The Greatest Sneakers in the World... and the Toys that Inspired Them

by Jon Haarr


And no, when I'm talking about toys, I don't think about the more modern figurines with zero articulation we like to gently place on our shelves, colorful, numerous and insignificant. I'm talking about the old school kickass toys. The ones we grew up with, the ones that made actual impact on our lives, Transformes, Turtles, He-Man. Toys that left just as much impression as our Jordans and our Air Max 1s.  

I'm talking about the action figures of the 80, and the sneakers made to match.

We're lucky enough to live in a time where we are able to wear sneakers inspired by the toys we grew up with. I'll take a look at some of the best sneaker/toy collaborations, and discuss the products that inspired them.

The last decade we have seen a massive surge in retro-ism. The various companies know the power of nostalgia, and are constantly tempting us with re-issued pieces of our childhood, and if you're like me, you're easily tempted. I'm a sucker for revisiting my childhood as much as anyone, picking up reissues, OG-versions and retro-inspired action figures as well as sneakers.

Recent retro pickup: the new updated and up-scaled TMNT figures.

Recent retro pickup: the new updated and up-scaled TMNT figures.

We've also seen various retro movements within music, TV and movies. But this is a sneaker blog, and I'm a toy collector, so that is where the focus will be.

In a way, it's surprising we haven't seen more collaboration between the toy-lines we grew up with and the kicks we wore. Naturally, there is the question of copyrights. And yes, we have gotten some major collaborations. But I would argue that both sneaker companies and toy companies are oblivious to the untapped potential of the toy/sneaker-combo. In essence: Give us more!

The best years for both toys and sneakers

Ask any toy collector and any sneaker enthusiast what the best years were, and their answers will probably be the same: Mid 80s to early 90s. Rose-tinted glasses, maybe? But the creativity behind some of those sneaker releases of old were objectively impressive, and equally daring. Compare the release of the Air Max 1 in 1987, to the release of Nike Shox in 2001. Nike had everything to lose in '87, and virtually nothing to lose in '01. Maybe that's a reason why the AM1 actually turned out to be a great sneaker still being worn, while Shox is nothing but a footnote. 

And it's the same when we look at the imagination and scale behind some of those monumental toy lines. Take G.I. Joe, for instance. Back in the early 80s, toy maker Hasbro had no issues of taking the risk with a massive toy line intended to sell itself. Today, no major toy line is released without a movie or a game to back it up. And coincidentally: today, the best releases, both sneakers and toys, are based on products from that era, the 80s and early 90s.

TOYS x SNEAKERS

A good handful of sneaker releases the last few years have been inspired by action figures, without necessarily being  actual collaborations. The Skeletor-colored Nike SB Dunk is a good example of this. Even though there's nothing to say these are Skeletor's dunks, it's too close a match to be a coincidence. Would these have been better with added details to further solidify the connection? Maybe a yellow logo on the tongue? Either way, these are a great release, and Skeletor is surely able to destroy He-Man and the other Masters of the Universe while rocking these.

Credit to Poe Ghostal for picture of Skeletor figures

Credit to Poe Ghostal for picture of Skeletor figures

We have also seen several sneaker drops with somewhat vague connections to toys and action figures. For instance the various superhero-themed kicks, like the Iron Man Dunk High, or the Bape, who made a whole pack of superhero sneakers.

BAPE HULK SMASH!

BAPE HULK SMASH!

Out of the four "big" toy lines, we've seen major sneaker collaborations with three of them. I'm of course talking about Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

FILA x TMNT

And it's natural to start with the Turtles, TMNT. A toy line based off a rather obscure comic book, the shelled ninjas became ridiculously popular in the late 80s and into the 90s. Mostly due to wacky characters and sturdy toys, but also due to a cool cartoon.

This year, we got a brand new live action movie of the Turtles, and all though the movie was an expected disappointment, we also saw the release of TMNT sneakers. From Fila! Who would have thought? 

Well, this wasn't the first, nor the second time Fila made a TMNT inspired sneaker.

In 2012, Fila teamed up with Nickelodeon, who sits on the rights to produce TMNT cartoons, and crafted two surprisingly cool sneakers: The TMNT FX-100, based on the four main characters, and the Cage Shredder, based on the main villain. Both pairs came packed with Turtles-themed details, and the FX-100 - which basically was Fila's version of the Air Force 1 - was particularly awesome, as you could literally strap it up as your favorite turtle.

Fila did everything right with their first Fila x TMNT releases. 

Fila did everything right with their first Fila x TMNT releases. 

The Cage Shredder. Premium materials and delicious color combinations. I don't necessarily see Shredder here though.

The Cage Shredder. Premium materials and delicious color combinations. I don't necessarily see Shredder here though.

 

REEBOK x VOLTRON

British sportswear manufacturer Reebok may not be the first brand to cross your mind, when you think about sneakers. And the same goes for Voltron, the 1984 cartoon and toy line where teenagers pilot a giant robot to protect the universe. Still, both these properties are fondly remembered by the kids of the 80s. This has of course led to retro-versions of Reeboks, and updated Voltron toys.

And in 2008, we saw the unlikely team up between Reebok and Voltron. Five separate sneaker models colored to match each of the robot lions that eventually combines into the massive Voltron. The releases also included a re-issued toy, making it even more tempting for collectors to buy the entire pack, for you to be able to actually form Voltron.

Reebok went all out with this pack, including both sneakers and toys in the box. Also: Colors. 

Reebok went all out with this pack, including both sneakers and toys in the box. Also: Colors. 

 

ADIDAS x STAR WARS

Well, Star Wars isn't technically a toy line, all though from the very beginning, in the late 70s, spin-off effects have been a big deal of the franchise. But these kicks were obviously not just referencing the flight suit of Luke Skywalker, but the packaging of the old action figures. The sneakers came packed in blister pack with a card back, not unlike those on the toys.

Adidas x Star Wars had a magnificent run of (mostly) awesome products. Including track suits, t-shirts, hoodies and so on. Of course, the highlights were the sneakers, with the likes of a Stormtrooper Superskate, Millennium Falcon Stan Smith, and the pair pictured, Superstar Skywalker.

One of the best themed sneakers ever. Notice the details around the ankle/heel, and the different materials used.  

One of the best themed sneakers ever. Notice the details around the ankle/heel, and the different materials used.  

 

NIKE x TRANSFORMERS

In 2009, Nike and Hasbro gave us the big ones. The ones we were waiting for. The Transformers themed Nike basketball shoes. After noticing the popularity of the 2007 Transformers-styled Bo Jackson trainers, Nike had every reason to expect the House of Hoops exclusive Transformers pack to be a huge success.

Not only were the sneakers styled similar to beloved Transformers characters, the packaging was very similar to the ones used the robots back in the 80s. And just because they could, Nike dug out some of their less known ballers for this pack, like the Sharkalaid, and the Fun Police.

Left to right: Zoom FP Bumblebee, Sharkalaid Supreme Soundwave, Zoom Flight Club Megatron.

Left to right: Zoom FP Bumblebee, Sharkalaid Supreme Soundwave, Zoom Flight Club Megatron.

The Transformers that got the nod were Megatron, Soundwave and Bumblebee - who definitely found his matching model with the Zoom Fun Police.

Fun indeed. 

Fun indeed. 

More recently, Nike has continued  their partnership with Transformers, all though it may have been something that just materialized unintentionally. The Detroit Lions wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, was nicknamed "Megatron". As his career has greatly picked up the last few years, it suddenly made sense for Nike to do a Transformers/CJ81 themed pack of sneakers. And what a pack this was!

Crowning a full line of clothing were three pairs of trainers and a unique variant of one of the latest Megatron action figures, who even came with a scaled football. It just doesn't get cooler than this. 

Good job Nike!

Good job Nike!

I'm also told to mention the Transformers robots that transform into Nike Free shoes. So there's that. Let's move on.

 

NIKE x G.I. JOE

The House of Hoops Transformers pack was accompanied by a G.I. Joe pack, and technically, these should all be considered "Nike x Hasbro", as both Transformers and G.I. Joe were properties of Rhode Island toy company Hasbro.

Three popular villains got the nod, as Nike made shoes styled to Cobra Commander, Destro and Storm Shadow, the ninja.

What I really find great about these packs is the inclusion of the gorgeous original card/box art. While the toys were the big deal back in the day, as an adult I find myself appreciating the work that went into presenting these figures. Every single one of them came with unique card art, that in many ways sold the toy more than anything else, be it comics, cartoons or even the figure itself.

COBRAAAAA! (Credit to jmoore404)

COBRAAAAA! (Credit to jmoore404)

World domination starts on the basketball court, you know. 

World domination starts on the basketball court, you know. 

The Nike x Transformers and Nike x G.I. Joe sneakers are not too difficult to come by, but as the box is such a big part of the entire package, the challenge may be to find the ones with perfect boxes.

With G.I. Joe in this line-up, we have representations from three out of the four big toy lines of the 80s. If we're generous, we could include the Skeletor-Dunks already mentioned, but it's apparent that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe really should have had an official sneaker release by now. Mattel are notoriously strict with their intellectual properties, but hey, everything has a price.

Who are willing to take that chance? Adidas? Top Ten 2000 in Battle Cat colors would be amazing. How about Puma? The Blaze of Glory is a perfect blend of futuristic and retro, just like the Masters of the Universe. Of course, with Nike ID, you can pretty much make sneakers to match any action figure in your collection.

What sneaker brand would you like to see do a He-Man collaboration? And what other sneaker/toy combinations do you want to see? Let us know in the comments!