Every collector had to start somewhere. For most of us, our love began with an action figure line that captured our hearts many years ago. Some people fell in love with Optimus Prime, while others turned to He-Man. But even new collectors, who may not know a Transformer from a Gobot or He-Man from Lion-O, need to take a look at the most important and popular lines in the history of the action figure industry. The following six are the most recognized and beloved action figure brands, and every collector should be familiar with them.
Hasbro's transforming robots are a worldwide phenomenon that all started in the '80s with a little plastic and a lot of ingenuity. Transformers are two toys in one, a basic vehicle and a fantastic robot, easily transformed from one mode to the other. They offered a fun science-fiction story combined with a fascinating action feature. The brand has had a few ups and downs, but Transformers has generally become a mainstay in the toy aisle and been a force in kids' imaginations for generations.
- Major Iterations: Generation 1, Generation 2, Beast Wars, Universe, Masterpiece, Prime
- Important Characters: Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, Starscream
Masters of the Universe
Few action figures lines have caught the public's affection like Masters of the Universe. Mattel blended science fiction and fantasy into a wonderful mixture filled with splendid characters and fun figures. Action features were prominent with each Masters of the Universe figure, making them fun for play and great for big imaginations. The battle for Eternia raged across living room floors everywhere in the '80s.
- Major Iterations: Masters of the Universe, The New Adventures of He-Man, 200x, Classics
- Important Characters: He-Man, Skeletor, Man-at-Arms, Battle Cat
In the history of action figures, no line has taken over toy aisles time and time again like Star Wars. From the original movies, through the prequels, to modern cartoons, Star Wars action figures have been a fixture in stores and collections across the world. Something about the fantastic characters and classic battle between good and evil, Jedi and Sith, has managed to bring in kids and collectors across decades.
- Major Iterations: Too many to list
- Important Characters: Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Han Solo, R2D2
Mego World's Super Heroes
Action figures and super heroes go together like peanut butter and jelly: perfectly. There have been countless manufacturers make super hero figures throughout the years, but there was only one to do it first, Mego. With the World's Great Super Heroes line, Mego managed to license both Marvel's and DC Comics' characters, manufacturing them all in a unified style. Not only were they the first super hero action figures ever, they helped shape the entire history of the industry. Nothing quite like the World's Greatest Super Hero line has existed since, and it's unlikely anything ever will.
- Major Iterations: There's just the one
- Important Characters: Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a cultural phenomenon that originated with the wildly popular cartoon in the late '80s and continued through much of the '90s. The accompanying Playmates action figure line made use of the wacky character designs and widespread adoration, making it one of the most beloved toy lines in history.
- Major Iterations: Original line, NECA versions, 25th anniversary, 2012 relaunch
- Important Characters: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, Shredder
No list of important action figure lines would be complete with G.I. Joe. Hasbro's first foray into the world of action figures was also the world's first glimpse at the action figure. The very term "action figure" originated with G.I. Joe, making him the grandfather of the industry in many ways. The brand's popularity has waxed and waned throughout the years, but it's always been a fixture for collectors and an important part of toy history.
- Major Iterations: Original line, A Real American Hero, 25th Anniversary, Rise of Cobra
- Important Characters: Duke, Cobra Commander, Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Storm Shadow