Putting together a top ten list of action figures for a given year is a difficult thing even under the best circumstances. Unless you've got an Academy-like cadre of voters to draw from, no single writer is going to be knowledgeable enough to know the best figure from every action figure line. And even if such a thing were possible, that writer would then have to weigh the relative merits of figures of entirely different sizes, shapes, and source material and determine whether one is somehow "better" than another.
If it happened to be a pretty weak year for action figures, one might have a chance. But 2013 was an exceptionally good year. Despite ever-rising production costs and a declining market share, 2013 was a banner year for action figures, with a number of long-awaited, fan-demanded toys finally being immortalized in plastic.
As usual, "best" doesn't necessarily mean the absolute finest-made items from this year (if that were the case, this list would consist entirely of high-end toys with triple-digit prices, like Hot Toys figures). The toys on this list had a certain magic combination of design, fan demand, novelty, and other intangible qualities (i.e., I thought they were particularly cool). Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
10.) 1960s Batman (Mattel)
For reasons I don't understand and am too lazy to look into, I can watch the 1960s Batman show in reruns on local fly-by-night television stations, but I can't get them on DVD or Netflix. Evidently there are a bunch of rights issues and we haven't yet reached the point where enough corporations have bought enough other corporations to get it all under the same mega-corporate umbrella.
But in 2013, the various rights holders managed to work out the merchandising rights, and let's face it, that's where the real money is. So we were hit with a wave of 1960s Batman merch of all sorts and sizes. Hot Toys will be releasing Batman and Robin in their inimitable, highly-expensive style, and NECA will be dropping a massive 18" Adam West Batman figure. But Mattel offered a full 6"-scale line, with a number of figures ranging from the classic West Batman to Burgess Meredith's Penguin to Julie Newmar's iconic Catwoman. There was Surfing Batman. There was even a "Batusi" SDCC exclusive with dancing action. Combined with DC's great new comic based on the show, it seems that both DC and Bat-fans at large are ready to welcome back this once-derided era of Batman to the fold.
9.) Alien (ReAction Figures, Funko)
The Kenner toy company made its name - and a fortune - on Star Wars. The little 3.75" figures were ubiquitous during the 1980s and spawned dozens of similarly-scaled lines, including Hasbro's wildly successful G.I. Joe revamp. In the late 1980s and early '90s, as the popularity of Star Wars waned, Kenner would attempt to repeat that success with other sci-fi franchises, in progressively larger scales. Most of the ones they chose - Robocop, Terminator, Aliens, and Predator - were all based on R-rated movies.
But Kenner had dipped their toes in the R-rated waters before. In 1979, they infamously released a 12" Alien figure. It didn't last long in stores - possibly due to parent outcry, but more likely due to lack of interest from kids who were too busy being obsessed with Star Wars. Perhaps thinking along those same lines, Kenner designed prototypes for a five-figure 3.75" line of Alien toys in the same SW style. For whatever reason, the line was never produced, but it became a legend among toy collectors.
Over thirty years later, Super7 and Funko teamed up to finally release this long-lost cousin to Kenner's Star Wars. The designs are nearly identical to the prototypes and come with great packaging in the style of the era. What's more, Funko plans to release many more figures in this same style (under the "ReAction" brand), including classic '80s properties such as Back to the Future and Goonies as well as more modern licenses such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.
8.) Springer (Transformers Generations, Hasbro)
It was a relatively quiet year for Transformers, as the franchise awaits its next cinematic opus from Michael Bay. Not being a Transformers collector, I solicited some opinions from fans as to what the best Transformer of the year was, assuming that the gigantic, two-foot-tall Metroplex would win it walking away. To my surprise, the general consensus was that the best figure of the year had been Generations Springer, the first official "triple-changer" in Transformers since Generation 1.
Unlike the G1 figure, the car mode and the helicopter mode are distinct from one another. He's fully articulated and features some great accessories. All-around, he's everything fans want from a Transformer.
7.) Michael Keaton Batman (NECA)
With the Christopher Nolan-Christian Bale Batman trilogy a couple years behind us, some Bat-fans are beginning to reexamine the Michael Keaton era and finding it better than they remembered. Peopled with grotesque characters, set in some sort of strange 1980s-by-way-of-1940s Gotham City, and bestowed with a powerfully Gothic sense of style, the 1989 Batman still has plenty of fans, especially those for whom the 1989 film was their first introduction to the Dark Knight.
Many collectors have wished for a good Keaton Batman action figure for a long time. A few years back, Hot Toys produced a high-end 12" figure, but this year NECA brought a (somewhat) more affordable Keaton Batman to market as a giant 18" figure. It features a dead-on likeness of Keaton's Dark Knight and a ton of accessories, including the memorable flip-open Batarang and the grappling hook launcher.
6.) Biollante (Tamashii Nations, S.H.MonsterArts)
If one were to put together a list titled "Action Figures That Will Never Exist," one has to think that "Super-articulated Biollante" would have been a shoo-in. And yet! Bandai's collector division, Tamashii Nations, has been catering to Godzilla fans with its super-articulated S.H.MonsterArts line for several years now. While they have focused largely on the 1990s era of Godzilla films, many fans doubted Tamashii would make the gigantic plant-monster from 1989's Godzilla vs. Biollante.
But here were are, with a big, super-articulated Biollante staring at us, face to colossal plant-based face. A wonder of engineering, the figure features a gigantic articulated head, poseable tentacles ending in monstrous mouths that can open and shut (yes, Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors was one of the inspirations for the film), and even a light-up...thing in the torso. On a list filled with figures fans had long wanted, this one may have been the unlikeliest.