There were plenty of toys for collectors in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, but if you wanted the best toys, you turned to McFarlane. The founder of Image and creator of Spawn, decided to make his own toy company in 1994 and the results were nothing short of spectacular.... for a while, at least.
Eventually, McFarlane turned into a small plastic statue company than an actual toy company, but they had a lot of amazing figures along the way. Here are the best* (* The “best” is determined by a random combination of sculpt, paint applications, articulation, subject matter, originality, playability, badassedsness, and other, less definable attributes):
1) T-1000, Terminator 2
An early Movie Maniacs figure, the T-1000 is almost simple compared to many of the figures on tis list, but that doesn’t make it any less special. While most toy companies would have figured out one look for the toy (probably just as a cop, since that’s easiest), McFarlane add different heads, different torsos (in various states of damage) and more. Then there’s the eerily accurate sculpt of actor Robert Patrick. Truly, the T-1000 was an early example of what McFarlane Toys could do at their best.
2) Werewolf Playset, McFarlane Monsters
McFarlane first Monsters line were actual playsets with multiple figures, accessories, and a base for them to play on. They were also delightfully, horrifically violent. All of them were pretty neat, but the Werewolf set contains a poor hunter that can be “torn apart” into meat pieces. And the werewolf looks fantastic, too.
3) Berserker the Troll, Dark Ages Spawn: The Viking Age
His name might be awkward (seriously, when your mom calls you “Berserker,” your professional options are limited) but there’s nothing awesome about this awesome fantasy monster toy. Its complex without being overdesigned, and just its sculpt hints at an immense potential backstory. It came out in 2002, when McFarlane was already eschewing articulation, but he still would have terrorized your Fellowship of the Rings figures.
4) Akira, 3D animation from Japan
Whatever his other faults are, Todd McFarlane did not play it safe with McFarlane Toys; he made a bunch of toys he wanted to see, regardless of whether they sold or not. He took a chance with two series of anime toys, and he took an enormous ris by making a figure of Akira, the title character from the classic anime movie who almost never appears in the movie and is only shown like this in the original manga). Akira here gets high marks for his awesome throne, the fact that he’s actually articulated, and most of all, because he exists at all.
5) Michonne and Pets, The Walking Dead
It’s taken a long time, but McFarlane has returned to making articulated toys, first with its immensely popular Halo series, and then with its Walking Dead comic and TV show toys. Still, despite the addition of joints and working at a smaller, 3 ¾-inch scale, McFarlane can still churn out a hell of a good sculpt. Not only does this three-pack of Michonne and her “pets” look uncannily like their TV counterparts, they’re also ready for action.
6) Poacher II
This is a giant elephant man who wields a sword almost as tall as he is. Why wouldn’t you buy this figure?
7) Spawn Samurai Warriors 2-Pack
McFarlane was always known for its sculpting, but few figures match the complexity, the detail or just the general badassery of the Samurai Warriors. A special repainted two-pack of Samurai Spawn and Takeda the Archer, the two are definitely not authentic samurai in any way, but there’s still no mistaking what they’re supposed to be when you lay eyes on them, and there’s definitely no mistaking their complete awesomeness.
8) Talisac, Tortured Souls
I, personally, don’t care for any of McFarlane’s Tortured Souls figure, all horrific creatures inspired by the works of Clive Barker. But I can’t deny how important they are in shifting the landscape of the toy industry. When Tortured Souls first came out they were sold at Toys R Us because that’s the practically only place toys were sold. By proving adults were buying these things — because kids weren’t allowed to, and they were flying off shelves — these figures single-handedly proved the existence of the adult collector’s market, making a large part of what we now enjoy possible (or at least better). And the figures are insanely well-sculpted with intensely gruesome detail, seemingly plucked directly from Barker’s medulla oblongata, possibly with a rusty scalpel — I picked Talisac to represent the line, as he makes me the most nauseous.
9) Halo Warthog
McFarlane abandoned its traditional 6-inch, virtually-no-articulation style when they received the Halo license, instead choosing to make figures sized (3 ¾-inch) and artoiculated like G.I,. Joe toys. This gave McFarlane the chance to make Halo’s iconic vehicles, and it paid off — its been one of the company’s most consistant hits. There are tons of Master Chiefs, soldiers, aliens and other figures in the line, and plenty of vehicles; but we say this Warthog vehicle is the epitome of a toyline that takes the classic fun of G.I. Joe and transfers it successfully into the Halo universe. It’s completely accurate to the videogames, but most of all, it’s fun.
10) King Conan of Aquilonia, Conan 2: Hour of the Dragon
There’s no pretending this is figure is really anything other than a statue that can turn its neck (slightly), but it is a statue of King Conan surveying all he commands and it is phenomenal. Look at Conan’s face — few toy companies have the talent to sculpt a face so full of emotion, let alone the skills. Honestly, a face with that much boredom is well worth his ability to bend at the waist.
11) Ash Vs. Pit Witch, Army of Darkness
It seems insane now, but there was a long time when people couldn’t buy figures of Ash from Army of Darkness. Like, a long time. McFarlane eventually saved the day with is Movie Maniacs series, although its first Ash wasn’t up to the company’s high standards. They got better with this Ash Vs. Pit Witch two-pack, which included a perfect, right-out-of-the-frame Pit Witch from the movie (seriously, it almost looks like a person wearing a mask) and an impression recreation of the Pit itself.
11) The Hydra Dragon, McFarlane’s Dragons
I’m sorry to cheat, but McFarlane’s Dragons toyline is so uniformly beautifully sculpted and painted and totally awesome-looking so its really hard to decide which of the dozens of dragons released technically should make this list. My personal pick is the Hydra, because of its awesome, classic style, its bright design, and the fact that it was pretty much in my head every single time I played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid. But every Dragons figure was like that, tapping into some unique, primal fantasy design that made each toy seem somehow iconic.
12) Where the Wild Things Are
Maurice Sendak’s book Where the Wild Things Are is one of the most beloved books in children’s literature, and its illustrations are iconic. So it was actually kind of of ballsy for McFarlane to attempt to produce Sendak’s drawings in 3D [please insert your own McFarlane baseball joke here]. But McFarlane nailed it — when people say something “looks ready to leap off the page!” well, I’m pretty sure these toys did.
13) Cy-Gor II
What’s going on? Not much, I’m just a GIANT CYBER-GORILLA. WITH A TINY MECHA-MONKEY INSIDE MY CHEST CAVITY. It’s telling that McFarlane made this figure in 1998, and its still one of the company’s greatest figures, 15 years later.
14) Lord of Darkness, Legend
There’s no denying that the satanic design of the Lord of Darkness, the villain of Ridley Scott’s film Legend, is amazing. Usually, when translating those sorts of film images into the mundane 3D word of reality, you lose a lot of the effect that made the original seem so stupendous. So it’s nothing short of a miracle that McFarlane somehow managed to make their Lord of Darkness figure just as, if not more than, imposing as the original. And that’s without sacrificing any accuracy! Clearly, someone sold their soul to the Lord of Darkness to get this thing made.
15) Mandarin Spawn
McFarlane made many, many Spawn figures — Spawn from the comics, Spawn from the covers of the comics, Spawn in animated style, Spawn in faux manga style, Spawn as a pirate, Spawn as a robot, etc. — and many of these were beautifully sculpted and/or beautifully painted and/or inspired in design. But there’s one figure that maxxed out all three: Mandarin Spawn, which is, quite simply, a toy work of art. Spawn fans loved it. Toy fans loved. People who didn’t like Spawn or toys bought it, just because it looked so amazingly… perfect. Without a doubt, if there’s one toy that sums up McFarlane Toys, it’s this guy right here.
Top photo credit: Danny Neuman.