Action Figures Through the Years - Is Bigger Really Better?

During my time in this hobby of toy collecting I have had the pleasure of writing for various websites and magazines (Back in the day!) - This is one I wrote way back in 2008, I think it stands the test of time with the latest releases of Reaction Figures



Action Figures Through the Years - Is Bigger Really Better?

The late 70s first introduced us to action figures and since then we have seen them come and go (and come back again) but no figure has had such "collectability" as the ever so popular Star Wars figure, however we could write a complete book on them alone (now there’s a idea!) so im not going to dwell on them but instead take a look at the less known lines of 3 ¾ figures that started in the late 70s.

Television was a great inspiration for any toy factory and with lack of "boys toys" on the market (sorry if this upsets any action man fans) there was a massive gap that needed filling but could 3 ¾" figure really fill that gap? Companies such as Mattel, Mego and Kenner thought it could and the release of the action figure was imminent…….

Following the complete success of Star wars in 1977 Universal produced their own TV series based on the "sci fi" phenomenon, The result was Battlestar Galactica which now gave the Star Wars fans a show that could offer similar effects as seen in star wars (more than likely because John Dykstra, head of special effects on the star wars movie now worked as producer on this new show, an argument that eventually ended up in court) Like star wars a line of merchandise was produced to coincide with the show, at the top of this line was a set of 3 ¾ " figures produced by Mattel, the figures themselves didn’t quite match up to the Kenner star wars figures and lacked in detail and colouring and as with most toys from the 1970s, the packaging made the toys look much more exciting then they actually were.

The original line up consisted of Starbuck, Adama, Daggit (the robot dog), two Cylons (silver and gold), Lucifer, Boltar, Boray (a pig headed creature), Ovion (a fly-like alien) and the Imperious Leader (a rather dull pink alien). After a brief and unsuccessful release of a mini series in 1980 (Conquest of the earth) the show eventually died. However you cant keep a good sci-fi story down for long and after a failed attempt by Richard Hatch to relaunch in 1998 Universal Televison set on a new Mini series in 2003, which made its tv debut in 2004. A new show and new changes (Starbuck was now a girl !) brought with it a new line of merch Ertl took on this role with a line of figures in 2007 followed by Diamond Select figure range due for 2007/08, these new figures now stand at 7" and offer much more in terms of detail and packaging.

Universal knew science fiction was on a roll in the late 70s /early 80s and produced another show (mainly out of the left over props from Battlestar Galactica) This new Show would be know as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The pilot film first released in 1979 led to the spin off TV show, which ran till 1981, however this wasn’t a new idea and Buck Rogers had actually been around since the 1920s. The show focused around Buck Rogers played by Gil Gerard who is sent into space and following a life support malfunction is frozen but then is strangely lucky enough to be revived 504 years later (odd number to pick I know) and takes up the position with earth defence force alongside his faithful companion Twiki (biddi-biddi-biddi) to protect earth against all evil.

The toy line was introduced in 1979 by Mego who produced just one series consisting of 9 individual 3 ¾" figures (Buck, Ardella, Draco, Guard, Dr.Huer, Killer Kane, Tiger Man, Wilma and Twiki who stood around 2" high). These figures were very detailed, Tiger man even spruced a very fine moustache that would make any concerning man very proud and Ardella could actually pass as attractive. The only downside was Wilma, who unfortunately sports a fine set of "stormtrooper" legs and a rather disconcerting saggy chest. None the less these figures were very popular and even now demand a rather lucrutive price tag.

Although the show did have quite a following, it suffered the same as Battlestar Galactica in its story lines. Many believe that by the second series the show had lost its fun and excitement as Buck, Wilma and Twiki set of in a spaceship to explore new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go….. Think you’ve heard that somewhere before? The show was eventually cancelled in 1981.

Mego had now claimed its place in toy history, its figure line could now equal that of Kenner in terms of quality and detail and so a whole bunch of 3 ¾ " figures were produced in the first part of the 1980s based on popular TV shows and movies such as The Black Hole, Star Trek (more on that soon) Chips, Dukes of Hazard and even The Love Boat. Plans for a set of Dallas figures were eventually aborted (shame that).

However Kenner had no intention of being defeated and produced figures such as Butch and Sundance and later the very popular Indiana Jones

Lone Ranger figures two-packThe hunger for 3 ¾" action figures continued and inspired other companies to join in the trend Mattel released a fine set of Flash Gordon figures and Clash of the Titans figures which consisted of Calibos, Charon, Perseus and Thallo. Gabriel also launched a set of figures based around the movie Legend of the Lone Ranger. Another contender for the "We make the best action figure" award could also go to Galoob who in 1984 released figures based on The A Team and were lucky enough to pick up the contract (although short-lived) for Star Trek.

The Star Trek figure range is second only to Star Wars, Many companies have tried and failed in releasing star trek figures - Ertl, Mego and Galoob. None were more successful than the toy figure range introduced in 1994….. Hello Playmates!

Playmates began there figure range at a new size of 4.5", each figure was released with a trading card (hoping to draw in some trading card fans) and with accessories which were oddly enough all the same colour, which was obviously a money saving exercise but a pink phaser didn’t really do Data any justice. Whilst producing high quality figures playmates also understood the "collectors market" (which would later bite them in the bum and bring to them there downfall) from the very beginning playmates introduced a production number under each figures foot, the lower the number the more collectable they would be. They continued to cater for the collectors market by introducing limited numbers and also alternative packaging (pogs instead of trading cards). The figure range continued with releases for the spin off shows Voyager and DS9. Its aim at the collectors market backfired with the introduction of the "1701" range. This range was to be limited to just 1701 of each figure, a very low number indeed, and of course many collectors couldn’t get there hands on one of these figures, therefore there collection was incomplete and never would be complete so most collectors decided to give up, which playmates noticed all to well and in 1999 seen production levels drop to just 5000 per figure, the figure line ended in 1999.

The present brings us the continuing success of Star wars and has seen the popular 3 ¾" action figure kept alive, but other figures such as Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica have seen Diamond Select choose the alternative size of 7", but with the new Indiana Jones range due in 2008 and choosing the 3 ¾" size along with the new 3 ¾" Spawn range, not to mention the popular POTC 3 ¾" range are we seeing a comeback to the original figure size..


I still love my 3 3/4" collection........


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