An action figure is a doll or basically a poseable character doll, made of plastic or other materials, and often based upon characters from a film, comic book, military, video game, or television program, fictional or historical. These dolls are usually marketed toward boys and adult collectors.
According to a study in Sweden, action figures which display traditional masculine traits primarily target boys. While most commonly marketed as a child's toy, the action figure or action doll has gained wide acceptance as an adult collector item. In such a case, the item may be produced and designed on the assumption it will be bought solely for display as a collectible and not used as a child's play toy.
The term "action figure" was first coined by Hasbro in 1964, to market their G.I. Joe figure to boys who refused to play with "dolls", a term primarily associated as a girl's toy. (A similar toy named Johnny Hero was introduced by Rosko Industries for Sears in 1965, but was known as a "Boy's Doll" since the term action figure had not gained widespread usage at that point). G.I. Joe was initially a military-themed 11.5-inch figure proposed by marketing and toy idea-man Stan Weston. It featured changeable clothes with various uniforms to suit different purposes.
In a move that would create global popularity for this type of toy, Hasbro also licensed the product to companies in other markets. These different licensees had a combination of uniforms and accessories that were usually identical to the ones manufactured for the US market by Hasbro, along with some sets that were unique to the local market. The Japanese had at least two examples where a Hasbro licensee also issued sublicenses for related products. For example, Palitoy (in the UK) issued a sublicense to Tsukuda, a company in Japan, to manufacture and sell Palitoy's Action Man accessories in the Japanese market. Takara also issued a sublicense to Medicom for the manufacture of action figures.
Takara, still under license by Hasbro to make and sell G.I. Joe toys in Japan, also manufactured an action figure incorporating the licensed GI Joe torso for Henshin Cyborg-1, using transparent plastic revealing cyborg innards, and a chrome head and cyborg feet. During the oil supply crisis of the 1970s, like many other manufacturers of action figures, Takara was struggling with the costs associated with making the large 11 1⁄2 inch figures, So, a smaller version of the cyborg toy was developed, standing at 3-3/4 inches high, and was first sold in 1974 as Microman. The Microman line was also novel in its use of interchangeable parts. This laid the foundation for both the smaller action figure size and the transforming robot toy. Takara began producing characters in the Microman line with increasingly robotic features, including Robotman, a 12" robot with room for a Microman pilot, and Mini-Robotman, a 3-3/4" version of Robotman. These toys also featured interchangeable parts, with emphasis placed on the transformation and combination of the characters.
In 1971, Mego began licensing and making American Marvel and DC comic book superhero figures, which had highly successful sales and are considered highly collectible by many adults today. They eventually brought the Microman toy line to the United States as the Micronauts, but Mego eventually lost control of the market after losing the license to produce Star Wars toys to Kenner in 1976. The widespread success of Kenner's Star Wars 3-3/4" toy line made the newer, smaller size figure with molded-on clothing, the industry standard. Instead of a single character with outfits that changed for different applications, toy lines included teams of characters with special functions. Led by Star Wars-themed sales, collectible action figures quickly became a multimillion-dollar secondary business for movie studios.
The 1980s spawned all sorts of popular action figure lines, many based on cartoon series, which were one of the largest marketing tools for toy companies. Some of the most successful to come about were Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, The Real Ghostbusters and Super Powers Collection, to name just a few. Early in the decade, the burgeoning popularity of Japanese robot anime such as Gundam also encouraged Takara to reinvent the Microman line as the Micro Robots, moving from the cyborg action figure concept to the concept of the living robot. This led to the Micro Change line of toys: objects that could "transform" into robots. In 1984, Hasbro licensed Micro Change and another Takara line, the Diaclone transforming cars, and combined them in the US as the Transformers, spawning a still-continuing family of animated cartoons.
As the '80s were ending, more and more collectors started to surface, buying up the toys to keep in their original packaging for display purposes and for future collectability. This led to flooding of the action figure toy market. One of the most popular action figure lines of the late '80s and early '90s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures were produced in such high quantities that the value for most figures would never be higher than a few dollars. In the mid-1990s, a new Star Wars figure line had surfaced and Spawn figures flooded the toy store shelves, proving action figures were not just for kids anymore. Beginning in 1997, ToyFare magazine would become a popular read for mature collectors in providing news and embracing nostalgia with a comedic twist. And with the gaining popularity of the Internet, websites such as Toy News International would soon offer information on upcoming collectible figures and merchandise.
It was during this time that popular characters were increasingly getting specialized costume and variant figures. Batman quickly became most notorious for this (i.e. Arctic Batman, Piranha Blade Batman, Neon Armor Batman). Rather than individual characters, these variants would make up the bulk of many action figure lines and often make use of the old figure and accessory molds. Glow-in-the-dark figures and accessories also became popular in the early '90s with lines like Toxic Crusaders and Swamp Thing.
In 1997, the female character Storm (Marvel Comics) was created by Toy Biz. The figure's styling, much like the cartoon on which it was based, is fierce and sexualized, with painted-on clothing and high-heeled footwear.
A 1999 study found that "the figures have grown much more muscular over time, with many contemporary figures far exceeding the muscularity of even the largest human bodybuilders" and that the changing cultural expectations reflected by those changes may contribute to body image disorders in both sexes.
The adult collector market for action figures expanded with companies such as McFarlane Toys, Palisades, and NECA. These companies have given numerous movie characters, musicians, and athletes their very first highly detailed figures. The Cinema Of Fear action figures were sold together with plush dolls, "screen grab" dioramas, and limited edition toys based on New Line Cinema's horror franchise. These kinds of action figure are mainly intended as statuesque display pieces rather than toys. Child-oriented lines such as the Masters of the Universe revival and Justice League Unlimited, however, still evoke adult collector followings as well. Comic book firms are also able to get figures of their characters produced, regardless of whether or not they appeared in movies or animated cartoons. Examples of companies that produce comic figures and merchandise almost exclusively include Toy Biz and DC Direct.
Adult-oriented figure lines are often exclusive to specific chain stores rather than mass retail. Popular lines often have figures available exclusively through mail-in offers and comic conventions, which raises their value significantly. Ploys such as packaging "errors" and "short-packed" figures have also been used by toy companies to increase collector interest.
Modelling clay and various sculpting tools are used to create the prototype. The actual figure is molded from a harder plastic resin such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Softer plastics and nylon may be used for costume components including body suits, capes, and face masks. Acrylic paints of various colors may be used to decorate the figure. More elaborate toys may contain miniature electronic components that provide light and sound effects.
Once the character has been selected, the actual design process begins with sketches of the proposed figure. The next step is the creation of a clay prototype, but other materials such as wax can also be used for the prototype. This model is made by bending aluminum wires to form the backbone of the figure, known as an armature. The wire form includes the outline of the arms and legs posed in the general stance that the figure will assume. The sculptor then adds clay to the armature to give the basic weight and shape that is desired. The clay may be baked slightly during the prototyping process to harden it. Then, the sculptor uses various tools, such as a wire loop, to carve the clay and shape details on the figure.
After creating the basic form, the sculptor may choose to remove the arms and work on them separately for later attachment. This gives the sculptor more control and allows him to produce finer details on the prototype. Working with blunt tools, the sculptor shapes the body with as much detail as is desired. During this process, photo and sketch references are used to ensure the figure is as realistic as possible. Some sculptors may even use human models to guide their design work.
After the general body shape is complete, the sculptor adds the finer details, paying close attention to the eyes, nose, and mouth that give the figure its lifelike expression. The designer may attach a rough lump of clay on the main figure as a temporary head while the real head is sculpted on a separate armature. This allows the sculptor to finish the figure's facial expressions independently of the body. At this point, the finished head can be attached to the main armature and joined to the body with additional clay. Once the head is attached, the neck and hair are sculpted to properly fit to the figure. Then, depending on the design of the figure, the costume may be sculpted directly onto the body. However, if a cloth costume or uniform will be added later, the prototype is sculpted without any costume details. During this process, parts of the clay may be covered with aluminum foil to keep it from prematurely drying out. Once everything is completed, the entire figure is baked to harden the clay.
The sculpted prototype is then sent for approval to the manufacturer. Once all design details have been finalized, the prototype is used to make the molds that will form the plastic pieces for the mass-produced figure. The entire sculpting process may take about two weeks, depending on the skill and speed of the sculptor. This process may be repeated several times if revisions must be made to the figure. Several months are typically allowed for this design phase.
Action Figures come in fixed scales to allow compatibility within (and sometimes between) toy ranges.
|Ratio||Inches per foot||Size||Examples|
|1:32||0.375" [9.5 mm]||2.125" [54 mm]||2.12-inch HASBRO Star Wars: Unleashed Toy Soldiers.|
|1:25||0.5" [12.7 mm]||2.5" [63.5 mm]||2.5-inch mini Action Figures (Hasbro's Playskool Star Wars: Galactic Heroes).|
|1:18||0.67" (2/3-inch scale) [16.93 mm]||3.75" [95.25 mm]||3.75-inch action figures (Kenner Star Wars, Hasbro G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Mattel Jurassic World). Children's dollhouses are built in this scale.|
|1:16||0.75" [19.05 mm]||4" [101.6 mm]||4-inch action figures. Also used for most plastic toy animal figures and Ertl's toy farm sets (animals, structures, and most vehicles). The Hasbro 3.75-inch G.I. Joe figures' vehicles are closer to this scale.|
|1:15||0.8" [20.32 mm]||5" [127 mm]||5-inch action figures (Kenner Jurassic Park).|
|1:12||1" [25.40 mm]||6" [152.4 mm]||6-inch action figures (Toy Biz Marvel Legends, Hasbro Marvel Cinematic Universe). Also used for "Classic scale" model horses.|
|1:10||1.2" [30.48 mm]||7" [177.8 mm]||7-inch action figures (Mattel "classic scale" He Man and the Masters of the Universe and DC Universe).|
|1:9||1.33" [33.87 mm]||8" [203.2 mm]||8-inch action figures and dolls (Mego World's Greatest Super Heroes). Also used for "Traditional scale" model horses.|
|1:6||2" [50.80 mm]||12" [304.8 mm]||12-inch Articulated figures - Action Figures like Hasbro "classic scale" G.I. Joe, Dragon Models, and Hot Toys. Fashion dolls like Mattel's Barbie or Volks' Dollfie. Also used for static display figures (commonly of anime characters).|
|1:4||3" [76.20 mm]||18" [457 mm]||18-inch highly detailed larger action figures and fashion dolls.|
|1:3||4" [101.60 mm]||24" [609.6 mm]||24-inch highly articulated large ball-jointed fashion dolls (Volks Super Dollfie).|
A common feature among action figures is body articulation, often referred to as points of articulation (POA) or joints. The most basic forms of articulation include one neck joint, two shoulder joints, and two hip joints. Beyond these, rotating wrists, bending knees, and a swiveling waist are also common. Various terms have come into practice such as a "cut" joint, frequently used to allow a basic head rotation at the neck or arm rotation at the shoulder. The "T" joint at a figure's hips commonly allows up to 180° of front-to-back leg rotation; although, this may vary. Ball joints often allow more liberal movement than a cut, such as the figure's head being able to tilt in addition to a cut's strict vertical rotation. Basic knee articulation often relies on what is considered a pin joint.
The amount and style of figure articulation used by toy designers have varied over the years. Two of the most popular figure lines of the 1980s, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Masters of the Universe, contrasted one another greatly in articulation; the former included several points in their small, 33⁄4" scale while the bulkier latter remained minimal. Both, however, used methods involving rubber cords at the hips that are little used today. In the 2000s, Toy Biz's popular Marvel Legends line became known for its high rate of articulation, even boasting points at the abdomen, toes, and fingers.
While not all action figures include accessories, the additional items often prove essential to characters and their effectiveness as interactive toys. Typical 33⁄4" scale G.I. Joe figures include several intricately sculpted guns or hand weapons that can be fastened inside the figures' hands. Missile launchers are also commonplace in military and comic book figure lines and usually involve a spring-loaded mechanism. However, possibly due to safety concerns, this method saw a decline in the mid-1990s. Some figures, particularly of the Joker, have incorporated water-squirting weapons.
More recently, Marvel Legends has popularized the "build-a-figure" concept. Each figure of a particular series includes a body part to a larger-scaled figure. This encourages the consumer to purchase every figure of the given series, in order to complete the larger figure. The concept has spread into Mattel's DC Universe Classics. Figures intended to appeal to the collector market commonly include a display base and/or pack-in comic book. In such cases accessories may be designed more for display than play.
Manufacturers have packaged their action figures in a number of ways.
Window Box packaging Window box packages consist of a sturdy, but somewhat thin cardboard box that allows for easy stacking. The box has colorful artwork to draw one's attention. The front of the box will have an area of the cardboard that is cut out and a thin piece of soft plastic then fills the cutout area. This ensures easy visibility of the action figure inside of the box. This type of packaging was used by companies such as Mego Corporation in the early 1970s until they switched to the Carded Bubble style of packaging in the mid to late 1970s. Window Box packaging is still used today, often for figures that measure 10" or taller in height.
Carded Bubble packaging This type of packaging consists of a sturdy piece of thin cardboard backing known as a "Card." The card is decorated with colorful artwork to draw consumer attention. The action figure is placed on the card and a bubble of clear plastic is then laid over the top of the action figure and attached to the card. The figure is then clearly visible to consumers. Often the bubble will have several small, fitted compartments to hold the figure and its accessories in place. Kenner and Hasbro's packaging of Star Wars action figures since 1977 are an example.
PVC packaging A more recent type of packaging that is common as of the 2000s decade is PVC packaging. With this type of packaging, the cardboard card is replaced by a clear PVC plastic backing. The front of the package is a different piece of PVC plastic that is molded to include a bubble that will house the action figure and all of its accessories. Any colorful artwork designed to help draw attention to the package will be printed on a thin piece of paper that is placed between these two pieces of PVC, or will be affixed in sticker form to the front piece of PVC. This type of packaging is popular today and can be seen being used by McFarlane Toys for their Movie Maniacs line of action figures beginning with Series V. Other companies that utilize this type of packaging are NECA/Reel Toys (National Entertainment Collectibles Association) with their Cult Classics and Pirates of the Caribbean line of figures, and Toy Biz with its Marvel Legends action figures, which included a comic book placed between the two PVC segments.
Tube packaging Another recent type of PVC packaging is a tube-shaped piece of PVC plastic surrounding the action figure. The tube may be cylindrical or oval in shape. Artwork on the package is often in the form of a sticker affixed to the outside of the PVC tube. This type of packaging has been used by Hasbro for their Star Wars Galactic Heroes line of figures.
Figures of the original Masters of the Universe line included many unique "action features": Battle Armor He-Man and Skeletor had rotating chest plates to represent varying degrees of damage; Leech featured suction cup limbs; Mantenna's eyes would pop out using a lever on his back; and Thunder Punch He-Man would thrust a punch and emit a loud bang from the ring cap in his backpack. Other features emphasized aesthetic rather than action, such as the flocked bodies of Grizzlor and Moss Man as well as the unique scents of the latter and Stinkor.
The success of the many Transformers lines has relied heavily on their signature feature of shifting from vehicle to robot. The popularity of this carried into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Mutatin' series among others.
In 1987, Mattel introduced figures for the television series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. The line boasted an interactive game where children could shoot at the TV screen. However, while an ambitious concept, it was not a long term success.
Glow-in-the-dark paint and plastic have been utilized in various figure collections, particularly those of the early '90s including Ninja Turtles, Swamp Thing, and Toxic Crusaders. Similarly, a color-changing feature has been demonstrated on some figures throughout the years. This concept involves dipping the character's head into cold water and revealing a temperature-sensitive paint. Examples include Kenner's Sky Escape Joker and Camouflage Swamp Thing, as well as Hasbro's Desert-Camo Sgt. Savage.
The majority of figures in Kenner's Super Powers Collection toted a punching action upon the squeezing together of their legs. In a more technically advanced method, the Ninja Turtles' Wacky Action series involved a wind-up gear that caused the motorized performance of certain actions like swimming legs or a rotating wrist. Two years prior also saw the release of Tyco's Dino-Riders, which featured battery powered, motorized dinosaurs.
Batman action figures have been produced since the 1940s.Buzz Lightyear
Buzz Lightyear is a fictional character in the Toy Story franchise. He is a toy Space Ranger superhero according to the movies and an action figure in the franchise. Along with Sheriff Woody, he is one of the two lead characters in all three Toy Story movies. He also appeared in the movie Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins and the television series spin-off Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
He is voiced by Tim Allen in the Toy Story films, a few video games, and the Buzz Lightyear movie, Patrick Warburton in the TV series, and by Pat Fraley for the video games and the Buzz Lightyear attractions in Disney theme parks.Hulk Classics
Hulk Classics was an action figure line based on the characters of Marvel Comics, and produced by Toy Biz in 2003. The line revolves around the Hulk and his supporting cast from the comic book series.Lego Spider-Man
Lego Spider-Man is a product range of the Lego construction toy, based on the first two Spider-Man movies. The theme was first introduced in 2002 as a sub-brand of the Lego Studios theme, to tie in with the release of the first Spider-Man film. Three new sets were released in 2003, this time without the Lego Studios branding. In 2004, 7 new sets were introduced, to tie-in with the Spider-Man 2 movie. After this, the line was discontinued, and the rights to the third film in the series Spider-Man 3 were sold instead to rival company MEGA Brands, resulting in a Spider-Man 3 range of the Mega Bloks toy. However, in 2012 LEGO released a set based on the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series in their Marvel Superheroes line.List of Kenner Star Wars action figures
Kenner released more than 100 action figures in their Star Wars range between 1977 and 1985. The table below takes information as given on the cards with which each action figure debuted. After the debut of an action figure, details in the packaging, in the shape of the action figure and the name of the action figure were subject to change. No one characteristic (name, shape or product number) completely defines the list, rather all the characteristics taken together form a clear list.
There are 96 action figures listed below, though the final card-back promoted a full line of 93 action figures. This is because when Kenner produced new versions (with new, unique product numbers) of R2-D2 and C-3PO action figures, they discontinued previous versions. Two versions of R2-D2 were discontinued. One version of C-3PO was discontinued.The identical name "Bespin Security Guard" is given to two action figures. The first figure (No. 39810) is white, the second figure (No. 69640) is black. On card-backs the two Bespin Security Guards are shown separately, but still labeled with the same name. C-3PO (Removable Limbs) – No. 69430 / No. 69600 – is not confirmed to exist on a U.S. release 45-Back "The Empire Strikes Back" card. The 47-Back is considered to be the premiere cardback for this figure.Additional action figures, consisting of a taller blue Snaggletooth, and the three members of the Rebo Band (Max Rebo, Sy Snootles and Droopy McCool), were produced for inclusion in Kenner Star Wars toy sets, but were never released on blister cards. Jabba the Hutt and several other Star Wars creatures were also produced for this line, but are not generally considered part of the action figure line-up.
The years listed in the table specify the year of production, not the year of release.Marvel Super Hero Squad
Marvel Super Hero Squad is an action figure line marketed by Hasbro beginning in 2006. The line features 2-inch (51 mm) scale replicas of comic book heroes from the Marvel Comics universe. Each figure is portrayed in a cartoonish super-deformed-style. The line was designed for younger collectors but has become a hit with fans of all ages despite the "for ages 3 and up" category status. Marketed initially as four two-packs per wave, Super Hero Squad has branched out to include larger multi-packs, vehicles, and mega-packs containing larger characters in scale with the 2-inch (51 mm) line.
An animated series, The Super Hero Squad Show, based on the toy line premiered in the United States on Cartoon Network in September 2009. On 2013, Hasbro released the exclusive figures of Iron Man 3 boxsets. After these, there will be no more toys based on the later MCU movies.Masters of the Universe
Masters of the Universe (commonly abbreviated MOTU and sometimes referred to as He-Man, after the lead hero) is a media franchise created by Mattel. The main premise revolves around the conflict between the heroic He-Man (the most powerful man in the universe and the secret identity of Prince Adam), against the evil sorcerer Skeletor on the planet Eternia, with a vast line-up of supporting characters in a hybrid setting of medieval sword and sorcery and sci-fi technology. A spin-off series, with a similar premise, She-Ra, Princess Of Power, features He-Man's sister, She-Ra, and her struggle against the Evil Horde on the planet Etheria. Since its initial launch, the franchise has spawned a variety of products, including multiple lines of action figures, five animated television series, several comic series, video games, a daily newspaper comic strip, and two feature films (one animated, one live action).Micronauts
Micronauts was a North American science fiction toyline manufactured and marketed by Mego from 1976 to 1980. The Micronauts toyline was based on and licensed from the Microman toyline created by Japanese-based toy company Takara in 1974.Mego discontinued the Micronauts line in 1980 prior to the company’s bankruptcy and dissolution in 1982. Years after Mego’s demise other toy companies, such as Palisades Toys and SOTA (State of the Art) Toys, have attempted to revive the toyline over the years.Princess of Power
Princess of Power (commonly abbreviated to POP; and sometimes informally referred to as She-Ra, after the lead heroine) is a toyline created by Mattel. Among others, it features the characters of She-Ra and Catra on planet Etheria. With its launch in 1985, the toyline spawned a variety of products, including three lines of fashion action figures. The Princess of Power logo and characters are currently used by Mattel as part of the Masters of the Universe Classics toyline.Spider-Man (2010 toy line)
Spider-Man is a 33⁄4" action figure line manufactured by Hasbro to be released in early 2010 based on the comic book counterparts of characters within the Spider-Man universe. While sharing the same simple title of past 6" lines, this is considered a brand new series and not a continuation of previous ones. This line of figures has more in common with Hasbro's animated series action figure lines such as Wolverine and the X-Men in that it is geared more toward a younger crowd of collectors and the figures are not always fully articulated. Many of the figures come with gimmicks such as special armor or light-up eyes.Spider-Man and Friends
Spider-Man and Friends was a line of action figures and related merchandise featuring the comic book character Spider-Man and other characters appearing in Marvel Comics publications, released by Marvel Entertainment's toy division, Toy Biz, from 2003 to 2006. The line was aimed primarily at preschool-age children, and the character likenesses used were often altered to seem "cuter" and more childlike (and child-friendly); most characters were depicted as wide-eyed and smiling, even supervillains and characters better known for anger or savagery, such as the Incredible Hulk or Wolverine.Super Powers Collection
The Super Powers Collection was a line of action figures based on DC Comics superheroes and supervillains that was created by Kenner Products in the 1980s.Wolverine and the X-Men (toyline)
The Wolverine and the X-Men toyline is a 3¾" action figure line manufactured by Hasbro. It is a tie-in to the Wolverine and the X-Men animated series and was released alongside the Marvel Universe toyline and X-Men Origins: Wolverine toyline as part of Hasbro's new 3¾" figure initiative for Marvel Comics characters, although this line has a much more animated style than the other two lines.X-Men Classics (action figure)
For the comic book series titled "X-Men Classic," see Classic X-Men.X-Men Classics is the name of two different series of 6-inch X-Men action figures by Toy Biz.
The first line was released in 2004 and consisted of comic accurate sculpts and paint applications. The line went on hiatus after 1 wave.
The line was revamped in 2005 and lasted 3 waves. It featured several new sculpts of both completely original costumes and previously unproduced costumes with repaints of existing figures scattered throughout.