Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Retailer
It’s become an annual Strategist tradition, in the lead-up to Black Friday, to compile a list of the most anticipated, coveted toys that we predict will sell out long before holiday shopping hits a fever pitch. I’ve been doing it for five years now, and as the Strat’s resident toy expert, it’s a project I start thinking about in June or July. After spending a few months collecting recommendations from the brightest minds in the toy industry, as well as cool and stylish parents, aunts, and uncles to kids of all ages, I try to get my hands on as many toys as possible to make sure they’re actually worth the hype. I also walk the aisles of the enormous New York Toy Fair to test out everything from robotic dogs and remote-controlled cars to dancing stuffies and sparkly mermaid tails.
As far as trends go, I have been noticing an influx of impressive and cool-looking remote-control cars that can drive through mud, in water, over large obstacles, and even up the walls. Bluey, Pokémon, and Squishmallows are still big with kids of all ages, as are miniatures and toys with big, satisfying reveals. This year has been especially huge for movie tie-in merch: the Barbie, Little Mermaid, Super Mario Bros., Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Paw Patrol movies have given way to a huge array of adorable and well-designed toys. And because it’s the 25th anniversary of Harry Potter, and the 100th anniversary of Disney, there are literally thousands of licensed dolls, games, building sets, and accessories featuring the Hogwarts crew, Disney princesses, and every other classic Disney character. Lastly, according to James Zahn, editor-in-chief of the Toy Insider, the lackluster economy has influenced toy brands to produce more affordable toys in the under-$50 category. He predicts those toys will sell out just as fast, if not faster, than bigger-ticket items.
Of course, it’s still early in the season and which toys will be the most in-demand remain a bit of a mystery. But I’ve gathered as much intel as possible to help you get a jump start on your holiday shopping and actually enjoy yourself instead of desperately hunting down flying LOL Surprise dolls and squishy Gryffindor lions at the 11th hour. Below, you’ll find my list of the best, most hyped-up toys of 2023 to buy before they sell out.
And if you’re looking more great gift options, we also have guides for kids of all ages, including 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds, and 10-year-olds — plus the meticulously curated Strategist Toy Store, filled with all our greatest hits.
Every Bluey toy stands a chance of selling out. The Australian television series about a playful family of blue-heeler dogs has reached a level of fame akin to Elmo and Mr. Rogers. It’s beloved as much by little kids as it is by their parents, and it even has a growing fandom of childless adults and college students. Still, of all the exciting Bluey-themed toys I have seen this year — a Bluey toy shopping mall, Bluey Squishmallow, and a wooden Bluey drawing board — the brand new Bluey video game gets my vote for the one with the most sell-out potential. (Though, if don’t care too much about owning the actual physical game, the digital version is guaranteed to remain in stock.) In the game, you can explore Bluey’s world and play familiar games from the show like Keepy Uppy and Chattermax Chase. You can also collect items for your sticker book and change the character’s outfits. Bluey is compatible with Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, and XBox One and Series X. Strategist senior editor and mom of two Winnie Yang is planning to buy the game as soon as it drops on November 17. But if you want to avoid missing your chance, you can preorder it right now.
Bitzee, an interactive and touchable digital pet housed inside a case that looks like a ring box, is already selling well at both big-box retailers and independent toy stores, according to Zahn. “It’s travel friendly, it’s a good stocking stuffer, and then of course the interactivity is really cool,” he says, noting that for $30 you get a ton of technology. Inside the clamshell box, Bitzee uses a unique display to create the illusion of a cute cartoon animal that floats in midair. The Tamagotchi-esque toy works like a flip book, but with a single flexible plastic page that flips up and down really fast while flashing color-changing LED lights. Bitzee reacts to your touches, tilts, and swipes of the pad at the front of the box. Over time, if you feed and care for it, your Bitzee will evolve and new pets will become unlocked with up to 15 pets available in each box.
When I spoke with Camp vice president of merchandising Ariel Grun about the toys she thinks will sell out this year, this Downhill Duo set from Magna-Tiles was one of the first things she brought up. Zahn is also a fan of the latest addition to the popular line of magnetic building pieces. The Downhill Duo set comes with two figures and their racer cars as well as four ramps, six road squares, and two finish-line rectangles. It is the first-ever dedicated road and vehicle set from Magna Tiles that was designed in response to customer requests — people were buying up extra construction-themed Magna-Tiles Builder sets just to get more road pieces. In addition to the Downhill Duo, the brand now offers a set of extra road pieces to expand your track-building potential.
Grun cited the excitement around 2023’s live action Little Mermaid movie and Camp’s in-store immersive Little Mermaid experience as evidence that mermaid merch is going to be as hot as ever this year. There are plenty of dolls and stuffed animals to buy that feature Ariel, Sebastian, Ursula, and Flounder. But I think it’s the dress-up clothing and accessories that will sell out first. There’s this shell-shaped purse that kids and adults would love, the official Disney singing shell necklace, and lots of dresses and crowns. But one of the more unique Little Mermaid products I have seen is Camp’s shiny skirt that transforms into a tail by simply pulling it down to reveal the glittery scales.
Squishmallows have come up in nearly every conversation I’ve had about toys in the last three years. Whether you are shopping for preschoolers or preteens, the squishy stuffies are bound to be a hit. So it’s not surprising that this special anniversary series of Harry Potter Squishmallows has already started to sell out online. More specifically, the Gryffindor Lion has sold out a few times already (and is marked up accordingly on eBay and other resale sites). Since it’ll probably sell out, get restocked, and sell out again between now and Christmas, I recommend snagging one as soon as you see it in stock. Meanwhile, if you want to go for a full set, all four houses (Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw) are represented.
Zahn says that Super Mario Wonder is already being hailed as one of 2023’s best video games and a perfect family gift. Like Bluey, it is available in both physical and digital formats. With its throwback elements like side-scrolling gameplay and the runaway success of the Super Mario Bros. movie earlier this year, the game is fun for kids and parents to play together. But it’s not all nostalgia, as the game is the first Super Mario game designed without a time limit for each level. That means you can take your time grabbing every coin and stomping every turtle or just exploring all the Easter eggs the game has built in. Strategist tech writer Jordan McMahon also included it on his list of tech gifts to buy before they sell out and Michael McWhertor, a correspondent at Polygon, says it “feels energetic and inspired and considerate of Mario fans both new and old.”
If you want to really wow your favorite Mario fans this holiday season, Zahn recommends buying them Super Mario Bros. Wonder along with this newly released Mario-themed all-red OLED Nintendo Switch. He says it’s a great family gift because it feels special, you can use it with a TV, and multiple players can play together. He suggests buying sooner rather than later: According to Zahn, special-edition consoles like this one are usually made in smaller quantities and have been quick to sell out over the last few years.
Beast Lab is the most recent big-deal toy launch from the makers of Magic Mixies, one of the hottest and most innovative toys of the last two years. Similar to the Magic Mixies Misting Cauldron (a magical pot that plays music and emits mist before revealing one of several cute furry creatures), Beast Lab requires kids to combine a set of special powder packets — in this case, you pour them into a giant test tube — to trigger a mist-filled toy reveal. But instead of a cute Furby-like creature, you get one of several lab-grown beasts: toxic tiger, primal panther, havoc hammerhead, or mayhem megashark. In addition to the impressive sounds, lights, mist, and realistic toxic slime, Zahn likes that you can reset the reveal and buy refills of the various powders and goos to play with it over and over again.
Though there are plenty of trendy dolls and blind box toys available to buy in 2023, LOL Surprise continues to lead the category with a seemingly endless well of new releases. And this year, I predict the LOL Surprise Magic Flyer will sell out faster than any of the brand’s fashion dolls or play sets did in past years. I had the opportunity to play with one back in September and was truly charmed by the combination of an interactive reveal, “fairy magic,” and a cute design. The flying dolls come in a basketball-size perfume-bottle-shaped case that, when you tap it three times, begins to rock and open, prompting kids to release their tiny doll into the air. I see a lot of toys, and this one is really cool. The USB-rechargeable doll kind of floats out of the case before picking up speed and flying really high. Then you can use your hand to guide it as it comes back down to you. And once the initial reveal is done, a button on the back of the doll’s head lets you launch it right out of your hands.
Here’s another gravity-defying toy, and it’s so cool I want to buy one for myself. The Air Hogs Gravity Sprint RC Car is super-lightweight and fitted with vacuum technology that lets it drive up walls and on the ceiling. The easy-to-drive car is officially rated for ages 4 and up, but I found it pretty engaging myself when I tested it out at the Toy Fair. Like Bitzee, it’s a toy that has been getting a ton of attention from toy-industry folks, including Zahn. It’s also just $20 bucks and would fit inside a stocking.
The Barbie x Hot Wheels Remote Control Corvette is also in the realm of RC cars I would love to own. It’s rare to find a toy that looks nice enough to display but is also functional and durable enough to withstand lots of play by actual kids. Again, it’s rated for kids age 4 and up, and it’s been going in and out of stock for the last month — so if you want one, don’t wait. But if you do miss out, Hot Wheels also made a mini-version that, while not remote controlled, is exactly like the one in the movie and a good size for sticking in a stocking or pairing with a Polly Pocket.
Elmo is such a classic toy and perennially popular with kids since the Tickle Me Elmo craze of 1996. So anytime there’s a new interactive Elmo doll, it will likely sell out. Zahn loves the fact that this iteration of Elmo, who dances and sings the Elmo Slide, is bilingual, so kids get to hear Elmo sing and talk in both English and Spanish.
Another hot toy for the preschool set this year is this light-up, scrolling-map pilot dashboard from Melissa & Doug. I first heard about it (and played with it) while visiting the brand’s immersive toy booth at the Toy Fair. Then later, during a phone call with Zahn, he mentioned its being one of his personal favorite toys this year because of how interactive and unique it is. Though it features a depiction of a screen, the wooden toy is definitely screen free. Kids can pretend they’re flying to a handful of different locations using one of the 3 double-sided windshield cards and double-sided preflight checklists. The toy comes with a play headset, lights up when you push different buttons, and makes 22 different sounds — including cabin and tower communications, local radio, landing gear, and a “buckle your seatbelt” alert.
According to every toy expert I talked to this fall, this Bluey shopping center play set, from the show’s beloved “Hammerbarn” episode, is poised to sell out fast. We recently featured it in our gift guide for 3-year-olds, but Bluey fans of many ages will enjoy reenacting the Heeler family’s fun-filled trip to the mall with the set’s working elevator, lights, and sound effects.
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