February has arrived yet again and it's time for me to start releasing my annual "Wrap Up" lists for 2023 at Action Figure Barbecue.
So, what were the highlights of 2023 in the toy world? Box office bombs at theaters meant less product on store shelves or stuff that went almost straight to clearance, lots of overshipped merchandise heavily clearanced out both online and at retail, Funko scrapping $30 million dollars in unsold product, the usual retail mixture of feast or famine on shelves, Hasbro ditching their plastic free packaging, laying off employees (or planning to down the road), cancelling the Selfie Series, and hiking prices, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles once again being a retail toys juggernaut, toy sales overall dropping from previous years, and stuff either getting delayed like crazy or showing up early and in large numbers.
Once again, toys are still available at retail (this year 7 of my top 10 lines had a mass market retail presence) and while it felt like more companies were offering product at retail, most companies continue to grow their dedicated online stores. Face it; most collectors are ordering their stuff online, now. Previously it seemed like some of the larger companies didn't want to upset their retail partners, so online offerings directly from the company were more limited, but now you can find most everything direct from the manufacturer. While I still love browsing stores, very few of us want to truly hunt for toys that retailers often carry in sparing numbers.
Who dominated at retail this year? Unofficially, I'd say Playmates'' Rise of the TMNT movie line and their assorted tie-in stuff was a huge hit as were Jakks' Super Mario Bros. movie lines and Michael Keaton's Batman at retail. The Flash itself might have bombed, but that didn't seem to hurt anything with Batman from McFarlane and Spin Masters. DC Multiverse and other lines from McFarlane seemed to do well, though more exclusives seemed to move online with McFarlane Toys this year. Hasbro is still a dominant force in the action figure retail toy aisle, though they suffered with toys from some box office flops (D&D, Indiana Jones: DoD, The Marvels) and lots of product going to closeout chains like Ollie's and Ross. Hasbro had multiple lines that died quickly like Dungeons & Dragons, Indiana Jones, and their Fortnite: Victory Royale series. Oddly enough, Walmart didn't even carry Hasbro's Indiana Jones: Adventure Series. Mattel still had a decent presence at retail in 2023, though the MOTU line is still dealing with severe over shipments from previous years, something that Funko dealt with, which made major news. Jazwares, NECA, Super7, Jada, and the Loyal Subjects continued to have small but respectable retail offerings, typically in designated collector focused sections. Walmart's collector area is usually pretty picked over with some stuff that just lingers but Target seems to have a nice selection from my experience. GameStop and Books a Million are not bad places either, though Books a Million does charge a premium for some reason (not as bad as FYE, but still noticeable).
The specialty companies and import lines continue to offer cool stuff and just keep becoming more and more competitive with the mainstream companies as the mass market retail lines raise prices. Delays hit these companies hard, though, and there were a few I just don't recall seeing or hearing from last year. Companies like Four Horsemen Studios, Mezco, Valaverse, Plastic Meatball, Storm Collectibles, Nacelle, and Boss Fight are really keeping things going with good product at prices that most collectors seem to be OK with. Still, you do have instances like Super7, who had a lot of product that was delayed, cancelled, or cleared out by retailers and e-tailers. I have a feeling that e-tailers and the owners of smaller retail stories might be less forgiving of product that they just can't move than larger retailers. Remember back in the very late 1990s and early 2000s how it seemed smaller toymakers were in a race to make figures of the most unusual properties imaginable? I've been getting that feeling more and more over the past year or two. We're seeing some really deep stuff with a limited audience, but since it's sold so directly it has more of a chance at surviving.
Creating my "Top 10" lists is always one of my favorite things to do at Action Figure Barbecue and I always spend a good chunk of time pouring over my notes from the previous year to determine which toylines I thought were the coolest and most fun to collect. This is the twelfth year I've created a list (the earliest ones were posted at The Epic Review) and it's always interesting too see how my lists change from year to year, often reflecting my changing interests and collecting trends. 2023's list had some absolute shoe-ins that I always knew would be on it, some wild cards that surprised me, and some long time favorites that just didn't cut the mustard this year. While I'm still quite devoted to the G.I. Joe: Classified Series and Mattel's MOTU lines, I did cherry pick more this year from a wider variety of lines.
A number of years back I divided my Top 10 list into two separate categories: My Top 10 Toylines and My Top 10 Individual Releases. I always start with My Top 10 Toylines as it's my standard best of list. These are the 10 toylines (action figures, statues, minifigures, etc.) of the past year that I had the most fun collecting and enjoyed the most. They may not always be the best or the most expansive lines, but they're my favorites for one reason or another. As I reiterate every year, the two key word for this list are "my" and "favorite." My list isn't necessarily based on a toyline's true merits and I really don't go outside of what interests me. Take this as a snapshot of the ten toylines I had the most fun collecting last year. As always, these are listed alphabetically rather than by any order of merit. And now, for My Top 10 Toylines of 2023...
For various reasons, Action Force and the G.I.: Classified Series have a rivalry. Personally, I collect both and I like how the lines complement one another. There are lots of really good smaller companies out there right now, but Valaverse is one of the standouts when it comes to product quality, selection, and pricing. They recently managed to lower their prices because of their production level. When is the last time you saw any company drop their prices due to the line doing well? Action Force does tend to have some repetitive use of sculpts and gear and such, but they also are always adding in new stuff here and there, too, and their production quality is top rate. They are absolutely a company that understands their audience and seems to giver them what they want, and my collection is stronger because of them.
Batman Classic TV Series/ Batman '66 by McFarlane ToysMcFarlane's Batman Classic TV Series line has been around since 2021 but this year it really caught my attention by not only offering some rather unique villains from the show (Vincent Price as Egghead and Victor Buono as King Tut) but also beginning to delve into the Batman '66 comic book series. Want a 1966 inspired Two-Face, Lord Death Man, or Superman? You've got it here. While the figures do have rather limited articulation and are in a smaller scale than the mainstream DC Multiverse line, the sculpts are really impressive and they're just fun, colorful figures that are quite reasonably priced. I pick up a few here and there, but they even have vehicles and playsets for the line. There's clearly a very specific market for these, but it seems to be a market eager for the Gotham of years past as McFarlane is continuing the line this year with figures based on The New Adventures of Batman.
Not only did I get excited for this line in the lead-up to it but I also was able to attend a midnight release event for Cosmic Legions at Needless Toys & Collectibles in Lincolnton, NC. An expansion of Mythic Legions of sorts, Cosmic Legions is a sci-fi themed line with some incredible character designs and an interesting story told through the figures and the bios on their boxes. They're unique, quality action figures with a variety of wild designs in different shapes and sizes. I didn't buy all of them but I do look forward to picking out my favorites from each new series that drops. Most figures are loaded with goodies and some even have well tailored fabric garments to really up their shelf appeal. They're a bit pricey, but it's clear that corners aren't cut when you get these in hand.
McFarlane's main DC line also made the list and was one of the lines I probably picked up the most figures from. I'm a Batman fan, so I'm almost always up for cool new versions of Batman, the Batfamily, and the villains of Gotham City and this line's focus on Batman isn't a bug to me; it's a feature! McFarlane does seem to be doing more classic characters as of late, however, and some of them are quite good, but it's clear that the Toddfather was always meant to make Batman toys. I'm just hoping we see less weird exclusives and repaints and more unique characters, as the line has yet to deliver a straight up comic version of Harley Quinn. Honestly, any version of comic Harley Quinn. They've done movie versions and a BTAS version, but no straight up comic version. Still, can't be too hard on them as they're actively putting out figures from Knightfall and The Dark Knight Trilogy.
2023 offered up some cool stuff for Dungeons & Dragons fans. Even though the movie wasn't a hit, my family loved it and has watched it quite a few times. My daughter says it's her favorite movie. Hasbro's movie based toys were OK, though rather limited in scope (my daughter acquired them on clearance), but NECA's line of figures inspired by the vintage LJN toyline are excellent. Even without being nostalgic for the LJN line (I never owned any except for two of the unarticulated figures I acquired at yard sales as a kid), these are just very cool fantasy villains. I say villains because those are the ones I grabbed. Zarak is my favorite (one of the best of the year) but Grimsword and Warduke are also incredible. If NECA would keep the villains coming and produce some Supernaturals figures in this same scale and style, I'd be one happy bugbear.
Figure Obscura from Four Horsemen StudiosLast year the Headless Horseman from Four Horsemen Studios' Figure Obscura made my top 10 Individual Figures list but this year the line itself made the list. Figure Obscura didn't have many releases but the two figures I picked up from them were incredible: The Red Death from Edgar Allen Poe's The Masque of the Red Death and the Ghost of Jacob Marley from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This is an incredibly inspired line and it's one I always look forward to seeing a new release from. I didn't buy every figure released last year (I skipped the Monkey King, which might have been a judgment error on my part, looking back), but the ones I did pick up absolutely were things that resonated with me. This is such a high quality line and each release really feels so well thought out and perfectly executed. High quality action figures from A Christmas Carol have been a dream line for me and I have a feeling that we may see some more of the spirits in the years to come.
The Classified Series isn't just my favorite toyline of the year; it's entirely possible that it's my favorites of all time (it's probably tied with Masters of the Universe Classics). While this year had a rough start with some weird paint issues and the bizarre figure that is Lt. Falcon, the rest of the year was just round after round of pure fire. Great takes on classic figures, incredibly cool new characters, and some of the niftiest accessories around. These toys are just so much fun to mess around with; pose them, use different gear configurations, try gear from other toylines. Everything I loved about the vintage G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toyline as a kid is just multiplied here. The HISS Tank that arrived before the end of the year was just the cherry on top. This line will be very tough to beat in the future and I look forward to plenty more troops to add to my growing Joe and Cobra armies.
Did it surprise you that this line made it onto the list? I complained about it pretty frequently, often remarked about how much of a disappointment it was, and didn't buy most of the figures until they were on sale and clearance around Black Friday. With all that being said, it was a 6-inch scaled Indiana Jones line and most versions of Doctor Jones himself, along with some of his companions and foes, were really well done. I love the 2008 line, but the Adventure Series released many figures that the 2008 skipped: Marcus Brody, Indy in a Tux, Professor Indy, Kazim, Black Sleep Indy, Walter Donovan, and Belloq in his white suit). Of course, the figures missing (which the 2008 line got) are almost more disappointing: The German Mechanic, the Monkey Man, Young Indy, the Cairo Swordsman, Mola Ram, any version of Willie Scott, and any figures from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The figures are really good with mostly solid likenesses, some very cool accessories, and quality articulation and while the line feels like it doesn't quite gel (it feels like the first year of what should have been a toyline with a two year shelf life), the individual figures are impressive. I loved what we got, but it felt very half baked. Is this line being on this list paradoxical? Yes, but I'm the boss here. So anything goes.
Mattel's Masters of the Universe Origins line was tougher to find at retail this year, but it was readily available online and through specialty retailers. I managed to easily acquire everything I wanted except for Duplico, who for some reason is really, really uncommon. This year had a real focus on the Snake Men and we almost completed the faction as well as received some figures of never before made characters, like Lady Slither. There was plenty of other cool stuff too, including Snake Mountain and Point Dread. This year Mattel seems to be releasing the Origins figures online direct to collectors with the Turtles of Grayskull and Cartoon Collection figures going to retail, so hopefully that will give the line some new life to keep it going.
|Masterverse also made my list in 2021 & 2022.
Masterverse by MattelMasterverse has been really good this year with a nice mixture of figures from different properties, including the new Masters of the Universe: Revolution. Personally, my favorite releases are from the New Eternia subset, a line that reimagined the heroes and villains a bit by mixing together classic concept designs and new ideas. These are some really good figures with plenty of accessories and a rather nice character selection. This one always gets me excited when a new release is on the way, especially when we get new characters or New Eternia versions). With Revolution just airing and being a pretty solid chapter in the MOTU lore, there are now plenty more figures and characters I want to see in this line.
Well, those are my Top 10 lines of 2023. What were your favorite lines of last year? Obviously this year G.I. Joe and Masters of the Universe still reigned supreme, but Batman and DC stuff also had a strong presence in my collection. I did delve into more lines targeted at collectors, both at retail and not at retail, like Action Force, Figure Obscura and NECA's D&D. Only half of my lines from last year's Top 10 carried over this year. Remember that I'll soon be releasing more lists, including my top 10 favorite individual releases that weren't part of these toylines and my annual Missing in Action report, so those may shed some light on the lines that didn't make it onto the Top 10 this year.
And, as always, here are some fun facts:
# of lines that have appeared on this list multiple years: 5
# of lines returning from last year: 5
# of lines from NECA: 1
# of lines from Four Horsemen Studios: 2
# of lines from Mattel: 2
# of lines from Hasbro: 2
# of lines from McFarlane Toys: 2
# of lines from Valaverse: 1
# of lines featuring He-Man: 2
# of lines featuring Batman: 2
# of lines based on or featuring figures from films released in: 2023: 2
# of toylines featuring figures based on video games: 1
# of toylines that I never saw hide nor hair of at Wal-Mart: 6
# of toylines that I was a completest on and bought everything offered: 2 (I'm pretty sure I bought every Masterverse figure and Indiana Jones Adventure Series release this year).
# of toylines that were only available through Kickstarter, a limited sale online, or an online subscription method: 1
# of toylines in a 1/18th scale or smaller: 0
# of toylines with no articulation: 0
# of toylines with articulated animals: 3
# of toylines with irritating, hard to obtain exclusive or chase figures: 7
# of toylines I collected that were affected by Warner Bros. "no guns on merchandise" ban: 2
# of toylines that are just modern updates of toys I had as a kid: 6