The new Ghostbusters action figures are revolutionizing toy store shelves

by | May 25, 2016
filed under Pop Culture

Ghostbusters: Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones) in an image from the trailer

Ghostbusters: Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones) in an image from the trailer

First off, this is not about the Ghostbusters reboot. It’s not out yet. I haven’t seen it. All I will say is I’m a little bit obsessed with watching the trailers. I’m rooting for this movie, but I don’t know if it’ll be “good.”  However, part of me doesn’t really care if it’ll be good or not. Part of me says that the movie already is good.

Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters has done what no other movie – definitely no other movie in recent memory – could do: generate a wave of all-female action figures, tied to a big-budget film, that is widely available in mainstream toy stores.

If you’re familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then you know the struggles fans have gone through to get a Black Widow, Nebula, Jubilee, or Gamora action figure. You’ve read Shane Black’s article about how the villain in Iron Man 3 was going to be a woman until executives felt that toys of a female antagonist wouldn’t sell. If you’re a Star Wars fan, then you’ve probably searched, in vain, for a little plastic Rey, and searched more, even more in vain, for a Force Awakens Leia toy. In other words, you know how hard it is to find female action figures in toy stores.

This isn’t a problem with the new Ghostbusters. I swung by my local Toys R Us last weekend and found an endcap (technical term for a collection of product featured at the ends of aisles) full of Ghostbusters women. Every character was in stock: Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). Buy them all, and you can build Rowan the ghost, as each figure comes with a combinable piece of him. I left with a Holtzmann.

Photo of the new Ghostbusters action figures

Even more encouraging, these figures, produced by Mattel, accurately preserve the body types of Yates, Holtzmann, Gilbert, and Tolan. Yates’ toy is more full-figured than Gilbert’s, but neither appears unrealistically large or small. Simply put, they look human.

I don’t know how many people can appreciate how rare this is. When action figures for the film Jurassic Park came out (1993, by Kenner), Dennis Nedry shrunk when he was translated into plastic. The character went from Wayne Knight’s larger size to a buff action figure slightly reminiscent of Patrick Warburton from his Seinfeld days.

The action figure industry has almost as much of a problem representing body types as it does gender. Mattel’s new Ghostbusters figures get it right on both counts. But what these figures include is just as important as what, or who, they exclude.  Not on toy shelves is Chris Hemsworth, who plays Kevin, the Ghostbusters’ secretary. He doesn’t have an action figure. This turns on its head the all-too-common practice of putting male characters out first, and waiting to insert female characters into the second wave of figures, if at all.

Kevin might get an action figure at some point, but I’m not waiting for one. Hemsworth has plenty of representation in the myriad Thor figures Hasbro keeps churning out. It’s time that an action figure line’s first wave featured a collection of all-female characters. Feig’s Ghostbusters set up this possibility, and I’m glad to see Mattel doing right by that.

Screamin' Janine action figure

Screamin’ Janine action figure

When I got home last Saturday with my little plastic Jillian Holtzmann, I stood her next to my Screamin’ Janine Melnitz action figure, released by Kenner in the ‘90s, and just thought for a while. Screamin’ Janine’s action feature was a cloth skirt that flew up when you spun her legs around.  Her eyeglasses were rounded out – no longer the pointy cat eyes – because Kenner executives decided she should look less authoritative.

Next to that woman, robbed of her agency and dignity in plastic, was Holtzmann, an action figure that I had no problem tracking down, who wears the same accessories that Bill Murray did in the original films, and whose points of articulation (18 moveable joints, compared to Melnitz’s 5, plus the twirling waist) equaled male figures of that size in other lines. How far we’ve come.

Hopefully, the new Ghostbusters figures will disprove everything toy companies believe about women action figures: that they don’t sell, that boys or men won’t want them, that they’re secondary. Maybe then, in a few years, we won’t have to fight to get hold of a Black Widow, or a Rey, or a General Leia. Maybe some would say I’m being too optimistic, but I hope not. I believe that a female representation revolution is coming in the action figure industry, and, if that’s true, then Mattel’s Ghostbusters have fired the first shot.


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  • anewleaf

    I am so relieved by this phenomenon. I know there is enormous pressure on this movie to be “good enough” to silence the howling of the misogynist hordes for whom it will surely ruin their childhoods, but I honestly don’t even care if it’s mediocre. There have been rafts and rafts of mediocre male-centric movies that have inspired fandom and cult followings and they got their action heroes, often at the expense of the token females in their scripts. It’s just about f-ing time.

    I like the ghostbusters. I like these comediennes. I like having characters that look like me and share my perspective. I like having movies that pander to ME and MY TASTES every once in a while. I will not apologize for or excuse that. I will not jump through some a$$wipe’s hoops for this movie to reach legitimacy. It’s already legit. It’s our turn.

    • asimpleretard

      This isn’t true though. I suggest you look beyond a biased news site, because they really are lying to people, and doesn’t that undermine any real cause or effort?

  • Robs

    I have never bought a movie/TV/comic related action figure (GI Joe when I was a kid), but I will buy a set of these in appreciation of their existence. And this 60 year old man will be standing in line to watch the movie on opening night. I loved the original, and have no doubt I will at the very least, enjoy this one as well.

  • thenamelessone123

    so this movie is going to suck, and i dont say that as a person that wants it to suck, im saying it as someone who realizes that everybody is getting damn tired of all these horrible reboots of classic 80s films, nobody wants to see yet another reboot because Hollywood is simply out of ideas, think about it, the highest grossing film of all time is Avatar, because when it came out it came as a new fresh idea, rather then taking a film or series people loved deeply, chewing it up and shitting it back out again, why do you think comic book movies are so popular right now? because before Batman Begins all comic book movies were total shit, and they simply didnt like them, at all, but then we get all these new people who dont want to take the comic book script and follow it through, they want to make a new story involving beloved characters, and in the middle of all these new stories, and while were seeing all these different new ideas taking shape, there is yet another remake of an 80s classic, and its going to fail, just like all the others

  • SheaTurtle

    These toys are already on clearance at Target. This is why female action figures aren’t made often – no one really buys them. The support from sites such as this is just lip service; in the end the only thing that matters are the actual sales.

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