There was no better time to be a kid than in the 1980s. And a love of GI Joe action figures endures to this day. I’ve written many times about our nerd obsession with GI Joe, so this time I simply want to share a list of the greatest GI Joe action figures.
But we do lists of 7 here at Nerds on Earth. With 200+ different GI Joe and Cobra action figures, a list of 7 simply will not do. So I’ve gone 7×7.
You need to know that all images are taken from the glorious Ultimate Guide to GI Joe 3rd Edition. They can be clicked to embiggen. Knowing that is half the battle.
49 • Scrap Iron
Scrap Iron was Cobra’s anti-armor specialist, so it makes sense that he came with a missile system. But I hated the guy, a feeling that sprung from a single panel in the comic book where he launched a missile at a car, killing a woman and child. That ain’t right and I never forgave him.
48 • Buzzer
I loved the Dreadnoks and although the grape soda drinking, chocolate donut eating Buzzer wasn’t my overall favorite, he still ranks above Zandar, who I barely noticed as a kid.
47 • Lifeline
The 2nd GI Joe medic, Lifeline was often a passenger in the Tomahawk helicopter, helping pilot Lift-Ticket get injured Joes or civilians out of sticky situations. But the memorable thing about Lifeline was his pacifism. He refused to even pick up a gun, much less fire one, as that would go against his principles.
46 • Duke
I know that field leader First Sergeant Duke is a fan-favorite Joe, as his blonde, square-jawed looks just screams All-American but–while I certainly didn’t have anything against him–I never thought much about Duke when I was a kid.
45 • Muskrat
I always liked my Joes to have a particular skill or environmental focus, which was perhaps the reason I never connected as strongly with Duke as others did. Muskrat’s environmental focus was swamps, and you know this because he came with a little swamp skimmer to go with his shotgun and machete.
44 • The Fridge
It kinda bugged me that GI Joe had guest stars, but I forgave them with The Fridge. Everyone was doing the Super Bowl Shuffle at the time, so when The Fridge became the physical trainer of the Joes, it was A-OK.
43 • Torpedo
As a Navy SEAL, I knew Torpedo was tough. But the thing I remembered most about Torpedo in the comic was he wore his flippers at all times, even when he was drawn firmly on land.
42 • Croc Master
Did Cobra Commander need to hire a crocodile trainer to patrol the swampy areas of Cobra Island, particularly when it was located just off the coast of Florida’s alligator country? No. But I’m sure glad he did.
41 • Crimson Guard
Captained by Tom and Xamot, the Crimson Twins, the Crimson Guard lived among us, from being hidden in small towns like Springfield to infiltrating the highest offices in business and politics. Commonly called Siegies (See-Gee), comic readers called them Fred.
40 • Rock ‘n Roll
A California dude, Rock ‘n Roll loved music, the ladies, and vintage muscle cars. I loved that he had a machine gun.
39 • Beachhead
I literally didn’t know much about Beachhead other than he looked cool and he always wore a ski mask like several other Joes.
38 • Barbecue
Barbecue was the Joe firefighter. His card back said he was the life of the party.
37 • Flint
Warrant Officer Flint was popular from the cartoon and popular with Lady Jaye.
36 • Cutter
Cutter was awesome because he came with the Whale, the GI Joe Hovercraft that–outside of the USS Flagg–is the greatest toy ever made. He also wore his life preserver everywhere he went.
35 • Outback
Outback was the Survivalist and it says so right there on his t-shirt. Outback also got a wonderful GI Joe comic storyline when he was ordered by Stalker to escape, yet had to live with the guilt of leaving his squad-mates behind.
34 • Mutt and Junkyard
If you read the comics, you know that Junkyard does not behave. That dog is fully in change of his handler.
33 • Chuckles
The undercover agent Chuckles didn’t want to stand out so he wore a Hawaii 5-0 style Hawaiian shirt. But he further stood out because in the one GI Joe issue drawn by Todd McFarlane, Chuckles was drawn as beefy as Roadblock.
32 • Recondo
Recondo was the GI Joe jungle specialist and he looked the part with his resplendent hat and glorious mustache. He always got a lot of missions in the fictional South American country of Sierra Gorda.
31 • Dusty
Dusty was the desert trooper. He was also cool, which is an asset on long marches across the Sahara with the French Foreign Legion.
30 • Snow Serpent
Rarely are the generic Cobra troopers well regarded but Snow Serpents were fantastic. Each sported a couple of snow shoes as one would expect, but they also had a sweet mortar, which is not nothing.
29 • Snow Job
Snow Job was one of the earliest Joes and an Olympic biathlete. I just loved his gear. The skis and poles that attached to his back are among the all time best Joe accessories.
28 • Sgt Slaughter
Having a wrestler like Sgt Slaughter become the drill sergeant for the Joes was another occasion where I decided I was OK with real-life personas becoming Joes.
27 • Serpentor
What do you get when you genetically combine the DNA of the world’s best military minds like Gengis Khan and Alexander the Great? Well, Serpentor of course.
26 • Jinx
She was like Storm Shadow’s cousin or something, which is enough for me to like her lots.
25 • Doc
Doc was the original medic for the Joes. The number of times he got them out of scraps and bandaged up in in scientific notation territory.
24 • B.A.T.s
B.A.T. stood for “Battle Android Trooper” and these things were killer with their detachable hands that could be a claw or a flamethrower.
23 • Alpine
I loved Alpine. Not only did he have a cool look as a figure, he had the coolest gear, complete with a set of grappling hooks and rope.
22 • Ripper
Ripper was the mohawked Dreadnoks that had a hydraulic cutter and a can opener attached to his rifle, on the chance you’re getting your Dreadnoks messed up, which is understandable.
21 • The Crimson Twins
Tomax and Xamot were the twins who were in charge of the Crimson Guard. The distinctiveness is they had matching scars on opposite checks. To show off their twin-ness I only used one image and mirrored it.
20 • Zarana
Zarana was Zartan’s sister who liked to get sassy with the Baroness in order to push her buttons. Her other brother was Zandar, although people tended to overlook him.
19 • Dr. Mindbender
Dr Mindbender was the mad scientist of Cobra. His crowning achievement was the creation of Serpentor. He also was into leather and liked to go shirtless.
18 • Major Bludd
Major Bludd was one of the very first Cobra mercenaries introduced and he was adequately ridiculous, as a Cobra villain should be. The early years of the comics had Cobra Commander, Destro, the Baroness, and Bludd always a nervous wreck over who would double-cross who.
17 • Low-Light
Low-Light was the Joe’s night spotter and he has a slick pair of goggles to prove it. He has a fantastic storyline in a GI Joe Special Missions comic where he was behind enemy lines and had to hoof it to catch the evacuation chopper.
16 • Shipwreck
Shipwreck had a parrot. If that’s not enough reason to like a Joe, then I don’t know what is.
15 • Zartan
Zartan was Cobra’s master of disguise and leader of the Dreadnoks. His figure was cool because it had hyper-color technology built into it.
14 • Tunnel Rat
Tunnel Rat was modeled after GI Joe comic book writer Larry Hama and I will always love him because of that. ’nuff said!
13 • Cobra Commander
Is there any better villain in pop culture than Cobra Commander, he with all his schemes within schemes? He was great in the comics but he was even livelier in the cartoon, as he’d always whine about being surrounded by imbeciles.
12 • Wild Bill
Wild Bill was the rootin’ tootin’ Texan chopper pilot.
11 • Spirit Ironknife
Spirit was the Native American tracker on the GI Joe team but he was also known for his great rivalry with Storm Shadow in the cartoon.
10 • Gung-Ho
Gung-Ho was the shirtless Marine with the chest tattoo.
9 • Stalker
Stalker was a Green Beret and one of the original GI Joes. His story intersected with Snake Eyes’ and Storm Shadow’s as far back as the Vietnam War.
8 • Destro
Destro was a Scottish arms dealer who lived in a castle and wore an iron mask and used wrist rockets. If all those words don’t excite you, then you aren’t wired up right.
7 • Storm Shadow
Do I really need to give a rationale for why the ninja is one of the all time best?
6 • Lady Jaye
Lady Jaye was introduced more slowly into the comic, but she burst into the cartoon. A covert operations officer, she also had the best missions and her javelin launcher was one of the most unusual accessories. Originally slated to be named Lady Shea, she was the among the best-educated of the Joes. The other elite education belonged to her beau, Flint, a Rhodes Scholar.
5 • Roadblock
Roadblock was the cook of the Joes. He was also the heart of the Joes in many ways, often sacrificing for the sake of his teammates. He could also wield a 50 cal one-handed if need be.
4 • Firefly
Firefly was the saboteur, which meant he was decked out in grenades and C4. Sort of like Boba Fett, Firefly is among the all-time most popular despite the fact they he was only a mercenary, not a central player.
3 • Baroness
It should be said that I played with GI Joes as a pre-pubescent boy, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Baroness is among my favorites.
2 • Snake Eyes
Snake Eyes never spoke and you never saw his face. Yet, despite that or perhaps because of that, Snake Eyes is seen as the iconic GI Joe. His release that included his wolf Timber is among the most sought after toys ever.
1 • Scarlett
Listen, I don’t know why she used a crossbow and I don’t understand what she was wearing, but there isn’t a better Joe to me than Scarlett. One of the originals and the first female, Scarlett was cheekily names after Scarlett O’Hara.
As an original, her arms at first didn’t include the swivel battle grip. Nor did her feet include holes for pegs. So she’s not able to be posed on battle stands.
When asked about Scarlett’s martial prowess, Larry Hama said, “I didn’t see why a female Joe shouldn’t be just as competent and deadly as the males […] I didn’t tone her deadliness down in the comic at all.”