Today I’m ranking every GI Joe toy line. Well, within reason. There are some criteria or I’d go absolutely insane.
Here are my (admittedly very loose and arbitrary criteria):
- The toy line was made by Hasbro itself (so no Hot Toys, Sideshow, Super7, or my beloved KRE-O)
- The toy line is related to the ARAH iteration of GI Joe (so no OG 12” Joes, Adventure Team, etc)
- No Fast Action Battlers, Micro Force, Combat Heroes, etc– I’d go crazy trying to catalog all of those weird side lines from the Modern Era
- I’m not listing 3.75” and 12” figures from these lines separately, with one exception
That’s it! I’m sure I’m still missing something and I probably screwed up some of the dates. But I promise I did a good bit of research and tried my best.
Also, I have Very Good Taste in everything, but this is just my list. I’m sure yours would be different. But probably not that different!
This is already going to be too wordy, so let’s just get to it, shall we?
(All the photos in this article are either from my collection, promo photos, or stolen from various online retailers, who are encouraged to remember how much money I’ve given them over the years instead of suing me.)
22. 50th Anniversary (2014-2016)
Ugh, what a trainwreck. 50th Anniversary was basically the same as every other Modern Era GI Joe toy line, but completely phoned in and with worse distribution. I may have seen these in an actual Toys R Us once in my life.
The paint applications were beyond sloppy, the character selection was usually kind of silly, and the plastic was gummy. There were some good re-releases from prior lines like Alpine and Zombie Viper, but I don’t feel like too many people ever found them on shelves.
This was a soulless cash-grab toy line that no one put any sort of love or thought into. The quality was abysmal, too. It had some decent releases, but it’s a GI Joe toy line, so that’s expected. This is the worst GI Joe toy line Hasbro has ever done.
21. Extreme (1995)
GI Joe Extreme is not a good GI Joe toy line. It doesn’t gel with GI Joe’s standard super articulation and interchangeable accessories. Some of the figures are terribly pre-posed and don’t even feature moving legs.
It does kind of succeed as its own thing, though. Taken as a 90s superhero toy line in the vein of Kenner or Toy Biz, it’s pretty decent. The character designs are good and the toys are colorful. Iron Klaw himself probably has one of the coolest and most dynamic villain designs in the entire world of GI Joe.
This line is much more similar to Kenner’s Aliens or Extreme Justice than it is to the GI Joe lines that came before it. But they’re still pretty cool action figures in their own right.
20. No-Ring Convention Exclusives (2007-2018)
There are some gems hidden in the Modern Era convention exclusive crop of figures– no doubt about it. There was even some creativity. I really like what they did with Eco Warriors (tying them into the Z-Toxin and Zombie Viper stuff) and making nobodies like T’Jbang into zombie hunters was neat, too.
But, let’s be honest– these were often just expensive repaints that relied heavily upon people who obsessively army build various Cobra forces. Parts selections were sometimes pretty weird and the people in charge played it safe whenever possible, choosing easy fanservice over fun toys.
I’m sure these look nice in their foam trays and painstakingly arranged in glass cabinets, but they don’t seem very fun to me. With a few exceptions, of course.
19. Collector’s Club Exclusives (2008-2018)
The only reason the Collector’s Club Exclusive series ranks higher than the no-ring convention exclusive series is because they released some neat o-ring style figures. Operation Flaming MOTH was a great series of repaints. They also released some cool New Sculpt Era stuff early on.
But when the line really picked up steam in 2013, the Modern Era figures they released were often pretty dire. Bullet-Proof and Dodger are the same guy, apparently. If they were so limited by parts selection, why did they even try to crank out so many poorly constructed homages to better toys that were made years ago? Oh, that’s right– there’s a subset of people who will buy absolutely anything related to their favorite brands.
Still, I have to give them some props for releasing cool figures like Pythona and Old Snake. It wasn’t all bad.
18. Sgt. Savage (1995)
Sgt. Savage, which I discussed recently, was another pretty decent toy line that just wasn’t a good match for GI Joe. It came hot on the heels of ARAH’s death, and the figures just did not fit in with what came before them. And they were close enough to fitting in that it actually hurt.
But it was also apparent that a lot of care went into the toy line. The vehicles and accessories were cool, the character designs were great, and the whole concept was very fun. It was just a “wrong place, wrong time” kind of thing.
No harm done, Sgt. Savage. We forgive you.
Update: My friend Scott mentioned the newer Retro Collection line that I totally forgot about. It has some rehashed Modern Era stuff and some decent looking new Modern Era stuff. But the name doesn’t seem appropriate for the line. I’ve never handled any of these toys, though, so I’m not an expert. For now, just assume it floats like a ghost between Sgt. Savage and the next entry.
17. Built to Rule (2003-2005)
LEGO plus GI Joe! What a great concept. Unfortunately, inexperience and quality control got in the way.
The figures themselves were the epitome of New Sculpt Era weirdness. Many of them had goofy proportions and bizarre design choices. They also had building block studs on their forearms (for attached blocks and weapons), which were ugly. And because the figures were so gummy and rubbery, attaching pieces to them was kind of difficult anyway. They often became warped or deformed very quickly, too.
The blocks themselves were not great. They certainly weren’t LEGO quality. Or KRE-O quality. The vehicle designs and building instructions weren’t great either. But still, some of the figures and ideas were pretty cool.
16. 25th Anniversary (2007-2010)
For a lot of people, the 25th Anniversary line was the thing that got them back into GI Joe, at least for a while. I know that was true for me personally. The figures featured modern articulation and classic designs, and added quality-of-life improvements like working holsters with removable knives and pistols.
But even though they had more points of articulation than their ARAH forbearers, their range of motion was often more limited. They held their weapons awkwardly. The joints and proportions were often unsightly. There were bad head sculpts. And, above all else, they relied way too much on nostalgia and repaints. How many versions of Duke and Snake Eyes do you need? 25A took it to the max, and it’s a trend that’s still going on. Availability was often a nightmare, too.
There were many good pieces in the line. I still use some of the vehicles and accessories in photos. And, I feel like we have to be fair here– the toy line greatly improved as it went along. But the toys did not live up to their ancestors. And the line really reignited the whole scalping, hoarding, and general “online guy with a bad bad attitude” trends we still see today.
15. GI Joe Vs. Cobra (2002)
GI Joe Vs. Cobra was another attempt to rejuvenate the GI Joe brand. And it worked! The initial action figure 2-packs were pretty odd, though. Instead of the usual o-ring construction, Hasbro used t-crotch hips similar to what you saw with old Kenner Star Wars figures.
There were good designs, working holsters, and scabbards for swords, though. And Hasbro reintroduced o-rings as the line went on. I still think the Moray, Neo-Viper, and Wet-Suit are All-Time GI Joe designs. I loved the Mantis sub, too, which was a repainted Jonny Quest vehicle.
Still, the proportions were often bad and the sculpts could be either boring or offensive. The line did feature a few great ARAH repaints, too, though. And some good vehicle reissues. Overall, I have a hard time getting too mad about it.
14. Hall of Fame (1991-1995)
I have a lot of nostalgia for Hall of Fame, but I’m trying to be fair here. These were fairly expensive 12” dolls that were marketed to collectors as well as kids. And while many things about them did feel “premium” and a lot of care went into some aspects of the line, they still had some major problems.
Their articulation was abysmal. Their elbows and knees could barely bend, even though they were technically articulated at those points. Every figure had bare hands, which looked off. And the accessory reuse got out of hand pretty quickly.
But there were many good points to the line, as well. Seeing the 90s designs for Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Stalker, Cobra Commander, and Destro in 12” scale was awesome. The outfits and costumes looked brilliant. Hasbro also sold different outfits and accessory packs, which really upped the play value. These figures still look fantastic standing on a shelf. But they’re not very good toys.
13. Classified (2020-Present)
Again, this is a toy line I need to be fair and objective about. I do not collect it and I have little interest in 6” figures. But when I take a look at Classified Major Bludd, Zartan, or Lady Jaye, I can’t help but smile. These are great looking action figures.
The line is young and still finding its footing. It also has terrible distribution and relies way too heavily on Target Exclusives, which frustrates most collectors. I know I wouldn’t be able to put up with it.
I love that Hasbro tried some new designs right out of the gate, which made the worst parts of the fandom bitch and moan all over the internet. But now they’re finding a balance between some modern tweaks and classic designs. I really hope they don’t just fall back on “ARAH figures, but big” because there’s so much opportunity for fun and innovation in this toy line.
These toys have great sculpts, paint, and accessories. They look amazing in photos. But they also attract the people who collect every 6” figure line (Marvel, Star Wars, Power Rangers, etc) more than they attract long time GI Joe fans. I just hope a blind lust for nostalgia and the same things we’ve seen a million times before doesn’t force the line to stagnate and disappear.
12. Retaliation (2012-2013)
GI Joe: Retaliation the movie draws mixed reactions from fans. I know I have quite a few problems with it. The toy line launch was also botched when the movie’s release date got pushed back, which left Hasbro with an uphill battle. There were other problems, too, like reduced articulation and figure designs that didn’t even try to match the film.
But Retaliation also gave me a RZA figure. And a Bruce Willis figure. The yellow costume Jinx (from the coolest scene in the film) is also an All-Timer. The Red Ninjas and GI Joe Troopers are great, and if you’re really into disposable action movies, you’re probably glad you got all of the Dwayne Johnson toys you could ever want, too. We also got a very nice Kwinn and the best versions of classic Storm Shadow and Cobra Commander we’ve ever received in any Modern Era toy lines.
Retaliation, as a toy line, was much more good than bad.
11. O-Ring Convention Exclusives (2002-2010)
I’ll be honest– I own almost none of these toys. I was never able to attend a GI Joe convention during this time frame, and the toys were expensive even during their initial release. For the most part, secondary market prices are ridiculous still to this day. These were not widely available.
And they also have some problems. They came during the “repaint era,” which often combined classic ARAH figure bodies with new head sculpts. And the head sculpts were often too small for the bodies and just looked weird. The powers that be also played it safe a lot of the time, resulting in a lot of predictable repaints and overall boring figures. The people in charge also showed a considerable amount of contempt for the fandom at times.
But when the figures were great, they were great. There are so many cool toys spread across these vast convention sets that I can’t rank this line any lower. They weren’t all hits, but they did some good work.
10. Rise of Cobra (2009-2010)
Much like Retaliation, Rise of Cobra was not a great movie. But it was an excellent toy line. RoC was the first time we really saw Hasbro stepping outside of its nostalgia comfort zone during the Modern Era, and it produced some really fun toys.
I love the power armor-like accelerator suits. I love all the weird little guns and accessories the figures came with. New characters like Helix were great, too. And we had very cool and untraditional designs for Destro, Cobra Commander, Flash, Kamakura, and Charbroil. The Night Raven from RoC is also a favorite vehicle of mine. You got some cool re-releases of older toys and playsets like the SNAKE armor and Surveillance Port, too.
But, because Hasbro went against the grain a bit with this one, it’s still kind of reviled by fans. I’m hoping people are starting to reevaluate the line now and appreciate just how fun and adventurous it was. For me, it had to rank in the top 10.
9. Direct to Consumer (2005-2006)
The Direct to Consumer, or DTC, line was another experiment for Hasbro. They sold some brand new figures, mostly done in the Spy Troops or Valor Vs. Venom style, directly through their website.
Many of these figures and vehicles were very cool. The RHINO is one of the best GI Joe vehicles ever made. Figures like Medi-Viper and Barrage were also well done and had good proportions.
A DTC model is also better than a crowdfunding model, so that’s another thing I appreciate about it. I applaud this line for being adventurous and doing cool things, but it also fell kind of flat in many ways.
8. 30th Anniversary/Renegades (2011-2012)
Dang, this was a good toy line. If you like Modern Era figures at all, there’s a lot to enjoy here. 30th Anniversary also encompassed the Renegades figures, which gave us fantastic updates to old favorites like Sci-Fi and Airtight, but also gave us really cool new takes on Tunnel Rat, Scarlett, and more.
This is where we first got Zombie Vipers and Hazard Vipers. We also got really nice updates to classic troopers like your traditional Cobra: The Enemy and Steel Brigade. I also include the Dollar General series under this banner, which included very fun takes on Shipwreck and early 90s Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes.
This is a comparatively small toy line, but it’s a great one.
7. Valor Vs. Venom (2004-2005)
With Valor Vs. Venom, Hasbro really let their freak flag fly. And I appreciate the hell out of it. Sure, it still had some of the weird proportion issues that affected Spy Troops and JvC, but our favorite Plasticmongers from Rhode Island went really hard with this toy line.
We got Cobra agents and troopers who had been spliced with animal DNA, resulting in amazing figure designs like Swamp Rat, Electric Eel, and Razorclaw. We got total weirdos like Venomous Maximus and Hard Drive. There were also cool updates to existing characters, like a Dr. Mindbender who was finally concerned with lab safety.
I also commend new characters like Dr. Link Talbot (a veterinarian!), Bombstrike, Ghost Bear, and Hi-Tech. This line wasn’t perfect, but it gave us a fun combination of redesigns, new characters, and new concepts. Plus, those Exosquad ripoff mechs were amazing.
6. Comic Book 3 Packs (2004-2006)
Hasbro’s Comic Book 3-Packs, which started their lifespan on toy shelves and ended up as online exclusives, were kind of a mixed bag. But when you objectively compare them to other GI Joe toy lines, I think they were a strong offering overall.
Some of the newly sculpted heads were way too small. Some of the parts choices were weird. The accessories were almost always bad. How many versions of the same Stalker or Snake eyes did we need?
But when you look at the vast amount of figures you got in those packs and see just how great many of them were, you realize we were pretty spoiled at the time. Hasbro didn’t always make good (or even logical) choices with these 3-packs, but they gave us some excellent stuff like Storm Shadow, Firefly, the classic Oktober Guard, Red Ninjas, and Gas Mask Troopers. Plus, the comic packs are still a good way to pick up classic Cobra Troopers and Officers.
5. Pursuit of Cobra/Resolute (2010-2011)
Now that we’re in the top 5, you know things are getting good.
Pursuit of Cobra (and, by extension, Resolute) is the best Modern Era-style GI Joe toy line. With PoC, Hasbro started taking risks again and implementing bold new designs. Jungle Operations Duke and Shadow Tracker are legendary figures. We also got a wild shirtless Storm Shadow and a desert shaman Zartan.
Even the workhorse figures like Dusty, Snow Job, Hawk, and the Resolute figures were all excellent.
These figures also came with a huge array of accessories, many of which I still use in photos with my ARAH figures. They took the science fiction elements to the max with some new bipedal mechs, too. This is a line where design, new ideas, and playability all collided to make something beautiful. Except for Low Light. Fuck Low Light.
4. Spy Troops (2003)
Look, Spy Troops has its problems. Most of the figures have wacky proportions and the “disguises” are unconvincing.
But holy shit, this was a really fun toy line. Though the disguises don’t really work unless you properly suspend your disbelief, they are an amazing play pattern. Removable helmets and armor are always fun.
There are also figures like BAT, Depth Charge, Barrel Roll, Overkill, and Destro that are just plain unimpeachable. I dare you to not have fun while dressing Shipwreck up as Cobra Commander.
Spy Troops gave us a ton of new characters, ARAH repaints, and a magnificent play pattern. It’s easily earned its place in the top 5.
3. Sigma 6 (2005-2007)
Objectively, Sigma 6 did everything right– except for fitting in with either 3.75” or 4” GI Joe figures.
The line gave us bold new designs, a crazy amount of articulation on each figure, mind-blowingly cool accessories (including guns with removable magazines), and a modular attachment system that let you mix and match so many different things between the figures.
There were cool little touches like wrist communicators and footlockers for accessory storage. The figures looked great and the action features were fun. The 2.5” line put out some of the best vehicles GI Joe has ever seen, including the Dragonhawk (which is perfectly compatible with Exosquad figures).
As the line aged and expanded, it even brought in some Adventure Team elements, too. There is nothing I don’t like or respect about Sigma 6. RIP, big homie.
2. A Real American Hero and Repaint Era (1997-2006)
The ARAHC line went on in many different iterations over almost ten years. But I’m counting all of the ARAH-style releases and repaints (that weren’t club or con exclusives) as one toy line, just for the sake of my sanity.
Hasbro did some bad and lazy stuff with these releases over the years. They tended towards boring colors and predictable parts reuses. But they also released a bunch of new characters and troopers. We got a Tiger Force Jinx and a blue Undertow, too, for god’s sake!
Hasbro could have done better with this line, but it’s the second best thing they’ve ever done with GI Joe. From 97 Breaker to Winter Operations Snake Eyes all the way to Heavy Assault Squad Duke, I’d own every single one of these figures if I could.
Great job, Hasbro. You gave us both 97 Stalker and Night Force Action Man. I am very grateful.
1. A Real American Hero (1982-1994)
Was there ever any question about the number one spot?
A Real American Hero is the reason we’re all here. It’s probably the main reason you come to this website. It contained astronauts, aliens, ninjas, Play-Doh, Eco Warriors, ICBMs, space shuttles, tanks, and giant robots. Whether you only wanted military realism (in which case, you’re boring) or you wanted a grand science fiction adventure, ARAH had something for you.
With A Real American Hero, Hasbro was constantly experimenting. They released Falcon and Golobulous in the same year. They never let the line get stale and they kept an aging army man toy line going well into the era of Ninja Turtles and X-Men.
It’s not only the best GI Joe toy line– it’s one of the best toy lines, period. I’ve been collecting and playing with these toys since 1989, so it obviously did something very right.
Please feel free to argue with me in the comments!
But please keep it civil. I want to know how you rank GI Joe’s various toy lines, but I don’t want you to hurl abuse at anyone. All of my regular readers are perfect baby angels, but for those of you who aren’t– I’ve got my eye on you!