The Fisher-Price Movie Viewer was one of those toys that it seemed like everyone had back in the 70s and 80s.

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Well, everyone except for me.

For some reason, my parents would never buy one for me. My best friend had one, though, and I loved watching clips from Looney Tunes and Disney shorts on it, cranking it back and forth to watch the animation go by frame-by-frame.

The Movie Viewer was introduced in 1973 and became a staple of the toy aisle for over a decade, ending in 1985. The original set, which included the handheld viewer and one cartridge, sold for about $7.50 (~$52 in today’s money!) with additional cartridges running around $2.50 to $3.00 (~$17 – $20 today).

At first, the included cartridge featured a Disney short from 1937, Lonesome Ghosts, starring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as early Ghostbusters, though there were sets made for certain brands like Sesame Street or Looney Tunes that were packaged one of their cartridges instead.

Fisher-Price might have come up with the idea to let kids view 8mm film strips through a handheld viewfinder, but they weren’t the only ones to do it. In 1977, Kenner released a Star Wars MovieViewer that worked in pretty much the same way as the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer. However, instead of clips from old Disney cartoons, the cartridges you could buy featured clips from the hottest movie of the year, or from the hit TV show, The Six Million Dollar Man.

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To tie into the release of the film in 1979, Kenner sold an Alien MovieViewer player and reel, too! The misguided marketing of this R-rated film to kids has to be one of the most fascinating stories in advertising history.

Not to be outdone by the competition, in 1977, Fisher-Price introduced the Movie Viewer Theater, a rather ingenious device that let kids watch their favorite cartridges on a small, 4″ x 5.5″ screen or project their movies as an 18″ x 24″ image onto a wall up to 5′ away. The image shifted between the two modes via a rotating mirror inside the plastic shell and the image was projected using then-standard flashlight bulbs after being plugged into a standard outlet.

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As you can see from this 1977 Sears Wishbook ad, the Theater retailed for about $19.95 (~$100 today). However, it played the same cartridges as the handheld viewer, so parents didn’t need to buy anything new if their child already had a collection of Movie Viewer films. The Theater would last until 1985, just like the original handheld Viewer.

In 1986, the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer would get a makeover as it was rebranded as the Cartoon Viewer.

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It was essentially the same toy as the original handheld Movie Viewer, but was hoping to capitalize on the mid-80s cartoon craze that we all remember so fondly, with cartridges that focused on after-school and Saturday morning staples like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and The Gummi Bears. Of course all the old cartridges were backwards compatible, so they didn’t go to waste.

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The Cartoon Viewer only lasted until 1987, but that’s no surprise, because the toy landscape was completely different from the technology’s introduction in 1973. By this time, the Nintendo Entertainment System and other home video game systems, the explosion of action figures like G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Masters of the Universe, and Transformers, not to mention the continued adoption of VCRs in the home, meant something as simple as the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer just wasn’t going to hold a kid’s attention very long.

However, it was the simplicity of the toy is what made it such a hit during it’s heyday of the late-1970s. No electricity or even light bulb was necessary – just look up at the sky or at a nearby lamp. It was easy to use – just slap in a cartridge and crank the handle; the faster you turned, the faster the animation flew by in the viewfinder. When you were done with that movie, pop out the cartridge and put in another. There were dozens of cartridges to choose from – according to, there were about 70 cartridges made for the Movie Viewer – that were fairly affordable at the time. For a pre-VCR childhood, getting to watch cartoons or Sesame Street clips at home – even if there was no sound – was a modern marvel.

Fisher-Price re-released the Movie Viewer in 2014 with a couple of classic, original, non-licensed cartridges, Letters and Numbers. I’m not sure how well it sold, but I’m sure there were a few late-Gen Z / early-Gen Alpha kids out there that thought it was fun.

I never had one as a kid, but, thanks to Facebook Marketplace, I now have an abundance of Fisher-Price Movie Viewer items.

To start, I found this Theater, complete with the box, back in October of 2023.

However, it didn’t have any cartridges, so I started checking out eBay. The movies are pretty expensive for what they are – typically going for about $15 and up, plus shipping – and, the worst part is, you never know what kind of condition they’re in until you get them. 8mm film doesn’t age well, typically taking on an orange hue as the film degrades. So, unless it’s in a sealed package (which is even more expensive), you might be wasting your money.

Which is why I was happy to find a Marketplace listing for a handheld viewer and five cartridges for only $20!

The fifth cartridge doesn’t have a label anymore (a pretty common occurrence for how old they are), but I believe it’s the Sesame Street Numbers cartridge shown here…

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I was excited to finally plug in and try out my Fisher-Price Movie Viewer Theater. And while it took a little jiggling and wiggling of wires and nearly 50-year old light bulbs, I was able to get it to project a movie onto the wall. The image isn’t perfect – it’s pretty fuzzy and pretty orange – but it was fun to watch with my 10-year-old, who got a kick out of it. Here are a few photos that might jog your Gen X memory…

Unfortunately, the smaller screen built into the unit didn’t really work as intended. I’m not sure if the flashlight bulb isn’t bright enough, if the screen itself is dirty, or if the film cartridges have degraded too much, but you could barely make out anything on the screen. The screen is made of plastic, so it’s entirely possible that it has also degraded and gotten cloudy over time.

While the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer items I have now may not compare to the one I watched at my friends’ house 40+ years ago, I’m still happy I found them. I’m going to do a little poking around online to see if there are any restoration guides to make the images better, so there might be a new post about the Movie Viewer one day. But even if this is as good as it gets, it’ll be fun to pull this out every once in a while and relive the days before YouTube, streaming, and even VHS and cable TV. There’s still some magic left in those old hand-cranked clips…


  1. Oh wow, I was born in 1975, and I never saw these (and I grew up with a fair share of toys). I’m glad you were able to find one for $20! It’s amazing that the lightbulb still works. It really puts things in perspective when you say it’s a 50-year-old lightbulb.

    I imagine I never had one of these (nor my friends or cousins), because our parents probably said, “You have a View-Master, that’s good enough.” They might have even used the quantity angle, saying we could buy “x-number of View-Master discs for one of these cartridges.”

    Thank you for this detailed review. It made me feel like I’m a kid with a friend who had one of these. Say, what’s the typical duration of the cartridge? Like, how many seconds/minutes of footage does it play?

    1. I don’t know if there was a set standard runtime, but they’re mostly 2-3 minutes. Just enough time for your arm to wear out from cranking the wheel 🙂 They were often pretty heavily edited versions of longer-running shorts. Lonesome Ghosts was originally 8 minutes long, but it’s cut down quite a bit for the Movie Viewer cartridge.

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

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