Action Figure Lines of All Time
|Action figures have
existed, at least in the sense we understand today, for almost 40
years. In that time there have been thousands of lines, many of them
very successful. I've put together my list of the all time best, and
I've used a slightly different metric to decide.
first requirement for a figure to get on my list is that it be in some way
ground breaking. It should effect the industry, or change the way we
look at toys. To be one of the best, it's not good enough to be a
great line - it needs to make a difference in some way.
But that's not the only criteria.
The line should also be popular. If people didn't enjoy the line
then or now, all the innovation in the world doesn't matter. On top
of that, the play value should be exceptional, and it should be the kind
of line that kids could love. Something they'll remember fondly when
they grow up, and will rekindle great memories when they see it at the
local flea market.
That being said, let's take a look at my
picks. I've listed these in psuedo-chronological order. I'm
sure you've got your opinions as well, so why not head on over to the
message board after reading through mine and let us know what you think!
Up first is the line that
started it all, G.I. Joe. Not only that, but easily the longest
running line, being on the shelves in one form or another for most of the
last 36 years. These dolls for boys made a tremendous impact on the
way we played as children, giving boys the same opportunity for role
playing through figures that girls had with Barbie. Through all his
versions, from hard head to fuzzy, from 12" to 3 3/4", Joe has
made millions of little boys happy.
|During the 60's and early 70's,
another major line were the figures produced by Marx. The variety
was terrific, from cowboys and Indians to vikings and knights. With
a tremendous number of accessories packed with every figure, and something
for everyone, this is one of the most versatile lines every
produced. The figures held up to rough play admirably, and they were
one of my childhood favorites.
In the latter half of the 1970's, a new
company and format appeared - Megos. Easily one of the most popular
lines for collectors today, these 8" figures popularized a new
format, and again provided a tremendously wide variety. While the
quality and detail varied as much as the source material, this line is one
of the best loved ever produced. Most important to the industry,
Megos were the first to use licensed characters successfully, especially
in conjunction with the Planet of the Apes movies. Action figures
would never be the same.
||As the oil crisis of the 70's
dragged on, toy manufacturers felt the pinch. Producing large
figures was no longer cost effective, but early attempts by companies like
Mego with smaller scale figures proved unsuccessful. That is until
Kenner produced the first line of Star Wars figures. These small
figures allowed the company to produce a tremendous variety, and most
importantly, scale vehicles and playsets. Children loved them, and
the rest is history.
||During the 80's, lots of lines
were produced, but two stand out as exceptional. The Super Powers
line by Kenner gave us some of the best representations of comic book
characters ever produced. With good action features and cool
vehicles, this line is one of the most popular super hero based lines ever
The second is He-Man, Masters of the
Universe (not picture). While some may argue that the figures
weren't as good as say, Micronauts, these figures started the trend of
tying cartoons and toys directly together, and eventually caused new laws
to be put in to place to keep kids shows from becoming nothing more than
half hour commercials.
||The late 80's and early 90's
saw toy companies looking for new ideas and new licenses. While Star
Trek had been popular before, most notably during the 70's when Mego
produced some great figures, the line produced by Playmates is one of the
best. The 9" scale sported terrific likenesses and great
variety, while the smaller 5" scale gave us literally dozens of
characters. No Star Trek appearance was too brief, or part too
small, and some truly surprising characters were made. This line is
also important to the industry, because it proved beyond any doubt that
abusing your collectors with impossible to find exclusives or variants can
destroy a line. The '1701' limited edition figures in this series
are considered it's undoing, and in the future companies would be wise to
learn from Playmates mistake.
||After the Super Powers line, it
was several years before another super hero line came along that really
took off. The Batman the Animated Series line was it - terrific
sculpts that were extremely true to the source material, along with the
fact that the show was a huge hit made this line tremendously popular with
kids and adults alike. No other super hero line has produced as wide
of variety of villains, and although the line has been through several
versions now and isn't nearly what it once was, it's still producing the
occasional cool figure.
||The single most influential
line of the 90's was the first Spawn line from the new company, Todd's
Toys. Shortly it was renamed McFarlane Toys, but not before the
impact had been felt. While I'm not singling out any one line by
Todd here, overall his company has managed to raise the bar both on
sculpting and detail. While the company has been prone to quality
problems at times, and articulation isn't always job 1, their movie
related lines some of the finest ever produced. Pushing a higher
price point, McFarlane toys upped the scale on standard figures to
6"-8", increased the level of sculpting detail on everything,
and ushered in the era of collecting variations. While not everyone
is happy with the changes, no one can deny that Todd McFarlane was THE
influential force across the industry during the 90's.
||Twenty years after Mego, Toybiz
brought us the Famous Covers. These 9", cloth costumed super
heroes were immediately a smash with collectors. Focusing on Marvel
characters of course, we've already seen a fantastic variety of male and
female characters. The body design is one of the finest in years,
and while some of the costumes have been less than stellar, overall the
line has been huge hit with adult collectors. Unfortunately, it
hasn't been as big a hit with kids, and the future of the line is
unsure. But Toybiz has managed to bring us back full circle, and now
other companies like Hasbro have begun experimenting once again with the
9" clothed format.
So what will the first decade of this century
bring us? What lines will be added to this list? I know of
three that have real possibilities already. Sideshow Toys has
produced four series of their 8" Universal Monsters series.
These figures provide fantastic sculpting, and excellent design.
Another line showing great promise are the super heroes from DC
Direct. While the price point is still too high, they are succeeding
at producing an interesting variety of DC heroes solely through the
specialty store retail market. And finally, Playmates has just
started giving us the terrific Simpsons line, with excellent figures and a
great play angle with the playsets.