Special Report

21 of the Most Popular Gifts of the Century

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The holiday season has arrived, and for parents that means trying to track down the hottest toys of the year. (On the other hand, if you’re the nostalgic type, these are 25 discontinued classic toys you can probably still find.)

24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of 21 of the most popular gifts of the century. The list was assembled using the archives of companies such as Hasbro, data curated by The Strong National Museum of Play, encyclopedia sources such as Britannica, and media outlets including Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, Time, Good Housekeeping, and Smithsonian. 24/7 Tempo also exercised editorial discretion where appropriate.

For toy companies looking to sell the hot toy of the holiday season, it’s a matter of timing, accurately assessing the mood of the public, selling something that’s innovative, or marketing something that’s a novelty. 

In recent years, many of the most popular toys have featured the latest tech bells and whistles. Among these are a robotic dog (Tekno the Robotic Puppy) and a biomorphic humanoid (Robosapien) that was developed by a former NASA employee. 

Technology has become an integral part of childhood learning with toys such as LeapPad Explorer, and an iPad-like tablet for children (plus the actual iPad). XBox, Nintendo Wii, and Guitar Hero all helped transform how games are played in our leisure space. (These are the best-selling Nintendo games of all time.)

Click here to see 21 of the most popular gifts of the century

The holiday season wouldn’t be the holiday season, if the demand for certain toys didn’t create  a furor. That was the case with Zhu Zhu Pets, which are programmable toy hamsters that mimic the unpredictable behavior of the real animal. They became an instant sensation over the holidays in 2009. The demand for Hatchimals – mini-figure robotic furry, bird-like creatures that “hatch” themselves from an egg – was so intense in 2016 that Spin Master, the Toronto company that created the toy, flew them in from its Chinese factories.

Source: homeworks255 / iStock via Getty Images

Razor scooters
> Made by: Razor USA

Razor scooters arrived under the Christmas tree in 2000 and their appeal has not dimmed. Sleek and cool, the best motorized razor scooters are used for tooling around the streets of cities. Some of these contraptions have an attachment for carrying cargo such as groceries, books, or luggage.


Bratz dolls
> Made by: Carter Bryant and MGA Entertainment

Bratz dolls, which were created by Carter Bryant, a former employee of Barbie-doll-maker Mattel, were branded as the anti-Barbies when they first came out in 2001. They dressed more provocatively, wore lots of makeup, and carried themselves with more attitude than Barbie. The dolls flew off the shelves. Initially, there were four Bratz dolls – Chloe, Jade, Sasha, and Yasmin – but their numbers grew over time. So did revenue: By 2005, more than 125 million dolls had been sold – $2 billion’s worth. This was much to Mattel’s chagrin. The company sued Bratz maker MGA Entertainment, claiming the dolls resembled Barbies, and won a $100 million judgment. MGA fought back and in a retrial got $310 million from Mattel. Bratz dolls’ popularity led to movies, CDs, and video games.

Source: OlegMalyshev / iStock via Getty Images

> Made by: Hasbro

In Beyblade, kids compete in a battle with spinning tops with names like Drago, Storm Pegasus, and Dark Wolf. The game originated in the Japanese graphic comic novels known as manga. Hasbro sold 150 million of the tops, earning $500 million in sales.

Source: Courtesy of Walmart.com

> Made by: Cranium Inc.

Hullabaloo is a sensory game that educates preschool children with a series of play pads in different shapes and colors, with images of food, musical instruments, and other things, to be placed around your living space. A console that comes with the game tells children to run, jump, or twirl from place to place. Hullabaloo was named the game of the year in 2003 by the Toy Association.


Source: Courtesy of WowWee Group Limited

> Made by: Wow Wee Toys

Wow Wee Toys teamed up with robotics physicist Dr. Mark W. Tilden to develop an affordable intelligent entertainment humanoid. Robosapien is based on applied biomorphic robotics – originally developed for government agencies, including NASA – which enable a humanoid to act more like a human. A remote control commands Robosapien to perform functions such as picking things up, throwing, high-fiving, dancing, and executing various karate moves.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

> Made by: Microsoft

Microsoft’s XBox was eagerly awaited by gamers during the holiday season in 2005. At that time, Microsoft had the lead in console technology. There were some hardware problems at first, but even so, the Xbox 360 came to be well regarded for its slim, streamlined look. Its gamepad was hailed for its controller design. The 360s are also credited with popularizing online multiplayer for console gaming. According to livingly.com, the XBox 360 is the highest-selling console made by an American company.


Source: mariusFM77 / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

Nintendo Wii
> Made by: Nintendo Entertainment System

Nintendo Wii targeted a broader demographic through novel gameplay. The primary controller for the Wii is the Wii Remote, a wireless controller with motion sensing and traditional controls that can be used as a pointing device toward the television screen. Wii won a host of awards, including an Emmy for game controller innovation. As of 2022, the Wii is the fifth-best-selling home console ever.

Source: David Greedy / Getty Images News via Getty Images

Guitar Hero
> Made by: Activision

Guitar Hero is a series of music video games in which players use a controller shaped like a guitar to simulate playing songs on lead guitar, bass guitar, and rhythm guitar. Players try to match notes that scroll on-screen to buttons on the controller, strumming the controller in time to the music to score points. The success of Guitar Hero helped boost sales of music by artists who lent their music to the game.

Source: Courtesy of Walmart.com

Zhu Zhu Pets
> Made by: Cepia Inc.

Zhu Zhu Pets was created by Russell Hornsby, who ran a family-owned toy company out of the basement of his St. Louis home. Zhu Zhu, loosely translated from the Chinese word for little piglet, are programmable toy hamsters that imitate the unpredictable behavior of the real critters. The toy became a sensation, like Furby or Cabbage Patch dolls. It was among the top five toys with the biggest sales growth in 2009. According to Zhu Zhu pets maker Cepia Inc., more than seven million U.S. households owned Zhu Zhu hamsters by February 2010. Bruce Katz, vice-president of the company, said worldwide sales had reached about $70 million at that point.


Angry Birds
> Made by: Rovio Entertainment Corporation

Angry Birds is a puzzle video game developed by a Finnish computer game developer, in which the aforementioned birds try to save their eggs from green-colored pigs. The game led to a video game, a TV series, a full-length movie, and various plush toys.

Source: Geber86 / E+ via Getty Images

> Made by: Apple

Though not a toy, Apple’s iPad changed touchscreen computing for everyone. For children, the device provided an almost endless number of games and entertainment diversions. Apple sold more than 300,000 of them the first day it was released.


Source: MousePotato / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

> Made by: Activision

Skylanders is a toys-to-life video game. The game is played by situating characters called Skylanders on a device that reads the figures’ tags through near-field communication (NFC) technology, bringing them to life as playable characters. Skylanders is credited with launching the toys-to-life category.

Source: Courtesy of Walmart.com

LeapPad Explorer
> Made by: LeapPad

LeapPad Explorer is basically an iPad for children. It has its origins as an interactive book introduced in 1999. The LeapPad Explorer won the Platinum Award from the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio in 2011.

Tekno the Robotic Puppy
> Made by: ToyQuest/Genesis Toys

This robot dog debuted in 2013. Besides heeding commands and doing backflips, the toy uses light-sensor technology to respond to its environment. The 2013 version of the robotic puppy came with blue, pink, dalmatian, and Scooby-Doo.


Source: Rob Stothard / Getty Images

Frozen Dolls/Snow Globes
> Made by: Walt Disney & Company

The “Frozen” movie, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Snow Queen,” was a big hit for Disney, spawning video games, books, a Disney on Ice show, a Broadway musical, and of course merchandise. In 2014, dolls of the princesses Elsa and Anna from the animated film outsold Barbie.

Source: CTRPhotos / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

Shopkins Toys
> Made by: Moose Toys

Shopkins Toys, created by an Australian company, are characters inspired by items found in grocery stores and malls. The toy received the Toy Industry Association’s 2015 Girl Toy of the Year. Moose Toys has been aggressive in protecting its brand. In 2015, Chinese police raided factories in Yiwu, China, and confiscated 150,000 counterfeit Shopkins toys.


Source: Courtesy of Spin Master Ltd

> Made by: Spin Master

Hatchimals was the best-selling toy in 2016. The line of mini-figure toys features robotic furry, bird-like creatures that “hatch” themselves from an egg. Children cuddle with the egg for about half an hour before the creature inside emerges. When Hatchimals were released in October 2016, there was a firestorm of demand for them. To meet the surge in requests, the Toronto company that created Hatchimals flew the toys in from its Chinese factories.

Source: Courtesy of Anki Cozmo Robot

> Made by: Anki/Digital Dream Labs

Cozmo, a three-pound rolling robot with a single arm, expanded the possibilities of artificial intelligence. It can read and respond to the real world, exhibits curiosity, and absorbs human-like responses from encounters and experiences. Users can play various games with it, including keepaway. Anki, the company that created it, went bankrupt in 2019 and the robot is now made by Digital Dream Labs.

Source: Courtesy of Hasbro

Don’t Step In It
> Made by: Hasbro

Don’t Step In It is a line of toys that heralded the emerging gross-out toy category. In the unicorn edition of the game, players shape rainbow-colored clay into piles of poop, place them on the floor mat, don blindfolds, and try to avoid the piles. Not exactly pin the tail on the donkey.


Source: Courtesy of WowWee Group Limited

Baby Shark
> Made by: WowWee

The Baby Shark toy built on the appeal of the song of the same name, whose video on YouTube became the first to reach 10 billion views. Baby Shark toys are plush toys aimed at children 2 and 3 years old that play singalong music. Singing promotes listening, memory, and pronunciation skills, which are crucial to early literacy and creativity.

The Child
> Made by: Walt Disney & Company

The Child is an animatronic version of a character from The Mandalorian on Disney+. It coos, giggles, and makes baby motions. Fans called the toy as “Baby Yoda” because of its resemblance to the beloved Star Wars character. The green-colored toy is targeted at children 4 years old and above.

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