A Study in the Scale of Marvel Action Figures

Scale Explanation

At this point some explanation of terms is in order. True scale is a measurement of how tall the action figure is compared to the height of the character, expressed in inches/foot. However, most collectors refer to 5", 6", 8", 10", and 12" action figure scale. I interpret this to mean how tall the action figure is for a standard 6 foot character. In other words, a 5 inch action figure representing a 6 foot character is in 5" scale. An example calculation is given below.

Here is the Web Traps Spiderman action figure which is 5 1/2 (5.5) inches tall. In the comic books, Spiderman is 5 feet, 10 inches tall (or 5.83 feet). The true scale used is (5.5 in / 5.83 ft) which is 0.943 in/ft. Multiplying by 6 ft gives the action figure scale of 5.7".

For the sake of simplicity, I will use the term "scale" to mean action figure scale from this point on.

Reference Error Explanation

I also calculated what the error in character height would be if the action figure is assumed to be in a particular scale. For example, if Web Traps Spiderman (action figure: 5.5", character: 5'10") is assumed to be in 5" scale, then he would be 9 inches too tall if scaled up to actual size. By the same token, if the figure is assumed to be in 6" scale, then he is 4 inches too short scaled up to actual size. The picture below illustrates the concept:

I did this "reference error" check for 5" and 6" scales, and also added my own 5.5" scale. In the example above, if Web Traps Spiderman is assumed to be in my new 5.5" scale, he is now only 2 inches too tall when scaled up to actual size. These calculated reference errors are given in the Ref Error columns in the tables below.

Rather than simply criticize Toy Biz for being so inconsistent with scaling, I decided to allow them plus or minus 3 inches in reference error. As you will see, most of the figures I tested turn out to be in 5.5" scale (highlighted in the tables).

I also assembled some pictures containing figures that are in 5.5" scale based on my +/- 3 inch critera. I also included some outliers for comparison. To ensure correct relative sizes, I scanned each of the figures and then resized them by a common ratio using Paint Shop Pro. The tables and pictures are given in the following sections.

Overall Results

The calculated scales for the figures I tested range all over the place between 5" and 6". The graph below shows these scales plotted in ascending order. It is a continuous curve, with no obvious breaks or plateaus. This implies that there is not a distinct 5" or 6" scale; or any other particular scale, for that matter.

It should be noted that the majority of the figures I tested are from lines produced after 1995. Most of the Toy Biz figures produced before that time are consistently in 5" scale. I could have chosen more of the older figures for the analysis, but I prefer the newer figures that are dynamically posed in the mighty Marvel style. They look much more alive displayed on a shelf.


Character 5" scale 5.5" scale 6" scale
(Within +/- 3 inches of ref)
8 21 7

Using the +/- 3 inch criteria, 21 of the 36 figures I tested fall within the 5.5" scale, but only 8 and 7 figures each are in 5" or 6" scale, respectively. Thus, I plan to buy figures that fit into the 5.5" scale, and customize other figures so that they will also fit in.


Converted 1/14/02