Cereals based on existing cartoons, comics, games have been around a while. But I think they were certainly at their height in the buy-buy-buy/yuppie 80s. Mostly thanks to Ralston, who must have just had cereal ideas waiting around until they grabbed a license and slapped an image on them. But some were better than others. Sometimes it was the taste, sometimes the property and how well it was integrated into cereal form, and sometimes it was the prizes inside. Here is our definitive list, which no one will ever argue with, of the best to worst.
Smurf-Berry Crunch Cereal
It’s the best of these because it tastes the best. It was a good berry flavor. That made sense for the product too because Smurfs loved collecting red and blue Smurf berries. They had animated commercials and it came out early on when Smurfs were popular. And Smurfs the cartoon had a pretty long life. So the cereal was always supported. No super memorable prizes inside but they were all Smurf-related. It skewed young, but it was good and fun. Post is one of the better cereal makers who are still on top today with stuff like Honeycomb, Grape-Nuts, Shredded Wheat, Fruity Pebbles and more.
General Mills, 1984
The flavor is the smart move here. It ties directly in to the movie because E.T. ate Reese’s Pieces, the peanut butter and chocolate candy. E.T. is sort of creepy to some but lovable to many so the artwork helps make him more gentle. The movie was so huge and it took a long time before you could see it again back in the early 80s. VCRs weren’t super-common and there was no streaming or anything. So kids latched on to cartoons, comics and cereals in a bigger way. Sure, the shape is just Es and Ts which isn’t that creative but it tasted good (General Mills is a top cereal manufacturer with stuff like Cheerios, Trix, Lucky Charms and more). Taste beats all. The prizes sure helped, though. Look at that – you could get an E.T. storybook which had pictures including Michael Jackson (also at the top of his game at this point)! How could any kid say no?
C-3PO’s were not super sugary. They were sweet but not pure sugar. They tasted pretty good. Not mind-blowing. The shapes? Eh, not too creative either. So why’s it so high? Because it’s STAR WARS. Return of the Jedi had just come out and as kids we’d buy anything that was Star Wars. A pretty good cereal with our least favorite regular character? Sign us up! Oh, and it included Star Wars prizes? Hell yeah! Most of the time it was just a mask you’d cut off the back but that was good for a weekend of fun with your friend in the backyard. And usually they had Star Wars stickers, or plastic rockets or even a mail away for a Kenner action figure. Combine that with TV ads that used Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and this was a huge treat for its time.
Mr. T Cereal
These basically tasted like Cap’n Crunch. So if you had a choice between a drunk-looking sailor or the personification of manliness, Mr. T, which would you choose? Absolutely this. The cereal was shaped like Ts. You know, like Mr. T. It was good timing. Rocky III wasn’t that far in the past and he had both a cartoon on Saturday mornings and A-Team at night. Yeah, we all wanted to be Mr. T. Maybe his cereal would make us big and strong like him (it wouldn’t). Plus? Mr. T stickers. Stickers were very popular in the 80s. I mean, they’re still cool. But stickers on your notebook was a sign of prestige at the time.
General Mills, 1983
Total fad, but what a fad. Pac-Man was the first video game a lot of us had in our homes at the time. That or Pong. The cereal tasted pretty good. Sweetened corn and marshmallows, a standard. They were shaped like Pac-Man and the ghosts he chased. That meant we could daydream about the game while we ate the food. Some of us didn’t have a game console so this was as close as we could get. We’d read the back of the box to really understand who Pac-Man was and memorize the ghosts names so we could keep up with schoolyard conversation. Pretty fun prizes, too. Pac-Man themed hats and t-shirts. Helped us appear to be into video games even if our parents wouldn’t buy an Atari.
Strawberry Shortcake Cereal
General Mills, 1982
The reason this is as high as it is is because it tasted really good. There’s not a lot of strawberry cereals out there so it cornered that market. You pretty much could only eat it if you had a sister, though. I mean, if you were a boy or too old, you couldn’t ask your parents to get Strawberry Shortcake cereal! That would be SO embarrassing.
Croonchy Stars Cereal
Again, this one is high because it tasted good. Stars that tasted very similar to Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Kind of weird that the only Muppet they’d feature is the Swedish Chef, though. Sure, he makes sense because he’s a chef and this is food. But why not toss Kermit or Gonzo in the background, chowing down? Probably would have helped it last longer. The prizes were posters or transfers (cheapo stickers) of the Chef. Not that exciting. At least the box was full of silly jokes and gags.
Well, it was Ghostbusters, so we’d eat it. But it was made by Ralston who basically just made cheap cereals tied to whatever was popular at the time. They were originally formed along with Ralston-Purina who made pet food. They sold off their cereal business to General Mills in 1994. Anyway, Ghostbusters was cool and the huge box art was a smart way to make it pop out and catch our attention. But the taste was so sweet you really couldn’t tell what flavor it was supposed to be. Berry? Maybe? It had ghost marshmallows so that made sense. The prize inside was Bazooka bubble gum, AKA the shittiest gum ever.
Nintendo Cereal System
This was a fun cereal but kinda late to the party, especially for a Ralston cereal. Nintendo had been out for three years. The gimmick was that the box was divided and half was Mario Bros. cereal (fruit flavor) and half was Legend of Zelda cereal (berry flavor). If you closed your eyes, good luck telling them apart. What was up with the box art? It wasn’t game footage but it also wasn’t the exciting, fun, painted game box art, either. It seemed kinda phoned in. The Nintendo Power Cards were okay. The kind of thing that kids back then would try to collect and then find it in their desk a year later and wonder what were they thinking.
Cabbage Patch Kids Cereal
It came out at the right time. Cabbage Patch Kids were super popular. Ridiculously so. I don’t think any toy since has ever been quite as hot as Cabbage Patch Kids were when they first hit store shelves. But it was also a “healthy” cereal. So that wasn’t too exciting. It was one of the rare cereals at the time that didn’t have a prize inside (it didn’t need to, to sell) and instead had simple games or fun facts on the back of the box. That said, my little sister loved it and my parents were cool with it because it only had 3 grams of sugar per serving.
G.I. Joe Action Stars Cereal
What a disappointment! It tasted bland and the box art didn’t look anywhere as cool as either the action figure card art or even the cartoon. They had boxes with 4 or 5 different Joes on them. Shipwreck and Gung-Ho made it look less appetizing. The saving grace was the prizes – a camo t-shirt with the G.I. Joe logo. If you could save up enough UPC codes, that was a good prize. The commercial was weird. It featured a kid making his way through the jungle looking for cereal, then flying with a Joe named Starduster who never showed up on the cartoon. He just… flies.
Donkey Kong Cereal
If the Pac-Man cereal was a fad, I don’t know what to call this. A blip? Another Cap’n Crunch knockoff but not as crisp or tasty. Mario isn’t named because he wasn’t very well known at this point, pre-Nintendo Entertainment System’s Super Mario Bros. He was actually referred to as Jumpman in most Donkey Kong game descriptions from then. It came and went fast. The prizes were okay. Baseball cards (no connection but whatever), arcade stickers, and one time a contest to win an arcade cabinet.
Why would this be so low when the timing is right? Batman was HUGE in ’89. Well, the cereal form of the Batman movie just didn’t taste that good. It’s Ralston. You should expect this now. It said it had a honey nut flavor but tasted more like a Cap’n Crunch knockoff. The bat shapes would tear the roof of your mouth apart. The saving grace? It once came shrink wrapped with a Batman bank. That was a decent prize. Probably too easy to steal, so it didn’t last long.
Rainbow Brite Cereal
Rainbow Brite just didn’t have the cultural impact of Strawberry Shortcake. The cereal was kind of like Trix but with more sugar and less texture. The prize was a mail-away kite. It was pretty forgettable.
Gremlins seems like it’d be higher but the first movie was PG-13 and the cereal is marketed at younger kids. They couldn’t even use a Gremlin because that’d look gross. So they used Gizmo who is actually a Mogwai. A pre-Gremlin. The cereal tasted gross. They were shaped like Gizmo but really looked like teddy bears. Didn’t seem Gremlins-y, really. The prize was a sticker. Kinda average. It was alright to try once.
Morning Funnies Cereal
Hey, how about a bunch of unfunny comic strip characters you don’t care about? Not just one, a bunch of unfunny characters. What links them all to cereal? Nothing! The cereal was smiling faces. Or someone’s face that had been cut off, like Leatherface would wear. I don’t know. It tasted too sweet and no one cares about these characters. What a dumb idea.
Breakfast with Barbie Cereal
Someone has to be the worst and Barbie takes that honor. Sure, she had a popular brand. But a plastic doll isn’t as exciting as a cartoon character with a personality that we know, or a movie character that we’ve seen go on adventures. It’s sad, but Barbie is just too bland to move a cereal. Plus, it’s Ralston and didn’t taste very good. It had yellow Bs and some pink hearts and bows. Really on the nose. So it didn’t taste good and the mascot was well known but not interesting enough to make you buy food with her name on it. What about prizes? Well, you could cut the back of the box and fold it into a table. It made Barbie look like she was living on Goodwill furniture which just didn’t mesh with that career-minded lady.