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The Best Action Figures and Accessories of 2016

The Best Action Figures and Accessories of 2016

First thing’s first: Why aren’t we doing a list of the best toys of 2016?

What we consider toys is a matter of opinion. If you play with a stick, it’s a toy. Action figures are things we more or less agree on a definition for, even if it’s somewhat arbitrary nowadays how you might differentiate them from dolls. My rule of thumb, in these cases, is to just go with what the producing company calls them. Substantive distinctions are all but erased, as you’ll see below.

Even with how much the market has changed, there are still some companies out there crazy enough to make vehicles and bases for their figures, and I salute and encourage them for doing so, hence my inclusion of accessories on this list. Looking over the list as a whole this year, a prevailing theme seems to be that, our economy aside, price simply no longer matters. You can make just about anything, charge whatever it takes, and if toy collectors dig it, they will buy.

Here are the figures and such that had our attention in 2016.

Lion-O (Thundercats Classics)

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Thundercats and Masters of the Universe have always been very similar lines, both being beloved ’80s fantasy properties that incorporated both sci-fi and magic. And yet they were never quite in the same scale; even when Bandai tried to relaunch the Thundercats line in three separate sizes a few years ago, they somehow skipped the 7-inch style that would have made them play well with He-Man. Mattel finally got the rights last year, and began giving us Thundercats using shared parts with Masters of the Universe this year. Sadly, the announcement preceded one about Mattel canceling both lines, but at least we got one good Lion-O before it all went down.

Ben Affleck Barbie

Barbie® Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Batman™ Doll (DGY04) SRP: $39.95 | Adult | Available: Spring 2016 The world’s greatest Super Heroes are coming to a universe near you. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice™ features some of DC Comics’ most well-known characters: Batman™, Superman™ and Wonder Woman™. Inspired by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice™, this fully-articulated Batman™ figure is sculpted in the likeness of Ben Affleck, the actor who portrays the Super Hero in the film. The Dark Knight™ is ready for the ultimate showdown with Superman™ wearing his iconic gray Super Hero costume with a logo emblazoned on the chest, black cape with bat cowl, boots, and black gloves. His utility belt has golden accents and he “holds” a Batarang™ in his right hand.

There’s a reason Removable Cowl Batman is one of the most sought-after Mego figures from the ’70s: a decent removable cowl is very hard to manufacture in a manner that looks good both on and off. Tellingly, most toy companies nowadays simply cheat by using interchangeable heads. The difficulty is in getting material thin enough that it doesn’t look silly yet strong enough that it doesn’t tear, and using just the normal plastics for action figures, that’s no easy feat. Doll makers, however, have a much better handle on different clothing materials, and this year, only Barbie managed to pull off a Batman v Superman toy that looked equally decent masked and unmasked. This didn’t come as a surprise to doll collectors; Barbie had previously put an Adam West cowl on Ken. But it did make many collectors of superhero figures suddenly realize that maybe we shouldn’t be gender-categorizing such toys in our minds, or on store shelves.

Animated-Style He-Man

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In the three decades since He-Man entered our pop-culture lexicon wielding the power of Grayskull, we’ve seen many He-Man action figures come to be. But until this year, there was never actually one of the pageboy-haired, sheath-backed, smirking and super-tan animated version of the character whom most casual fans know best. Before entering its death throes, Mattel’s collector site Mattycollector.com finally delivered, with a Filmation-based figure that sold out before you could sing “HEYAYAYAYAYA WHAT’S GOING ON?” While it probably could have done well enough at mass retail, its limited nature will make it extra special to those who had the power to whip out their credit cards in time.

Fortress Maximus

Fortress Maximus

In a retail market that generally doesn’t support either playsets or figures costing over $100, the fact that Hasbro can pull off something like Fortress Maximus and get major chain stores on board for it is something of a miracle. With lights, sounds, removable Headmaster bot, two different play set configurations, and a massive action figure mode, the transforming titan was a worthy revamp of one of the classic ’80s holy grails of Transformers collecting.

Vitruvian Man

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Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing became a multi-limbed nightmare with a huge wiener in this Figma interpretation of fine art. It’s like some kind of amazing Clash of the Titans fan fiction, from a toy line that previously gave the Venus De Milo arms.

Batman: The Animated Series Batwing

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It’s kind of unbelievable this even exists. Seven-inch scale figures don’t generally get vehicles, and if they ever do, the scale gets cheated, because who has the room? And yet DC Collectibles went ahead and made an Animated Series Batwing that’s over three feet long, fits two figures, has retractable landing gear and includes light-up features. That it can be yours for a mere $144.99 is kind of breathtaking; this might just be our generation’s version of the G.I. Joe aircraft carrier, i.e. the thing only the lucky eldest child gets.

Star Trek Mega Bloks

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Star Trek should have been a LEGO property years ago, but if it has to go to the competition instead, Mega Bloks are a step-up from Hasbro’s misfired Kre-O line, and the classic beat the nu any day. Building the old school bridge and transporter room is a blast, and the minifigs are more like fully articulated action figures than the stylized block-guys you’d expect from LEGO-ish sets. I suspect McFarlane Toys’ attempts this year at “mature” construction toys expanded Mattel’s mind a bit.

McFarlane Color Tops’ The Walking Dead Daryl Dixon

McFarlane Toys

McFarlane Toys’ return to the scale and style they’ve been most known for over the years wasn’t met with joy by everyone, especially fans of The Walking Dead 5-inch figures. Indeed, the results were mixed. But they pulled out all the stops for fan-fave Daryl, who came with multiple points of articulation, a detailed crossbow, and even a zombie head accessory, ready to meet your Movie Maniacs and NECA horror collection full-on (not to mention the latter company’s in-scale Boondock Saints Norman Reedus figure). Now, if we can just get an 18-inch version, we’ll be good.

Mattel Ghostbusters Jillian Holtzmann

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“Girl action figures don’t sell” is a stereotype we’re still trying to break out of, so it was bold of Mattel to go all in on the new Ghostbusters movie and make the four leads, complete with pieces to build the villainous Rowan ghost. But you can praise a gesture and criticize the execution. Whosever job it was to capture Kristen Wiig’s likeness did not succeed to the extent one would hope. On the other hand, Holtzmann, the fan-favorite character coming out of the movie, was executed nicely. Mattel could have easily cheated and reused body parts, despite all four leads being physically distinct from one another, but a unique body and challenging glasses were recreated well. It’s just too bad we didn’t get a new Ecto-1 for her to drive.

DC Icons Batgirl of Burnside

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Coming in at the last minute with the year nearly done, Barbara Gordon on her motorcycle makes for the perfect combination of elements to please kids and collectors. She’s got multiple hands, a vehicle that can be played with or displayed, useful articulation that holds a pose and never feels like breaking, and maybe the best paint job I’ve ever seen on a brightly colored superhero toy. DC collectibles can’t compete with Hasbro Marvel Legends on price, but in terms of quality, they are definitely worth the mark-up.

Toy Story Chogokin

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The Japanese toy market seems to operate under a different set of rules than the domestic one does, with licensees allowed to take wild, weird chances with the properties they get to play with. Bandai previously gave us Samurai Star Wars, and this year decide to Voltron-ize the characters of Toy Story into a large unified robot. Rex may have dreamed of being a Dinozord, but we’re betting nobody besides Emperor Zurg or Bandai thought the Power Rangers concept was a natural for these characters until now. But it totally works; literally everyone I know who has seen this toy wants it.

My Little Pony: Guardians of Harmony Pinkie Pie

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At $9.99, My Little Pony’s hyper-caffeinated party planner is the most affordable figure on the list, and the epitome of what a good mass-market toy should be. Hasbro finally realized both that (a) the property was appealing to more than just girls and (b) all fans wanted cartoon-accurate toys, and, in the Guardians of Harmony line, created fully articulated figures with fun-but-inessential accessories for added value. It’s awesome that Pinkie comes with a cute little Patton helmet and a chicken cannon, but it’s equally awesome that they aren’t essential and can be removed. Then again, I might be biased—she reminds me a whole lot of my wife.

LEGO 1966 Batcave

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How is it we’ve come this far without ever having had full-size Batpoles before? I love how ridiculously tall this set is just to make the poles work, and the coolest thing of all is how complete the set is, with villains and Bat-vehicles included so that in theory you don’t need to buy any further LEGO Bat-toys to fully enjoy it (you will, of course; I’m just saying you don’t need to).

NECA ‘s Age of Ultron Hulk

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Bigger than a newborn baby, NECA’s Hulk, designed to round out the “core four” Avengers in quarter-scale, was a crazy gamble on a par with DC’s Batwing, a gigantic action figure to tower over even the rest of NECA’s gargantuan quarter-scale figures, most of which are 18-20 inches tall. Unlike the rest of the team, it was too big and pricey to be sold in any major chain stores, and had to be ordered in a plain brown box from online retailers. And it’s so solid and huge it’s tough to find a place to display Mr. Banner’s angry id without risking a fall and a Hulk smash. But the detail is impeccable as usual, and he’s guaranteed to turn heads.

Hot Toys Rey and BB-8

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Last year around this time, a collective refrain of “Where’s Rey?” was coming from the toy collector community as Disney, in an odd lack of wisdom, had decided they wanted to misdirect fans as to who the true protagonist of The Force Awakens really was, withholding many key details from Hasbro as well. So when we all saw the movie and learned it was actually Rey who was strong with the Force, her figures sold out everywhere while Finn languished on shelves. Hot Toys, however, announced their version of the heroine and popular new droid BB-8 almost immediately, capitalizing on the fervor created by the vacuum in other products, all of which had assumed that (a) Finn would be the lightsaber-wielding main hero, and (b) Kylo Ren would be snapped up as a popular badass villain, rather than being revealed as an overgrown angry wounded adolescent whom some audiences genuinely hated for killing Han Solo. A resourceful female lead in a Star Wars movie trumped them both.

As for the specific figure, well, Hot Toys is, as always, the closest thing to lifelike one finds in a toy. And because they go all-out, of course BB-8 is self-balancing and lights up.

One:12 Collective Mr. Spock

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At one time, Leonard Nimoy was the celebrity with the most action figures in his likeness, and presumably almost all were of Mr. Spock, the original pop-cultural alien phenomenon. He has been done many times, with many different gimmicks, costumes, and angles, but now everyone can give it up, as Mezco made the ultimate Spock this year. The One:12 Collective line is one that photos simply don’t do justice to–you have to see for yourself the astonishing amount of detail and care it takes to make them look like tiny, photo-realistic human beings. And yet they’re still toys, with full articulation, form-fitting clothes, multiple hands, heads, and accessories, and a display base, packed in the most collector-friendly, reusable packaging you’ll ever see. A $70 price tag is steep for six inches, and yet with craftsmanship like you rarely see except on Hot Toys and Sideshow 12-inchers, it’s somehow a good deal too. Some of the superhero figures in the One:12 style cost a lot more due to having more accessories and complicated outfits, but if you’re looking to own just one, keep it simple: an iconic character, flawlessly pulled off, and our favorite toy of the year.

What did we miss? Which figures were must-buys that we clearly didn’t? What would you have us purchase? Show and tell us about your faves in comments.

Images: Mattel, Hasbro, DC Collectibles, Mezco, Bandai, Figma, Hot Toys, LEGO, NECA, Julia Thompson

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