How Star Trek Created The Happy Meal

Movies Star Trek
Movies Star Trek

Star Trek: The Motion Picture causes weird bouts of nostalgia. Fans experience the film in different milieus. However, kids in the Winter of 1979 will remember that first film changing their fast food tastes. Before the late 70’s, kids eating at McDonald’s were forced to eat off the adult menu. Advertising genius Bob Bernstein thought it was weird, but went along with it. However, he noticed his kids enjoying specific cereals due to their boxes. Couple that with the insane Star Wars hysteria of the time, Bernstein drafted a plan. Working with McDonald’s marketing, the ad team recut the adult menu into a smaller offering designed for children. As a result, the Happy Meal was born.

The kids would get a burger, a small fry, cookies and a small drink with their Happy Meal. But, the big catch would be a branded toy. Star Wars was too big at this point to obtain a license. Plus, Burger Chef and eventually Burger King beat them to that. What was the right property to obtain, as Christmas 1979 loomed on the horizon?


When McDonalds decided to go national with the Happy Meal concept, they wanted to anchor the idea to a successful property. What was big, Sci-Fi oriented and landing in theaters shortly before Christmas? The answer was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. McDonalds figured that kids would see the movie, want to a eat a Happy Meal afterward and play with the accompanying toys. McDonalds agreed to all of this without seeing the final film.

Kids could live out their favorite scenes from the movie with a Starfleet game, plastic Star Trek rings, a bracelet, Double Glitter iron-on sheets and a toy communicator. All of these trinkets were good enough for V’Ger, but would they entice the kiddies? Well, McDonalds didn’t have to worry about the toys. However, some parents took issue with the graphic design of the boxes.


The first mass-released box given to small children featured a drawing of the film’s famous Transporter Room accident. This would be the first and last time that a Happy Meal featured a disintegration. Happy Meal movie tie-ins stayed strong until Batman Returns had some questionable Happy Meal toys. Enjoy your Star Trek day and try to find these old Happy Meal promos on eBay. Time well spent.