The Kenner Aliens action figure line was first released in 1992 based on a Saturday morning Fox cartoon show.
Do you remember the 1992 Saturday morning cartoon show Operation Aliens, developed by 20th Century Fox as a way to market Alien 3 to small children?
That’s probably because it never happened.
But somehow the tie-in toy line from Kenner got produced anyway. This repackaging of R-rated movie materials for kids was actually quite a frequent occurrence in the late 80s early 90s with RoboCop and Rambo actually getting to the broadcast stage.
Now Alien 3 took place on a prison planet filled with unsavoury offenders with no weapons, one Alien and a morose tone making it exceptionally child-unfriendly so Fox wisely chose to focus on elements from the much more accessible second movie, James Cameron’s Aliens from six years previous.
Amazingly this wasn’t even the first time Kenner had attempted to bring the Alien creature to children, but we’ll find out more about that later in this series as it pertains to a new line of retro figures as well.
Curiously, even though their target audience of young boys aged 8-11 wouldn’t and shouldn’t have watched any of these movies and should ideally be both unaware of the characters and by the end of Alien 3 their complete and total demises, the developers of this cartoon rather than invent new space marines pitted against the xenomorphs to actually fit into the Aliens canon decided to rework the most popular and prominent characters in Aliens and create a kind of alternate universe.
Quite how the acid blood, facehuggers and chestbursters, would have been handled we will sadly never know.
But this meant that the hero characters on the card backs were all variations of the characters that adults or indeed myself at the age of twelve were very familiar with, sent down some often unusual design paths.
So in order of how much they diverged from the onscreen personas we’ll start with Drake, as possibly the most screen-accurate.
He had a serrated bayonet on the end of his accurately sculpted smart gun, but that came off easily leaving you with an acceptable Mark Rolston stand-in, maybe with a little extra hair. When you turn ed his waist it clicked, which some kids might imagined was his enormous handheld Howitzer going off.
Corporal Hicks as a figure was actually pretty spot-on, though the likeness of Michael Biehn was not used for the figure the actor did show up on the file card that came supplied. What let him down was the absence of the trusty and iconic pulse rifle. Instead he was given a missile launcher with two bright yellow missiles. Not entirely usable in tight spaces. I always wished they had included that shotgun for close encounters.
Lt. Ellen Ripley
Lt. Ellen Ripley was clearly in no way connected to Sigourney Weaver. Her file card is a completely different actress posing in costume. She had bright yellow boots and a maroon T-Shirt but otherwise looked a million miles from Ripley at the end of the second movie.
However, rather than her flamethrower, pulse-rifle combo they gave her something called a turbo torch which looked like a flamethrower strapped to some kind of enormous flame-spouting cannon.
It did have a neat little feature allowing you to attach the gun to her belt and spout flames with a turn of the waist. And when I say spout flames I mean a small pink piece of plastic protruded from the business end.
These were all typical of Kenner’s sculpting and detail decisions at the time, with soft features, rigid limbs and ridiculous, elaborate accessories. They were very similar in style to the Jurassic Park line, which you can hear more about in our JP guide.
Bishop was an android or “artificial person” in the movie played with grave subtlety by Lance Henriksen, here he looked like a crash test dummy in wraparound shades. He packed an enormous Gatling gun and his torso could be ripped apart to reveal his robot innards.
Amusingly his file card is in fact Henriksen, but with the more overt robot stuff painted onto his photo.
Then there was Apone, the sergeant, and ranking officer played with a commanding ferocity by Al Matthews. Here he was represented with a baffling urban stereotype complete with garish yellow basketball vest, backwards red cap and a big old ace of spades on his shoulder.
Each of these figures came with a rolled up mini-comic which had a twofold effect of explaining the reconfigured lore of Aliens to newcomer children and allowing those kids who had watched the movies to adjust their reckoning of the fiction. These were also a glimpse of what the cartoon may very well have been like.
All of these figures would have been almost entirely informed upon by their design for the cancelled cartoon, but actually considering the time period it’s amazing they weren’t dressed more outlandishly in high-top sneakers, hot pink and belly shirts, with portable pizza launchers or similarly absurd accessories. They did in fact endeavour to sell the danger and threat of the Aliens themselves.
The Kenner Aliens
The gorilla was a spitter with a rubber head that could squirt water. The bull simply rammed into things and extended its neck. Each of these fearsome creatures came with a facehugger made of soft, flexible plastic, with its legs curled appropriately to fit round the heads of the humans.
The queen was kind of accurate to her onscreen version, requiring a bulkier, more vertical body to support her enormous head. There was a neat internal maw action, springing out when you squeezed a rubber bulb at the back of her carapace.
To take on this mighty jabberwock was the famed power loader. I was surprised and delighted at age 12 that this was included in the line, and even though it had tractor treads rather than stomping feet the basic frame and colour were accurate.
This first line was swiftly followed by a second in the same year which was mostly composed of new Alien hybrids.
The only marine in the second series was a dead man walking, who was a made up character named A.T.A.X. who literally dressed-up as an Alien and sauntered into the middle of their hive. This was the only human I didn’t buy, principally because I never believed, even at age 12 that the xenos would be fooled by these Halloween shenanigans.
Other vehicles in this second line included the Stinger XT-37, the Evac fighter and the Electronic Hovertread, all of which called to mind the Star Wars mini-rigs that Kenner made to supplement their larger movie vehicles.
The new Aliens in series 2 included the Mantis, the Rhino, the Snake and the Flying Queen, as well as the monstrous queen Facehugger.
Series 3 emerged with some new marines. However, since many of their comrades weren’t selling too well the humans only saw shelves in the United Kingdom and some other parts of Europe. These included Private Vasquez who at last came packaged with a pulse rifle. She also had an enormous missile-launching backpack and thus required a bow-legged wet nappy stance to prevent her falling over.
Another fan favourite Hudson was in this line-up with his mouth suitably wide open in complaint. To round it out, rather than going to any of the dozen or so remaining marines from the movie not rendered in plastic Kenner invented a fellow named O’Malley and gave him some kind of extending arm guaranteed to make him an Alien’s prey in moments.
As you might expect, their European-only release makes these marines some of the hardest to track down mint on card within the USA.
The xenos in this third line included the Panther, later repainted as the Night Cougar, the Wild Boar, the Killer Crab and the King Alien, each one representing a fun, inventive re-interpretation of this horrifying creature and notably improving in sculpting detail over the first two waves. There was also a Mini-Dropship planned for release in this line that never saw the light of day.
But by this point their main enemy wasn’t the colonial marines, something much bigger and more dangerous had come along…
One of the crown jewels, and still very much prized today, was the Alien Queen hive which was a more accurate body sculpt of the titular monarch as well as a fun slime action feature, both gleefully missing the point of the egg sack and turning that classic scene into a Nickelodeon gunking game show.
As of 1995 that was the last of the new Kenner Alien toys for a while. Throughout the 90s Kenner had in fact been owned by Hasbro having been purchased along with Tonka in ’91.
This allowed the market leaders to leverage Kenner’s vintage charms and association with Star Wars to bring back their Power of the Force Line.
So, in 1997 when Hasbro began releasing Alien Resurrection figures they were in a larger scale and not connected to the Kenner toys which they had previously distributed.
A six figure assortment comprised of the cloned Ellen Ripley, Analee Call and four Aliens in Newborn, Warrior, Battle Scarred and Aqua varieties along with a super-sized Warrior Drone.
This slightly more collector-focused line for the R-Rated movie did not stop Hasbro going back to the Kenner range as the interest experienced a resurgence. In 1997 a Toys R Us exclusive set of a previously unreleased Acid Alien VS. Predator was unleashed as a 10th Anniversary Gift Set.
Aliens VS. Marines two packs
The last gasp for the 20th Century and Kenner’s line of Aliens before their offices were closed down by Hasbro in 2000 were Aliens VS. Marines two packs and Aliens Hive Wars figures.
The former were repainted examples of classic space marines including Drake and Hicks and the previously unreleased in the USA Hudson and Vasquez, now in more screen accurate olive drab, and packaged alongside an Alien each.
These xenos were repainted black and metallic colours to again better evoke the movie counterparts and included the Night Cougar, the Queen Face Hugger, the King, the Scorpion and the previously hard to obtain Arachnid, back for one last scuttle.
There was no military attired Apone, Ripley or Bishop, but the made-up arm-extending previously UK-only O’Malley did get a second look in.
Aliens Hive Wars figures
Hive Wars were the last of the line. They included an all-new sculpt for Hicks (again with the backwards red baseball cap) bearing absolutely no relation to the screen version, a mechanical character named Integer 3, a Warrior Predator and a Night Recon Predator and two final Aliens including the Hive Warrior and the Acid Alien at long last released in this scale.
These Kenner figures have endured with adult collectors long after they disappeared from shelves, exemplified by a range of more recently produced NECA tributes to the early predator figures as well as some impressive custom jobs that bring the old favourites kicking and screaming out of the 90s.
In the next article we’ll be covering NECA’s work on both Aliens and Predator as well as a new lease of life for the unproduced 1979 Kenner Alien figures. And if you’d like to know more about Kenner, Hasbro and NECA you’ll find our histories on all of them, filled with fascinating info.