SECTOR GUIDE: Action Figures

A steady stream of super hero franchises means the action figures category has been given a significant boost of late. Lewis Tyler speaks to some experts and sees what?s on offer in terms of the hottest new products...
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The action figure sector grew for the first time this year in April. So what makes figures unique and how can the trade make the most of the category?

Frederique Tutt, NPD – the analyst

“To stand out from the crowd, new brands need to offer boys a large choice of play patterns.

The action figures category has seen great changes over the last 15 years and it is quite obvious boys do not play with them the way they used to.

In the ‘90s boys aged six to ten would collect a handful of figures during the year and receive the penultimate accessory for Christmas, be it a vehicle or a camp, in any case a rather expensive accessory. Those figures also tended to be toy manufacturer brands as opposed to media licences. Little by little, TV and film characters started to grow their shares and now over 70 per cent of the action figure market is licensed.

In the last ten years, role-play items such as light sabers, web launchers or watches like Ben 10’s have become a must in every successful brand portfolio. Boys identify with their action hero and costumes and accessories were as much part of the play pattern as figures. Meanwhile, accessories started to decline.

Over the last few years we have seen battling become the fashionable play pattern and products and licences tend to be more sophisticated.

Film-related licences such as Spider-Man still do very well at retail, but to stand out of the crowd, new brands need to offer boys a large choice of play patterns.”

David Middleton, Midco Toys – the retailer

“When I was a kid my party trick was the fact I knew the name of every Star Wars figure.

Action figures are a massive part of my business and are our biggest category. We sell everything from Power Rangers and Ben 10 to wacky adult collectors lines.

Action figures have changed quite dramatically in regards to character likeness and articulation. 20 years ago action figures would only bend at the arms, legs and neck. But nowadays some figures can have way over 100 points of articulation, allowing kids and collectors to pose the figures just like the characters we see on TV.

There are a lot of things that make a good action figure line, most of it is to do with the right manufacturer getting the licence. Then it’s down to making the scale correct and the detail.

A focus also needs to be on durability because kids are going to throw them around, rather than pose them on a shelf.

The action figure craze hit big in the late ‘70s with Star Wars, which was the first real blockbuster movie to be merchandised to the max. Nowadays there are a lot more licences.

One thing that is extremely important – and so many companies forget this – is the collectability. The original Star Wars figures showed every one on the back of the packaging and gave the opportunity for the kid to tick off which ones they bought.”

Andrew Welch, Bandai – the supplier

“I don’t think the action figure market has really changed too much. Key ranges are those with strong TV and film platforms, and there is also a good selection of evergreen boys action brands that continue to do well.

There have always been assortments of figures to collect (good assortments are key to successful sales), plus different scales of action figures with the smaller to mid price-point figures including accessories and/or a figure function – like light, sounds or a unique action. 

Action figures are very much a classic boys toy. Kids can collect their favourite characters from TV shows and use their imagination to replicate their own stories.

Kids will always play with action figures and take them anywhere. This year is a particularly busy year for boys action brands too, with the release of strong brand refreshes plus new ones trying to break through into the market.

When it comes to the figure, consumers expect a good level of detail. Action figures that include accessories, as well as additional and innovative features, also appeal to the consumer. Strong TV programming and film content with channel support establish the demand, and this, coupled with breadth of price points among your figure ranges, gives you wide appeal to the consumer.”

Company profiles

Bandai08456 028782

Ben 10

The Ben 10: Alien Collection Figures still hold the number one position in action figures by volume and value, year-to-date (source: May 2012 NPD). The new Alien Collection Figures based on the Omniverse series come with a mini figure accessory, which links play with the Omnitrix Challenge. The new 15cm figures, as well as including a unique alien action, also now each have a sound function which links in with the higher price-point Omnitrix Touch.

New for Ben 10 will be the release of Mini Play-sets and the Intergalactic Plumber Command Center based on those seen in the Ben 10 Omniverse series.

Power Rangers Samurai

The main figure assortment in the Super Samurai range is the 10cm Action Figures. These have over 12 points of articulation, with each figure including a weapon accessory. Refresh assortments will be available throughout the year.

The 16cm Chest Morphin Figures are another key range in the Super Samurai series; just press the trigger at the back of the figure to see it change from Samurai to Super Samurai mode.


There are also new 10cm and 15cm figure assortments coming this autumn/winter season for ThunderCats. Each 10cm figure includes different accessories and also the figures unlock light, sound and/or action features in the ThunderCats vehicles and Tower of Omens Play-set.

Hasbro020 8569 1234

Web Shooting Spider-Man

This motorised Web Shooting Spider-Man has not one, but two web shooters for double web-blasting action. It includes a target that looks like his arch-nemesis, The Lizard, and it has web-slinging sounds and shooters that fire left or right. 

Transformers Weaponizers 

This 8.5-inch Bumblebee figure brings on four times the power with four different modes, glowing power-up lights and spinning weapons.

The Autobot hero comes with a blaster pistol, and his weapons deploy in both robot and vehicle mode. Switch between Robot Scout Mode, Weaponized Robot Mode, High-Speed Sports Car Mode and Weaponized Sports 

Car Mode. 

Avengers Power Attack 10-inch Gamma Strike Hulk

This detailed Hulk figure has smashing and roaring sounds, as well as a Hulk fist-smashing action. Squeeze his legs together for the Gamma Strike action.

Ten-inch Thor, Iron Man and Captain America toys are also available.

Star Wars Movie Heroes 3.75-inch

Features include light-up light saber effects, action movements and electronic sounds. The figure also comes with a Galactic Battle Game for additional play. 

Mattel01628 500 000


Building on the strength of the new Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises, Mattel unveils its biggest ever Batman portfolio.

New Batman Dark Knight Rises Quicktek Armour 3.75-inch action figures feature transforming technology and weapons. Also new is the ultimate air attack vehicle The Bat – which comes complete with projectiles, battle sounds and a Launch & Attack Batman figure, too.

For boys aged four and above, there’s the new Power Attack assortment of action figures, vehicles and accessories. The Power Attack Batmobile is the largest ever Bat vehicle for a six-inch figure and features firing projectiles. Power Attack 6.5-inch action figures (pictured) come with their own high-power weapon; there are over 12 different figures to collect.


With strong growth, Mattel’s WWE range is a heavy hitter for 2012. New from the top-selling FlexForce range is the WWE High Flying Fury play-set, which lets WWE fans launch WWE FlexForce figures into the air flying, spinning, crashing and bashing through breakable ladders, tables and chairs. Plus, there are new additions to the popular WWE Rumblers line with the WWE Rumblers Blastin’ Breakdown Ring.

Toy Story 

Top five action figures property Toy Story (source: NPD Value YTD May 2012) is set for a boost with new content to celebrate Disney/Pixar’s 25th anniversary. Mattel will introduce the Roarin’ Rex 12-inch figure, which features erratic arm movements and more than ten Rex sounds. Brand new interactive Flight Control Buzz features motion sensors so he can detect if he’s on the ground or in the air, as well as a working laser, lights and sounds. 

Flair020 8643 0320

The key sales driver in Flair’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collection will be the series of action figures.

The initial launch will feature nine figures, but new waves will be released every eight weeks, launching a total of 30 figures in the first year alone. A whole range of figures will be available, ranging in size from ten to 14cm, each highly detailed and complete with multiple weapons. At £9.99 the figures are priced to be collectable.

The 15cm Deluxe Action Figures (£14.99) feature multiple sound effects. Five characters are depicted – the four turtles themselves; Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo, along with arch enemy Shredder. Each appears in a variety of guises with new waves being released in the future. 

Special six-inch Collectors Figures complete the range. Appealing to long-time fans, these are the most articulated Turtles ever made and are based on the original TV series from the late ‘80s.

The toy collection will be Flair’s biggest launch ever, with its largest marketing investment. 

Tomy 020 8722 7300

Harry Potter

Tomy has a range of poseable 5 -inch Harry Potter action figures. The range includes Ron, Hermione, Harry and nemesis Lord Voldemort. All have been faithfully recreated to resemble the characters as they appear in the Deathly Hallows movie.

Sonic the Hedgehog

The Sonic range from Tomy celebrates a whole generation of the gaming icon. There’s the highly detailed three-inch, five-inch and ten-inch Sonic the Hedgehog action figures, as well as his friends Shadow, Knuckles and Tails. These join the existing Tomy Sonic range as part of a 20-year celebration of Sonic.

Vivid01483 449944

Vivid’s The Hobbit range, made by US toy maker The Bridge Direct, is currently under embargo, so you can’t see them yet, but here are the details.

The 3.75-inch figure range (£7.99 blister pack) includes five figures with accessories to collect.

The Adventure Pack assortment will include two figures with accessories per pack, with four packs to collect (£12.99).

Beast Pack includes one figure and a ‘Beast’ (£16.99), while the Battle Pack includes one figure and a super-sized adversary figure with accessories (£22.99). The Five Figure Pack includes five separate figures and various accessories (£29.99).

Then there’s the highly detailed and articulated Collectors Figure assortment, which is part of the six-inch scale range of figures (£9.99). The toys come ahead of the movie this year.

JAKKS PACIFIC01344 638900

Jakks Pacific has a range of TNA Impact Wrestling Figures. With 11 points of articulation and standing at seven inches tall, these action figures let kids re-enact the Challenge TV Wednesday and Saturday TV series.

Refreshed waves featuring defectors such as Hulk Hogan are planned throughout the year, staying relevant to the exciting action show. 

The wrestling brand is also backed by the official UK Annual Impact Wrestling Tour (across five UK Cities), plus several retailer store visits.

Character Options0161 633 9800

The latest recruit in the H. M. Armed Forces range is the ten-inch Army Crawling Infantryman with realistic crawling action and a replica British Army assault rifle (£9.99). 

Higher value figures are also available in the range, such as the Talking Command Figures, depicting a serviceman from each collection. The Army Infantryman is complete with a rocket launcher, while the RAF Airfield Patrol has his own police dog. All of the ten-inch figures make combat sounds and phrases when their stomachs are pressed.

Star Images020 7249 4662

Star Images has been supplying UK retailers with licensed merchandise for over 23 years.

The product range includes seven-inch and 18-inch scale action figures. Some of the current and upcoming ranges include the likes of Star Wars, Marvel, Halo Universe, Twilight and The Hunger Games.

Star offers a full back up service including a field/ telesales team, next day delivery on stock items and a low carriage paid minimum order quantity.

Pattni Imaginations 0116 2418 811

Following the successful launch of the Match Stars Series One figures, Pattni Imaginations says it is delighted to announce the production of Series Two. 

The new range will be spearheaded by a brand new line of nine-inch England national team action figures, perfect for the thousands of football fans in the UK.

Series Two will still feature four of the biggest clubs in world football – FC Barcelona, Liverpool FC, Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC, but goalkeepers will appear for the first time. 

Each figure retails at £9.99 and comes complete with official replica kit for the new season featuring all club sponsors, as well as Premier League name and numbering. Included in the packaging is a player fact card that is full of interesting statistics. 

Match Stars branded accessories are also available including a goal, cones, balls, whistle, target practice piece and set of yellow and red cards.

Diamond Comics UK01928 531760

Marvel Select Action Figures

With action figures ranging from six-inch and nine-inch and featuring a host of Marvel’s most popular characters including Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor and many others. All figures are £19.99 each, with accessories and bases (in most releases). Plus, they come in blister box packaging.

The Spidey figure comes with alternative sets of hands – including ones for web-slinging.

Justice League Action Figures 

The six-inch scale Justice League Action Figures from DC Collectibles features the most iconic characters from the DC Universe, including Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash and many more planned for future releases. Each highly detailed figure comes in window box packaging.

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