Call to Action (Figures) – Why We Collect

Why We Collect

I stopped collecting action figures in seventh grade because I thought it would help me get girls. The immediate result: I met my first girlfriend my junior year of high school. When I started collecting again my sophomore year of college, I met my next two girlfriends that year (one who I’m still seeing). Statistically, men who collect action figures are two times more successful with women than those who don’t. Convinced?

Maybe collecting is an evolutionary instinct. I wasn’t able to find any studies supporting this, but we were hunter-gatherers at one point. “Hunter” may come first, but “gatherer” was just as important to our ancestor’s survival. Maybe those of us who collect — whether it be stamps, baseball cards, or action figures — are satisfying that instinct our ancestors needed to survive?

I started collecting because I love the X-Men. The Animated Series debuted when I was two years old, and I woke my parents up every Saturday to watch it. I wasn’t old enough to understand what was happening, but the intro was so good I couldn’t help but love it. The Blackbird flew over the word “X-Men,” the guitars came in, and Cyclops lost control of his power on the top of a mountain. It didn’t even matter what happened next. They had me at hello. Saturday mornings melted into Saturday afternoons and with enough begging my father would take the three of us to Toys “R” Us and my older brother would pick which X-Men figures we’d spend our allowances on while our Dad took our sister to the Barbies.

Maybe I collect because my parents conditioned me to, a gift they gave unintentionally. After all, the message they sent was, “If you do all of your chores, you get an action figure.” It’s not a far leap to make from there that I’ve been conditioned to see action figures as a reward for good behavior. But, while my brother has an Optimus Prime figure on his desk and my sister has a pizza pillow, they don’t collect the way I do.

In the last five years, I’ve bought a couple of hundred figures. My mother had donated my old collection to Goodwill, which gave me the opportunity to start over. I decided to get as many figures as I could at 3 and ¾ inches. (I’ll discuss the decision for that particular size in September). This is a set of pictures I took of my collection two years ago. (Please excuse the quality and age. My collection is packed up for a move).

I love some figures for the nostalgia. I remember the first time I got Strong Guy around middle left of the first picture and how excited I was to see him in the cartoon later that same day. I spent years unsuccessfully searching for the 90s Beast with backflip action in the center of the first picture (which, as an adult, I still can’t get to work with any kind of reliability) before I got him in a set off of eBay. The Marvel Universe Moon Knight in the back of the first picture was a birthday gift from my brother. I bought the Alien figure in the back of the second photo because I love those films, and believe that putting money into the things I love will lead to more things like them being made. I bought the Todd McFarlane monsters in the second photo simply ecause they look cool. I use them to decorate the bookshelf in my apartment.

And maybe it’s simpler than all of that. I can’t remember the first figures I got, but I certainly remember the getting the last one from the Target in the mall by my parent’s house. I’m not even a huge fan of the figure (you can read my review of Jubilee here), but I had a great time digging through the Iron Man and Spiderman action figures until I found one that I didn’t have. Maybe it’s as simple as that. Maybe we collect because we love it.

Call to Action (Figures) is a weekly column published every Wednesday, chronicling my rants and raves about all things action figure. Come back next week and find out what my favorite figure is and show me yours.

Why do you collect? Let me know in the comments!

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.


  1. In my childhood I just had action figures from TV shows and movies that I liked. I didn’t really have a “collection”, but I had a bunch of figures based on the things I liked.

    Today, I still tend to collect action figures based on the movies, TV shows, and video games that I like. I would love to pick up some of the figures that I had when I was a kid, but they are all too expensive.

    My mostly modern collection features a bunch of sixth scale action figures, all based on movies that I liked or just thought the characters were awesome.

    I collect because I like it, but in the case of Hot Toys, I collect them because I’m addicted. Though, I do like them too. =)

  2. great article. i tend to believe it’s the hunter/gather thing. mostly the thrill of the hunt. finding that prize after weeks/months of looking. then announcing it to the world: LOOK WHAT I’VE GOT!

    i have a “gathering: of my collection. but, for me…it’s the thrill of the hunt.

    1. Ha! The thrill of the hunt is also quite attractive, and I do for certain figure lines, but for others it’s just impossible.

      Some stores/manufacturers have such bad distribution that if I don’t pre-order the figure I know I will never ever find it at retail.

      When you say “gathering” do you pretty much mean a humble jumble of action figures that aren’t really focused on a certain theme?

      1. Yeah. I imagine cavemen would have liked to gather all strawberries (being that they’re the best berry and all) but would take whatever they could find, even blackberries. I feel the same way at the store. Today I went in looking for a Deathlok and left with a Wolverine. We gather/collect what we can.

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