Today, action figures come in every shape and size, modeled after everything from animals to mythical creatures to historical figures and everything in between. Action figures were born in the mid-1960s when the 12-inch GI Joe from Hasbro came on the scene. Hasbro cleverly recognized that boys would reject dolls even if those as tough as Joe so they birthed the action figure to make the toy boy friendly.
Comic books fueled the next wave of plastic figurines in the early 1970's. Although comic books had been around for years, in the 1950's and 1960's they gained wide popularity in the United States with favorites like Spiderman, The Flash, and The Fantastic Four. In the early 1970's toy companies followed the superhero trend by creating models of famous characters from the comics.
When the first Star Wars movies came out, plastic figurines in their likeness were immediately popular. During the Star Wars craze, world events crept into the toy industry. The oil crisis limited plastic supply (the main material used to make plastic toys and figurines). In response, plastic figures were made about one third of the size the original GI Joe. Star Wars toys were just under four inches tall. This miniature size did not take away from their appeal or success in the marketplace.
In the 1980s, plastic figurines were modeled after people from popular television shows of the time. The action figure industry was taking off. Another introduction in the 1980s were transforming figurines. These were so popular that they were followed by a television series, The Transformers.
The industry hit its peak in the 1990s which has been deemed the Golden Age. Interest in television shows, comic book characters, and Star Wars movies all spurred on the plastic figurine industry making characters from these different media mediums very popular. In the 1990's, people that had played with figurines as a child were now buying them as collectors in their adulthood. Instead of just being toys, these models became a common collectible item.
Another huge spike in the plastic figurine market came from the re-introduction of the Star Wars toys. Kids of the 70's had grown up and bought these newly released Star Wars figures as collectibles. The kids of the '90s jumped on the Star Wars band wagon as well and bought recently released Star Wars character replicas for play.
The internet was another significant development in the model toy market. It connected collector and vendor worldwide and made the one out of reach figurines closer to every interested collector. After the 1990s, purchase of action figures was on a downhill path. Once successful toy manufacturers had stopped producing new figurines and stores that had once catered to collectors and plastic figure lovers were disappearing.
Even so, a new wave of action figure characters entered the scene in the 2000s. A new set of heroes was being introduced and you could buy figures in the likeness of movie stars, animals, fairies, mythical creatures, sports heroes, politicians and countless other real world personalities.