We’ve spent a lot of 2021 spending; our wallets cried out in agony with every cool new announcement of a shiny action figures or a silly collectible. But there was also plenty of absolutely bananas bits of merchandising that were totally out there… and not always for the best reasons. Here’s our look back at some of the weirdest collectible moments from the year.
Aliens Nerf Gun
Don’t get us wrong: it’s extremely cool that Hasbro branched out its Nerf licensing this year, essentially turning pop culture blasters from Star Wars, Halo, and Alien into dart-flinging weapons of much safer, much smaller destruction. But it’s still kind of weird to turn the iconic pulse rifle of Alien — a movie distinctly not for the average age of the Nerf audience — into a very expensive dart gun. We appreciate it though, even if the neon colours to make it look more like a Nerf toy made it an odd choice for collectors.
Stormtrooper George Lucas
It’s far from the first time we got news of a George Lucas action figure, sure — not even for Hasbro’s old 3.75″ figure line, which had previously turned him into an X-Wing pilot hilariously named Jorg Sacul — but I dunno guys. Feels weird to take the former owner of Star Wars and turn him into the footsoldier of a villainous Empire, albeit marketed as him simply being “in disguise.” Especially when it’d already been done 15 years ago. Why not a Jedi this time? Why not just George as is?
Also, Black Series Baron Papanoida when?
The year 2021 was a great year for the Pokémon Trading Card game. Killer new sets, lots of great art, and the very nostalgia-heavy 25th anniversary set Celebrations made it a fun time to be back in the world of the TCG. What didn’t is that this was the year resellers turned a card game largely designed for young children into the next speculative market after sneakers and graphics cards, leaving Pokémon fans hysterical as they battled with hoarders over booster packs, and generally went perhaps a little too far in retail frenzy. Things have settled down more recently, at least, but for a while finding even a simple pack of cards felt like tracking down Mew.
Stranger Things Retro Figures
I mean… we don’t have to tell you what’s weird here, right? Right?
Galactic Snackin’ Grogu
Remember back in the heady days of early 2021, approximately 78 years ago, when we were all coming down from The Mandalorian season two and were so sure things would start feeling normal again by summer? Hahaha. What idiots. But also we were still coming down from that whole discourse about the fact that beloved child star Baby Yoda (now known as Grogu) ate a whole bunch of a frog lady’s eggs. Not cute, honestly.
Anyway, Hasbro responded by making a Grogu toy dedicated to eating things, thankfully none of which were young frogspawn, but it was still kind of creepy in that “feedable baby doll” fashion. Those reaching hands. He hungers for more.
Sam Wilson Captain America… Without Wings
At last, Sam Wilson is the MCU’s Captain America — and it only took an incredibly uneven TV show to get him there. It was cool to have a figure of Sam in his new star-spangled suit rolling out so soon in the wake of Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s release, but Hasbro managed to make it a hell of a headache by making Sam’s wings a separate purchase: if you wanted the thing that makes Sam’s version of Cap unique in terms of his power set, you had to shell out over $US100 ($140) extra to get all the parts to make his winged backpack and his Redwing drone. Good figure, crappy handling.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife Minipufts
Literally Any Cara Dune Merchandise
This was the year that Star Wars had perhaps one of the weirdest reckonings it’s had to have with its long, intertwined history of merchandising: what do you do when you part ways with an actor, only to have your name and their likeness stacked on shelves in plastic form? That was the issue facing licensees earlier this year when Lucasfilm confirmed to Gizmodo that it was no longer working with Mandalorian co-star Gina Carano, in the wake of repeated examples of the actress sharing bigoted commentary on social media.
Lucasfilm might have dropped Carano so hard it had to shutter a previously announced spinoff set to focus on her character, Cara Dune. But it had a much more awkward time as action figures, Funko pops, and Lego minifigures of the character sat on store shelves and briefly became a hot speculative feature on the aftermarket as fans wanting to own a piece of soon-to-be-scrubbed history snapped up what was left.
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