A precursor to the minifigure was released in 1975. These were at the same scale as the current minifigures, but had a different design. They had solid torsos without separate movable arms, solid lower body pieces that were not moveable, and heads without printed features. They had a small variety of headpieces in various colors, including caps, pigtail hair and cowboy hats.
The first modern minifigures were released in 1978, included in Castle, Space, and Town sets. For the next 11 years, minifigure heads were produced with a simple facial expression, rendered as two solid black dots for eyes and a smile, also painted in solid black. In 1989, minifigures in the Pirates theme were produced with different facial expressions. The Pirates minifigures also included hooks for hands, as well as peg legs; this was the first departure from the traditional body parts.
Another departure from traditional parts was the use of spring-loaded legs. These legs are joined together at the top. These legs were only featured in basketball sets, 2002-2003. Other leg variations include short legs for children or dwarfs, or long legs (used in the Toy Story theme).
In 2003, the first minifigures with naturalistic skin tones (as opposed to the yellow used until this point) were released, as part of the Lego Basketball theme; these minifigures were also created in the likeness of living people. This also included Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars theme. The following year, the use of natural skin tones was expanded to all licensed products; in which figures were created to represent film actors and other living people. Popular examples include Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Batman minifigures.
By 2006, Lego had reportedly produced 4 billion minifigures. There are at least 3655 different minifigures produced between 1975 and 2010 and the number of new minifigures per year is increasing rapidly. In 2010 more than 300 new minifigures were introduced.
Minifigures generally feature six parts (widely referred to as tools in the toy industry): head, torso, hips, arms, hands, and legs; these six parts allow seven points of articulation: swivel head, swivel arms, swivel wrists, and swivel legs. Minifigures are usually packaged as three separate parts in Lego sets: head, torso and legs. The plastic is acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), a tough material that makes LEGO figures durable.
The plastic is melted into specially designed molds that produce the different parts of the minifigure. Some of the molds are also accessories such as weapons (swords, guns, lightsabers, etc.) or everyday accessories (cups, food, tools, etc.). Heads and torsos nearly always need further decoration, and sometimes the arms and legs do, too. This difficult process is why the figures are more expensive than any other Lego products. After being printed, the head is placed on the torso, the legs attached, and the arms are snapped on. The figures are finally bagged and readied for sale.
Minifigure heads are cylindrical, and attach to a long, narrow cylinder molded onto the top of the torso, which allows the head to rotate. This feature also allows items to be attached to the figures over the torso, such as air tanks, capes or breastplates. The heads have a stud on top which is the same size as studs on standard Lego bricks which could allow one to be placed on it. The head is the only component of the minifigure which can be used for other applications - blank minifigure heads have often been used in Lego sets to replicate other objects such as lampshades and electrical appliances.
Head accessories vary widely, and include hair, helmets and hats. The legs rotate independently to 90 degrees forward, and nearly 45 degrees backward. Minifigures also connect to standard Lego bricks in both a sitting or standing position. The hands of a minifigure resemble the letter C, which allows them to hold many Lego accessories as well as bricks, tiles, and plates. There are hundreds of different accessories, including swords, axes, wands, cups, guns, and lightsabers. Additionally, the tops of the hands are approximately the same size as the studs on standard Lego bricks, which allows Lego pieces to be placed on top of them. These variations allow minifigures to be customized, keeping with the modular design of Lego elements.
While nearly all minifigure heads, torsos, arms, hands and legs are the same size and shape, some sets have included figures that deviate from the standard. One of the most extreme design variations was a minifigure produced in an edition of five of the Star Wars character C-3PO, cast in solid 14-carat gold.
Minifigures built from special, uniquely molded pieces were first introduced in Life on Mars. Martians are composed of five tools: two pairs of double arms, a mechanical torso, a conjoined leg piece, and a head. This configuration is also used for many Star Wars Droids; Battle Droids follow the same pattern, while Super Battle Droids feature a head fixed to a torso, General Grievous has space for four arms, and IG-88 has a head constructed of other Lego pieces. Other droids, such as Droidekas, Spider Droids and Pit Droids, are constructed entirely from standard Lego pieces, yet are still generally considered minifigures. R2-D2 and other astromech droids are constructed from unique parts, with a separate top, body and legs. The robots of Exo-Force, Mars Mission commander aliens and Bionicle miniatures have a design similar to the Star Wars Battle Droids, but with separate legs, movable hands, and a head affixed to a small torso. Hagrid, the half-giant character from the Harry Potter series, uses a larger minifigure body, with only the head being separable.
Skeletons, usually found in Castle, Pirate, and Indiana Jones sets, use the standard minifigure head, but unique torsos, arms, and legs designed to resemble a skeletal structure; although different, these figure parts are still detachable.
Additionally, Pirate minifigures sometimes include peg legs and hooks for hands, such as the Aquasharks and Aquraiders from Aquazone and characters in the Adventurers and Orient Expedition sets, most notably the villainous Baron character.
Minifigures have also featured unique head sculpts that differ from the traditional cylindrical shape; the first was Jar Jar Binks, included in a Star Wars set in 1999, followed by Yoda, C-3PO, Harry Potter goblin figures, Kit Fisto, and Plo Koon. Kit Fisto was the first minifigure to not use an acrylonitrile butadiene styrene head. The minifigure used rubber instead. Traditional accessories, such as hats and helmets, cannot be placed on these non-standard heads. Some minifigures, such as Wookiees, Gamorrean Guards and Ewoks use a sandwich board piece which fits over the body. SpongeBob has a sculpted Lego brick head that fits like a standard head, similar to the ghost figures, except that these figures use short or standard legs instead of a brick.
A variety of clothing and accessories has been produced for minifigures, including caps, hats, and helmets. In Lego Star Wars sets, Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers have uniquely sculpted helmets, adapting the original character designs to the minifigure format. Exo-Force minifigures feature anime-style hair, as does the Nightwing minifigure from the Batman Arkham Asylum set.
Ghost figures have a full-body cape which attaches to the head of the minifigure, and solid brick-like legs
Some minifigures created to resemble female characters, particularly in Castle and Pirate sets, use large sloped bricks instead of legs, to resemble dresses or skirts. However, these sloped bricks are taller than standard minifigure legs, making some characters seem awkward when placed next to taller females. In the Simpsons theme as well as other themes, a skirt fabric has been created allowing the minifigure to wear skirts. However, the first skirt mold appeared for the Minnie Mouse and Alice minifigures within the Disney Collectable minifigures theme. The mold for the Ballerina's skirt does predate the Disney minifigures by several months, but it resembles a straight up oval plate and considered a tutu.
Shorter legs, without joints at the hip, are sometimes used to create minifigures which are shorter in stature than standard figures. Such pieces were first created for Star Wars sets but have since been used elsewhere, although primarily in licensed sets. Other legs include Genie smoke legs, mermaid tail legs, and Squid Warrior legs. For the television series Ninjago:Masters of Spinjitzu, a species called serpentine, influenced by snakes and other similar reptiles, have legs. Only the generals have tails, notably Skales, Pythor P Chumsworth, Acidicus, Fangtom and Skalidor. For the 2015 series, a type of Serpentine called the Anacondrai all have tails. The minifigures with shorter legs also appeared within the creator, city, and other non-licensed themes.
Minifig customisation is the practice of modifying Lego minifigures. This can be as simple as mixing and matching parts, or as complex as remolding plastic. Some custom minifigures are made by affixing stickers or decals to the figures. There are also businesses which sell custom decals and molded minifigure accessories, many of which are inspired from popular media such as films and video games. While a relatively recent phenomenon, minifigure customisation has rapidly become popular within the wider building community, although some maintain a "purist" approach, using only elements produced by Lego.
Lego executives have for some years now been using personalised minifigures in place of business cards, with email and phone details on the front and back of the torso, and hair and facial features designed to resemble each executive. You can see a list of 39 of these here at 39 Lego Employee Business Cards. It is believed that over 100 of these exist.
Many people collect Lego Minifigures without collecting the sets. The diversity of the themes that Lego has licensed has created quite a stir for AFOL and children alike. Additionally, the Lego group has produced more than 7000 Minifigures in the past 30 years and many people buy and sell these on eBay and other sites such as Bricklink. You can see most of the minifigures ever produced at Bricklink Minifigure Catalog. You can also see some of the most expensive and rare minifigures at Rare and Expensive Lego Minifigures.
The minifigures theme was introduced in 2010. Each series consists of 60 polybags per box, with unique and exclusive minifigures inside. A new series is released every three to four months, with sixteen new unique and exclusive minifigures in each series (excluding the 8909 Team GB Minifigures, which includes 9 minifigures and also 71001 Minifigures Series 10 which includes 17). The minifigures can be based on movies, sports, fiction, history, or just average day life minifigures. Each minifigure contains new elements in the form of accessories or uniquely printed body parts.
Other variations of the standard minifigure produced for Star Wars sets included the light-up light-saber (L.U.L.S.) minifigures. These figures were released as a part of the more expensive Star Wars Episode III sets in 2005. These figures look like standard minifigures, but to facilitate internal electronics, their parts cannot be removed; the only exception to this is the headgear, the left hand and arm, and each of the legs from the hips. When the head is pressed down, an LED illuminates the light-saber blade. These figures rely on battery power for their special feature. The batteries last three hours and are not intended to be replaced, although replacement is possible. Many fans, especially children, were amenable to this innovation. Others however, particularly adult collectors, found these figures contentious, considering them to be an unwelcome gimmick. The fact that in two cases unique characters were produced solely as L.U.L. minifigs, with no standard version available to collectors, was also an unpopular decision. Following the initial release of these figures Lego announced no more were to be produced, due to their unpopularity and more expensive production. One set, the 7261 Clone Turbo Tank, which featured an L.U.L. version of Jedi Knight Mace Windu, was even reissued with a standard version of the minifig and an extra Clone Trooper figure to make up the cost of the set. There was also at least one high end City themed set (a Police Station/HQ) that included a police officer with a light up 'torch'. Another L.U.L.S. minfig in police uniform appeared without the 'saber' part of the light saber and a yellow LED in the 'handle' of the light saber, reusing the L.U.L.S. design outside the Star-wars setting as an effective 'torch'. He appeared in a high end City set based on a standard and well selling City Police HQ design. A complaint about the set was that the L.U.L.S. minifig was contained in a 'try me' compartment of the box allowing customers (and excited children) to wear down his battery while he was still on the shelf. The set was discontinued after a year with a separate identical design but with 3 extra normal minifgs replacing the L.U.L.S. minfig.
Yet another variation on the minifigure is the magnet figure, from such themes as Star Wars, Batman, Indiana Jones and City. The magnet figures are not included in regular sets but are instead sold in packs of three or more. Some of these include accessories and display base bricks. These figures include magnets in their legs, which allow them to stick to metal surfaces. Magnet figures are nearly indistinguishable from stand figures in appearance. Unlike the LUL figures, only the torso and the hips of magnet minifigures are inseparable.
Within the Lego board games theme, the Lego microfigures were released. For that name, they are about half the size of the regular Lego minifigure. The microfigures have a fixed head, small, non-movable legs which somewhat resemble normal minifigure legs, and a hint of shoulders for arms. The microfigures have found their way into commercially available sets such as 10253 Big Ben.
In 2016, a new minifigure mold was released which is a new baby. The baby isn't like a microfigure, instead it is a scaled down minifigure of the adult one currently produced with arms and legs but not moveable. It currently appears in the Lego City Fun at the Park set, with the 16th series of Lego Minifigures, and LEGO 10255 Assembly Square which is 2017's modular building.
In some Lego products, figures other than standard minifigures are used. A catalog that shows all these LEGO figures is available. Some Lego sets from 1974 on included much larger figures where only the heads and hair were special pieces , which is why the usual figures are "mini". Technic used larger scale action figures between 1986 and 2001. These figures featured more realistic sculpts, although still distinctively angular, and featured more articulation, including bendable elbows and knees. These figures are further distinguished from minifigures in that they cannot be easily disassembled; even the hair pieces are non-removable. Duplo includes figures that have less articulation than standard minifigures and cannot be disassembled for safety reasons. Likewise, the Fabuland collection, produced in the 1980s, consisted of larger anthropomorphized animal characters, which also could not be easily disassembled. Belville and Scala, Lego products marketed to girls, also include larger scale figures. These figures are similar to Technic figures in articulation, but feature less angular body sculpts. Scala figures more closely resemble dolls, in that clothes are separate from the figures and hair is made of strands rather than molded plastic. In 2001 Lego further expanded the minifigure system, with the introduction of Bionicle figures. These figures are a part of a fictional story developed by Lego, and resemble biomechanical creatures. Initially, these figures were produced without articulation, only able to hold tools and weapons. Bionicle later got replaced with Hero Factory in 2010. In 2005, Lego released Bionicle playsets, with minifigure variations of characters that had previously been produced in the larger Bionicle scale, notably the Toa and Visorak characters. While these minifigures did not feature movable parts, Lego released Piraka and Inika playsets in 2006, which included minifigures with movable parts. The Friends theme, released in 2012, included mini-doll figures, a more doll-like construction with more realistic anatomy, soon introduced into other themes chiefly aimed at girls. Even though the mini-dolls in the Lego Friends theme have a more realistic anatomy, the mini-dolls' legs can only move ninety degrees into a sitting position. The mini-dolls' legs are also molded together and can not move separately like the traditional Lego minifigure legs can. The mini-doll in the Lego Friends theme is slightly taller than the traditional minifigure.Minifigures have appeared in a variety of short films. Examples include the Spellbreaker animated adventure featured in Legoland parks, produced by the Billund-based animation studio Lani Pixels, and the Lego-sanctioned spoof of Star Wars titled Revenge of the Brick, produced by Treehouse Animation. These short film features computer-animated minifigures with added articulation and mobility, as well as textural modifications to create a realistic effect. Promotional videos on the Lego Batman official site are presented in a similar format, and are also produced by Treehouse Animation. The 2010 computer generated animation Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers became the first feature-length original Lego film; it has minifigures as the protagonists.
In 2011, Lego minifigures were featured in Toy Story 3 and the Toy Story short "Hawaiian Vacation".
Lego has furthered the development of minifigures in entertainment media. In Lego video games, such as Lego Star Wars and Lego Racers, playable characters are animated minifigures, which feature more articulation and mobility than real minifigures, but retain the same basic appearance. Most Lego computer and video games have similarly animated minifigures, though depicted with varying degrees of realism.
In January 2012, a Lego minifigure carrying a Canadian flag was featured in "Lego Man in Space" and garnered worldwide attention.
Lego minifigures were prominently featured in The Lego Movie. Some of the minifigures in the minifigures theme appear as Master Builders. The minifigures are scheduled to feature in a sequel being released in 2019.
The LEGO Batman Movie features minifigures in the Batman Universe setting and is considered a spinoff of The LEGO Movie as Batman was a character in the latter movie.