The Spector Creative YouTube channel run by Scott “ToyGuru” Neitlich, breaks down the Avatar toy line created by Mattel. Scott worked for Mattel for several years and was the brand manager over the DC Universe line, MOTU Classics, and others during his time at Mattel. I’ve heard Scott on various podcasts over the years and always find him insightful and interesting, and I am a fan of his work. From a customer and collector stand point I respectfully disagree with some of his points in his video, however I still think it’s interesting and very much worth a watch.
The first thing Scott mentions is that Avatar didn’t leave a large cultural impact. This is something we’ve all heard and is the general narrative about Avatar. I don’t really buy into that and here is why. Avatar released without a lot of collectibles compared to most sci-fi type blockbusters, see Star Wars for the other end of the spectrum. However that never seemed to be the focus for the brand, the focus was a movie that needed to be seen in theaters to fully appreciate it. They excelled with that singular focus and became the highest grossing movie. After Avatar released and the popularity grew the movie proved it had real staying power at the box office. As a fan I noticed the desire from others to own a piece of the movie by way of collectibles. Over the next couple of years the higher end market tried to capitalize on that, there was a Hot Toys Jake released, Sideshow Collectibles released Colonel Quaritch, Jake Sully, and 3 different Neytiri statue offerings. Before the movie opened Avatar had a video game for the PC and consoles for that generation, and had the Mattel action figure line. For a brand new property that no one knew exactly what to expect I think this was more than adequate for major consumer goods. You don’t want to flood the market and also have the movie flop. To further my point of Avatar actually having a lasting impact, Avatar inspired a succesful Cirque du Soleil show, their own land at Animal Kingdom, a mobile game, and most recently comic books. Avatar has left quite an impact, but for whatever reason that impact seems to be brushed aside because the fans of the movie may not be the biggest consumer of collectibles.
I agree with Scott, Avatar didn’t dominate the toy aisle or have 6 feet of space like Star Wars does, but Star Wars is very established, has lots of collectors, and no one knew how well Avatar would do before the movie released. My small town has 3 Wal-Marts, one Target, and at the time one Toys R Us. The only store that carried Avatar was Toys R Us and I never found the Avatar/Na’vi figures there, they normally had some of the various humans and some creatures or vehicles. So as a huge fan of the movie who wanted to collect this line I was left with the option of eBay or Amazon. Judging from the prices on eBay I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get my hands on these figures. The 7″ Movie Masters Neytiri was $100 for awhile. So there absolutely was demand for these figures from this movie. I have no idea how long that high demand lasted or if they flew off the shelves everywhere, but from what I saw as a fan it was in high demand for a decent amount of time. However as with anything, once the movie has been out a few months, the hype dies down and people move on. Without comics, tv shows, and other new media to keep the story lines of those characters going, peoples interest moves to other things. It’s hard to compare 1977 to 2021 but Star Wars didn’t have any figures when it first released, but they eventually came and Star Wars has been great about getting additional media out there to keep people spending money. I’ve never been under the impression that was the Avatar goal, as I mentioned earlier, the true goal was to get people in the theater to watch the movie.
The line had two main scales for the figures, it can be a bit confusing, however at the same time it worked pretty well. There were the smaller figures that made up the vast majority of the line. Humans were 3.75″ and the Na’vi/Avatars were 4.25″. The humans and Na’vi/Avatars didn’t work together well in this scale with an average human male being around 6′, and a Na’vi/Avatar being around 10′. By having both the humans and Na’vi/Avatar figures this size they were able to make accurate sized creatures and vehicles for them. Creatures and vehicles would have been very cost prohibitive at the larger scale. There was also the 7″ scale figures, called the Movie Masters line. They consisted of a few versions of Jake, Neytiri, and Colonel Quaritch. The Colonel didn’t scale with the larger Na’vi as he was about 6.25″, but it gave you a chance to have a larger sized figure. The 7″ Na’vi/Avatars scale almost perfectly with the 3.75″ humans and their vehicles. Further proof of this lies in the fact that in 2010 Mattel released an SDCC set called “The Final Battle,” includind in it a 3.75″ Colonel Quaritch with Amp Suit, and a 7″ Jake Sully. This set recreated the finale fight between Jake and Quaritch at the end of Avatar.
Scott also mentions the iTag stands the figures came with, and I can only speak for myself on this. Back in 2009/2010 my internet wasn’t great, it had horrible slow speeds. I wasn’t able to even use the iTag feature because the internet just wasn’t up to it. I’ve seen online videos of how it was supposed to work but I can only imagine how many other people couldn’t ever get their iTags to work due to internet speeds. So personally that’s something I’ve never factored into the line. From what I’ve seen it looked like it could have been a really fun feature.
In regards to figures selling better if the good guys are humans and the bad guys the aliens, I believe Scott and trust the logic behind it. Maybe that helped keep sales down below what Mattel wanted from the line. I’d love to see some actual numbers on how the line did in sales, because that’s something I’ve never seen. Also touching on the role play items, maybe role play items for kids would have encouraged further buying of the main line, but I was never under the impression the action figure line did poorly. To me it looked like it was out, sold with the hype of the movie and then went away, as most all movie lines do. Even with the later success of Avatar having a Cirque show, and a land within Disney, I never expected another mass retail release until we get within a couple months of Avatar 2. The merchandise at Pandora: The World of Avatar seems to sell very well from what I’ve seen, again I don’t have sales numbers on that, but if you visit you’ll feel the same way. On the secondary market Avatar figures prices are really solid, and have only risen over the years as the sequels get closer to releasing.
I have a lot of respect for Scott and his toy knowledge and these are just my thoughts and counterpoints to his feelings on the line. As a collector of this line and someone who has collected the entire line, I feel like I have a lot of knowledge of how it was early on and in the secondary market since.
Ad for the figure and iTag feature.