In 1994 Todd McFarlane was working with Mattel to produce action figures based on his comic book characters. When the two could not decide on how to make the toys to McFarlane's satisfaction, he reclaimed the toy rights to his characters and started his own toy company. Originally dubbed "Todd's Toys," the name was changed in 1995 following pressure from Mattel, who feared that the new company's name would be confused with that of Barbie's younger brother. Production began with action figures based upon Todd McFarlane's Spawn comic series and has since grown to feature a large number of licensed property lines including The Simpsons and "Movie Maniacs", as well as other characters and lines like basketball, hockey and baseball legends, along with characters from video games such as Soulcalibur, Onimusha, and Metal Gear Solid. Other media such as story book characters from Where the Wild Things Are have been represented. The company has produced original works, giving a grotesque twist to fairy tale stories such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and historical figures. McFarlane has collaborated with artists like Clive Barker and H.R. Giger to produce other original figures.
The first line of Spawn toys ever produced was released in 1994 and consisted of six figures, the hero Spawn and his medieval counterpart with Tremor and the villains Violator, Overt-Kill, and Clown, as well as a Spawn Alley Playset, the Spawnmobile and the Violator Monster Rig. They were notably different from the toys common on shelves at the time because of their level of detail in both sculpting and painting. Other toys utilized only a few colors painted in general areas and were tacked to cardboard backs. McFarlane's figures had individual items such as spikes, teeth, claws, and buttons painted individually and packaged encased by hard plastic which surrounded both the figure and blister card, making them more suitable collectors items. Each toy in the first line came with a regular-sized comic, which were individualized to the character. The series would include alternate timeframes and different takes on the classic characters with Series 10, 20 and 30 showing homage to the core characters of the books. Series 35 was out by July 2008 and was called "Robot Wars". It refers to a villainous Mechanoid Army.
McFarlane's Dragons are a line of action figures which were launched in 2005 under the "Horror, Fantasy and Sci-Fi Action Figures" section of McFarlane Toys. These figures were released biannually. This set features several highly detailed six inch dragon action figures and a slightly larger and more expansive "boxed set" figure. For the first five series, the figures were broken into these clans: Eternal Dragon Clan, Fire Dragon Clan, Komodo Dragon Clan, Sorcerer's Dragon Clan, Water Dragon Clan, and Berserker Clan. Series Six includes new clans: Fossil Dragon Clan, Hunter Dragon Clan, Ice Dragon Clan, Scavenger Dragon Clan, and Warrior Dragon Clan. In addition to these highly detailed dragons, McFarlane released a part of the dragon's history with each dragon set; some had a piece of the story with each dragon, and some had whole chunks of the story in one boxed set.
McFarlane had been a long-time fan of the horror genre and decided to produce his own perspective on the classic monsters with the "Todd McFarlane's Monsters Playsets" line in 1997. McFarlane continued the idea of generating new versions of classic stories and characters, releasing a shocking line subtitled "Twisted Land of Oz" in 2003, which featured vicious or sadistic versions of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz characters created by L. Frank Baum. In 2004, the third series, subtitled 6 Faces of Madness, used historical killers and madmen as its theme, generating vividly detailed figurines of the 5th-century conqueror Attila the Hun, American "Wild West" gunslinger Billy the Kid, the "mad monk" Rasputin, the British serial killerJack the Ripper, the Hungarian "Blood Queen" Elizabeth Bathory, and the real-life inspiration for Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. The fourth series featured Twisted Fairy Tales. The figures were of classic children’s stories, including Peter Pumpkin-Eater, Hansel & Gretel, Little Miss Muffet, Humpty Dumpty, & Red Riding Hood, and incorporated many of the gory elements that consumers had come to expect from McFarlane, but with a sense of ironic humor. Series 5 featured McFarlane's Twisted Christmas. Like the previous series, the figures all are twisted variations of Christmas, including a hunchback and obese Santa Claus who hides a lifeless skull under a gasmask-like headpiece and wears contraptions on his hands similar to the glove of Freddy Krueger.
In 1998 McFarlane introduced the Movie Maniacs line of figures. Series One began as a line of horror and science fiction based figures that had been licensed from influential and financially successful horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. The second series of figures expanded the character base for the line into the realms of cult and action cinema with a figure based on the title character to The Crow. Series three would further push the boundaries of character selection into fantasy, with Edward Scissorhands, straight action with Shaft, and back into cult/sci-fi with Escape from L.A.. These conventions would continue, with character selections in future series frequently containing a mix of many, or even all of these various film genres, much to the chagrin of a small section of fans and collectors who, incorrectly, saw the line as being meant to be horror specific.
McFarlane Toys did not solely limit itself to creating figures based on Todd McFarlane's creations. Rather it branched out into other forms of media, capitalizing on the popularity of famous rock musicians with the release of figures based on the rock legends KISS in 1997. The number of music figures produced by the company continued to grow in number, diversity, and quality in the following years as they acquired the action figure rights to famous properties such as the Beatles, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Slash, Iron Maiden's mascot Eddie, Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury and Elvis Presley.
In 1997, action figures were part of an overall marketing deal between McFarlane Toys and the rock band KISS, with both toys and comic books based on their album Psycho Circus. Release of new KISS products from McFarlane continues to the present day.
The second musical property that McFarlane released was based on The Beatles, featuring figures of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr as they appeared in their 1968 animated movieYellow Submarine, as well as their appearance in the 1965 ABC cartoon show also titled The Beatles, or commonly known to fans as "Saturday Morning Cartoon". Despite three figure series based on cartoon versions of the band, no figures of the real-life band members have been created by McFarlane Toys.
In 2005, McFarlane acquired the rights held by rival manufacturer Playmates Toys to produce figures based on the popular Fox TV series The Simpsons.
The McKenzie Brothers
Released in September 2000, the figures were based on the characters of SCTV and Strange Brew fame, Bob and Doug McKenzie. Originally portrayed by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, respectively. The figures were sold separately and each came with half of the diorama from the Great White North set. Each had a sound chip with famous lines from the film and various extras to complete the scene.
The company launched a "toy soldier" range in 2005 with McFarlane's Military. The figures did not depict actual people so much as it did their professions, named simply by their job descriptions, such as "Army Ranger" or "Navy SEAL." All were of stern-looking males in full military gear, with highly detailed weapons and accessories modeled after the exact materials each soldier would be carrying in real life.
McFarlane Toys reflects Todd McFarlane's love of sports in its creations of popular figures from all five major North American sports. The company has official licensing rights to the major professional leagues of all of these sports, and began this line, officially known as McFarlane Sports Picks, in 2001.
Television action figures
In January 2007, McFarlane Toys announced plans for a line of 24 action figures. Other series figures have included Lost and The Walking Dead. In 2015, McFarlane toys launched a line of construction sets based on HBO's popular Game of Thrones TV series, followed by a line of 6" action figures to be released in 2019. The company also produces action figures based on the Netflix series Stranger Things.
In 2017, McFarlane Toys inked a deal to produce action figures and role play items based on the popular Star Trek franchise. Controversy ensued when the company's Star Trek Discoveryphaser toy was cancelled just months before its scheduled release date. In a statement, McFarlane Toys said that the product was cancelled due to disagreements regarding the safety regulations around toy guns in the United States. The first action figures were released in early 2019, with James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard serving as the inaugural entries in the line.
Video game figures
McFarlane Toys has produced a number of products based on video games, including Metal Gear Solid, Soulcalibur II, Halo, Five Nights at Freddy's, Call of Duty, Destiny, Cuphead, Borderlands and Assassin's Creed. In 2018, McFarlane Toys launched a series of Fortnite action figures, which differed greatly from the company's previous figures by including at least 18 points of articulation each. The toys proved very popular, and Todd McFarlane later announced that the increased articulation scheme would become standard in the company's product from then on, including their upcoming line of Mortal Kombat 11 figures.
Throughout the course of the company's history, McFarlane Toys has produced licensed figures based on various Japanese anime and manga properties. Series McFarlane have merchandised include Akira, Tenchi Muyo, Tokyo Ghoul, Attack on Titan and Naruto Shippuden. In 2019, it was announced that the company had also gained the rights to create figures based on One-Punch Man and My Hero Academia.
''Where the Wild Things Are''
In 2000, McFarlane Toys produced figures based on Maurice Sendak's classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are. Figures include Max, Goatboy, Moishe, Emil, Bernard, Aaron and Tzippy. Each character was sculpted with the same crosshatch style from Sendak's original illustrations.
At the tail end of 2018, news broke that Mattel had lost the rights to create figures based on the characters of the DC Universe to Spin Master Studios after 15 years of producing DC merchandise. In February 2019, it was announced that McFarlane Toys had secured the rights to create 6"-12" collector figures based on the various comic books, movies, cartoons, live-action TV shows and video games featuring DC's characters. Dubbed DC Multiverse, the line will be aimed at adult collectors, in contrast to the all-ages oriented DC toys produced by Spin Master. In a subsequent interview with IGN, Todd McFarlane confirmed that the new figures will target the same collectors who bought other 6" superhero toy lines, such as Mattel's DC Universe Classics or Hasbro's Marvel Legends. He also revealed that the figures will use the new articulation system first seen in the company's Fortnite toys, meaning that they will all include between 18 and 24 points of articulation.
A number of McFarlane's figures have attracted criticism and led to boycotts for the subject matter they depict, such as Death Row Marv, which depicts the central character from the graphic novel Sin City in the electric chair, which includes a toggle switch that allows the user to "execute" the character, who shakes and speaks as if being electrocuted when the switch is flipped. Others, such as the company's Austin Powers doll, were criticized for risque language in their sound chips and packaging.