Captain Toy/Michael's Review of the Week

Captain Toy Picks...
The Top Ten Movie Based Action Figure Series

Date Published: 2017-04-19
Written By: Michael Crawford

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Gremlins Stripe action figure

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Before we get started, you have to have a bit of background and definition on what I'm considering 'movie' lines for the purposes of this list. Or more specifically, what I'm NOT considering.

I went with licenses that are either movies first, or predominately movies. That rules out things like Star Trek and Transformers, great as they might be (the toys, not necessarily the movies). I also wanted lines with a reasonable amount of breadth and/or depth, so while I really love the Sideshow Young Frankenstein set, three figures doesn't make much of a 'series'.

And as always, I did what I could to avoid repeating myself too much.  It's not as much fun to simply regurgitate an older line I already discussed in a previous list, so as much as I like the McFarlane Matrix figures or the Sideshow Holy Grail stuff, they won't end up here.

These lines are also about a single license or franchise. Yes, I know Movie Maniacs is a movie based line, but it's not here because it covered many licenses. For this list, I focused on single licenses only.

Enough with the jibber jabber - let's go!

10 - Batman Returns, Kenner, 1992
Coming up with any movie related line that's well above the norm is tough. While a figure here or there can be great, it's rare for a company to do a large, deep line for any movie property and do it well.  That's even more true the further back in time you go.

I do really love the old Kenner Batman Returns line, however. Sure, there was lots of re-use, and some of it was pretty weird, like the DC Superheroes Penguin being repainted. But you did get some interesting secondary characters (penguin henchmen!), and a couple decent looking Keaton Batmen.

But what really set this line apart was the vehicles and play sets.  You got a fantastic Batmobile, and an even better Batwing. And while this isn't the only time we saw the 'Command Center' used, it's certainly my favorite. There were a bunch of other vehicles as well, and even with all the re-use, the overall line really stands out.

If you're looking for any sort of check list for any action figure line, hit the Figure Realm first. They have a ton of useful info, and I pulled the photo below from there.

Batman Returns Batmobile toy

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9 - Planet of the Apes, Mego, 1974
When people think about modern mega licensing, they often think of Star Wars as the beginning of the phenomenon. It was not. Planet of the Apes was the first mega license, and the five original films spawned toys, bed sheets, lunch boxes, and eventually, action figures. Mego jumped on the license and ran with it, producing a nice assortment of key characters and quite a few play sets, vehicles, and even a horse. Kids in the 70's had it mighty good in no small part to Marty Abrams and Mego.

If you're looking for any info on anything to do with any Mego license or line, the Mego Museum is the place to go.  It's a fantastic site filled with info - the photo below is one of theirs.

Mego Planet of the Apes action figure

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8 - Wall-E, Thinkway, 2008
Thinkway really broke onto the scene with their work for Pixar on Toy Story. Their talking Buzz Lightyear was a massive hit, and you could argue that the entire line up of Toy Story action figures should be on this list.

But I went with their later work on Wall-E, even though there's fewer characters in the series. The various interactive features they implemented with the Wall-E and Eve characters are really impressive, and of course it helps that he's just so damn cute. A reader made the terrific suggestion of a top ten list of electronic features, and you can bet Wall-E will be on that one too.

Wall-e action figure

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7 - Hellboy, Mezco, 2004
Sadly, there have only been two Hellboy movies, but both got extra special treatment from Mezco. You could argue that I'm breaking one of my rules here - Hellboy was a comic book first and foremost, not a movie. But I'm going out on a limb and saying that most people did not know anything about the comic and their first - and perhaps only - exposure to the character has been through these two movies.

Mezco did a fantastic job with the license too. While the 7" series is the one most people remember, you don't want to forget the great 18" figures or the terrific 4" figures either. They covered quite a few of the characters in both movies over several waves, and the sculpt, paint, and articulation were excellent. I think this is a great example of a company's unique design style meshing nicely with a particular license, and when that happens, it's magic.

Hellboy action figure

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6 - Harry Potter, Star Ace, 2014
I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, and I've always been disappointed by the action figure options. While Noble has their amazing wands and Gentle Giant has their great busts, no one was doing a really great set of action figures. Until Star Ace.

That's not to say the line is perfect, but they are generally great quality, and several (like the Hermione pictured below) are stunning. They've produced almost a dozen different characters in just three years, with several variants thrown in for good measure. The Harris Dumbledore and teen Hermione are up next, and I'm really hoping we see some amazing, eye popping addition at SDCC this year, like a Professor McGonagall or Bellatrix LeStrange. Pretty please?

Harry Potter Hermione action figure

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5 - Predator, NECA
There is one company that has stood out from all the others when it comes to movie based action figures - NECA. No one, not even McFarlane, has produced the sort of work they have. They have many great lines based on film properties, and they tend to always go much deeper than anyone else. From Harry Potter, to Pirates of the Caribbean, to Resident Evil, to Alien(s), to NMBC, to Gremlins, NECA is THE company to go to if you want to produce a successful movie line and get more than just one or two characters out of it.

Picking one is tough, but that's what I tried to do. I almost went with NMBC, a personal favorite of mine.  Then I waffled and decided on POTC...but at the last minute I switched to Predator. The biggest fault with the line is that we haven't gotten a wide variety of humans, and I'd give my left arm for the rest of the cast from the first movie. But we have gotten several fantastic Dutch figures, and a metric ton of Predators. The sculpts, paint, accessories, and articulation have been excellent, and this is the go to line for fans of the movies.

Predator Jungle Dutch action figure

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4 - Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hot Toys, 2009
I'm not quite sure if I'm breaking my rule here or not. It depends on whether you consider the many modern Marvel movies one 'series' or not. I do - they are all related, with the same characters in the same universe interacting across films. Thor 2 and Cap 3 are no different to me than Rogue One and A New Hope - it's all the same universe. Therefore, any series based on the universe is all one 'license' for purposes of this list.

And let's be honest - no one has done up the MCU like Hot Toys. I'd also argue that Hot Toys hasn't done up any other license like they have the MCU. I suspect they'll get there with Star Wars, but they aren't there yet.

There are too many Iron Men in this line up, no doubt about that. But we've gotten a nice variety of secondary characters as well, and a great set of Avengers too. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for my Doctor Strange!

Iron Patriot sixth scale action figure

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3 - Lord of the Rings, Toybiz, 2001
When I went back through the archives, it surprised me how few really good movie based lines there were. Either the quality was awful, or they were very short lived, or both.  But Toybiz defied the odds with their Lord of the Rings series, a 6" line that covered tons of characters across all three movies.

Toybiz was already crushing it with their Marvel Legends, and they brought the same level of quality and articulation to this movie series.  Fans responded very positively, and sales were great. It's one of the few lines that I regretted not getting into in a big way, at least at the time, and it's easily the best series in any size and any format based on this license to date.

Lord of the Rings King of the Dead action figure

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2 - Cars, Mattel, 2006
Okay, I hear you groaning. "They aren't action figures! They're die cast cars!" But I'm going to argue that they ARE action figures in every sense. Yes, they are die cast. And yes, they are cars. But that's because the characters themselves are cars - the only way to make an action figure of a character in the movie series Cars is to make a car. That's literally the only way. There's even articulation! So yes, I'm calling them action figures.

One area where most movie based lines fail miserably is matching the on screen source material That's never been an issue for Cars.  These little guys have always looked amazing, and while you can argue that it's easier for an animated movie, I'd argue that we've seen plenty of situations where that was most certainly not true.

There's also a tremendous amount of depth here. Sure, there's a lot of variations and exclusives too, with minor paint or sculpt changes.  There's even plenty of re-use, with multiple characters looking almost identical.  But there's also a million very unique, very cool, very cute characters, some that barely had any screen time, and others with critical roles.

With Cars 3 right around the corner, there's also no end in sight.  It amazes me that after all this time they can still find original characters to make that I haven't seen before...and with a new movie will come dozens more. If you're a fan of this line, you can expect to keep adding to your parking garage for quite some time.

Cars Mater action figure

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1 - Star Wars, Kenner, 1977
Duh. Seriously, there shouldn't be much controversy over the choice of this movie license...but I bet there might be some around who has actually handled the license the best, making the actual series something we can argue about.

You can certainly make the argument that Hasbro has done the best job over the last 20 years. Certainly in terms of breadth, depth, variety, scale, variations, etc. etc. etc., they've cranked out the product in the 90's and beyond.

I can see sixth scale fans picking Sideshow for their variety of characters, or Hot Toys for their quality. And fans of smaller scales could say newcomers like Bandai have proven themselves the modern winners.

But I'm going old school here. Kenner started it all, and they cranked out some terrific toys for the period. No, they don't have the amazing detail and articulation of modern toys, but they were still a ton of fun. And no, they didn't produce the number of characters we've seen in recent years, but they still gave kids a tremendous variety, including some fantastic vehicles and play sets.  For me, it's Kenner all the way when it comes to this list.

And if you're ever looking for any sort of information on any Star Wars collectible of any kind, hit up Rebel Scum, THE Star Wars site. I borrowed the photo below from them.

Star Wars Han Solo action figure

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My definition of 'movie based' was a little tricky. It can get confusing - Hot Toys Marvel license covers a bunch of different movies, so are they really the same? And I left out the Universal Monsters in any format because while they are sorta, kinda one thing, are they really? No.

Sadly, there are some properties that have never been really done right. James Bond is immediately obvious (although I'm hopeful on the Big Chief sixth scale stuff), and poor Indiana Jones has never been treated with the respect he deserves. But there's always hope!

If you're enjoying this top ten concept of Captain Toy Picks or have a suggestion for a future list, drop me a line and let me know! I've added a section below with links to all the past Captain Toy Picks... features:

Captain Toy Picks...The Top Underrated Action Figure Lines!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Action Figure Play Sets!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Smart Purchases!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten McFarlane Lines!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Bad Action Figure Ideas!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Toy Fair 2017 Reveals!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Unproduced Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...The People's Picks for Best of 2016!
Captain Toy Picks...Best/Worst of 2016!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Poppies Winners of the Past Ten Years!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten DC Universe Classics Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Christmas Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Joker Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Superman Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Animated Action Figure Series!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Toy Things I'm Thankful For!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Premium Format Statues!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Horror Sixth Scale Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Horror Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Disappointments Over $100!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Disappointments Under $100!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Palisades Muppets!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Wanted Licenses in Sixth Scale!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Batman Black and White Statues!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Masters of the Universe Classics Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Female Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Prop Replicas!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Simpsons World of Springfield action figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Batman action figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Grails!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Figures!

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Photos and text by Michael Crawford.

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