The Uphill Battle of G.I. Joe

If you're under the age of 30, the actors Channing Tatum or the Rock may come to mind when you hear G.I. Joe. If you are of an older generation, you may remember G.I. Joe as a military action figure hero that stood the test of time.

In the Beginning
Stan Weston, the inventor of G.I. Joe, approached Hasbro in 1963 with an idea for a 12-inch military figure for boys. The company turned him down because they weren't in the doll business. However, weeks later, the idea became a reality for Stan.

In 1964 Hasbro manufactured and marketed G.I. Joe as the first lifelike "action soldier," who was 12-inch tall, poseable and came with outfits and accessories. G.I. Joe was a hit, accounting for ⅔ of Hasbro's sales in its first two years.

Toy Line Discontinued
Sales declined as support for the Vietnam War faded. In 1969 Hasbro rebranded the "America's Movable Fighting Man" to "G.I. Joe Adventure Teams." In 1974 G.I. Joe action figures got the iconic "Kung Fu Grip," allowing them to grab and hold weapons and accessories like never before. Various attempts were made to keep up with popular culture, but again, sales declined and the toy line was discontinued in 1978.

Yet Another Relaunch
In 1982, aided by the Reagan military and the television show based on G.I. Joe, the action figure was relaunched as "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" and reached record annual sales of $200 million. These figures were now 3 ¾ -inch tall, a scale virtually identical to that of the popular Star Wars toys. Nine "Joes" —Breaker, Flash, Grunt, Rock 'n Roll, Scarlett, Short-Fuze, Snake Eyes, Stalker, and Zap—were released on carded packaging similar to those used by Kenner for Star Wars figures. 

An additional four Joes—Clutch, Grand Slam, Hawk, and Steeler—were included with some of the seven vehicles that made up the original toy line. Two Cobra figures—a Cobra soldier and a Cobra officer—were also released on carded packages.

Sales started to slide in 1987 when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys from Playmates moved into town. Hasbro made the Joes more colorful to keep up with the trends, adding more outlandish details and included large, spring-loaded weapons.

In 1994, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of G.I. Joe, Hasbro produces the limited-edition Commemorative Collection, reissues of the original 1964 figures. Following the 1991 Gulf War, G.I. Joe sales tanked so severely that Hasbro pulled its kid-oriented line of 3 ¾ -inch figures from the market, leaving only the 12-inch models.

Kenner Toys: 1995-2000
G.I. Joe was transferred to Kenner Toys and the "A Real American Hero" brand was retired. It was replaced by Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles. Less than a year later, at the end of 1995, the Sgt. Savage line had ended and G.I. Joe Extreme was introduced. Kenner brands was moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island and merged under the Hasbro name.

Media Timeline

  • 1983: Marvel Productions partners with Sunbow Productions to develop The M.A.S.S Device, a five-part animated miniseries that brings the adventures of G.I. Joe to televisions across the country.
  • 1983: G.I. Joe: Cobra Strike for the Atari 2600 becomes the first G.I. Joe video game.
  • 1985: Sunbow Productions and Marvel Productions launch the first of two full seasons of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoon.
  • 1987: Sunbow and Marvel Productions release G.I. Joe: The Movie, a feature-length animated film that explores the origins of Cobra Commander and the mysterious land of Cobra La.
  • 1989: DiC Entertainment takes over animation duties on G.I. Joe and relaunched the show with a new direction.
  • 2001: Devils Due Publishing acquired the comic book license for G.I. Joe and launched a new series that runs for 43 issues.
  • 2003: The G.I. Joe saga of good versus evil rages on in SPY TROOPS THE MOVIE! When a Cobra Spy steals a powerful technology, the G.I. Joe's team fights back with spies of their own!
  • 2004: The G.I. Joe faced their greatest threat yet from the evil Cobra organization, under the direction of Cobra Commander. DNA from the world's most ferocious animals has been combined with humans to create a virtually unstoppable army of venom troopers. Led by Duke, Heavy Duty, Scarlett and Snake Eyes, the heroic G.I. Joe's team fights this new menace in a battle to save humanity.
  • 2008: IDW Publishing acquires the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic book license and brings back legendary storyteller Larry Hama.
  • 2009: Paramount Pictures teams up with Spyglass Entertainment to produce G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The long-awaited live-action film brings the iconic characters of the G.I. Joe brand to the big screen for the first time.
  • 2009: The edgy animated series G.I. Joe Resolute, developed by Titmouse, Inc. and AllSpark Animation, aired on Adult Swim. The series was written by the acclaimed scribe, Warren Ellis.
  • 2010: G.I. Joe Renegades, developed by Darby Pop Productions and Hasbro Studios, airs as a new animated series that features a reimagination of the G.I. Joe/Cobra conflict.
  • 2013: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, distributed by Paramount Pictures, is the live-action sequel to 2009's global blockbuster, and the 3rd feature-length production in the franchise's history
  • 2014: IDW Publishing releases Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, a 13-issue maxi-series mashup of the two iconic Hasbro franchises.
  • 2019: IDW Publishing launches a new G.I. Joe monthly comic series that has Cobra in control, and G.I. Joe operates as criminal outcasts.

Part of the rising G.I. Joe's popularity stemmed from media supporting expanding the miniature line while reintroducing a few of the popular pre-'97 characters. In addition, the terrorist attack of September 11th, the pro-military sentiments led by these attacks, and Afghanistan's war promoted sales. Many parents purchased G.I. Joe figures for their sons because it was the patriotic thing to do. By late 2004, Hasbro had sold more than 400 million G.I. Joe figures in the 40 years since the toy's debut.

In 2005, Hasbro released G.I. Joe Sigma 6, a line of super-stylized, all-new figures in 8-inch scale, loaded with weapons and accessories and accompanied by a brand-new television series of the same name. In 2007, Hasbro celebrated a milestone with the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero 25th Anniversary collection, featuring newly designed 3 ¾ -inch figures with more detail and more articulation than their predecessors.

Wave 2 was released in 2020 as the G.I. Joe Classified Series, an action-packed 6-inch scale. The line is the culmination of 56 years of impressive action figures, animation, comic books, and films. Hasbro continued to celebrate the legacy of G.I. Joe with some of their Retro Collection figures exclusive to Walmart. These 3 ¾ -inch figures stay true to that iconic first line of figures but feature some new design and detail. 

Most Successful Boys Toy
"G.I. Joe is one of those characters that has a lot of untapped potential," says Brian Goldner, CEO of Hasbro, Inc. G.I. Joe is considered to be the world's most successful boys' toy and was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2004. The brand's success is partly due to the release of two G.I. Joe films, but primarily to a dedicated group of collectors who grew up playing with the original G.I. Joes. Hasbro has acknowledged that it is mainly the collectors that kept the brand going.

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