How aggressively cute toys for adults became a $686 million business (2023)

When 37-year-old Jack recently brought a woman back to his house after a date, she was taken aback by his spare room. Stacked in neat boxes from the floor to the ceiling, exactly 1,080 plastic figurines fill the rec room in Jack’s California home. Over the past four years, the grape farmer — who is identified here by a pseudonym — has spent more than $9,000 on the toys.

Each of Jack’s toys has a pair of large, vacant black eyes, a square head, and a disproportionately small body. They are Pop Vinyl figurines, created by the 20-year-old company Funko Inc., based in Washington state, and launched in 2011. Known to fans simply as “Funko Pops,” each toy is based on a pop culture character, and according to the official Funko App, there are now 8,366 different figures. Alongside the expected superheroes, you can buy Funko Pops of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Tupac Shakur, Abraham Lincoln, Cece from New Girl, a shark from Sharknado, and the son of the creator of Vans shoes, Steve Van Doren. Everyone, the official Funko motto goes, is a fan of something.

How aggressively cute toys for adults became a $686 million business (1)

“We take pride in the fact that we can Popify about anything,” says Sean Wilkinson, Funko’s creative director, who has been with the company since its inception. “There’s nothing we won’t do at this point.”

Funko Pops are now available from 25,000 retail brands worldwide, from Walmart to Amazon to Hot Topic and even, somewhat bizarrely, Foot Locker. In 2018, the company’s net sales increased 33 percent to $686.1 million, with figurines accounting for 82 percent of all sales. After the company released its Q2 earnings report in early August, declaring that sales up are 38 percent compared to this time last year, CEO Brian Mariotti called his company “recession proof.”

It’s likely you’ve now encountered a Funko Pop — be it on a coworker’s desk, wrapped under a Christmas tree, or waiting, blank-eyed, in your date’s home. Why exactly are the figurines so phenomenally popular, and how did the company come to dominate the pop culture merchandising market?

“When I walk into my room full of Pops, I like to look around and just be blasted by nostalgia,” Jack says of his collection. “I like that you can have characters from an old Mexican TV show, and you can have a Care Bear, and you can have John Wick and Elvira, and they all look right together. They’re kind of uniform — you can have all these different genres together in one concise collection.”

Collectors like Jack make up 36 percent of Funko’s customers, while 31 percent are “occasional buyers.” Wilkinson says Funko Pops appeal to both markets because of the “science of cute” behind the figurines’ design.

“There’s literally a certain height of eyes a certain width apart, and the head being two-thirds the size of the body, it’s a set ratio,” he explains. “Like baby animals with big eyes that are kind of far apart. I think it’s sort of born in us to be attracted to these things.” Wilkinson says because of these strategic design decisions, there are many “reluctant” Pop collectors. “A lot of people didn’t want to like these … and they’d buy one, they’d buy two, and suddenly they’re hooked.”

Yet it’s also undeniable that many people find Funko Pops ugly or unnerving — in the past two months, a YouTube video titled “I HATE FUNKO POP VINYLS” has accumulated more than a million views. “The Dory one looks like the physical manifestation of human sin,” reads the top comment on the video, with more than 1,500 likes. (For what it’s worth, Wilkinson acknowledges that designing fish Funkos is hard — “anything with eyes on the side of its head is always a bit of a challenge.”)

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How aggressively cute toys for adults became a $686 million business (2) Funko

Surprisingly, avid collector Jack is among those who find Pops “creepy-looking,” and even describes some designs as “very off-putting,” citing an original Goofy Pop with drooping eyelids over pupil-less eyes. “There are some that are very ugly and creepy, so I wouldn’t call them cute,” he says, “I just find them very interesting.” Jack says the main appeal of the toys is that you can purchase characters that aren’t normally seen in a collectible form. “Like Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, when’s the last time you saw a collectible for him? Or Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction. When you see something like that, something you absolutely love, and it’s only $10, why not pick it up?”

Funko now has more than 1,000 licensed properties, from the Avengers to the Golden Girls, Fortnite to Flash Gordon, Stranger Things to The Office. “Evergreen and classic” properties like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Disney make up nearly half of all Funko Pop sales, but the company is seemingly constantly procuring new, unexpected licenses, from drag queens to food mascots to NASCAR drivers.

“Our brand identity is to be able to say that we have something for literally everybody,” says Dolly Ahluwalia, Funko’s VP of licensing and business development. Ahluwalia says the company constantly looks out for new licenses by searching fan forums and listening to Funko collectors (the company calls them “fanatics”) about what they want to see next. Old franchises, she says, are a huge hit.

“We’re in a world right now where there is a lot of nostalgia at play — people have a lot of affinity for brands and shows from the ’80s and ’90s,” she says. Yet hunting down licenses for obscure properties can be challenging. “Sometimes those licenses aren’t even open for licensing any more, the studio’s given up the rights, or we can’t track down the talent,” she explains. Nonetheless, the hunt usually pays off. Ahluwalia says the license for Pokémon “took a long time to procure” but “ended up being huge” for the company. “It was a long process to get Pokémon to allow their characters to be stylized like Pop, but we are super excited about the line,” she says, adding that despite limited distribution, Pokémon is now Pop’s 11th most popular property.

Still, the job has gotten markedly easier for Ahluwalia and her team in recent years — where they once had to educate potential partners about Funko Pops, now brands come to them in the hopes of being Popified. “Once upon a time, we really had to educate our partners on who we were and how we were different from other traditional toy companies, or collectible companies,” Ahluwalia says. “But now most people in the industry are very familiar with our product and our stylization. So we have our own swim lane.”

How exactly did the brand achieve this notoriety? Ahluwalia says Funko’s approach is similar to that of the fast-fashion world — products are frequently licensed, designed, and released in a matter of months, with some available in just 70 days. When Game of Thrones’ final season aired earlier this year, the company worked directly with HBO after each episode to get new Pop Funko concepts out for presale. “We react and get the product in motion even much earlier than we can actually get the physical plastics out on the shelves,” Ahluwalia explains.

A May 2019 investor presentation from the company boasts that a Pop can be designed and submitted to a licensor in 24 hours, molded into a prototype in 45 days, and “sourced from Asian facilities while maintaining quality control” in just 15 days. Funko also prides itself on its low production costs — each new figure costs between $5,000 and $7,500 to develop.

Perhaps the greatest trick Funko ever pulled is releasing multiple iterations of the same character, whether in different costumes or poses, or painted with glitter or chrome. On the Funko website, there are currently 29 distinct figurines of TV host Conan O’Brien — you can get the comedian dressed as Jon Snow, an Armenian folk dancer, or Pennywise the clown, or even just painted entirely orange.

“It’s demand, really — we’ve probably made 50 Iron Mans, but that’s because Iron Man is so hot,” says Wilkinson, the creative director. For Funko, releasing new versions of already heavily Popified characters can be a challenge. “The next Avengers comes along and we’ve got to come up with three more Iron Mans,” Wilkinson says, explaining the company will study movie scenes closely to come up with new poses, costumes, and scenarios for figurines.

“People want more Batman; it blows my mind how many versions we’ve done, but they continue to sell well. And so, you know, sales comes to us and says, ‘Sean, what other Batman can we do? Have we forgotten one? Is there something we haven’t thought of?’”

Jack says he doesn’t feel the need to collect every Funko Pop ever made, instead focusing on franchises he’s a fan of. Occasionally, he’ll even pass on Pops based on shows that he likes — he doesn’t want to collect The Office figurines because they’re “plain,” simply depicting men in suits. As more and more characters become Funko Pops, Wilkinson admits that some might not pass the company’s “sandbox test,” the idea that a figurine would be instantly recognizable if pulled from the sand in 10 years’ time. The near-indistinguishable Modern Family range inspired some backlash last year — commenters on Reddit’s Funko fan page called the toys “bland af,” “the newest generic human collection,” and “sad.”

Is it possible, then, that Funko will run out of things to Pop? At present, the company’s profits continue to climb, from $98 million gross profit in 2015 (when Funko had just 205 active properties) to $258 million in 2018. History has shown us that collectibles tend to decline in popularity, and it is possible that Funko Pops could go the way of the Beanie Baby. Yet at present, there are more than enough fans keeping the company in business.

Like Jack, 18-year-old Tristan from Canada has more than 1,000 Funko Pops, and estimates he has spent between $15,000 and $17,000 on the toys (his most expensive purchase was a $110 Jollibee, the mascot of a Filipino fast-food brand). “It’s fun to collect them; they’re everywhere, they’re also neat to look at,” he explains, “Every one has its own kind of features and — not personalities, because that sounds weird, but stuff about them that makes them all unique. They’re simplistic, but they’re detailed at the same time.”

Both Jack and Tristan run YouTube channels dedicated to their hobby, and advertising revenue earned via the site helps them afford more toys. A few years ago, Tristan had to wait until birthdays and Christmas to get new Funko Pops, but now his collection grows by the day. “Whenever I can, I’ll pick up a new one,” he says.

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To encourage collectors, Funko uses many tried-and-tested market tricks, like releasing toys exclusive to certain locations (Mr. Rogers is exclusive to Barnes & Noble) and producing limited-edition runs (only 480 holographic Darth Mauls were released at San Diego Comic-Con in 2012). Yet the company doesn’t just rely on people like Jack and Tristan. A third of all customers are only occasional buyers, and the customer base appears to be a diverse set of people with a diverse range of fandoms. In 2018, no single property made up more than 6 percent of purchases; Pops related to new theatrical releases encompassed 20 percent of sales, TV show-related Pops accounted for 16 percent, and gaming Pops made up 17 percent. There is a roughly equal gender split in customers (51 percent women to 49 percent men), and last year, international sales grew 57 percent.

Interestingly, Funko’s average customer is 35 years old — two years younger than Jack, who says his date recovered from seeing his spare room. “The rest of the night went very well and we went on several more dates,” he said. Although it ultimately didn’t work out with her, Jack says his “crazy room of Funko Pops” didn’t have “too much influence on it either way.”

For Wilkinson, the past few years have been a whirlwind. “I feel like I discover a new thing we’re making or a new company we’re buying almost every other week,” he says. Ten years ago, Funko — which had grown a loyal customer base for its bobblehead range — was feeling the heat of a declining fad. Now it is one of the world’s most recognizable pop culture merchandisers. “It’s just bigger and more,” Wilkinson says. “I continue to be wowed by how fanatical people are about the stuff and how much they appreciate what we’re doing.”

A few weeks before we speak, Wilkinson attended Comic-Con and was blown away to see fans “almost in tears” because of how much they love Funko Pops. “I don’t know that a whole lot of people — maybe doctors and firemen — get that feeling of appreciation for what you do,” he says. “It’s really rewarding. I pinch myself regularly and get tingly, even after all this time. I haven’t gotten any more jaded. It’s been a great ride.”

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FAQs

What is the rarest Funko Pop in the world? ›

Just 10 units of the Superhero Stan Lee Platinum Metallic were released — it may be the rarest Funko Pop in existence. Its current estimated price is $18,000 based on a 2022 sale.

How many pops exist? ›

Total Number Of Pop Figures

The Funko Pop company has produced pop figures for over 20 years. The number of collectors is undeniable, and having approximately 8,366 different designs of pop figures is enough to prove its popularity [1].

What is the appeal of Funko Pops? ›

The figurines appeal to people wanting to buy a cheeky gift for the superfan in their life, or to further express their loyalty to a particular universe. The success of the range has also given rise to Pop!

Who is the first Funko Pop? ›

The History Of Funko

The first item the company ever created was the Big Boy bobblehead Wacky Wobbler. After gaining the rights to make licensed Austin Powers bobble heads, the business started to grow and sold around 80,000 of their first Austin Power Wacky Wobbler.

Is my pop rare? ›

With a box handy, the first thing to look for is stickers in the lower right corner of the box. They'll often indicate if a Pop Vinyl is rare. For example, if a Pop Vinyl has a “Chase” sticker on it, that means it's a lot rarer than a regular Pop Vinyl.

What is #1 Funko Pop? ›

Most of these other versions are available through retailers such as Walmart. Funko Pop's Mickey Mouse Metallic vinyl action figure was debuted and distributed at the San Diego Comic-Con. It is considered #1 in the POP!

How old are POPs? ›

He was born sometime between 1879 and 1910, as revealed in Skips vs. Technology. However, it was also revealed by Mr. Maellard and Earl that he is just as old as the universe, perhaps even older due to the universe supposedly resetting each time he and Anti-Pops fought.

Are POPs immortal? ›

Pops is the only main character to die onscreen along with his twin brother. He is seen watching the life of the park crew during the 25 years of their life in the afterlife after his death.

Why do adults buy Funko Pops? ›

Adults collect Funko pops as a hobby, side-hustle, or for their kids. They find characters they enjoy most, and since Funko has many stable releases, they find themselves always shopping for new pops. Also, we are all aware of the value these pops hold over time and how they increase.

Why do people buy Pops? ›

Collecting Funko POP! figures is just plain fun—there's no other way to describe it. The concept of owning a piece of your favorite fictional character or sports star gives you a tangible foothold in their world. Whether you leave your POPs! in the box or take them out, you can have fun with them in more ways than one.

How much does it cost to make a Funko Pop? ›

Each customized Pop! People figure costs $25. This also includes the two hand-held accessories you select for your figure, and the customized Pop! box.

What Funko Pop is number 69? ›

Funko pop No. 69 is a 3.75" collectible and perfect for any shelf or desk. Batman Thrillkiller is from the 1997 comic book featuring Thrillkiller versions of Batman, Robin and Batgirl.

What Funko Pop is number 2? ›

Freddy Krueger

Should you keep Funko Pop boxes? ›

Yes, you should store your Funko Pop Figures in their original box, but it's not compulsory. Since they vary in price, having the boxes will maximize their value.

Are silver pops rare? ›

There were only 144 Silver Supermans produced and released, so if you are able to add one of these to your collection then consider yourself pretty lucky, as they are one of the hardest Pop Figures to come across.

How do you know if my pop it is real? ›

Counterfeits often contain different fonts on UPC codes or other text on the box. A large number of fakes will have different fonts on logos, information on the bottom of the box, and the Pop! categories logo. Also, some counterfeit items will have the copyright notice printed incorrectly.

What is the 999 Funko Pop? ›

Raya and the Last Dragon - Raya Warrior Vinyl Figure #999.

How many Dragon Ball Z Pops are there? ›

Checklist Info

There are currently 186 Funko Pops in the complete Dragon Ball Z List. The Total Value of all Dragon Ball Z Funko Pop Vinyl Figures is around $8514 with an average Monthly Gain of 12%.

What Funko Pop is number 3? ›

Marvel Spider-Man #3 Hot Topic Exclusive Red/Black Vinyl Figure.

Why do Pops act like children? ›

Despite being an elderly man, Pops is very childlike and naïve about the world around him. It was due to an accident in "Prank Callers" when the gang accidentally knocks him over with the kart in his young age to make him back into a child. Therefore, he serves as somewhat of a non sequitur character.

Is Pops a dad or grandad? ›

Noun. Father, dad. Hey, pops, I'm home. (by extension) A man old enough to be the speaker's father.

Do Pops still exist? ›

Still, some POPs exist at significant concentrations, indicating their persistence and the possibility of continued contamination from other sources, particularly long-range atmospheric transport of POPs from other areas.

Are diamond pops rare? ›

All of the Diamond and Flocked Pokémon Funkos are rare, especially compared to their generic counterparts.

How can you tell if a pop vinyl is rare? ›

Be on the lookout for stickers which specifically mention the rarity, as well as the year the product was released. For example, a sticker reading '2013 NYCC, 1 in 32' is considered more rare than a sticker reading '2020 SDCC' with no numeric rarity. You can't always identify a vaulted item by sight alone.

How rare is a chase pop? ›

For every six Funko Pops ordered from Pop In A Box, one lucky customer will receive a Chase variant. As you can already imagine, this means that these type of Funko variations are seen as very rare.

How old is Pops dad? ›

Mr. Maellard is at least 153 years old, and when he married his wife, he could have been at least 20 years old.

Do some Pops have brains? ›

No, Funko Pops do not have brains or loot bags inside their heads – it's just something that was started as an online prank.

How did Pops get his powers? ›

In Season 8, Pops is revealed to be the universe's Chosen One due to being born with telekinetic abilities and ever since he is one with nature back in some previous season's episode, as well as having an evil version of himself with the ability to erase a person from existence.

Are pop dolls worth money? ›

Funko Pop Figures Average Prices

The Pop price guide is simple: you can get regular releases for around $8 to $11, and valuable Funko Pops can go as high as $13,000 [2].

Are pop toys worth collecting? ›

There are several instances where Funko Pops have become quite valuable and their owners have turned a nice profit. However, most Funko Pops collectors aren't in it for the money; they are genuine collectors. Even so, it's good to know more about the rare Funko Pops in case you run across one.

Is collecting Funko Pops a good investment? ›

That said, the demand for Funko Pop products is higher than ever. That means that you could take your chance by investing in a Funko Pop collection, or just the ones which are already valuable to genuine collectors, or ones you think could be valuable in the future. In the worst case, you might lose a few bucks.

Can Funko Pops go in water? ›

Other than the bobble heads or flocked figures, Yes they can be submerged with no ill effects, although some are hollow so water could get inside. Bobble heads & flocked could go in water as well, but they might become damaged.

Are pops addictive? ›

The answer is no. You can cut hops out of your diet with no adverse physical reactions just like you can do the same for curry or bacon cheeseburgers or any number of other food items for which one occasionally develops cravings.

Can kids play with Funko Pops? ›

To answer your question, they are for both kids and adults. Kids could play with them as they would any action figure, and adults can collect them as they would anything else.

Can I design my own pop? ›

Create and download your own custom Pop! avatar with the Pop! Yourself character creator. Create a new Pop!

Can I sell my pop figures? ›

You can sell just about anything on apps like Mercari and LetGo these days. Other apps such as WhatNot cater to the collectibles market and Funko Pops can sell for good money on there. Here we will discuss WhatNot as it's becoming one of the most popular apps to sell Funko Pop collections.

What Funko Pop is number 333? ›

FUNKO Pickle Rick #333 Animation Figure.

What Funko Pop is 746? ›

We'll pack each and every Funko perfectly!
...
Funko Pop! Soul: Moonwind #746.
BrandFunko Pop!
ThemeDisney

What Funko Pop is number 478? ›

Funko Pop #478: "The Mandalorian" Boba Fett (Nomad)

What Funko Pop is 228? ›

Star Wars #228 Princess Leia With Speeder Bike Vaulted Vinyl Figure.

What is the biggest Funko Pop? ›

At a whopping 18-inches tall, Mega Pops! are sure to be the center of your collection; such as the Mega Pop!

What Funko Pop is number 50? ›

Product detailsProduct details

Dumbo from Disney's classic 1941 animated film Dumbo is the third Pop!

How do you store pop vinyls? ›

To protect your Funko Pop in storage we recommend our specially designed made-to-measure acid-free and archival storage boxes with a drop front. Boxes that are not acid-free or buffered could, in time, cause damage to the collection - you should never use any box made from PVC.

How do you display pop vinyls? ›

If you're looking to keep your Funko Pops in their boxes, try arranging them in a bookcase for a fun and organized display. For those who prefer your Funko Pops to be out of the box, consider placing them on a display shelf or in a special case!

What Funko Pop is number 746? ›

We'll pack each and every Funko perfectly!
...
Funko Pop! Soul: Moonwind #746.
BrandFunko Pop!
ThemeDisney

What Funko Pop is number 776? ›

Alex Trebek Limited Chase Edition

Are Silver pop figures rare? ›

There were only 144 Silver Supermans produced and released, so if you are able to add one of these to your collection then consider yourself pretty lucky, as they are one of the hardest Pop Figures to come across.

What Funko Pop is number 420? ›

Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary #420 Guardians of The Galaxy Rocket Raccoon Gold Chrome Exclusive Figure.

How can you tell a fake funko? ›

Counterfeits often contain different fonts on UPC codes or other text on the box. A large number of fakes will have different fonts on logos, information on the bottom of the box, and the Pop! categories logo. Also, some counterfeit items will have the copyright notice printed incorrectly.

Should I leave Funko Pop in box? ›

Yes, you should store your Funko Pop Figures in their original box, but it's not compulsory. Since they vary in price, having the boxes will maximize their value.

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