No matter where you eat or how much money you make, no meal will ever be as exciting as a childhood McDonald’s. The promise of a cooties infested play area and the ludicrous amount of additives that basically turned nuggets into crack made any trip to the golden arches a highlight of a kid’s foodie calendar.
Though the food was always awesome, there’s little doubt much of the Maccies hype can be chalked up to the contents a legendary red and yellow box. Ever since the Happy Meal burst onto the scene in 1979, families have been obsessed, not just by greasy chicken and soggy fries, but by the promise of tiny plastic playthings. These were cultural touchstones that need to be respected. To honour lost childhoods everywhere, here are the greatest Happy Meal toys of all time.
7. Inspector Gadget Body Parts - 1999
This 90s fan favourite was an unusual entry into the Happy Meal hall of fame for a number of reasons. For starters, each meal only came with one body part, leaving McDonald’s looking like the hunting ground for a demented toy obsessed serial killer. It was also notoriously hard to complete the entire model, making childhood obesity as big a threat as Gadget’s evil enemy Dr Claw. Once the collection was complete, however, the arm squirter, watch belt and siren hat spoke for themselves.
6. Space Jam Plushes - 1996
Anyone who pines for the glory days of 1996 will tell you that Space Jam is probably the pinnacle of human civilisation. There certainly aren’t many things that sum up the decade better than Michael Jordan playing basketball in space with Loony Tunes. It’s no surprise, therefore, that these soft toys were top of every child’s food-based bucket list.
5. Transformers - 1985
Toy cars are all well and good, but having them turn into something fighty is obviously far cooler. Despite only being available in a limited area in the mid 80s, this early Transformers/food collaboration set the benchmark for more complicated Happy Meal creations. Now seen as a collectors item, these retro robots are just as awesome as they ever were.
4. Nickelodeon Game Gadgets - 1992
Clearly designed by engineers who had never met a real child, these incredibly noisy, irritating toys were the bane of every parent unfortunate enough to walk into a Maccies in 1992. The Blimp Game, Applause Paws, Gotcha Gusher, Loud-Mouth Mike and squirt blimp were all powerful offensive weapons, capable of trying the patience of even the most saint-like adult.
3. Barbie Dolls and Backdrops - 1990
As one of the most celebrated toys of all time, any food that came with a free barbie was always going to be popular. Though it only made it onto the Happy Meal roster in 1990, Barbies have been a mainstay of the menu ever since, racking up the second most appearances of any toy type ever.
2. Hot Wheels - 1983
The most popular Happy Meal toy of all time is also one of the simplest. Hot Wheels cars appeared more than 15 times during the first 25 years of the meal box’s circulation and have proved popular for every generation. Though the adverts have always been something of an oversell, the Hot Wheels legend still lives long in the memory.
1. Teenie Beanie Babies - 1997
There was only ever going to be one toy that could pip Hot Wheels to first place. When Beanie Baby hysteria was in full swing in the late 90s, the Golden Arches seized the chance to capitalise by launching a range of small, soft, accidentally French fry infused stuffed animals. The fact that they came complete with the official Beanie Babies tag made these collectibles all the more desirable. To this day, mad hoarders are still after the full set.
No matter how tasty, the memory of most meals fades within a few hours. What makes Happy Meals awesome is the ability to leave a physical foodie memento. It may not be fine dining, but there’s a reason that the world keeps buying the red and yellow box.