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Top Ten 1970s Action Figures Every Collector Should Own!

Updated on April 18, 2013

Movie, television and superhero action figure dolls from the '70s

It was back in 1964 when toy makers Hasbro had the brilliant marketing idea of making "dolls" for boys. The idea was simple, yet very clever - these 12 inch military themed dolls named after the typical US soldier "G.I. Joe" (or "Action Man", as he was known in the UK and Europe) would NOT be referred to as "dolls", but instead as "action figures", including an Action Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Pilot.

By the 1970s, action figures were all the rage, with Mego's 8 inch figures, and Kenner's game-changing 3 ¾ inch Star Wars action figures, becoming hugely popular and legendary toys. In this lens I take a very personal and entirely subjective look at some of my personal favourite action figures from the 1970s, figures that have stood the test of time and are still sought after by collectors and toy lovers the world over today.

Nowadays, every big budget movie, and very often hit TV show too, has its own tie-in action figure line. Very often these figures are released even prior to a movie's release and enjoy the briefest shelf life in the stores before the movie is quickly forgotten and the toys move swiftly to the remainders bargain bin! I wonder how many of today's action figures will be remembered and collected with such affection forty years from now?

Please feel free to leave a comment and tell me any of your own favourite 1970s action figures at the end of the lens.

#10 - The Fisher-Price Adventure People

Dare Devil Sport Plane Pilot Photo © Deborah Swain
Dare Devil Sport Plane Pilot Photo © Deborah Swain

Okay, so these 3 ¾ inch tiny people may not have featured superheroes or movie characters, but this series proved a huge hit with kids in the 1970s. Perhaps young kids have their priorities right - they know who the REAL heroes are in life: pilots, divers, rescue workers, astronauts, and racing drivers.

Manufacturer: Fisher-Price

Era: 1975-1985

Points of articulation: 5 – check out the cool ball joint at the neck

Accessories: Various adventure playsets and vehicles

Height: 3 ¾ inches

Dare Devil Sport Plane Pilot Photo © Deborah Swain

#9 - G.I. Joe Adventure Team - Sea Adventurer

G.I. Joe Adventure Team Sea Adventurer by puuikibeach, on Flickr
G.I. Joe Adventure Team Sea Adventurer by puuikibeach, on Flickr

This was the classic era of Action Man figures I remember from my childhood. My sister had several of these figures and they were notable because of several cool features which were introduced during these years: the rubbery hands giving a "Kung-Fu Grip", fuzzy, flocked "Life-Like Hair" and beards, and moving "Eagle Eyes". These figures were very popular in the UK under the Palitoy license, where the market could more easily welcome these once military figures in the new guises of "adventurers". Significantly, in the UK we did not associate them with the name "G.I. Joe", which became politically sensitive during the Vietnam years.

Manufacturer: Hasbro

Era: 1970-1976

Points of articulation: Multiple – at least 19

Accessories: Various adventure playsets, outfits and vehicles

Height: 12 inches

G.I. Joe Adventure Team Sea Adventurer Photo © puuikibeach, on Flickr| CC BY 2.0

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Toys & Prices: The World's Best Toys Price Guide (Toys and Prices)

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G.I.Joe - Vintage 1970s TV commercial - Now with life-like hair!

#8 - Evel Knievel - An iconic figure of the 1970s and a must have toy!

Vintage Evel Knievel Photo © Deborah Swain
Vintage Evel Knievel Photo © Deborah Swain

I confess that Evel here isn't technically an action figure. Instead, he's a “bendee” or bendy figure, being made of a rubbery plastic cast over a wire frame. Instead of moving joints he can be bent into shape! It's strangely fitting as the real Evel Knievel entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of bones he broke in his body – 433 - whilst performing stunts on his motorcycle. It was almost impossible to bend this guy out of shape for very long!

Manufacturer: Ideal Toys

Issued: 1972

Points of articulation: None – bendy!

Accessories: Helmet, belt and various playsets and motorcycles and vehicles such as a Stunt Cycle, Chopper, Dragster and Canyon Sky Cycle

Height: 6 inches

Vintage Evel Knievel Photo © Deborah Swain

#7 - Colonel Warrior - Battlestar Galactica action figures by Mattel

Colonel Warrior Photo © Deborah Swain
Colonel Warrior Photo © Deborah Swain

I just love this Battlestar Galactica action figure. He's huge, hollow legged, has only a handful of moving parts, looks nothing like any of the characters in the TV show, and for a late 1970s figure, seems more like something issued in the 1960s. In actual fact, Mattel cut serious corners with this figure, and took a classic from an earlier era - Captain Lazer from the Major Matt Mason line – and gave him a new lick of paint!

In spite of all these negatives, however, he has acquired real vintage charm nowadays, and looks fantastic in a vintage space and sci-fi collection!

Manufacturer: Mattel

Issued: 1979

Points of articulation: 7

Accessories: Waistcoat vest, light-up laser gun powered by batteries in backpack

Height: 12 inches

Colonel Warrior Photo © Deborah Swain

Which is your favourite figure so far?

Which 1970s action figure is best so far?

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#6 - Superman - Mego's World's Greatest Super Heroes

Mego Superman Photo © Deborah Swain
Mego Superman Photo © Deborah Swain

No 1970s action figure round up would be complete without featuring at least one figure from the company which came to dominate the decade - Mego. The World's Greatest Super Heroes, in particular, was an enormously popular series, with Superman here introduced early on in the line, alongside Batman, Robin, and Aquaman. He was so popular, in fact, he stayed in production right through to the end, some ten years later.

If you prefer Marvel Comic heroes over DC Comics, there were also Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk and numerous other figures available. Mego's 8 inch action figures set a bench mark of excellent in the 1970s, and they continue to be highly desirable collectibles today.

Manufacturer: Mego

Issued: 1974

Points of articulation: 14

Accessories: Costume with incorporated shorts, cape and belt, separate boots

Height: 8 inches

Mego Superman Photo © Deborah Swain

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Mego Action Figures Toys (A Schiffer Book for Collectors)
Mego Action Figures Toys (A Schiffer Book for Collectors)

A must have book for any collectors of 1970s action figures, and in particular the wonderful Mego company.

And remember...never judge a book by its cover!

 

#5 - Pulsar: The Ultimate Man of Adventure - Kitsch, but in a good way!

Pulsar Man of Adventure Photo © Deborah Swain
Pulsar Man of Adventure Photo © Deborah Swain

Oh, how I love my Pulsar figure! The Six Million Dollar Man was taking the toy market by storm during the mid 1970s so Mattel knew they had to come up with something clever to compete, and boy did they ever come up with the goods! A huge, 14 inch giant of a man with visible lungs and heart, which would pump a red blood-like gel through his arteries! Sounds gross, I know, but this figure is utterly cool.

Manufacturer: Mattel

Issued: 1977

Points of articulation: 9, plus pumping lungs and heart and veins

Accessories: Two piece costume with Velcro, white boots, two mission program discs to be inserted inside head

Height: 14 inches

Pulsar Man of Adventure Photo © Deborah Swain

Vintage Pulsar Life Systems Center televsion commercial - Pulsar sold separately!

#4 - Fonzie - The likeness to actor Henry Winkler is spot on!

Mego Fonzie Photo © Deborah Swain
Mego Fonzie Photo © Deborah Swain

Heyyyy! Happy Days was one of the first TV shows to take a nostalgic look back at the 1950s and 1960s and had a huge influence on how we, in the rest of the world, imagine those times in the US. Arthur Fonzarelli aka The Fonz was the character we all loved as kids of course, and he was the action figure everyone wanted from Mego's 8 inch line, with Richie, Potsie and Ralph proving less popular.

There's even a cool thumbs up mechanism worked from a switch in his back!

Manufacturer: Mego

Era: 1977-78

Points of articulation: 15, including articulated thumbs!

Accessories: Leather jacket, white sleeveless vest with high collar, blue jeans and black boots.

Height: 8 inches

Mego Fonzie Photo © Deborah Swain

NEW! Retro-style Fonzie, Richie, Potsie and Ralph action figures! - Classic TV Toys continue to build Mego-inspired toys!

Happy Days Series 4 Action Figure Complete Set
Happy Days Series 4 Action Figure Complete Set

These officially licensed action figures are perfect for lovers of retro style figures, but who want an affordable way to collect new figures, rather than invest in the vintage originals.

Like the original Mego figures these stand 8 inches tall and have fabric clothing.

 

#3 - Oscar Goldman - The Six Million Dollar Man's boss!

Oscar Goldman by Kenner Photo © Deborah Swain
Oscar Goldman by Kenner Photo © Deborah Swain

A middle-aged guy in a suit? What on earth is he doing here? Strange, but true, yet Oscar Goldman is a highly collectible action figure today. He was, as you'll remember if you were a child of the 1970s, the Six Million Dollar Man's boss. He was the man who issued the Bionic Man Steve Austin's orders, after all, so hugely necessary for kids wanting to recreate scenes from the TV show.

The likeness to actor Richard Anderson is very good. A must have 1970s item!

Manufacturer: Kenner

Date stamp: 1977

Points of articulation: 14

Accessories: Exploding briefcase

Height: 12 inches

Oscar Goldman by Kenner Photo © Deborah Swain

Vintage Oscar Goldman television commercial - Hey! Maskatron has the briefcase!

#2 - Muhammad Ali - Floats like a butterfly...

Mego Muhammad Ali Photo © Deborah Swain
Mego Muhammad Ali Photo © Deborah Swain

The Greatest! I had wanted one of these Mego figures for years and finally tracked on down recently in great condition. Ali was a sporting icon of the 1970s and Mego did him proud with this . This is a heavy, chunky figure fitting for a Heavyweight Word Boxing Champion.

This is an exquisite action figure and a must-have item for any sports collection. Possibly the finest Ali figure ever made!

Manufacturer: Mego

Date stamp: 1975

Points of articulation: 13, plus power punch Ali Trigger Mechanism

Accessories: Everlast boxing gloves, white boots, Everlast belt, sparring helmet, shorts, robe

Height: 9 inches

Mego Muhammad Ali Photo © Deborah Swain

#1 - Darth Vader - If you collect Star Wars action figures, you simply have to have him!

Vintage Darth Vader Photo © Deborah Swain
Vintage Darth Vader Photo © Deborah Swain

Who could have imagined when Kenner hit upon the idea of creating 3 ¾ inch action figures for its tie-in merchandising for the original Star Wars movie trilogy that they would be creating an entire sub-genre of collectibles that continue to be highly sought after decades after the first film's release in 1977.

From 1978 to 1985 Kenner created more that 100 action figures in the line – all lovingly reproducing the innumerable characters that people the Star Wars Universe from the smallest alien part with a nano-second of screen time to this guy, one of the greatest movie villains of all time – Darth Vader.

Manufacturer: Kenner

Issued: 1978

Points of articulation: 5

Accessories: Vinyl cape, single telescoping lightsaber with tip

Height: 4 inches (he's slightly taller than the other figures)

Vintage Darth Vader Photo © Deborah Swain

Star Wars: The Ultimate Action Figure Collection - You'll never need another book about Star wars action figures!

Star Wars: The Ultimate Action Figure Collection
Star Wars: The Ultimate Action Figure Collection

My sister gave me this book for Christmas last year. What an awesome gift - I couldn't recommend it more highly! Hands down the best, most comprehensive guide out there to collecting Star Wars action figures

 

Do you agree with my top 5?

Which are your favourites?

See results

Do you collect action figures? Please leave a comment before you go!

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    • amandascloset0 profile image

      amandascloset0 4 years ago

      Nice lens! i love looking at old toys from 70's and 80's. Wonder what happened to all of mine.. haha

    • Dusty2 LM profile image

      Dusty2 LM 4 years ago

      Very nice lens. Even though these were a little past my time I can remember my younger brother and nephew having a lot of these action figures. You have chosen a good selection of action figures to share. Thanks for stopping by my Best Yo-Yos, Tricks and Tips for All Yo-Yoers lens and giving it a "thumbs up". I appreciate it, Have a Great Day!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      great lens.

    • profile image

      bookguy1960 4 years ago

      Thanks for reminding me about these action figures! the Oscar Goldman figure was one that I often saw on the shelf in the store, but the Steve Austin figure was the more popular one. My brother and I did not pay much attention to this at the time, but as collectors we are paying a lot more attention now! Thanks again,

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 4 years ago from USA

      I remember many of these, but some I didn't even know existed. Great lens!

    • TeresaM LM profile image

      TeresaM LM 4 years ago

      What a blast from the past! Great lens down memory lane.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      One of my daughters loved them and played with our neighbor's son all the time. We don't collect anything, but they are fun to see again.

    • mrdata profile image

      mrdata 4 years ago

      Yes! I have some action figures and my nephew is a big collector... Thanks for sharing this interesting lens and congrats for your LOTD!

    • wulfguard profile image

      wulfguard 4 years ago

      I am a huge collector of this stuff, superman, star trek, the lone ranger was a big hit back then too! great memories, great lens!

    • Two Crafty Paws profile image

      Two Crafty Paws 4 years ago

      OMG you have all of these? Being a bit envious here =)! I am not a collector, I would say I am more of an admirer. I do have some of the Star Wars & Star Trek action figures and I would sure love a Battlestar Galactica one.

      I can't believe how realistic Fonzie is, you can just hear him say Aaaeeyyyy!

    • profile image

      sybil watson 4 years ago

      My Barbie dolls always preferred to play with GI Joe instead of Ken, except for Malibu Ken, who was really cute. What a fun lens - I enjoyed the memories!

    • profile image

      DebW07 4 years ago

      No, I don't collect action figures but they are sure fun to look at. Nice lens.

    • wildbluefrontier profile image

      Nathan M 4 years ago from Tucson

      Well I had some of the marvel and D.C. dol...umm I mean action figures. Evel Knievel was everywhere in the mid 70's. You couldn't get away from hearing about him.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      yes i got a nice collection of action figures and actually it is also on a lens

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 4 years ago from US

      No, I don't but I do love the Happy Days action figures up there! Too cool!

    • jamesdesalvo lm profile image

      jamesdesalvo lm 4 years ago

      I actually had most of these! My brother still has the Evel Kneival figure somewhere in his house. I still can't believe that I got rid of most of my stuff when I was in college. I love the Oscar Goldman figure. My brother had the Steve Austin and I had to be Oscar Goldman.

      Thanks for the memories!

    • PaigSr profile image

      PaigSr 4 years ago from State of Confussion

      I still have a few that my kids have not found yet.