The term Actionfigurer was first used in 1964 by the Hasbro Company’s Don Levine to describe their new G.I. Joe toy. Levine preferred the name action figure instead of a doll because it was more inviting to young boys. In concept, the original Joe was similar to Mattel’s Barbie doll, which had been introduced five years earlier.
However, the action figure had better articulation, a feature that made it more appealing because the soldier could be bent into a variety of poses.
Furthermore, Joe came equipped with numerous accessories and outfits based on real-life military equipment. G.I. Joe was a huge success and additional characters were added to the line. The franchise has remained a strong seller for almost 40 years.
G.I. Joe was followed in 1966 by Captain Action, which was noteworthy because it was a single figure that could be played with as multiple characters.
The figure was sold with costumes and accessories from many famous characters including the Phantom, Captain America, Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. Captain Action was the first figure to combine superhero characters with action figures, a trend that continues today.
In 1977, Twentieth Century Fox gave a toy license to the Kenner company to manufacture action figures based on its new movie Star Wars. The success of the movie greatly expanded the toy market and ensured the popularity of licensed action figures.
Before Star Wars, action figures were typically 8-12 in (20-30 cm) tall, but Kenner designed their figures to be only 3.75 in (9.5 cm) in height. Other manufacturers quickly adopted the smaller figure style. A host of other movie and TV show-based toys soon followed, including Star Trek, Battle Star Galactica, and Buck Rogers in the Twenty-fifth Century.
In 1983, federal regulations prohibiting the creation of children’s programming based on toys were lifted. This opened a new era in action figures. The Mattel Company took advantage of this opportunity and created a cartoon series based on their 1981 action figure line called “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.”
These toys were extremely successful and sold over 55 million units that year. These figures continued to sell through 1990, generating a total of over $1 billion in revenue. Several other toys that were made into cartoons achieved similar success and, thus, began a long-standing practice of linking toys and cartoons.
With the 1984 introduction of the “Transformers” series, action figures reached a new level of this sophistication. Transformers were robots able to transform themselves into other objects, such as fighter jets, tanks, or racecars. Since 1984, the Transformers series has debuted several different generations of toys that continue to be popular.
With the 1994 introduction of a line of characters based on Todd McFarlane’s comic
Once conceived, a prototype of the proposed action figure is created with wire and clay—an armature. The head and facial features of the action figure are created separately and with more detail.
book Spawn, the action figure industry advanced yet again. These figures were note-worthy because they were made with a much higher degree of detail than any previous toys. This is credited to having the creator of the comic book directly involved with the design of the toys. McFarlane’s influence on the development of action figures based upon his comic book has resulted in the detailed toys of today.