A Call to Action (Figures): Points of Articulation

When I got hired at Action Figure Fury, I made a list of fifty possible names for my column. “A Call to Action (Figures)” was one, but not my first pick. I still think “Points of Articulation” is a better name, but when I googled it, I found that a toy podcast had already claimed the name. You can check them out here.
What makes “Points of Articulation” such a great name is that outside of action figures it means something to talk about, and it also refers to any part of an action figure that’s meant to move, joints. They allow for action figures to be posed, separating them from statues, models, and sculptures. They’re one of the five parts of an action figure we judge in our reviews.

While packaging, accessories, and paint are all individual categories, points of articulation and sculpt often compete with each other. Every point of articulation takes away from the amount of detail that can go into the sculpt in that spot, and sculpts can block a point of articulation from being functional.

Great looking figure, but her shoulder pads block her arms from extending upward and her hair blocks her head from rotating 360 degrees.

The question is, then, how does a figure strike a balance between having enough points of articulation to be fun to play with/poseable while still looking good?

The fewest points of articulation I have on any of my figures are on my Diamond Select Dracula and my McFarlane Pinheads. They have great sculpts, but respectively two and four points of articulation, oddly with everyone being in the figure’s arms.

What gets me to cut them a little slack is being mostly still works for those characters. Dracula as played by Christopher Lee and Pinhead as played by Doug Bradley (no relation, but I wish) both rarely move. They loom over scenes, letting others react to them. Fewer than five points of articulation isn’t great, but is still more than statues have. (Nothing against statues, which are awesome but aren’t action figures.)

Behind you…

There are also figures that only could have two or three points of articulation. Outside of R2-D2’s legs and maybe his head, what would you add?

Five is the classic, carried over from the classic Kenner Star Wars figures. They established the action figure world we’re living in today. The five points of articulation isn’t ideal for posing figures, because typically elbows and knees are required for action shots.

I don’t have any of the Kenner, but here is my oldest Star Wars figure. Circa 1996.

That being sad, these figures are still a classic, and can be a lot of fun, especially when they’re styilized. Look at Funko’s Reaction Figures, and so many classic 90s figures.

Guess which one has more points of articulation.

They work, not because they’re the most flexible figures, but because they execute well and are made in such a way that it doesn’t matter how they’re posed. They’re sexy and they know it.

Then we get to the super articulated figures (eight points of articulation and higher). These are unquestionably the most poseable action figures, but the low-end ones run into two serious problems. The first is the chest joints. They’re necessary to be able to shift a figure’s weight so they can stand straight, but they’re an eyesore.

Notice the joint between his hip and his shoulder.

The other is that each point of articulation that gets added, the more fragile the figure becomes. It’s true for figures of all sizes (have you ever broken a figure anywhere other than at the joint?), but the smaller the figure the more extreme it becomes.

Higher-end figures avoid these problems by using sturdier materials and spending more time and money on design and production. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

He’s got roughly two billion points of articulation and zero problems.

The important thing in all action figure manufacturing is finding the points of articulation to sculpt balance that works for the figure you’re making. There’s no magic number that’s better. Points of articulation are massively important, but no facet of any action figure can outweight all of the others.

How many points of articulation do you think a figure should have? Did I get it right with my non-stance? Let me know in the comments!

A Call to Action (Figures) is a monthly column published in the middle of the month, chronicling my rants and raves about all things action figure. In two weeks I’ll be back with a spooky Halloween special!

By Nick Lenihan

Nick is toy fan, geek, and action figure collector. When not geeking out about action figures and keeping up with the latest Toy News, he likes to pretend to play guitar. He's just another one of those pop culture fanatics that likes to share his passion with the world.

7 comments

  1. Absolutely right with the ‘non-stance’. I expect action genre figures to have lots of articulation because it’s appropriate.
    Back when Marvel Legends was first advertised some action figures back then were ridiculously posable – to the point where the joints really took away from the sculpts. Luckily most companies have realised since then that having articulated fingers, for example, isn’t needed when a simple alternate hand would do. I think figures for the most part are striking a good balance between sculpt and articulation these days. E.g. NECA’s Predators are well articulated, but lack ab crunches because it’d detract from the sculpt.
    Meanwhile in Japan, they’ve been experimenting a lot with different joint systems that they advertise their whole figure lines on. Revoltech, Figma and Figuarts being the big three. A lot have been hit and miss mainly due to sculpts not meshing well with the style of articulation, but I admire that sense of fun and experimentation that went into the engineering.

  2. Articulation was definitely a factor in me preferring G.I. Joes over Star Wars figures as a child. I had some Star Wars figures and enjoyed them, but with O-rings, elbow and knee joints, as well as “Swivel Arm Battle Grip” there were things that you could do with Joes that just wasn’t possible with Star Wars figures.

    1. I prefer G.I. Joes over Star Wars now, but I liked Star Wars better probably until I was eleven or twelve. I always played with them together though because they were the same size and I never read the G.I. Joe comics or saw the show, so Duke was just another foot soldier in my imagination.

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