The History of the Indiana Jones Toy Line
The year was 1981. The 80s were officially off and running, and pop culture was rising fast. A new box office blockbuster came lurking out of the shadows and would become one of the year’s most successful films. Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theaters on June 12th, 1981, and was widely received by fans of all ages. The Steven Spielberg film starred Harrison Ford, who just experienced excellent success with another recent Lucas film production.
With the incredibly successful 1977 Star Wars phenomenon, including the follow-up sequel The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas naturally began shopping his latest project to Hollywood studios. He conceived this adventure archaeologists concept years earlier, shortly after finishing his first hit film American Graffiti in 1973. Initially, Lucas intended to fund the Raiders of the Lost Ark project himself; however, the proposed $20 million budget’s lack of funding was a significant production barrier. Seeking funding elsewhere proved to be a daunting challenge as several Hollywood studios rejected the project due to the unconventional terms proposed. A few examples of contract requirements that Lucas was seeking were an extravagant studio-provided budget, Spielberg locked in as director, total creative control, and Lucas was to retain licensing rights for any sequels.
Paramount Pictures eventually reached a compromise with Lucas, agreeing to his terms in exchange for the exclusive rights to any sequels and strict penalties for budget overages or schedule delays. Lucas and his director Spielberg reportedly negotiated a reasonable salary plus a share of profits in royalties. The finalized contract was then executed, and film production was underway.
Unfortunately, a licensee merchandise agreement was not established before the film’s debut, and it is unclear why a prolonged delay of toys and action figures occurred. However, the film’s extreme popularity and box office success undoubtedly sparked interest in eventually pursuing children’s merchandising. Following the popular Star Wars action figure road map, a developing toy line seemed natural for the Lucasfilm team. With an already very successful Lucasfilm toy line established, licensing for Lucas’s next project would naturally go to the Cincinnati, Ohio, toy company Kenner if both parties could reach agreeable terms. The folks at Kenner signed on and were very eager to work on what they thought would be Han Solo’s next big thing.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was an epic tale of an American archaeologist searching for the Ark of the Covenant while competing against artifact-searching Nazis in 1936. From biblical relics to cinematic adventure, Kenner began conceptualizing the toy line to reflect the detail of the film. In 1982, approximately one year after the movie’s release, The Adventures of Indian Jones would finally find its way to store shelves. Nine carded action figures were released to retail in two waves, and two additional action figures were included in play sets.
The carded action figure packaging of The Adventures of Kenner’s Indiana Jones was modeled in the style of Kenner’s successful Star Wars 3.75″ action figure line. However, it borrowed much more of its molds and articulation from the less popular Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid toy line Kenner produced in 1979. As a proven Kenner concept, a simple 3.75″ action figure encased in a shiny plastic bubble, attached to the bottom corner of a well-designed card back, was a hard-to-resist concept for many children of the early 1980s. So naturally, a 3.75″ scale action figure line would also be the go-to model for Indiana Jones.
Series one introduced four action figure characters, starting with the most obvious choice Indiana Jones himself. The other three action figures in wave one were Marion Ravenwood and Street monkey, The evil Nazi antagonist Tote, and hired local thug, the Cairo Swordsman. The additional bonus first-wave action figure Belloq in Ceremonial Robe was made available by mail order only with the purchase of any three carded Raiders of the Lost Ark action figures.
Unique to the Indiana Jones toy line over Star Wars, a “quick-draw” feature was an added innovation to the Indiana Jones figure. Jones could now swing his whip, quickly draw his pistol, or swing on his opponent’s with an upper-cut style punch! In addition, the articulation of bendable knees allowed the action figures to be mounted on a soon-to-be-available action figure horse. With this first wave release in 1982 also came two playsets, the “Well of Souls” Action Playset and the “Map Room” Action Playset.
Kenner expanded the Raiders of the Lost Ark toy line in 1983 by adding four more carded figures. Belloq in archaeology attire, Sallah, Indiana Jones in German Uniform, and the German Mechanic. The Belloq in Ceremonial Robe promotional figure from wave one was also made available as a carded release during wave two. Additional action playsets, the Streets of Cairo Action Playset, the Arabian Horse, and the Desert Convoy Truck vehicle, were also released in 1983. Notably, The Streets of Cairo and The Map Room playsets included exclusive non-carded action figures only available with the playsets.
Only nine action figures were ever produced, with three playsets, one carded horse, and one vehicle. Interestingly, a few alleged concept sketches for never produced concepts found their way online over the years and have been very popular in discussions with fans. The concepts were rumored to be in consideration for upcoming product releases that, unfortunately, to our knowledge, have never been officially produced.
Kenner produced only one character as a 12″ action figure and never followed up with any other 12″ characters. Kenner quickly realized they could cost-effectually use the same production mold from the 1978 Star Wars Han Solo 12″ action figure that already existed and re-dress him in Indiana Jones attire. Since the same actor Harrison Ford played both characters, the logic behind the single-character release adds up retrospectively.
As the toy line began to decrease in popularity, even after the successful follow-up films Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom in 1984 and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, Kenner never released additional action figures and playsets. LJN did, however, release three larger-scale action figures for the 1984 Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom blockbusters film, although the popularity of Indiana Jones action figures in the 1980s did not encourage further lines or additional production.
It is often speculated and debated why the Indiana Jones toy line was not as popular in the early 1980s as other successful toy lines and how some now believe it should have looking back. Considering that the films have massive staying power as well-deserved classics and are holding up nicely as time passes, many theories often contribute to the discussion. Some suggest that history-based period-piece action figures no longer performed as well with playability compared to modern (relevant-to-the-time) or futuristic action figures. The childhood western craze that captivated the young boys of the 1950s seemed to fade away by the late 1970s. Children of the time were looking upward to the stars and seemed interested in technology, fantasy, and how far one’s imagination could take them. Although Indiana Jones seems to offer much of this in a way, the futuristic out-of-this-world appeal of toy lines like Masters of the Univers and Star Wars provided something new and exciting compared to an adventure-seeking college professor limited to the soundings of the 1930s.
Although Indian Jones became an instant hero to most in the early 1980s, another often-debated theory was Kenner’s lack of suitable nemesis characters or simply better bad guys. Although the Ciro Swordsman and the Monkey Man were pretty cool adversaries to create new adventures with, there was little to work with as far as the German soldiers. Many often used the Indiana Jones in German uniform action figure as a standard German soldier, which was fine and did work out well for the most part. However, many feel that an official, better-equipped German soldier was severely missing from the lineup. The shirtless mechanic was great for an excellent one-on-one fight, although not a great army builder like a good Star Wars Stormtrooper.
Let’s face it, to have a great action figure toy line in the 70s and 80s, you really need great villains. Skeletor, Darth Vader, Cobra Commander, and even Cylons and the Draconian Guard made a kid want to switch to the dark side from time to time voluntarily. But when it came to breaking out the Indian Jones action figures, hands down, the biggest battle was always, who would be Indie!
Kenner Indiana Jones TV Commercials
Kenner produced two 30-second TV commercials in 1982 to market the upcoming, The Adventures of Indiana Jones toy line. Only one known TV commercial for the 3 3/4 inch scale action figure line ever aired during the retail promotion. The commercial showcased three out of the four, wave one action figures released in the series. The other TV commercial was developed to promote the 12-inch Indiana Jones action figure. The commercials typically aired during afterschool programming and Saturday morning cartoons. Kenner commonly used shots of children playing with the toys as part of their action-packed commercial marketing. Click the “Play” icon below to view the original commercial.
Collector's Price Guide
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|Image||Product Name||Alliance||Type||Series||Year||MLC||MIB / MWC||MISB / MOC||Last Updated|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Indiana-Jones-Figure-THUMB-a.jpg||Indiana Jones (Quick Action) Figure||Good||Action Figure||1||1982||$300||$350||$950||https://retrotoyquest.com/action-figure-indiana-jones-kenner-1982-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||5/7/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Marion-Ravenwood-Figure-THUMB-a.jpg||Marion Ravenwood||Good||Action Figure||1||1982||$400||$500||$1,350||https://retrotoyquest.com/action-figure-marion-ravenwood-kenner-1982-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||5/5/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Cairo-Swordsman-THUMB-a.jpg||Cairo Swordsman||Evil||Action Figure||1||1982||$45||$60||$80||https://retrotoyquest.com/action-figure-cairo-swordsman-kenner-1982-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||5/4/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Belloq-Ceremonial-Robe-Figure-THUMB-a.jpg||Belloq In Ceremonial Robe (Mail Away)||Evil||Action Figure||1||1982||$70||$110||$250||https://retrotoyquest.com/action-figure-belloq-in-ceremonial-robe-figure-kenner-1982-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||5/9/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Belloq-Ceremonial-Robe-Figure-THUMB-a.jpg||Belloq In Ceremonial Robe (Carded)||Evil||Action Figure||2||1983||$70||$110||$280||https://retrotoyquest.com/action-figure-belloq-in-ceremonial-robe-figure-kenner-1982-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||5/4/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Belloq-Figure-THUMB-a.jpg||Belloq (Archaeology Outfit)||Evil||Action Figure||2||1983||$70||$110||$525||https://retrotoyquest.com/action-figure-belloq-figure-kenner-1983-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||5/3/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Indiana-Jones-In-German-Uniform-THUMB-a.jpg||Indiana Jones In German Uniform||Good||Action Figure||2||1983||$140||$175||$340||https://retrotoyquest.com/action-figure-indiana-jones-in-german-uniform-kenner-1983-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones/||11/8/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/German-mechanic-figure-THUMB-a.jpg||German Mechanic||Evil||Action Figure||2||1983||$115||$145||$225||https://retrotoyquest.com/action-figure-german-mechanic-kenner-1983-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones/||5/9/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Indiana-Jones-Map-Room-Thumb-a.jpg||Map Room Adventure Set||Neutral||Playset||1||1982||$280||$310||$450||https://retrotoyquest.com/play-set-map-room-adventure-set-1982-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||11/8/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Indiana-Jones-Well-of-the-Souls-THUMB-a.jpg||Indiana Jones Well of the Souls Adventure Set||Neutral||Playset||1||1982||$350||$600||$1,200||https://retrotoyquest.com/playset-well-of-the-souls-kenner-1982-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Indiana-Jones-Streets-of-Cairo-THUMB-a.jpg||Streets of Cairo Images Adventure Set||Neutral||Playset||2||1983||$190||$280||$775||https://retrotoyquest.com/playset-streets-of-cairo-kenner-1983-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||5/7/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Desert-Convoy-Truck-THUMB-a.jpg||Desert Convoy Truck||Evil||Vehicle||2||1983||$375||$600||$950||https://retrotoyquest.com/action-vehicle-desert-convoy-truck-kenner-1983-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||5/9/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Indiana-Jones-12inch-THUMB.jpg||Indiana Jones 12 Inch||Good||Large Action Figure||1||1982||$175||$350||$650||https://retrotoyquest.com/12-inch-action-figure-indiana-jones-12-inch-kenner-1982-the-adventures-of-indiana-jones||7/31/2022|
|https://x7s81d.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Missing-Item-THUMB.jpg||The Whole Collection||NA||SERIES 1&2 TOTAL||1||1982||$3,030||$4,215||$8,940||8/1/2022|
How To Use This Price Guide
MLC = “Mint Loose Condition” This is when the action figure or Vehicle is in excellent condition, and is loose and “complete” with all original accessories, but without the packaging and original included paperwork.
MIB = “Mint in box” This is when the collectible is in excellent condition, and is loose and “complete” with all original accessories and original included paperwork.
MWC = “Mint with Card Back” This is when an action figure os is excellent condition, and is loose and “complete” with all original accessories, however included the original card back fully intact. If the original blister bubble is intact, It can bring additional value depending on the condition of the blister bubble.
MISB = “Mint in Sealed Box” This is when the Collectible is in excellent condition, and is factory sealed and was never opened or used.
MOC = “Mint on card” This Is when the action figure is in excellent condition and is factory sealed and it’s original blister bubble and was never opened or used.
COMPLETE = “Complete” This is when the collectible is 100% complete with all of its accessories. Additional paperwork included with the original package does increase the overall value but does not necessarily consider the item complete
DISCLAIMER: All values are estimated by Retro Toy Quest and subject to change and discrepancy, depending on the advanced nature of any collector.