Last weekend, while visiting a local toy show, I was surprised to see some vintage character items with really low price tags. One example was a Popeye game with awesome graphics from the 50’s that was selling for less than an unboxed Masters of the Universe vehicle that was sitting next to it on the same table. This got me thinking about the items that I collect and how they might fare on a vendor’s table 75 years from now.
As a collector, I have made the conscious decision to collect “icons.” But what constitutes an icon? For me, an icon is a character that has withstood the test of time, having been reworked and rebooted to adapt to the current market, and has a strong future ahead. The icons I actively collect include Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, and King Kong. Some of these characters have been around for almost 100 years, and have been seen in a variety of media ranging from comics to the big screen. These iconic characters are among the blue-chip stocks when it comes to collectible characters. I like knowing that when I am dead and gone, there will be others out there who will value the items I collected.
So what makes a hot property rise to “icon” status versus fading away into obscurity. The first consideration is whether a character is based on a real person. Anything tied directly to a person has a limited shelf life, with some lasting longer than others. Some examples include Mr. T, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, James Dean, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and Peewee Herman. Once the person dies or falls from grace, his or her collectability rarely lasts more than a generation or two.
A second trait that most icons share is their ability to adapt to the times. Iconic characters may change their appearance, ideals, and surroundings, in order to reflect the current state of the world. The treatment of Superman as an ‘illegal alien” in the recent movie Batman V. Superman is an example of this. Superman’s backstory was massaged to tie in with the headlines you might see on a news website today. Characters like Popeye have not been able to adapt in this way and have been stuck in time to a point where they no longer have much of a fan base.
Collectors are often told to collect what they love, and I would never fault someone for doing so, but if you want to build a collection that will stand the test of time, then you may want to focus on icons. Listed below are some characters that I have placed into categories ranging from truly iconic “blue chip” status to those who are now virtually forgotten. Feel free to chime in with a comment if you disagree with any of these placements — we all have our opinions!
Blue Chip Characters
Characters who have been around a while and have a strong future ahead:
- Wonder Woman
- King Kong
- Star Wars
- Mickey Mouse
- Donald Duck
- James Bond
- Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Mummy, Creature)
Blue chips on the edge
The future is uncertain for these once iconic characters:
- Buck Rogers
- Lone Ranger
- GI Joe
- Planet of the Apes
- Flash Gordon
Recent characters with a potential for a good, long run:
- Harry Potter
Hot today, but warming fast
Hot now but probably won’t stand the test of time:
- Dr. Who
- Angry Birds
- South Park
- Ben 10
- Pixar characters
- Harley Quinn
- Dragon Ball Z
Characters who are slowly fading away as time passes them by:
- Rocky and Bullwinkle
- Star Trek
- Masters of the Universe
- Cereal Mascots
- Hanna Barbera Cartoon characters
- Scooby Doo
- Yogi Bear
- Bugs Bunny and Looney Toons in general
Characters who have failed to keep up with the times:
- Yellow Kid
- Dan Dare
- Tom Corbett Space Cadet
- Matt Mason
- Alley Oop
- Bozo the clown
- Mighty Mouse
- Casper the friendly ghost
- Felix the Cat
- Betty Boop
- Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman
- Woody Woodpecker
- Dukes of Hazzard
- Dick Tracy
- Howdy Doody
- Rocky and Bullwinkle
- Strawberry Shortcake
- Rainbow Bright
- Dennis the Menace
- Mr. T
- Marilyn Monroe
- James Dean
- Roy Rogers
- Gene Autry
- Hopalong Cassidy
- Peewee Herman
Notice that I didn’t call any of the above characters completely dead — a strong reboot could revive even the most tenuous ones, but it’s not looking good for some of them, even though they may have commanded a good bit of attention in their prime.
I’d love to have a few names into the “Sleepers” category, but I just couldn’t come up with more than two contenders. I expect there are a few particular properties on the above list that will rile up some readers, so add a comment below and let me know which ones I got wrong and right.
Dukes of Hazzard Who? Yes.
Daisy Dukes? Icon status.
Very interesting topic and lists.
Okay, I’ll grant iconic status to Daisy Dukes (but not Daisy Duke). 😉
In which category does Alien belong?
Good one! Personally, I think Alien and other horror characters won’t stand the test of time, but it would be great if they did! Universal monsters have universal appeal, but I’m not sure Alien, Freddy, and Jason have the same staying power.
I think Alien could be a sleeper. The first Alien movie was a shock to the system in terms of a horror movie. The second move Aliens was one of the most badass action movies of all times – even better with the director’s cut. Obviously, the follow up movies including the AVPs weren’t as good (though I love Alien 3) – that alien itself is iconic. The genre is hugely popular overseas as well. They continue to reinvent and release new Alien collectibles. So I’m thinking a sleeper. Will revisit this site in 50 years to see if I was right.
Freddy and Jason? No way. While popular, don’t think the slasher movies have as large of a following.
Of course, that’s my opinion – I could be wrong.
I would LOVE to see a new Aliens movie 50 years from now, and hope that it does live up to your expectations. The character is kind of unique in that it doesn’t speak, and is basically a boogeyman that could be used forever. Its look doesn’t even need to be upgraded or altered, but like Predator, there are already plenty of variations, so it could have a good long run!
Aliens just got its own day!
Excellent! I was planning on going to the Alamo for their showing of 1 and 2 but tickets sold out in a hurry. I guess I’ll have to host my own screening. 😉
Jathniel aka LasVegasYankee says
Love the article. Very Interesting read. Sad to see some of the names on the “Who?” list (Micronauts, Elvis). However, Star Trek is looking to make a rebound if the new TV series makes a big splash. But I do believe that Dr. Who will be around longer than most people think. But being off the air for a year really doesn’t help.
As someone who remembers catching glimpses of Dr. Who in the early 70’s on his grandparents’ TV, I’m amazed at how long the show has already been around! I REALLY do want to like it, but I just can’t do it.
I think my reasoning for Star Trek being in danger is because Star Wars is just so much more dominant. Maybe there will be room for both, but I’m not convinced.