Why We Didn't Get 'Back to the Future' Hoverboard Toys In The '80s
Recently, there’s been a veritable deluge of Back to the Future-themed merchandise for fans to buy; action figures, board games, and even a Chia Pet shaped like Doc Brown’s head, for some reason -- not to mention the new line of Playmobil toys ranging from the iconic DeLorean to Marty McFly’s Toyota pickup truck/penis substitute.
But despite the fact that the ‘80s and early ‘90s were a golden age of churning out unnecessary toy lines (Demolition Man, really?) there were surprisingly few Back to the Future-based playthings. There were weirdly no action figures; mostly we just got some Micromachine knock-offs and a Power Wheels-style DeLorean for wealthy parents looking to send their kids aged 4 - 7 on confusing Oedipal adventures.
The most glaring omission here is the distinct lack of a toy hoverboard, which you’d think would have been a slam-dunk moneymaker once Back to the Future Part II hit theatres. After all, this movie was produced by Steven Spielberg, who earlier in the decade had hawked everything from E.T.’s rubber finger light to friggin’ E.T. vitamins, which were presumably just stale Reese’s Pieces.
So why no hoverboards? Likely it’s because any replicas they built wouldn’t really hover, which would have been extra confusing to kids since director Robert Zemeckis winkingly claimed in a behind the scenes TV special that hoverboards actually exist and have “been around for years” but “parents’ groups have not let the toy manufacturers make them.”
According to the movie’s producer Bob Gale, Mattel was hounded at the time with requests from desperate fans who wanted hoverboards for Christmas, but it was never actually licensed as a toy. And even the filmmakers were inundated with letters from kids demanding hoverboards.
Mattel finally mass-produced toy hoverboards in 2012, after decades of fans “demanding” it -- but it wasn't without controversy. A lot of fans were unimpressed with the quality of the product. Gale actually withdrew his endorsement for the collector’s toy when he saw that it wasn't as accurate to the original as he had hoped, and it didn't "glide" on carpets like Mattel suggested it would. And the electronic sounds (powered by battery, not the love of Huey Lewis) were also “underwhelming.” But the biggest problem was that it cost $130.
According to Mattel, the most frequent complaint they received was that the toy didn’t actually hover; the manufacturer even received emails suggesting they could incorporate experimental technology proposed by Harvard and Caltech into their plastic toy based on an ‘80s sci-fi comedy. Again, we place the blame for this misunderstanding squarely on the deadpan humor of Robert Zemeckis.
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Top Image: Universal