Superhero Hype’s 10 Best Action Figures of 2021 (That You Could Afford)
In selecting the ten best toys of the year, we always have to set some ground rules. First: every item on this list must have been available in stores (retail or online). That means no Kickstarters or HasLabs. Second: it should be under the 1/6 scale, because if we allowed those, frankly, Hot Toys might take every slot. Third: for the most part, they must be affordable to the average person (sorry again, Hot Toys).
Yes, this list stretches that a bit with one item that went over $100 on its first offering. But the ones that do are at least part of collections that generally do not go that high. And that rules out LEGO’s Ultimate Collector sets, which would probably always win otherwise.
Note: for items still available at our affiliate partner Entertainment Earth, we’ve added links. Superhero Hype may earn fees based on purchases made through the links. Entertainment Earth, however, had no editorial input on the list’s content.
10. Thulsa Doom (Conan the Barbarian Ultimates)
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s version of Conan has seen figure form a few times. James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom, however, was long overdue. How do you go wrong with Jones as a master of evil in a dark cape and helmet?
While the urban legend of the original He-Man being a retooled Conan isn’t as simple as people tell it, there’s still an irony in Super7 using Masters of the Universe Classics body parts to make Conan movie figures. Unfortunately, they had a lot of trouble — to put it kindly — capturing Arnold. Jones, on the other hand, remains clearly recognizable. And able to go toe-to-toe with He-Man, Lion-O, Duke, and every other figure Super7 makes in this scale.
The only figure on our list based on animation, Battle Cat nonetheless sports more detail than his cartoon counterpart. Fully poseable in a way the original ’80s figure never was, this Eternian tiger functions as a character all his own, even without a He-Man on his back. Plus, remove his mask and he becomes Cringer! Every ’80s kid already did this with their old one, but it’s taken decades for the toy design to finally reflect that.
Most Marvel Legends collectors, upon watching Thor: Ragnarok, surely never imagined Surtur would get a figure. He’s just too large, too flaming, too much to fit into the package. And yet…once Hasbro created the Infinity Saga line, to allow for characters of all shapes and sizes never-before-made, Surtur came up. At 13 inches he’s by far the tallest 1:12 scale Marvel Legend. And cast entirely in translucent plastic, he looks all fired up when backlit.
There was a time when Walmart wouldn’t stock toys of The Lord of the Rings‘ Balrog, fearing that his Satanic, fiery demon appearance would offend religious customers. Disney clearly managed to change some minds on that paradigm.
Here’s a movie-based action figure that actually looks better than the one in the movie. With his iridescent, Japanese beetle-esque color scheme and tendrils from everywhere, the evolved form of the Deviant leader looks like a CG effect you can actually hold in your hand.
The Eternals wave of Marvel Legends generally upped the bar all around with original sculpts and metallic paints. But their main villain clearly allowed the sculptors to run wild.
6. Steppenwolf (DC Multiverse/Zack Snyder’s Justice League)
McFarlane Toys has been hit or miss when it comes to DC movie figures. They crafted two beautiful Margot Robbie Harley Quinns, then crapped out an Idris Elba Bloodsport so ugly it’s an aesthetic crime. But they outdid themselves on Zack Snyder’s Steppenwolf. While the Joss Whedon “Ciaran Hinds in a funny hat” version easily translated to toys, the Snyder Cut version, covered in shiny CG spikes that rippled and moved, seemed destined to confound toymakers. Yet somehow Todd’s people managed to replicate him in a manner that doesn’t stab your hand and draw blood.
The level of herringbone detail is insane. And while the articulation isn’t perfect, the silver finish duly impresses. For a good look at the weird puppy-dog eyes, you might need to squint or zoom in with a camera. That’s a level of paint detail rare even for McFarlane.
5. Frank Frazetta Conan (Mezco One: 12 Collective)
Mezco’s One: 12 Collective figures are the gold standard for the 6-inch scale, and priced accordingly. Usually, though, their use of a generic body beneath an elaborately tailored outfit keeps the price under $100. With a half-naked dude like Conan, though, that’s not possible. So they had to go all out for the Cimmerian, with an original sculpt, pulsing power and conveying Frank Frazetta style through his veiny musculature. Loaded with weapons and a removable cloak, this 30-point articulated barbarian was the crown jewel of the company’s collector offerings this year.
Originally priced at $90, Conan fetches prices up to $200 already, if you can find him.
A line of realistically style figures based on Disney’s Gargoyles animated series never seemed remotely plausible, yet it’s everything we wanted. NECA‘s been craving a superhero line of their own, and while Defenders of the Earth and its spinoffs aren’t quite there yet, Gargoyles is everything. As muscular as He-Man and as monstrous as any horror characters, the mightily winged leader dwarfs all similar figures and casts an intimidating shadow. Also he has a tiny jalapeno pepper as one of his accessories. You’ll probably lose it immediately, but it’s awesome.
The only problem? Those wings are huge. If every figure in the line comes out like this, think seriously about where and how to display them all.
Remember when McFarlane Toys did a Spawn figure Kickstarter, because retail outlets weren’t interested in Spawn as a solo brand? Then it broke Kickstarter records, and all of a sudden comics-based Spawn figures came back to stores almost immediately? So that happened.
Violator has always been one of the most uniquely designed arch-villains in comics, though his traditional top-heavy, spindly body is tough to capture as a toy. So this time, McFarlane went for the more ‘roided-out version from recent comics. And while it’s a more basic design, the mega-fig is loaded with insane amounts of detail. And heavy, to boot.
Spawn and his assorted characters may never hold the same level of popularity they did in the ’90s. But Todd McFarlane will always continue to push the toy envelop with his baby. The 2021 Violator was born from such pushing.
Just look at her. Seriously.
NECA’s known for outstanding likenesses, but they appear to have captured Erin Moriarty’s soul on this one. Homelander, as he often is in every context, may be the showier of the two The Boys figures so far. But Starlight, down to the last detail, feels truer to the real thing.
Very few “Holy Grails” remain left in the major toy lines from our childhoods. Thanks to HasLab, Unicron and Jabba’s Sail Barge finally became real, and Super7 finally made Masters of the Universe movie figures. But the Transformers Ark — the spaceship that brought the Autobots to Earth in the G1 cartoon — had never been done justice. (The Michael Bay movie version doesn’t count.) And to get it at retail, Hasbro added one key detail: it now transforms. Thanks to the Netflix CG series, its conversion from spaceship to robot could be demonstrated. But for fans who prefer it as a playset, it also includes a tiny “in-scale” Optimus Prime. And a transforming Teletraan-1 computer.
But whether fans choose to transform it or not, many have waited decades to be able to “roll out” this signature vehicle. And now they can.
What were your favorite toy purchases this year? Let us know in comments.
Recommended Purchase: McFarlane – Mortal Kombat 12 – Commando Spawn
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