accessories! I can't imagine any company doing that today. At best, you might get a replacement figure.

  • @Poe — Yeah, I don't think a single company today would ship out a box of accessories. Kenner, at the time, really seemed to understand that it was kids like me — 10, with dozens of Star Wars figures, and obsessively insane — who made them their money and they were willing to do what it took to keep us happy (and crazy).

  • I still treasure my Han Solo in storm trooper gear with removable helmet. Ahhh… memories.

  • Sent in 2 lays potato chips. For a "spirit" of Obi-Wan Kenobi figure, from Kenner. Man those were the days.

  • I got the Emperor and Nien Nunb (Lando's co-pilot from RotJ). It was very cool to indeed.

  • I had (hell, I think I still have somewhere) all of the Transformers mail-ins.

    The odd one that sticks in my mind, though, wasn't really a character. At some point, I remember getting a special set of accessories in the mail from The Empire Strikes Back that included a backpack for Yoda to sit in. Anyone else remember that thing, or am I nuts (more than usual, anyway)?

    I don't remember getting any lost weapons replaced, but I know my dad sent away a couple of times for replacement bits for my Milennium Falcon. Hasbo was awesome about getting that sort of thing done!

  • How about and Hon. Men. for the Empire Strikes Back accesories kit by mail-order?

    Grappling hook, cool guns and the oyxgen masks Han used on the asteroid.

  • I got a pretty sweet mail-in Earthworm Jim figure, complete with a green suit and accessories… He's worth nothing on Ebay, but I had a blast playing with him.

  • Ha! The only one of these I ever had was the Boba Fett, so I'm number one! I'm number one!

    Fett, unfortunately, did not perish in the Sarrlac pit in our action figure world. He, as did many unfortunate stormtroopers, fell victim to bb-gun shots and Fourth of July sparkler burns.

    Ah, childhood.

  • @D-Man – thanks for the memory nudge-Poe also got Nien Nunb on a mail-in.

    And as far as Poe assuming that he could not wait that long-at that age time really doesn't mean all that much, it could be one week or ten, it really kind of felt the same. We just waited for the " surprise" in the mail.

    As a parent-I LOVED mail-ins…since I was "collecting them all" anyway and had the little squares of cardboard, neatly cut out so as not to disturb the factoids on the back of the package.

  • Cool piece, Poe! I didn't have any of these as a kid — the only mail-away figures I can recall getting are that G.I. Joe figure of me (that, that generic masked figure that came with a profile card with the recipient's name inserted in the appropriate space) and Sweetchuck from Police Academy.

    That is pretty awesome that your mom reads and likes your site, by the way. (Hi, Poe's mom!) My mother (and the rest of my family) pretty much hold my site up as Exhibit A when talking about how much I suck. :/

  • Had Boba Fett & Hooded Cobra Commander.

    The non-functional missile was a rip off because I had a bunch of Japanese die cast robots that all had working missiles & punches, etc.

  • Since I started collecting Star Wars again the last few years, I STILL save all the UPCs. Because I grew up in the 80s. And you NEVER know. Two of my other favorites no one else has mentioned: Spirit of Anakin Skywalker from the original Star Wars line, and Steppenwolf from the Super Powers Collection. He came with a 45 record with an exciting adventure on it which ended: what happens next–YOU decide!

  • Let's see … We had the Boba Fett. I think I also remember a red Vindicator(?) from Spawn(?). I'm not sure that's right — my brother ran off with all those action figures …

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  • Wasn't Steppenwolf from the Super Powers line originally a mail-in figure? I could have sworn I ordered him and waited the 6-8 weeks to get him.

  • The only one of these I owned was mummy Mumm-Ra but I didn't get it as a mail-away figure. It was packaged with the Tomb Fortess playset. The playset had an action feature where you could switch back and forth between mummy Mumm-Ra to his other form which wasn't included.

  • I think the Star Wars weapons pack was called a "survival kit," and came with a backpack with which to strap Yoda to Luke's back. Pretty cool. You could never have enough weapons! I sent away for at least two kits!

    Steppenwolf was most definitely a mail-in. Then he was eventually released on a card. I remember always feeling cheated that I didn't get a Steppenwolf-themed mini-comic book because I mailed away for him. But Steppenwolf also came with a Super Powers record introducing Darkseid and the Apokolips gang.

    I also remember reading a description in the Sears Wishbook that year that the Super Powers figures came with a special offer for a Steppenwolf figure and a Darkseid record. Not recognizing Steppenwolf as a DC character, but rather as a recording artist, I always assumed that it was an error, and that Sears meant to write "Steppenwolf record and Darkseid figure." But then I was totally perplexed as to what Steppenwolf had to do with Super Powers!

    But if it weren't for that Sears Wishbook the following year, I would never had gotten my hands on a Super Powers Cyborg figure! He was impossible to find at retail. Thinking back to that, I guess that's when the chase for hard-to-find figures really began…the Summer of 1986!

  • I had the hooded Cobra Commander. Oh what a day it was when he arrived. As a just graduated teenager I got a Han Solo in stormtrooper garb with removeable helmet (but not gun. Lame!) from I believe a Froot Loops mail-in offer. Still have Han, but I'm sure Cobra Commander was melted down before GI Joe banned torture.

  • Hadn't come back to this article since posting the original comment, thus I hadn't seen the change, but, thanks & you're welcome Poe. Glad I could help & pleased that good 'ol Clark is on the list.

  • The first brush with mail away figures had to be the 'Star Wars Empty Box Promo'… which was a large envelope that folded out as a display for your figures – but no figures were released yet. It had a coupon for Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and R2D2 to mail away for.

    I received it for my birthday ( Jan 1978 ) and didn't receive them till warm weather set in… and by that time the 'folded out display' was history!

    Over time , I did mail away for Boba Fett and 4LOM but I alway wanted the Emperor ( best friend got that and destroyed it! )- The 'Survival Pack' was the only way to get the gas masks Han Solo used in 'Empire' inside the asteroid.

  • I mailed away for the hooded Cobra Commander a couple years after the offer expired and I still received it. Still have it, too.

  • No halo mail order?

    I have a halo gen 1 master chief figure that could only be mailed ordered and he is made of clear plastic and is a active camo version from the games power up he also had clear plastic weapons.

    He looks pretty cool I like him. He is big like way big. I don't think He is as classic as the older figures though but he is like over 10 years old now and for the time he came out He was cool.