Regardless of anything else, it’s hard to deny 2016 was a great year for toys. Long running toy lines hit their stride, taking their output to a whole new level, while brand new toy lines made major waves with kids and collectors alike. The end result made for the most diverse and inclusive offerings of toys on the market, for collectors and kids alike, and these are the very best according to us:
10.) Predators (NECA)
I honestly didn’t think NECA’s long-running Predators line would make the list this year. 2016 saw only three waves of figures, along with a few deluxe one-offs released, and the lion’s share of these were based on characters from the truly awful Aliens vs Predator movie. But NECA proved that sometimes you CAN polish a turd, releasing their most articulated, most detailed, and best-designed Predator toys to date.
A life-long AvP hater like me still bought both waves of figures based on that movie for their craftsmanship alone, and– as if it were some karmic reward– really enjoyed cool figures like the Concrete Jungle and Kenner-inspired Clan Leader Predators released later on, which employ the same phenomenal tooling from the AvP figures.
Factoring in the best, most original wave of Kenner tribute Predators yet, and it’s hard to deny NECA’s longest running toy line once again earns its place as one of the best toy lines of 2016, despite the questionable source material they drew from.
9.) Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. (Boss Fight Studio)
2016 also saw the debut of Boss Fight Studio’s first original concept toy line, and the Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. made quite an impression. Based on characters from Greek mythology (as well as some all-new concepts introduced by Boss Fight), the H.A.C.K.S. were far and away the best 3.75″ action figures released this year.
With great character designs, all new, highly detailed and incredibly detailed sculpting, and an intriguing backstory– combining history, mythology, and entirely original concepts– Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. introduced us to an entirely unique new world. And Boss Fight’s modular approach to the figure design allows for maximum customization of each figure, only adding to the intriguing depths of this exciting new property.
8.) The Muppets (Diamond Select)
Diamond Select had some great new offerings this year, but their Muppets Select line was the best, far and away. From sculpt to scale, these great figures did a perfect job of capturing Jim Henson’s greatest creations at their most iconic, complete with loads of articulation, great paint apps, and a range of accessories based on their most memorable appearances.
Adding to this, most figures were packed with smaller, sidekick characters, which did a great job of expanding this toy universe quickly. Palisades’ Muppets from the early 2000’s was considered by many to be THE definitive Muppets toy line… but the accessories and design work by Diamond Select elevates these new figures to a whole new level.
7.) Transformers: Titans Return (Hasbro)
Every year, Hasbro introduces a new concept to their long-running Transformers Generations series, and a year ago, I assumed whatever concept 2016 would bring would pale in comparison to the tactile fun of 2015’s build-focused Combiner Wars. But Hasbro surprised me with the Titans Return collection, which brought back the long-dormant Headmasters theme alongside some excitingly obscure character choices (
Doublecross Twinferno, anyone?) and brand new versions of fan favorites like Soundwave, Blaster, and Hot Rod.
These new versions of core characters was something 2015’s lineup lacked, and Titans Return more than made up for. Topping it off, this year’s collection also saw an incredible new version of Fortress Maximus, a colossal figure so impressive it alone could rival last year’s Devastator.
6.) TMNT: The Arcade Game (NECA)
I don’t know what type of magic NECA trades in, but we could all benefit from more of it in the toy aisle. Over the past few years, NECA has managed to release some incredible 7″ DC action figures in limited release, and 2016 saw them tackle another property in the same, under the radar fashion.
It was a completely unexpected surprise when NECA announced they were bringing not one but TWO box sets of figures based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game to San Diego Comic Con. The Foot Clan set made sense, as The Shredder and his multi-colored Foot Ninjas were all repaints of the near-forgotten Mirage Foot Clan prototypes canceled years earlier. But their new repaints looked great, with a pixellated deco that fit in perfectly alongside NECA’s other retro video game toys.
But it was the all new Ninja Turtles figures that truly earned this collection a spot among the best of the year. The sculpt perfectly captures the arcade game/ animated aesthetic of the Turtles, and the articulation, facial expression, and accessories included with each figure is perfect. These figures might be the most poseable Turtles released at this point in history, and with their game-inspired deco, they are also certainly among the most unique.
5.) Star Wars: The Black Series (Hasbro)
As we settled into Year Two of the Disney era, Star Wars became a sort of weird best in terms of toys. The early Spring saw several follow-up waves of toys in the aftermath of The Force Awakens (including quite a few new Rey toys following 2015’s #WheresRey controversy). But then the line was largely stagnant until the end of September, when the Rogue One themed merchandise made its debut. That sort of stop-and-go approach could theoretically work in a landscape which did not include multiple other licensors releasing figures in the same scale, but that’s not where we’re at in 2016. MAFEX, FiguArts, Kotobukiya, and more companies are dropping Star Wars toys concurrently, so a six-month absence of new product by Hasbro hurt the Black Series brand, there’s no getting around it.
That being said, what we did see from Hasbro in the Spring and again this Fall was an assortment of very well done toys, drawing from a multitude of sources including the Original Trilogy, Rebels, The Force Awakens, and– of course– Rogue One. So yes, 2016 was a sort of problematic year logistically for Hasbro’s team. But on the design side, amazing figures from Han Solo, to Director Krennic, to Asoka Tano and Sabine Wren from Rebels proved what releases we did see from Hasbro in the 6″ scale were exceptional.
4.) Aliens (NECA)
The Aliens collection from NECA has been one of the best toy lines of all time, and where they took the line in 2016 guarantees them a spot amongst the best of the best, once again. Maybe it’s simply a virtue of being a younger toy line, but NECA’s Aliens were able to draw from the greatest of source materials this year in a way their Predators counterparts could not. But 2016 saw the release of the first Kenner tribute Aliens with the Gorilla, the Mantis, and the Queen Face Hugger, as well as the Kenner tribute Ripley… and movie style figures of Newt, Pvt. Frost, and Pvt. Vasquez.
On top of this, NECA also released amazing toys based on the (dodgy) character designs from AvP, fun, exclusive one off’s like the glow-in-the-dark Alien Warrior and more surprise variants within this great toy line.
3.) The One: 12 Collective (Mezco Toyz)
Few toy lines were more ambitious in 2016 than Mezco Toyz’s One: 12 Collective. Inspired by the positive feedback to their Dark Knight Returns and Judge Dredd figures from 2015, Mezco expanded their high end 6″ scale action figure series in a big way in 2016. The result was an impressive assortment of highly detailed, impeccably designed, premium action figures, starting with the Mutant Leader from The Dark Knight Rises, to Kirk, Spock, and Sulu from Star Trek, to the first releases in the Marvel Comics collection with Captain America.
Considering their highly articulated base bodies, the variety of materials and tailoring used to replicate the perfect approach to their costuming, and a spot-on attention to actor and character portraits, The One: 12 Collective has undeniably established itself among the best toy lines of 2016.
2.) DC Super Hero Girls (Mattel)
Based on concept alone, Mattel would be the big winners of 2016, hands down, thanks to their focus on social awareness in relation to their toy lines. While Hasbro continued to approach the debate of gender distinction in relation to toys subtly, quietly leaking more female characters into their Star Wars and Marvel toy lines throughout the year, Mattel opted for a more overt approach, spotlighting female characters exclusively in toy lines such as Ghostbusters and DC Super Hero Girls.
I admire that enthusiasm, and it seems to have worked well, especially in terms of the Super Hero Girls. Mattel’s multi-platform approach to this line– which saw the release of 6″ action figures and 12″ fabric-clothed dolls (both seemingly successful offshoots of the property)– was a huge success. The Super Hero Girls started as a Target exclusive during their test run in the Spring, but initial sales proved this line was sustainable not only at specialty stores like Toys R Us, but also at consumer storefronts nationwide, from Target, to Walmart, to Walgreens, to your local grocery store.
We haven’t seen this level of mainstream penetration in a toy line since Funko’s Pop craze first began, and I think most of that can be credited back to Mattel’s groundbreaking, inclusive approach to marketing this toy line. If that doesn’t earn them a premiere spot on this list, I don’t know what would.
1.) Marvel Legends (Hasbro)
Marvel Legends has been going strong for over a decade, but 2016 saw Hasbro take this toy line to a whole new level. With a whopping 86 figures released in 2016, this toy line dominated the retail aisle, from mass market stores to specialty retailers. The Build-A-Figure formula was never stronger, and the relatively even case packouts ensured comparatively few figures stuck around on their own for long.
2016 saw the release of a diverse range of newly sculpted figures based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, along with new variants of comic book style A-listers, and some total left-field choices (I mean, can you believe we saw Dreadknight, Mockingbird, Silvermane, Whirlwind, Nuke, Nico Minoru, and two versions of The Enchantress in a single year???).
And rather than groan-inducing repacks, most of the core heroes Hasbro included in this line were fantastic, all new figures. The movie style Iron-Man Mk 46 featured the best cinematic sculpt yet for Tony Stark, the new Iron Fist was beyond badass with his flaming fists and alternate bandaged hands, and even the latest Captain America variant shook things up with a throwing effect accessory that totally enhanced his shield. New tooling, new decos, new accessories… Marvel Legends served as a textbook of how to re-release characters without burning collectors all throughout 2016.
Factoring in the generous range of all new characters and a big expansion to the cinematic universe, and it’s no wonder Marvel Legends reigned supreme as the best toy line of the year… and the one to beat for 2017!