March 28, 2013 at 8:59 AM ET
The new movie "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" opens in more than 3,500 theaters Thursday, and even if you're not planning to see it, you surely know the title character. Here's a look at our favorite G.I. Joe pop-culture memories.
Movie that inspired a franchise
In 1964, when G.I. Joe creator Don Levine was inspired to make the movable action figure (never call it a doll!) he tried out all sorts of names. Ace the Fighter Pilot, Rocky the Marine, and Salty the Sailor were considered and rejected. But then Levine caught part of a 1945 Robert Mitchum movie based on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ernie Pyle's war coverage. The title, "The Story of G.I. Joe," gave its name to the new action figure.
Action figures, video games, comic books
The figures are the best-known, what with 1974's kung-fu grip (softer molded hands that could hold things) and the controversial switch in size from 12-inch to teeny 3 3/4-inch Joes. But comic books and video games also filled our bedrooms -- and later, our parents' garage sales. Wondering if your Joe is the real deal or a ripoff? Real versions have a scar on his right cheek and an upside-down thumbnail on his right hand, both meant to prevent other toymakers from ripping off Joe's look.
Cartoons and PSAs
Kids of the 1980s grew up with an animated Joe via the classic cartoon series "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero." ("He'll fight for freedom wherever there's trouble, G.I. Joe is there!") This is the series/toyline and comic-book era that introduced Joe's terrorist nemesis Cobra. The show is also fondly remembered for its classic 30-second public-service announcements, where cartoon kids locked themselves in fridges, set themselves on fire, forgot to wear sunscreen and threatened to jump their bikes over downed powerlines, only to have random Joe characters with names like Dial Tone and Barbecue stop them in the nick of time. "Now we know," the chastened kids chirped, with the Joe representative always snarling, "And knowing is half the battle."
The "G.I." in Joe's name came from "government issue," a common stamp on military-provided crates of food or ammo, and a well-known nickname for American soldiers. So in 1997, when Demi Moore starred as a woman going through a grueling SEAL-like military program, the movie in question was dubbed "G.I. Jane." There's also an action figure called G.I. Jane, a combat medic.
In 2009, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," followed fellow toy-based movie "Transformers" to box-office success. Critics hooted -- Roger Ebert wrote, "It is sure to be enjoyed by those whose movie appreciation is defined by the ability to discern that moving pictures and sound are being employed to depict violence." But the roller-coaster action begged for a sequel, and now we have "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," which reportedly includes ninjas, nukes and a plot where the president is kidnapped and replaced with an exact lookalike. If there is an Oscar for explosions, start engraving it now.
Did you have G.I. Joe action figures, or watch the cartoon? Share your favorite Joe memory on Facebook.