To Collectors, the Difference Matters

Look, we know how hard it can be to explain to your friends or family that your room full of incredible action figures aren’t toys. It sucks that a lot of people don’t see the difference, and sometimes even we struggle to put a hard line where one stops and the other begins. However, here at Gemr we have a lot of experience looking at collectibles.

We’re here to help you articulate those differences to others. If nothing else, you can link them to this article and we’ll do our best to make them understand why you get frustrated when they call your collection “toys.” Now let’s get into the nitty gritty before someone starts accusing us of splitting hairs.

Action Figures

So what makes an action figure? Let’s start with the basics. Action figures must have multiple points of articulation (note the “action” in the name). Toys do not always have this, and that makes a huge difference in possibility and expression. Top end action figures will have 25+ points of articulation, meaning they can be moved and posed with almost human-like dexterity. Sure, a cheap Superman toy can do the splits, but it can’t land in a crouch or strike poses that exactly match the movie.

Action figures also come with accessories. Not purses and hats — this isn’t Barbie (she’s a fashion doll and in a category all her own). With an action figure, you get multiple hands, heads with different facial expressions, and often weapons, too. Toys might come with one or two pieces, but no real extras. You might get a gun or a saber if you’re lucky. Often times, weapons won’t even come out of the toy’s hand. You just don’t see that in high quality action figures.

Next, you have facial likeness. When it comes to an action figure, if you buy an Iron Man based on the MCU, you are getting an Iron Man that looks like Robert Downey Jr. when the mask comes off — the better the figure, the better the likeness. At this point, if your action figure detractor says “who cares?” it’s time to hit them with the biggest point:

Action figures can be an investment. If you look historically, most toys don’t appreciate much, but the few that do could earn you a new car. Early action figures were basically the same as toys, but things like the Vinyl Caped Jawa (we can’t stop talking about this guy) can now be worth more than $15,000. Old Jurassic Park toys can be worth up to $12,000 if they’re still in the box. So sure, there might be some cool things on your shelves, but it’s what’s in the boxes that matter. Those are an investment in future funds. One day they might be worth thousands, and that’s something no one can take from you.

Toy Figures

So that’s what makes an action figure. It’s quite a lot, but what makes a toy a toy then? Now that we know what a toy isn’t, it’s pretty easy to figure out what it is. The first thing to know: if you would buy it for a kid’s fifth birthday, its a toy. It’s really rare that people give children actual action figures. There is simply too much to choke on (and we all know they can’t keep those tiny hands out of their mouths). There are also too many parts to lose.

And speaking of missing parts, toys will usually have minimal accessories, to reduce choking hazards and potential loss (people don’t like paying for things that are instantly lost). This also coincides with our next point: because toys are usually designed for kids, not collectors, their paint jobs are usually terrible. You’re lucky if the colors stay in the lines, or correctly depict the armor.

Many times toys use stylized designs to avoid having to pay for the rights to a use an actors face. If it’s a depiction of Wonder Woman and not Gal Gadot, they only have to pay for the rights to Wonder Woman. This keeps costs down, but means you end up with funky looking heroes or anime figures that look just enough like the character to make you know who they are supposed to be.

The final thing that sets these guys apart? They aren’t meant to be displayed. Toys are meant to be thrown into a toy box and yanked out at a moment’s notice. An action figure comes with a stand and is meant to be posed on a shelf for people to enjoy looking at it. The purpose of each is very different. Toys will also hold little value over time. Most of them are so mass produced that there will never be any value to having them.

Action and Toy Figures… What’s the Takeaway?

To a collector (people like us), these things are important. A toy isn’t something we want to put proudly on our shelves; that’s the place for an action figure. Shelf space is super limited, so it’s better to only keep the best of the best. Any new figure might make you take another down, and that can be a painful process. The display can be half the battle. A toy can be collectible, but they aren’t in the same class as action figures.

If you know a collector and you want to get them a gift, we recommend you ask them what lines they prefer. Some collectors only collect Hot Toys, which might be out of your budget (but they are stunning). Some collectors prefer slightly cheaper lines like Marvel Legends or the Star Wars Black Series. Asking this simple question can save a lot of awkwardness later, and will show them how much you care!

When it comes to the toy vs. action figure debate, some people blur the lines between the two, and sometimes it’s downright hard to differentiate. The difference between action and toy figures is, when it comes right down to it, a difference of perception. Many people look at all collectibles as being toys, but we think that perception is wrong. Those of us with ever-growing walls of amazing items will keep bringing up these points. But we hope we have cleared up at least some of the confusion!

Written by Gemr
Gemr is the leading platform for collectors to discover, display, discuss, and buy & sell collectibles. Sometimes our team gets chummy and decides to write a blog together. Or maybe someone wants to keep their identity a secret. Pick which option you like best and we'll just say that's correct.