There certainly seems to be an oversaturation of the market. It seems that many intellectual properties have gone and licensed out the rights to make action figure lines for movies that just can't sustain a toy line.
The scene at retail has become pretty hairy. The big name companies are fighting like mad for retail shelf space. Between Hasbro, Mattel, Toy Biz and McFarlane there is a lot of competition to get product on the shelves. And so much product is out there that it seems that there are too many options of consumers. And this is before you start factoring in the boutique toy companies like Mezco, NECA, SOTA, DC Direct, Marvel Select, Sideshow and so many others. Those companies can barely even get their foot in the mass retail door, opting to go for chains like Suncoast and Diamond distributed comic shops.
It seems to me that even though there are so many options, there is the definite possibility that the industry is burning itself out. There are just too many films and TV shows that are selling their licenses and the toy companies are gambling that they're going to strike it rich with some odd movie license. For instance, The Brothers Grimm looks like an interesting movie to me. Terry Gilliam directed it, and the overall look is pretty cool. Would it make a successful toy line? Probably not. Just look at some of the fairly signifigant toy lines that some major companies have launched in support of reasonably successful films. For instance, Van Helsing. Decent movie, but certainly not an Oscar winner. But you know what? Stinker of a toy line. How about The Grinch? I can't cite box office figures, but usually a Jim Carrey movie does well, and Director Ron Howard has been pretty successful. How about the toy line? Complete and utter dreck. What about the revised Masters Of The Universe line? There was a built in fanbase of people who liked the old show, assorted toy collectors and new fans who were brought on board by the new cartoon series. How did that perform? Terribly. The line was ended after being handled very poorly by Mattel. The road of action figure history is littered with these kinds of failures, yet toy companies big and small continue to chase the golden egg that they think might lie with some odd movie or television license.
I'll give it a couple of years until there starts to be some serious industry consolidation. Some of the boutique companies are going to get bigger and buy out some of their competition, and some of the bigger companies may very well buy up some of the boutique companies as well. Some boutique toy manufacturers may wind up folding altogether, and in the case of Mattel, I think they're in serious trouble unless they get some better guidance on how to handle their various licenses.
I don't think there's the collector customer base to continue as things are now, and the bubble may be ready to burst. My most recent con experience makes me think this could very well be the case. I've gone to Wizard World in Chicago three years running. And each successive year it seems that attendance has actually dropped. Major licensees have also cut back on their presence at these events, too.
In short, my answer is yes. I think action figures are on the decline.