McDonald's Happy Meal Toys That Are Worth A Ton Of Money

Although it might seem like Happy Meals have been synonymous with McDonald's since, well, forever, they didn't actually arrive on the scene nationwide until 1979. The origin of the Happy Meal could easily be the topic of its own article but a popular backstory is that a McDonald's franchise owner named Yolanda Fernández (from Guatemala, of all places) developed a meal with smaller portions geared toward families economically feeding their children. Besides the child-appropriate portions, another key feature of Fernández's creation (aka Ronald's Menu) was the toy that was included for free with the meal.

To further cloud the issue, however, Dick Brams, a Midwest advertising executive, also claimed credit for inventing the Happy Meal, as did another ad agency owner named Bob Bernstein. While the public may never know the whole truth, as McDonald's won't officially weigh in, suffice to say that whoever invented the Happy Meal, they did so at an opportune time for the fast-food restaurant. That's because a competing fast-food chain, Burger Chef, was eating McDonald's proverbial lunch with its Fun Meal, a child-size combo packed inside a colorful and entertaining box. And yes, it contained a toy.

The toys given out in McDonald's Happy Meals over the years typically have been fairly cheap to produce and not really designed to stand up to abuse. Hence, many toys have become lost, broken, or discarded. If you have one of the toys on this list in good condition, though, you could unknowingly be sitting on a few hundred dollars (even more) to offset how much you're spending on fast food meals in adulthood.

5. Boo Buckets

Like the "Dukes of Hazzard" model cars that Mickey D's issued in the early 1980s, the brand's Boo Bucket wasn't a small toy so much as a container for the Happy Meal itself, replacing the traditional box. Marketed around Halloween time, kids of all ages could save their Boo Buckets for double duty as a trick-or-treat candy receptacle. First introduced in 1986, the classic styles were an orange jack-o'-lantern, a green goblin evocative of a witch, and a white ghost.

In later years, McDonald's experimented with some glow-in-the-dark buckets, as well as a version where the lid's center was removable and doubled as a cookie cutter. One unwelcome turn of events was a switch to vinyl bags instead of buckets, called Happy Meal McBoo Bags. Happily, the bags were short-lived before the triumphant return of plastic pails.

If you still have a couple of these scary Happy Meal accessories stashed away at the bottom of the closet, even a small collection is worth from about $50 to $100. It also stands to reason that the older buckets are more valuable, with a collection of three from 1990 selling for $150 on eBay in 2023. Just don't expect to get very much for vinyl McBoo bags, however.

4. McNugget Buddies

Much like the Happy Meal itself, many younger consumers take for granted that McDonald's has always served up its signature Chicken McNuggets. In reality, the deep-fried boneless chicken bites didn't debut nationwide until 1983. Several years later, the popular new addition to the fast-food chain's menu was commemorated with a Happy Meal toy, called McNugget Buddies, a small plastic doll — think of a small version of Mr. Potato Head — complete with interchangeable costumes.

In recent years, full sets of McNugget Buddies have been selling for approximately $100 to $250 in open-box condition, though sealed sets can certainly fetch more. Originally, McNugget Buddies were offered as a Happy Meal toy sporadically between 1988 and 1996. However, the fast-food juggernaut recently brought them back in an unlikely delivery vessel: Adult Happy Meals. It's for a good cause, too. That's because a portion of the proceeds from this special collaboration with Harlem-born DJ and artist Kerwin Frost Box goes to the Harlem Arts Alliance charity. Though sadly, the charity aspect probably isn't tax deductible like some donations.

3. McDonaldland characters

Even prior to the invention of the Happy Meal, McDonald's decided that it wanted to project a kid- friendly image (though the brand offers discounts to seniors, too), so an ecosystem of McDonaldland characters was created in the early 1970s. Some familiar faces included the Hamburglar, Grimace, and, who could forget, Mayor McCheese? Following a highly successful ad campaign, a series of surprisingly high quality 6-inch-tall action figures was modeled after the characters and produced by Remco in the mid-1970s and, of course, the characters' likeness was a fixture in early Happy Meals, too.

Unlike the earlier plastic action figures, the toys in Happy Meals were plush stuffed fabric, though some rubber variants exist as well. Most plush toys sell for between $50 and $70, although a pair of Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac plush dolls reportedly sold for over $225 on eBay. In 2018, Heritage Auctions sold a Mayor McCheese prototype statue (created in 1984) for $3,840. This said, these McDonaldland characters didn't appear in McDonald's advertising once the 1970s was over, which may help explain their value today. As Heritage Auctions notes, rarity can drive up a price.

2. Dukes of Hazzard model cars

The classic television show "The Dukes of Hazzard" has become something of a pariah in recent years because it prominently featured a confederate battle flag, but decades ago, Americans weren't as socially conscious as now. "The Dukes of Hazzard" was a huge hit for CBS from 1979 to 1985. While "Dukes" was mostly a lighthearted affair (categorized as an action comedy), the series was well-loved by fans for its action-packed car chases and stunts.

The protagonists' gravity-defying vehicle was a heavily decorated, orange 1969 Dodge Charger nicknamed the General Lee. Reportedly, over 300 real 1968-69 Dodge Chargers — nowadays a highly collectible car worth big bucks — were destroyed while filming stunts for the show.

Naturally, the popular show had a massive retail presence with an abundance of "Dukes" toys and clothing, so it's no surprise that McDonald's jumped on the bandwagon with a tie-in to the show. The "toy," which was, of course, a car, was different from other smaller Happy Meal toys in that it was actually a larger two-piece plastic box to hold the meal inside. Hence, it didn't actually roll. There was still some fun involved, though, because the blank cars came with a sheet of stickers to dress them up like on the TV show.

In 2023, a full set of five cars (General Lee, police car, Jeep, etc.) sold for more than $350 on the auction site eBay. Individually, a single General Lee was listed for $250 and while other single cars can fetch around $100 each.

1. Changeables

Once again harking back to the 1980s, Hasbro created a frenzy when it launched its line of toy vehicles-cum-robots called Transformers in 1984. Parents scrambled to buy them for their kids, only to find the shelves bare. Additional characters followed, as did television shows, films, and more. Eventually, Transformers grew into a franchise worth $14 billion.

The lack of retail availability of the Transformer toys, especially at first, paved the way for many imitators, a category that also encompasses a McDonald's Happy Meal toy: Changeables. Just like Transformers, Changeables could also be converted into robots, but instead of turning into a semi-truck or Lamborghini Countach, the Changeables' base form was a popular food item, such as a burger, fries, or an ice cream cone.

While the Changeables clearly aren't as valuable as some of the original Transformer toys that inspired them, which can be worth thousands of dollars today, collections can still go for $80 to $150. And, as with any collectible, the condition of a Changeables set can make all the difference, with a complete set in unopened condition able to fetch more than double if it happens to find the right collector.