Poe’s Point > Articulation Revisited

L-R: Kenner, Figma, NECA, McFarlane

L-R: Kenner, Figma, NECA, McFarlane

Over the years, I’ve been engaged in a few debates (often on other websites) about the importance of articulation on toys (here’s one, and here’s another). Personally, I’ve always cared about articulation. As a kid, a figure that had extra articulation – hinged knees, ball-jointed shoulders – was always something I considered a great bonus. However, I also hated action features and never understood those kids who would just bash figures into each other to make them “fight,” so I’ll admit I may not have been representative of how the majority of children approach playing with action figures.


Recently, I asked a friend of mine who had a 5-year-old son to ask him and anyone else she wanted to ask what their opinions were on articulation on action figures.

She didn’t have much luck with her son, but the adults – few, if any of whom were current action figure collectors – had some intriguing responses.

I’ve asked my son on maybe three different occasions about articulation, but stunningly most of what I’ve learned is that it’s a lot harder to interview a six-year-old than an adult. He says that the movement is cool, but I’m not sure how much he actually feels the difference. See the Brit below – my son might just not be old enough to appreciate what good articulation can do.

On the other hand, I talked to a lot of grown ups, and almost nobody (granted, I’m in science) thought I was crazy for asking. About half knew what I was getting at quickly, and responded with an opinion that was clearly not spur of the moment. I’ve got ideas on how it might break down along gender lines, toy type, and age.

In the meantime, interesting data on the adults:

Female, age 22 (undergraduate, medical science): Collected horses as a kid. Detail important, not poseability – but detail was very important and appreciated. She played with the horses in scenes/stories, but the realism took precedence over the movement. Maybe something to do with the fact that it would be a lot harder and more annoying to move four legs at a time? Or that the only thing horses do really is run, and if they’re all posed in action moves, you don’t need to have articulation to express that movement because it’s already there?

Her boyfriend, age 24 (engineer): articulation was way cooler, as were assembly options (Gundam robots were what he collected).

Male, age 37: said that extra articulation was added while he was a kid, and that was awesome. Elbows that could fold added a pivot, and that definitely made the toys cooler.

Male, age 34 (scientist): said that he didn’t collect action figures, but when I explained more he said he thinks part of the reason why he didn’t is because there wasn’t enough articulation. It was a “revelation about my own youth” to discover that this was probably the source of his love for Transformers – total articulation.

Male, age 23 (medical equipment salesperson): said that articulation only mattered if it meant the figure could do something with it. So if it was a Jedi, he’d want to be able to move the arm to swing it around.

Male, age 22 (technician): said almost the same thing – articulation didn’t matter unless it made the figure hold a gun.

Male, age 36, (scientist, British): said that arms moving/legs moving was good, elbows were a bonus. His desire for articulation changed with his age. For him, the back story mattered more than articulation, but also mattered alongside the articulation. So for example, he’d want to make Action Man (G.I. Joe equivalent) slide down a rope strung between two branches, and for that it you needed the movement to make that happen. But he’d choose Action Man with less articulation over some other hyper-articulated Batman that didn’t look like his vision of what Batman should look like. (Adam West being the natural example of Not-Batman).

Female, age 25: said that she mostly had Barbie, and that articulation was good to have, but that it was a lot better in GI Joe (and Ken dolls, interestingly) than in Barbie. She also said it depended on the back story of the character, interestingly – if it was Model Barbie, she wouldn’t expect or need much movement, but Superhero Barbie and Stuntwoman Barbie had better have some.

Female, age 38 (me): I didn’t have action figures (for which I am still sad, because how could I not overcome that particular sexism? I just thought I couldn’t have them because I was a girl), but found the lack of articulation in Barbies frustrating. I really loved the idea of the one with a soft exterior/wired interior that could ‘pose,’ but it ultimately proved frustrating when it became evident that the posing made it harder to work with, not easier. There was extremely limited movement and a lot of bounce-back to rest; the toes were also molded of the same rubber, so it made the feet too squishy and weird and hard to get into shoes; since the bodies weren’t forced into any sort of balance, it made them harder to work with so they’d stay put, dammit.

Another person I interviewed (who didn’t play with action figures forty years ago in Soviet Russia, so couldn’t really care about articulation) mentioned that it was slightly cooler when Hot Wheels had doors that opened, but it didn’t impact racing much. For me though, I would play with those little doors and hoods that opened, and they were inevitably the cars I loved the most.


Toy Aisle Trolls > Head-I


Attack of the Death Trooper (Star Wars Black Zombie Sandtrooper Custom by Joe Amaro)


  1. Enigma_2099

    Doesn't lack of articulation undermine the meaning of the phrase "action figure?"

  2. Imagination should not be limited by articulation. I never wondered why He-Man couldn't hold aloft his magic sword like in the cartoon. As an adult, when the 200x MOTU figures came out I didn't quite understand why people nitpicked about articulation. Until then I had never held a figure with Marvel Legends style articulation, so I didn't have much else to base it on. Then once I got into DCUC and MOTUC and went back to the 200x figures did I feel some disappointment they were so horribly pre-posed and underarticulated.

    To me it's about 60/40 for sculpt and articulation, with sculpt winning as the most important.

  3. Enigma_2099

    Let me put my thoughts in you…

    When figures start reaching the $18-20 range and beyond, and I'm speaking for myself, YOU D*** RIGHT ARTICULATION IS IMPORTANT! IF IT WASN'T, I WOULDN'T PAY FOR AN $18-20+ FIGURE!!!

  4. The_Fun_has_been_Doubled

    A figure must be able to at least recreate the key poses from the comic/cartoon/videogame/movie it came from. I'm OK with Doctor Doom having Less Articulation than Spider-Man, but I'm not OK with a filmation King Randor and Queen Marlena that CANNOT SIT DOWN…

    • ridureyu

      That's the ethos behind a lot of Japanese figures with "creative" (i.e. crazy) articulation. They make it so you can reproduce a few poses, no matter what.

    • I see where you're coming from on the Randor/Marlena not being able to sit down. But to be fair to the 4H, they've mentioned that they don't like soft goods in MOTU from the start, so it was really no surprise that the royals wouldn't be able to sit.

      Plus, there isn't really a throne for either of them to sit on anyway. If there was an Eternia Palace diorama, or something similar, then there'd be no excuse.

      And what would be the solution to the problem, if they were to sit? Things like Sorceress' wings were not exactly solved in a way fans were happy with. I couldn't see them coming up with something everyone would be happy with.

      I completely agree, they should be able to sit- but I understand why they don't.

    • The_Fun_has_been_Doubled

      I detest the soft goods as well. I just used them as the most dramatic examples. (Sorceress gets too much flak cause of her Shoulders/wings)

    • See I love the soft goods. When done well, they're great. When done bad, they're funny. I like both ways for different reasons. And I totally agree with Sorceress- people are a little too obsessive/compulsive when it comes to the engineering (and I think there's a lot of people who have had "grudges" with Terry/Ruben from Mattel design.)- I've never heard a better solution since the figure came out.

  5. That's a lot of scientists.

  6. My metric for good articulation has always been if I can get the figure into Street Fighter poses or not.

  7. Mark

    I like articulation in figures as long as it does not affect the sculpt/look of the figure. Modern G.I. Joes and various Toybiz Marvel Legends for example are what I would consider good sculpts ruined by too much articulation. All figures should have (at the very least) the 5 basic points of articulation, without them I have no interest (NECA Conan and Terminator).

  8. It really varies for me. I'm fine with unarticulated figures and even some that are barely-articulated, but when something starts having usable joints, I'd rather it goes all the way. Knees and elbows are a must for me just for poses like sitting… but as we've all seen, I'm happy with nerd hummels, too.

  9. I'm in the middle. I just got the new Carrie figures in the mail and saw that they have little to no articulation whatsoever. At first I was surprised but they have a great sculpt, excellent paint, and they stand nicely. Honestly, I'll be photographing these and putting them on display- I don't feel the need for much else here. I was talking to a friend who got them as well and he actually prefers figures that are more statuesque as they tned to stay standing better, are less prone to breakage, and typically look better on display.

    It depends on the line and the property. If the figures are solidly built and very durable like MOTUC, G.I.Joe, or StarWars black, articulate them all out. Most of the time with some NECA stuff, I appreciate the artiuclation (Dutch, Rocky) while other lines I'd be completely ok with the traditional Nerd Hummel pieces.

  10. Mark

    When I was a kid, I always wanted more articulation in my dinosaur figures. I remember snapping the Pterodactyl's head off while trying to get it into "flying" and "resting" poses when it had no articulation.
    When I got older, I loved Bionicle partly because it was customizable and partly because the ball-joint system allowed for AMAZING articulation.

  11. Zupahman

    Whe i was a kid, I'd always wondered why did they make a he-man who couldn't do 'by the power of Grayskull' or 'i have thepower' Poses.
    Posability was always paramount. that si why i loved my Joes who could hold their guns with 2 hands, or sit in their vehicles. ( i only had a few, but wth )
    I'd have environments and scenes i'd create, so i can totally relate to not understanding the kids who just make their action figs fight. i'd have them standing around, posing in a fight scene, and me n my brother would make stories up, but they'd not actually 'fight'

  12. 00rz00

    When I was a kid, articulation was a big deal to me, so much so, at around 6-7 years old, I used to trade straight-arm Joes for swivel-arm ones with the other kids in the neighborhood. I can't help but think today's kids are the same, even if they may not be the majority.

    I think for me, the articulation is more about aesthetics than it is about the toy being able to get Yoga positions. With the ALIEN ReAction figures, or with other vintage or vintage-styled figures, 5POA is fine, and I never find myself wanting more movement. But with modern, hyper-detailed figures, like those offered from NECA or Hasbro, I want the full monty.

    I prescribe to the old theory that a figure should be able to:
    – fully sit down
    – stand up well, and not fall over without a stand
    – be able to fit into vehicles for that line
    – be able to achieve a neutral-stance pose (think vintage Kenner Star Wars.)

    It doesn't sound like it's too demanding (it really isn't!) but you'd be shocked as to how many toy lines fail in that regard. For example, I cleared out all of my DC Direct after a year or so, as they would never stand up unless they had a display stand (and in some cases they fell even with the stand.) I also cashed out 99% of my Marvel Legends after I found the ankles and toes were so weak, they all needed stands after a year or two, and even then, they constantly fell over.

    On the other hand, I've always had a deep love for ball-jointed shoulders and heads, but as time goes on, I find myself getting more and more impressed with ball jointed ankles and good solid hips. These two points are what keeps your plastic men standing on display, and I find that getting good functional articulation is far more important than having 1000 POA. Many lines push themselves as SA but when you get them out of the box, they can't really move, or that articulation isn't thought out and doesn't work. A good example of this, the "techincally super articulated" type where there is tons of ball joints yet they are useless due to the plastic used or sculpt, would be the Marvel Universe line. Most of the figures are super articulated, but due to the often useless ball jointed feet and the poorly-designed hips, they can barely stand up let alone hold a pose with a good stand.

    • My favorite joints these days are well-articulated ankles, ball-jointed necks/heads, and double-jointed elbows. I'm bummed there are so few of the latter these days – they're practically required for anyone with a hand weapon, if you ask me.

    • 00rz00

      Totally agree- I really love the double joint on the elbow. Not a fan of that type of joint on the knees, as they tend to lose their friction (making the figure topple backwards) or lose their shape and bend inward/outward. But the elbows… they are really awesome and really make a big difference for martial-arts characters.

    • lanerb

      What's really annoying about DCD is often they're the only ones who MADE a character- I don't like their Harbinger, but I keep her because they're the only company that gave enough of a damn about Crisis on Infinite Earths to MAKE her.

  13. dayraven

    i'm a big articulation fan, but like monte, is has to serve a purpose. great recent example is how betrayed i felt over the pacific rim figures, because so much of the articulation in them didn't feel like it offered much pose/play option… especially not when compared to the contemporaneously released predator series dutch figures, who could take any pose arnold took in the movies. crimson typhoon beat dutch in POA count, but was not even in the ballpark of his posability, and i felt ripped off. so articulation, while not all-important, is definitely a big factor for me.

  14. What's telling from my childhood is not that I collected Joes and loved their articulation, but this: having "outgrown" toys supposedly, I would still keep a few Joes around because their articulation was so stellar that I could use them as wrestlers. I'd map out tournaments and such, and it was all because those Joes moved so delightfully well.

    While articulation is king for me, I hate when it breaks up the sculpt and doesn't increase flexibility. The example I always remember is King of the Hill, of all things; Hank Hill had thigh cuts that accomplished nothing and destroyed the aesthetic. So frustrating!

    • I didn't even remember that there were King of the Hill figures…

    • Monte

      I got the Hill family steeply discounted at Suncoast or some other place that stopped selling toys and/or went out of business soon after. Sold them years ago.

    • Rats! We only have Bill, Peggy, and Luanne. I'd love to have the rest but they're tough to track down!

  15. damn you for using that tick as an example… i preorderd the barry hubris, brown tick, action figure years ago… and it never came out. last yea ri emailed them and they said it is still planned for release?!?!? WTF. does anyoen have any other news abotu that figure?

    for articulation… for me it didn tget better than gi-joes and COPS… and then the 90s spiderman toys even though i didnt really care for spiderman, he had so much articulation i loved it. and they were all hard plastic…. unlike some of the marvel legends and marvel universe figs of today…

    • I've heard from sources that the only reason the blue/green Ticks actually got made was because a single fan – not a staff member for Shocker Toys – gave Shocker the money to produce them. Otherwise it's business as usual for Shocker.

      That said, part of me wishes I'd gotten the SDCC Dick Tracy.

    • dayraven

      that fan didn't go by the name nomad, did he?

    • I have no idea what's out there on this topic, so I'm not going to confirm or deny anything.

    • dayraven

      but we got the figure… not that i lack respect for the sanctity of your source, but there was one fan geek, nomad, who was public about the fact that he'd financially contributed to shocker getting those figures out, so i'm linking one and one here… but either way, the figure came out. it was, seemingly, the most popular single piece shocker ever released. how could your source, or the man i propose is the back, be in any way exposed or vulnerable, or in a negative position by the release of him name?

      unless of course, there was a causal link verifiable that shocker used that product to red herring some sales or something? is that your concern, that he may be in an actionable position because of something geoff did? cuz i have to say, as mr beckett is not currently under litigation himself, i'd wager whomever his backer is is likewise off the hook. the poor guy ought to get credit for at least helping us get the figure we did get.

    • cent believe they would sponser the toy company and not sponser barry! that is one of the greatest episodes from the series, damnit!

    • Kevin

      I've had that Tick on pre-order from BBTS for about two years now…

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén