Doc Thomas Probes > Action Figure Scales

Like many contemporary collectors, the action figures that got me into this glorious hobby were the late-90’s McFarlane Toys offerings: Movie Maniacs, Sleepy Hollow, Austin Powers and everything in-between. With the combination of amazing sculpting and detailed paint, Todd McFarlane’s company had upped the game for everyone. But for me, the best thing McFarlane Toys offered was the chance to have my own miniature world of characters I knew and loved, in my own little universe, doing whatever I want.

Along with sculpt, paint and (occasionally) articulation, the other thing that McFarlane upped was the scale of their action figures. In the 1980s and ’90s the vast majority of action figures were either the 3¾”-5″ tall. McFarlane Toys bumped the scale up to 6″, with its appealing proportion of one real-world foot=one toy inch, separating themselves from products aimed at children while allowing for more realistic sculpting.

Long before Ronny Yu could match the pair I could have my very own Freddy vs. Jason melee battle. Michael Myers and the Headless Horseman could hang with Marv from Sin City, while the Fembot looked on. Leatherface could carve up Austin Powers, and so on so on. With McFarlane starting the trend, other companies followed suit, and the market flourished. When McFarlane lost interest in articulated pop culture properties to focus on sports statues, NECA picked up the pieces and launched their own Cult Classics and Player Select lines to cover movies and video games. What McFarlane started was phenomenal for collectors, leading into a golden age for action figures that still thrives.

NECA has  moved that scale up to about 7″, while Mattel’s DCUC and MOTUC lines hover around 6″ and 7″, respectively. Then there’s the high end market, the 12″ figures designed by the likes of Sideshow and Hot Toys, often featuring rooted hair and clothe clothing instead of the smaller-scale sculpted alternatives. Design and scale aside, the major thing separating the 6-7″ scale from the 12″ scale is the price – whereas the average 6-7″ action figure is about $15, the 12″ figures are in the hundreds.

Most collectors have a preference for scale, and I’m no different: in my own personal universe where I am God, I like having most all of my figures in the 6-7″ scale, so I can have all those characters I love together, approximately in scale with each other to take part in various hijinks. For me, 1/12 scale is the sweet spot: 6″ figures can feature exceptionally accurate sculpting as well as having lots of articulation and playability whilst being affordable enough not to break the bank.

(Scale comparison pic by Newton Gimmick)

Until recently, I’d never been a fan of 3¾” action figures.  I always found 3¾” toys lacking in both sculpting and articulation–prior to the Hasbro Star Wars lines of the past decade. A few notable exceptions aside, the vast majority of  3¾” action figures look nothing like the characters they’re supposed to be, especially human characters; it’s only been recently that better sculpters have applied their skills to make Han Solo look like Han Solo, and even then your mileage may vary.

Throw in the ever-growing prices – often equal to the price of a much bigger much better 6″ figure – and there’s no competition. The lack of 1/12″ Star Wars toys frustrated me to no end, and I swore upon Lucas’s grave I would never buy one of his tiny overpriced toys.

That is, until Hasbro came along with their “scale” Millenium Falcon to make me eat my hat.

When I saw the ludicrous table-sized monster in the flesh I knew it had to be mine. Although I’m dubious about the Falcon being 100% scale-accurate, the sheer size and joy of having, holding and playing with the massive thing, moving Chewie around inside it, it’s just wonderful. From there, I had to have a Luke, Obi-Wan, R2D2 and gay robot to hang out inside it. Later, I encountered the poorly-received 3¾” scale Star Trek toys from the JJ Abrams reboot,* marked down to a $1. And I found myself with the crew of the Enterprise bumming around in the Millenium Falcon. As I had Captain James T. Kirk punch Han Solo in the face in his own spacecraft, I could feel nerds the world over suddenly raising their heads and crying in unison. They did not know why they were crying. But they were.

After that, I found the Hunter-Killer on sale from the awful Terminator Salvation. Screw the crappy film, a Hunter-Killer is awesome. Next, the Star Trek bridge for pennies, so the crew could hang out when they weren’t wrecking the time-space continuum beating up characters from another franchise – at least not while I had my DC Infinite Universe Batman ($1.50 on sale) doing the deed! And then I had to get Jabba’s Rancor, the amazing gigantic Target exclusive. And the Lars Homestead Diorama. And the hilarious vagina dentata Rancor Pit. Yes, I was addicted.

I was addicted to 3¾” scale.

And for good reason, I realized: there are definite benefits to the smaller scale. The fact that the toys are nearly half the size of 1/12 scale toys means that in addition to the characters themselves, there is the opportunity for larger dioramas and sets that don’t take up entire bookshelves or leave you with an enormous debt. So, while I might still cry late at night about the lack of 1/12 Star Wars toys, I still rest comfortably in the skin of my enemies knowing I own my own portion of the Star Wars world – one where Batman can sucker-punch Luke Skywalker in his whiny face after dispatching his family at the homestead.

There are also a select group of action figures that frustratingly fall just outside of both the 6-7″ scale and the 3¾” scale, including McFarlane Toys otherwise-superb Halo action figures, and the recent Doctor Who figures by Character Options. If you’re as anal as I am, you might find it hard to wrap your head around owning these, despite their great sculpting and articulation, simply because they don’t fit in with your other toys (or barely, anyway). But, if you’re like me, you might also get the chance to buy them dirt cheap by the caseload, and thus get them anyway.

Whatever scale you collect, embrace it. Delight in the fact that you can own well-sculpted, lovingly-detailed plastic versions of the characters you love, and have them in your own house, like a captive hitchhiker forced to do your bidding. This is a great hobby to have. Or, at least better than dropping tons of money on crack cocaine.


* Collectors were broadly disappointed with these figures, and mostly because of the sculpting, but are they that much worse than the majority of Hasbro’s Star Wars figures? Really? Let’s be honest with ourselves here.


3 3/4″ Toy Story 3 Twitch RARE HTF (sigh…)


Pic of the Day


  1. yeah, and I just want Billie Piper.

  2. Wes

    You found Doctor Who figures dirt cheap by the caseload? I want Doctor Who figures dirt cheap by the caseload! And if you're in the UK (or anywhere else in Europe that gets CO merch, I guess), CO makes several other figure lines in scale with the Who figures that'll allow you to expand your Whoniverse. But you know this already!

    Anyway, cool article — I enjoyed reading it. 🙂

  3. Thomas B


    it is a sarlac pit not rancor pit…..

    sorry…had to nerd out a bit there

  4. Testify, Doc, testify. I'm primarily a 6-7 inch fan, but the winds are blowing 3 3/4.

  5. Motorthing

    3.75 has been my primary focus/love since the Micronauts of the 70's – Star Wars fit right in to that so that has been that.

    ML and DCUC may well be the definitive Supehero lines in the 6/7" scale and we will porbably never get anything as good in the smaller size (DCIH I'm looking at you here) but MU is getting there and the current Iron Man lines are just AWESOME….so it's probably a good job that my primary aesthetic fits right in with the economy's efforts to downsize everything.

    And the Falcon is kind of the clincher in any argument about scale I have – just the best toy ever made.

  6. RageTreb

    Only Star Wars figures are 3 3/4" figures. Most of the other figures claimed to be in that scale are in reality 4".

  7. I have DC Universe Classics, Marvel Universe, G.I. Joes and Transformers and just say they are from alternate universes.

  8. Yes! I couldn't agree more. Several years ago I had to move and make a choice about my toy collecting: keep with the 6 inch scale but have no space for them or switch to a smaller scale so I could display them.

    So I switch scales, but I didn't use 3 3/4ths I went to the 2 inch for the Galactic Heroes, Super Hero Squad, Action League and the like.

    I ended up selling most of 6 inch stuff and just converted it all to the tiny Heroes-style figures. Now I can have displays on my desk at work that are Batman, Leonardo, Hellboy and Indiana Jones facing off against Doctor Doom, Boba Fett, Cobra Commander and Megatron. It makes the 6 year old in me so excited to be able to see these fights happen in a coherent scale!

    I pretty much made this same rant just a few days ago when reviewing the Hellboy BPRD Buddies:

  9. Esbat

    Actually I find that the Halo 3 figures are in near perfect scale with other 3 and 3/4 inch lines. My Oni Operative Dare figure is as tall as most of my DCIH figures. And as Spartans are supposed to be taller than the average human without armor I'm sure the armor adds that extra foot or so of height.

  10. The other factor you are missing is the economy of the time. Yhe 12" scale of GI Joe in the 60s became 8" WGSH of the early 70s which gave way to the 3.75" scale due to rising costs of plastic. As the 80s boomed so did scale, first to 5", then to 6-7". That boom is ending and production costs are rising, therefore scale is going down again. 3.75" will the primary scale for most new lines for, my guess, the next three years.

  11. PresidentJuggernaut

    "* Collectors were broadly disappointed with these figures, and mostly because of the sculpting, but are they that much worse than the majority of Hasbro’s Star Wars figures? Really? Let’s be honest with ourselves here."

    Um… yes. Yes they are that much worse. Have you seen a recent Star Wars figure? You should get one of each line and hold them next to each other. Hasbro has done a fantastic job in the 3 3/4" scale for the most part.

  12. I picked up the Hunter Killer on clearance about a week ago. It's far from perfect, but it's still damn cool.

    Living in a tiny NY apartment means I had to skip the Falcon. Pity, because it certainly looks amazing. But when I say there's no room, I'm neither exaggerating or speaking figuratively: there is actually no unoccupied space in this apartment where I could conceivably fit that thing.

    The 3.75 inch scale is ultimately vehicle based and therefore, ironically, requires more space. As a result, I'm mainly sticking with the 6 – 7 inch scale, with the notable exception of my collection of 4" JLU figures.

  13. americanhyena

    I have to admit, while I don't collect 3¾” figures, I do think it's pretty damn neat that so many companies are making figures in that universal scale. I remember being insanely giddy when I realized Legendary Comic Book Heroes and Marvel Legends were all in scale with each other.

    (Although I wish Hasbro had kept making Marvel Legends in regular unison with Marvel Universe, instead of almost totally sacrificing them in favor of the smaller figures).

    I think the main reason I've never been able to get into 3¾” as an adult is that to truly get a decent display out of them you've got to go the full blown diorama route because they're so small. That's the problem I've run into with minimates. I love them to death but they're so small that they look like clutter on the shelf.

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