LJN Toys was founded in 1970 by Jack Friedman, who later founded THQ and Jakks Pacific. The name LJN came from the initials of Lewis J. Norman, the reverse of Norman J. Lewis, whose toy company had employed Friedman as a sales representative in the 1960s. Lewis initially backed the company financially, but later sold his interest to a Chinese investor.
In 1985, MCA/Universal, which had been actively acquiring companies in the mid-1980s, acquired LJN for $66 million or $67 million in an effort to retain more profits from the merchandising of its film properties. That same year, LJN had one of its greatest successes in action figures with ThunderCats (1985). (The company was already known for its WWF wrestling figures.)
In 1986, LJN started publishing video games, nearly all of them for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but its games have become notorious for having abysmal design flaws such as lack of recovery time, limited attack range, etc. Most of the studio's games were outsourced, sometimes to studios (mostly of British origin) who would go on to make top notch games like Atlus (Snowboard Kids, Shin Megami Tensei, Xexyz, etc.), Westone (the Wonder Boy studio) and Rare (GoldenEye (1997), Banjo-Kazooie, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Killer Instinct etc.).
Also in 1986, LJN created a subsidiary, Entertech, to sell a new line of battery-powered water guns, as well as a home version of the Photon laser-tag game (which debuted at the same time Worlds of Wonder launched their "Lazer Tag" line). The Entertech water guns were heavily marketed for their realistic appearance (The Look! The Feel! The Sound! So Real! EN-TER-TECH!), and even put out a sub-line with a Rambo license, but it all backfired spectacularly when police officers mistook the toy guns for real weapons in several incidents, resulting in kids getting shot and killed by mistake. Not only that, but criminals used them in robberies. Despite remaking the guns in bright neon colors, Entertech never fully recovered, and found its market share waning in favor of less-realistic, but more powerful, water guns such as the Super Soaker line.
In 1990, MCA sold LJN to Acclaim Entertainment. Acclaim phased out the toy lines and liquidated the Entertech brand, so they could use the LJN brand to increase the number of games they could publish for the NES. Even after Nintendo dropped the publishing limitations, LJN continued to publish games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy as late as 1995, when the division was folded into Acclaim proper. For reasons unknown, Acclaim revived the brand in 2000 to publish one Sega Dreamcast title, Spirit of Speed '37. It's often rumored that they did this because they knew they had a bad game on their hands, pretty much summing up the perception of the brand: not an old rival of Mattel, but the video game equivalent of 4Kids Entertainment.
The company is probably best known today as a frequent target of The Angry Video Game Nerd's ire, who has joked that the name is an acronym for "Laughing Joking Numbnuts".
Games published by LJN:
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit
- The Amazing SpiderMan
- A Nightmare on Elm Street (NES)
- WWF WrestleMania Challenge
- Beetlejuice: Horrific Hijinx from the Neitherworld!
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (SNES and Game Boy versions)
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2
- Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six
- The Amazing Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers
- Alien³ (Game Boy version)
- Wolverine: Adamantium Rage (SNES version only; Sega Genesis version was by Teeny Weeny Games)
- Roger Clemens' MVP Baseball
- WWF Superstars 2
- Back to the Future
- The Punisher
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Game Boy Adventure: A Bogus Journey!
- True Lies
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (NES version)
- Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade's Revenge
- Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
- The Incredible Crash Dummies (NES, Game Boy, Game Gear, and Master System versions)
- The Incredible Crash Dummies (SNES version)
- WWF King of the Ring note
- Friday the 13th
- Gotcha! The Sport!note
- The Karate Kid
- Major League Baseball
- NFL Football
- Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage
- Alien³ (Amiga, NES, SNES, Commodore 64, Game Gear, and Master System versions)
- T2: The Arcade Game
Rocket Science Productions
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure
- Spirit of Speed 1937
Unknown developer (could be either Bothtec or Pixel)
- The Uncanny X-Men
Toys and action figures made by LJN:
- Bionic Six
- The Blinkins
- C Hi Ps
- Boy George of Culture Club
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Entertech water pistols
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
- Howard the Duck (not released)
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
- Michael Jackson
- LJN Video Art System
- Magnum, P.I.
- S.W.A.T. (1975)
- ThunderCats (1985)
- Tiger Sharks
- V (1983)
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit
- WWF Wrestling