There once was a time when action figures based on popular superhero media were disposable ephemera for children. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? That was before the success of films like Tim Burton’s Batman, Blade, X-Men, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and of course Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy lent the subject matter a cultural legitimacy that we still enjoy together. It’s far more acceptable to have a Lego Batmobile or a 6-inch Iron Man adorning your desk at work than it was 20 years ago. Of course, the toy collector market predates superhero movies (with the exception of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman).
The global merchandising phenomenon of Star Wars kick-started the toy collector market as we know it today, with adult Gen X collectors tracking down beloved figures they owned as children to recapture that sense of childhood magic. With increased demand came more refined production techniques, resulting in a very different kind of toy industry today. Thanks to the efforts of market leaders like Hot Toys, collectors can now own eerily similar likenesses of their favorite superhero actors bedecked in movie accurate costumes and props. Even the lower end manufacturers have upped their game in recent decades. There are a few occasions, however where manufacturers fall woefully short of the mark…
15. KENNER QUICK CHANGE BATMAN RETURNS BRUCE WAYNE
In all fairness, Michael Keaton may have been an atypical actor for toy manufacturers to render in plastic. He has neither the square jaw nor the chiseled features that most sculptors would be used to simulating in plastic injection molds. Looking at the figure in detail, it’s clear what they were trying to do with this five-inch figure but the end result still doesn’t come close to capturing the actor’s likeness.
The hair is the wrong style and color, the hairline is completely different and the neck is preposterously long (presumably to accommodate the cowl), and the facial proportions are all wrong. Curiously, the end result looks more like Keaton’s successor to the cowl, Val Kilmer. Moreover, the body armor the figure sports is accurate to Burton’s original Batman, not its sequel which is a shame because the Batman Returns armor would be a great look on an action figure.
14. TIK TOK WONDER WOMAN STATUE
Gal Gadot is not only a phenomenal actress, a charismatic star and a charmingly effusive ambassador for the Wonder Woman character, she also has a transcendentally angelic beauty that’s hard to capture in an action figure. Heck even Hot Toys, the gold standard of action figures, took two attempts to get it right. This effort from the spectacularly hit and miss Chinese manufacturer Tik Tok actually does a really good job in capturing the detail of Diana’s ornate costume.
The colors, the textures and even the scoring are impressively accurate even for a figure just shy of 12″ high. The face, however, is a different matter. Ms Gadot’s fine features are blunted significantly and the eyes (admittedly tough to master in an action figure) bear little resemblance to the actresses. The statue looks more like Janice from Friends in cosplay.
13. TOY BIZ X-MEN (2000) WOLVERINE
Hugh Jackman, whose impossibly chiseled face and preposterously muscular torso make him look like a 6’3″ 1:1 scale action figure of himself, has been rendered in plastic many times. Some of the attempts to capture his ruggedly handsome likeness have been more successful than others. This early effort from Toy Biz certainly has potential, and would be an almost passable figure if it were trying to replicate a more generic likeness of Wolverine, but the figure bears little resemblance to Jackman.
They’ve done a pretty good job with the nose, but what character there is in the face is drowned out by the enormous grimace (which unfortunately looks more like a big cheesy grin). Thus, the figure not only fails to capture Jackman’s likeness but the character’s ferocity. He just looks like he’s having a really nice day out.
12. HOT TOYS SUPERMAN RETURNS SUPERMAN
This early effort by Hot Toys shows just how far the manufacturer has come in the past decade or so in capturing photo realistic likenesses of actors. The likeness to actor Brandon Routh is more of an approximation than an accurate rendering with none of the nuances of flesh tones and expressive idiosyncrasies upon which the brand would eventually build its reputation. Moreover the generic body is a little too svelte, bearing little resemblance to the impressive physique that Routh attained for the film.
This is a shame, as the detail in the rest of the figure really is excellent. The look and texture of the body suit with its S shield, the cape and the boots are all painstakingly accurate. It’s just a shame that they’re on a figure that looks more like a store mannequin than Brandon Routh.
11. HASBRO BRUCE BANNER / HULK COMBO
When Hasbro are good they’re very very good, but when they’re bad… it’s almost comical. This combo designed to simulate Edward Norton’s appearance in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk manages to capture neither Norton’s likeness, nor that of his jade skinned alter ego. Interestingly, this “mutating” combo allows users to encase the Banner figure into the Hulk figure without compromising the articulation of wither figure. It’s a cool feature but perhaps its incorporation placed limitations on the Banner figure resulting in the odd face sculpt.
To be fair, the face sculpt is not without expression, capturing the pained, troubled expression that characterized Norton’s turn as Bruce Banner but it falls short of really capturing Norton’s features. The slightly Hispanic looking version of Tony Stark that Hasbro released the same year didn’t fare much better either.
10. HASBRO LIGHTNING CLASH THOR
With the visual fireworks display of Thor: Ragnarok currently going strong in theaters, it’s easy to forget just how visually stunning Kenneth Branagh’s original Thor was in 2011. As well as the stunning visual effects, the film did a great job of making the character designs from the comics translate to something resplendent and unique on film.
To its credit, this figure captures the feel of the costumes very well despite being a variation on the Thor costume as seen in the movie. The likeness to Chris Hemsworth however is a far cry from the actor’s famously inviting visage. The features are impressively detailed yet far blunter and coarser than Hemsworth’s with a lantern jaw and craggy forehead that do little to capture the image of the Australian super hunk.
9. TOYBIZ 1989 BATMAN
As difficult as the subtleties of capturing an actor’s likeness can be in a five-inch figure, the most egregious thing about this Batman figure from 1989 is that they didn’t even try. This figure was actually just a repaint of a previous figure, the Batman figure from the Kenner Super Powers Collection. This earlier figure had a far more generic comic book countenance with an impossibly square jaw and a blue and gray Neal Adams style costume.
This figure simply substituted blue and gray for black with none of the subtleties of the gauntlets and boots which Kenner would later incorporate into their line of Batman ’89 toys. That said, it did have a cool feature in which the belt doubled as a grappling hook attached to a retractable fishing wire with which Batman could grapple up sheer surfaces. It was a whole lot of fun… until it inevitably broke.
8. HASBRO IRON MAN 3 TONY STARK
Tony Stark provides a useful acid test for a toy manufacturer’s efficacy. Will they even attempt to capture the rugged likeness of Robert Downey Jr. or will they simply put the signature beard on a “generic Caucasian male” head sculpt. Curiously, this effort from Hasbro falls somewhere in between. While there may be some evidence of an effort to lend the face some sort of character the likeness that’s produced as a result is not Downey Jr.’s.
In fact, if the head sculpt resembles anyone it’s… David Schwimmer. Go ahead and take a closer look. You can never un-see that! The painting of the eyes is always problematic with figures of this size, but the lazy eyes of this figure do not convey a genius level intellect. Fans waited for four years for Hasbro to incorporate a Tony Stark figure into their Iron Man range and they expected better.
7. HASBRO AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
If there’s one superhero who’s has the honor of being rendered in 5-inch plastic facsimiles time and time again, it’s Spider-Man. Spidey is by far the most merchandisable character in the entire superhero canon. His closest runner up, Batman, doesn’t even come close. In the pantheon of the character’s vast canon of action figures, this has to rank as one of the best in most ways. The detailing on the costume is absolutely on point and the texturing gives the figure a real sense of authenticity and accuracy to Spidey’s costume in the film.
The trouble comes when one takes a close look at the variant Peter Parker head. The approximation of Andrew Garfield’s face is way too rounded and feminine (the skin tones in the paint job don’t help either), and the haircut strays dangerously into Flock of Seagulls territory.
6. HASBRO IRON MAN 2 BLACK WIDOW (CANCELLED)
While Hasbro would go on to make a figure with a pretty decent likeness of respected actress Scarlett Johansson, this rendering of her likeness was so poor, it’s probably a good thing that it was ultimately pulled from store shelves. The figure was intended to accompany Iron Man and War Machine in a Target exclusive three-figure set that was planned for release in 2010 yet never made it to shelves (although there are some Chinese toy retailers on eBay who have copies of the set).
Not only does the figure bear no resemblance to Ms. Johansson, it bears little resemblance to any human female. The scarily round face wears a perpetual look of bewilderment and the lips are so full that they border on grotesque.
5. NECA 1/4 SCALE 1966 BATMAN
Fans of the classic ’60s Batman TV show celebrated a few years back when the long and bitter legal dispute between Fox and Warner Bros. over the series rights and years of legal wrangling with various actor’ estates finally came to an end. The result was a slew of wonderful new Batman ’66 merchandise culminating in the series’ release in a spectacular Blu-ray box set in 2014.
Among the merchandising barrage came action figures of all shapes and sizes bearing the likenesses of Adam West’s Batman, Burt Ward’s Robin and the various Special Guest Villains. While this Neca 1/4 scale figure is rich in detail and the face well sculpted, it’s not quite Adam West. The cheeks are a little too sunken and the mouth is a little too thin with a countenance that looks like the love child of the late great Mr. West and Clint Eastwood.
4. HOT TOYS FLASH
This one is frustrating because in so many ways this is an amazing figure even by Hot Toys’ standards. The 1/6 scale replica of Ezra Miller’s depiction of the character in the recent Justice League has one of the best costume reproductions in the brand’s history. The level of detail here is just insane. from the metallic finish to the myriad movie accurate scratches and scuffs, the figure is almost perfect in every way… except for the face.
Ezra Miller has very distinctive features and the figure doesn’t quite capture the actor’s boyish good looks. Admittedly this one has yet to hit the market, and it wouldn’t be the first time that Hot Toys have made modifications to a figure prior to release. We may yet get a completely accurate depiction of the Flash… but this isn’t quite it.
3. TIK TOK CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR WINTER SOLDIER
Tik Tok have made some great figures, but they’ve made some decidedly dodgy ones, too. It’s frustrating as the Captain America: Civil War Line to which this oddity belongs includes a pretty good War Machine, a very decent Iron Man and an excellent Falcon. Indeed, it’s telling that the more synthetic elements of Bucky Barnes’s appearance like his clothing and robotic arm are actually translated pretty well.
The face, however, is a nightmare. Sebastian Stan’s features might not be so idiosyncratic as to be recognizable in a six-inch figure, but this looks much more like Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a full face of makeup with a little too much lipstick. There’s inaccurate and there’s terrifying and this is one of the most glaring low points in a wildly inconsistent line.
2. HOT TOYS PEPPER POTTS
Although the notion of producing a high end action figure of a supporting MCU character (a female supporting character, no less) is a noble goal… one has to wonder whether the market was really clamoring for a Pepper Potts Hot Toy. She’s a well liked and important presence in the MCU, granted, but is she really one that hordes of fans would be willing to pay over $300 for?
This figure was available on her own or in a double pack with the Mk9 armor that she wore in the movie. The figure’s production standards are as high as one might expect from the legendary brand, but despite the incredible level of detail the face sculpt looks almost nothing like Gwyneth Paltrow. The eyes, mouth and skin coloring are a little off, as is the face shape and these elements conspire to really compromise the likeness.
1. TIK TOK CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR CAPTAIN AMERICA
It’s bad. Oh, it’s so bad! Even by Tik Tok’s erratic standard this is the absolute nadir of their abject lack of effort in capturing an actor’s likeness. Not only does this figure bear absolutely no resemblance to Chris Evans, it barely looks like it’s supposed to resemble a human being. The uncanny smoothness of the face is somewhat unsettling as the features are almost indefinable, besides the vaguest suggestion of cheek bones and the tiny nub of a nose.
What’s more, the cold dead eyes seem to be looking at you imploringly. What parent would let their kids anywhere near this figure? Ordinarily, a bad facial likeness can be mitigated by great costume detailing but even the costume pales in comparison to some of the other figures in the range.
Which of these action figures looks the worse? Let us know in the comments!
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