An action figure is a poseable toy figurine, usually based on a character from a film, television show or comic book, that is traditionally aimed at boys and male collectors. Often the figures are sold with accessories such as weapons or clothing.
The action figure has developed over the years into a collector’s item and many are produced specifically with this in mind.
Many of these ‘collectible’ action figures are intended solely for display, and are priced and marketed purely towards adult collectors.
Collecting Action figures
The 1980s saw a boom in adult collectors buying action figures as investments, keeping them in their original packaging and carefully displaying them.
During the late 1980s and 1990s action figures based on more adult characters began to appear, and many more limited edition figures were aimed directly at collectors (by companies such as Mcfarlane Toys).
New sets of Star Wars figures were released to appeal to adults who had bought them the first time around, and figures based on adult comics such as Spawn and horror films like the Nightmare On Elm Street series were marketed as display figures rather than toys to be played with.
Action figures grew far further in popularity during the 1980s as cartoons featuring action figure characters were created as a medium through which to advertise the toys (such as Masters Of The Universe, Thundercats and Transformers).
Since 2000 the action figure market has spread to all areas of the media.
Along with the standard superheroes and cartoon characters it became possible to buy action figures of everyone, from members of the rock bands Kiss and Metallica to Sigmund Freud, Barack Obama and Jesus.
Action figures come in an enormous variety of types, from those designed purely to be played with to limited-edition collectibles that are rarely removed from their packaging. Figures can be based on children’s cartoon characters, comic-book characters, movie characters, musicians, political and historical figures and sports stars.
The main toy companies to have produced collectable action figures are:
- McFarlane Toys
- Playmates Toys
A Brief History of Action Figures
G.I. Joe: The first action figure
Action figures were first manufactured in 1964 by the toy company Hasbro, who created the character G.I Joe to capture the male toy market just as Barbie had done for Mattel in 1959 with the female market.
The 12 inch figure was developed by Stan Weston and Dan Levine, and launched at a toy fair in 1964. It was then licensed to a U.K company Palitoy, who renamed the figure ‘Action Man’, who in turn sub-licensed it to Japanese toy company Takara.
As the character developed, different figures were given hair and beards, moveable eyes and a "kung-fu" grip.
The line was expanded throughout the sixties with various changeable outfits such as various branches of the military, deep sea diver, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and astronaut. But Hasbro moved away from the military themes due to the public outcry over American involvement in the Vietnam war.
The popularity of action figures led to other manufacturers creating their own lines. American company Mego had their own version of G.I Joe, ‘Action Jackson’, but when this proved unpopular they moved to capitalise on the market of comic book characters.
For more information, see:
- G.I Joe
- Hasbro G I Joe A Real American Hero Action Figures
The Silver Age of comics had revitalised the comic book industry and introduced a series of popular characters.
Mego paid $50,000 for the rights to produce a line of action figures based on DC Comics and Marvel superheroes such as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Green Arrow and Thor, which all proved incredibly popular.
These initial figures were followed in the 1980s by the Kenner Super Powers line and the Mattel Secret Wars series which began the competition between DC Comics and Marvel Comics with each company using a rival toy manufacturer to produce their action figures.
Characters from both the Marvel and Dc Universes had been widely reproduced in figure form, and continue to prove highly popular with collectors in lines such as Hasbro Marvel Universe and Mattel DC Universe.
Due to a mix-up at their office, Mego failed to land the rights to produce Star Wars figures in 1976 and the contract went to another toy company in the same building, Kenner.
The line of Star Wars action figures transformed the market, and the standard size for figures went from 12 inches to 3 ¾ inches.
This move was to some degree an effect of the oil crisis of the late 70s, which caused a large increase in the price of plastic. The smaller size meant they were cheaper to produce, which in turn made them more affordable for children.
Instead of larger figures with changeable outfits the smaller figures meant a wider variety of characters could be produced, and this variety meant action figures became far more collectible. Star Wars figures proved so successful that more movie studios began to license their characters, and the action figure market became a hugely profitable secondary business for them.
The world’s most expensive action figure
The most expensive action figure ever sold is the original prototype G.I Joe. The figure was hand-carved and hand-painted in 1963 by its creator Don Levine, and was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries in 2003 for $200,000 to American businessman Stephen A. Geppi.
Further related articles on Wikicollecting
- The world's most valuable action figures
- Action figure trade terms for collectors
- Famous action figure collections
- Dealers specializing in action figures
- Notable action figure lines
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