The latest iteration of the Transformers franchise, Transformers: The Last Knight, is upon us. And while Michael Bay’s latest big-screen installment is sure to have plenty of astounding moments, the Transformers’ world has always been pretty insane. Let’s look back at the decades-long history of Transformers and revisit some of the franchise’s most mind-blowing moments.
ORIGINAL TV SERIES & MOVIE
That Time Someone Thought It'd Be a Good Idea to Kill Optimus Prime in a Children's Movie
In 1986, with the Transformers franchise riding high, Hasbro upped the ante even further with an 85-minute animated toy commercial set to a rock music soundtrack: Transformers: The Movie. Thousands of parents took their children to see the movie, expecting a fun cartoon adventure.
The kids hoped to see an epic battle between the heroic Autobots and villainous Decepticons that went beyond their wildest imagination. To be fair, that’s what they got.
What they also got was a loss of innocence. Inside the first 10 minutes of the film, four of the Autobots lay dead at Megatron’s feet, brutally gunned down by the Decepticons.
And then things got real. They killed Optimus Prime. The leader of the Autobots—and personal hero to kids everywhere—was dead.
For children whose only experience with death up to that point had been consigning a pet goldfish to the toilet, this loss made them confront their own mortality. If Optimus Prime can die, then the cold, black touch of death is coming for us all.
The movie also introduced thousands of kids to profanity (reportedly to get a PG rating and be shown more often in theaters), but no one cared about that because THEY KILLED OPTIMUS PRIME!
When Megatron Tried to Conquer Earth Using a Dance Club and Other Fanciful Plots
The Transformers cartoon isn’t Shakespeare. It follows a simple pattern: The Decepticons hatch an evil plot and the Autobots stop it. Wash, rinse, repeat.
This usually involves the Decepticons stealing energy sources or new technology by standard evildoer means. Other times, their methods were as inspired as they were bizarre.
Like the time Megatron opened a dance club named Dancitron. Sure, it was all a front to hypnotize clubgoers for nefarious purposes, but even old Megs needs to let loose every once in awhile.
And that’s not even the craziest plot in the series. There's the episode where several Transformers are transported back in time to the days of King Arthur’s court and step on every butterfly they can find. Or the one that was like Inception meets Land of the Giants and several Transformers are lost through a portal to an alien world that turns them the size of toys. Then there’s the episode that basically shows the Decepticons getting drunk on Energon. And the less said about “The Girl Who Loved Powerglide” the better.
When the Transformers Hung out With Spider-Man and Nick Fury
Way back in 1984, Marvel published the first Transformers comic. The series was an instant hit—originally planned as a four-issue miniseries, it ended up lasting 80 issues.
In this issue, Decepticons create a fortress in Oregon and Robbie Robertson sends plucky photographer Peter Parker to get exclusive shots for The Daily Bugle. One thing leads to another and Spider-Man teams up with the Autobots to rescue Sparkplug Witwicky. During the mission, Spider-Man and Gears infiltrate the base, Sparkplug is rescued, and Gears seems to fall to his death. Spider-Man mourns this loss, but Prime says that Gears is not dead, nor truly alive.
Spider-Man battled the Decepticons in issue #3!"
With that Spider-Man decides to head back to his own comic. And he probably forgot to take those photos too.
The same issue also shows S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Dum-Dum Dugan discussing the situation in Oregon. They never bother to investigate, leaving the heroics to your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!
In 1996, a new Transformers franchise, Beast Wars, made its debut. It was a radical departure, to say the least.
Instead of the Autobots and Decepticons battling each other, it was now the Maximals and the Predacons. Instead of transforming into cars and planes, the robots turned into animals and dinosaurs. Optimus Prime was now Optimus Primal, who transformed into a gorilla instead of a truck. The fanbase raged at this new direction, with cries of “Trukk not Munky!” becoming commonplace.
The fanbase raged at this new direction, with cries of ‘Trukk not Munky!’ becoming commonplace."
Despite the initial outcry, Beast Wars soon solidified its place as one of the most popular shows in Transformers history. Although it had moved away from the concepts laid out in the original cartoon, Beast Wars was a continuation of the classic storyline. The Maximals and Predacons are descendants of the Autobots and Decepticons who are inadvertently transported to prehistoric Earth. The new beast modes were even explained in the story: Prehistoric Earth was saturated with Energon, meaning it was lethal for the Transformers to remain in robot mode without protection.
Beast Wars would often nod at its cartoon predecessors by including classic characters such as an older Ravage and the ghost of Starscream.
Cringe-Worthy Animation Wins an Emmy Award
By today’s standards, the CG animation employed by Beast Wars is both primitive and cringe-worthy. Bulky animation models, simple transformation procedures, and a lack of perceived realness were all criticisms levied at the show.
But it was technically impressive for its time. In fact, the animation on Beast Wars won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation in 1997.
Ultimately though, the animation was only a small part of the success of Beast Wars. Its mature storylines that dealt with heavy themes like grief, loss, and personal responsibility combined with well-constructed characters earned Beast Wars a favored spot in the Transformers mythos.
THE UNICRON TRILOGY
They Couldn't Even Get the Character's Names Right
Or at least they try to. Rushed production on Armada resulted in some truly bizarre errors for English-language viewers. The English dub was produced six months before the Japanese version, and the series was riddled with bad translations and animation errors.
Viewers watched with confusion as they tried to figure out the plot."
Viewers watched with confusion as they tried to figure out the plot—if there even was one. Transformers: Armada wore its Japanese origins on its sleeve with a more overt anime style for its characters.
Energon was better received but still suffered from the errors that plagued its predecessor. Cybertron is considered to be the best of the trio in spite of hitting the reset button and retconning half the established Transformers universe.
Nonetheless, the Unicron Trilogy has its fans and is credited with an inventive re-introduction of Unicron to the Transformers mythos.
Autobots are heroic and led by Optimus Prime. Decepticons are evil and led by Megatron. Except now, in the IDW comics, Megatron is an Autobot—and a pacifist.
Yep, that’s right. Maniacal Megatron is now a good guy who refuses to fight. It’s strange, it's shocking, and it's frankly one of the best Transformers storylines ever conceived.
In this continuity, Cybertronian society is a caste system. If you transform into a construction vehicle, then you work in construction, whether you like it or not.
Megatron is a miner who yearns for more. Through a series of writings, Megatron calls for societal change. When his pleas for peaceful change are met with silence, he transforms his message into one of violent revolt with his Decepticon followers.
Millions of years of war follow. (We are still talking about robots, after all.) In time, Megatron realizes he lost the war the day he ordered the Decepticons to fight. It is better to convince others to see the world as you do than it is to force them.
And so, following a series of events that ultimately leads to Bumblebee’s death, Megatron takes the fallen fighter’s badge and declares himself an Autobot.
It's heady stuff, and maybe the first storyline to truly earn the tagline "More Than Meets the Eye."
The Hasbro Toy Universe Brings the Dream of Every '80s Kid to Life
The 1980s were the golden era of toys: Transformers, G.I. Joe, and M.A.S.K. to name a few. Now IDW and Hasbro have given us the next best thing in the Hasbro Universe.
IDW had successfully been publishing Transformers and G.I. Joe comics for several years when Hasbro gave them the licenses to several more properties: Action Man, Rom, Micronauts, and M.A.S.K. Rather than place each in its own world, IDW merged all of the Hasbro properties into a single shared universe.
The decision was made to merge all of the Hasbro properties into a single shared universe."
In the summer of 2016, the Revolution event formally united the six distinct franchises as the forces of the Transformers, G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K., the Micronauts, Action Man, and Rom teamed up to stop an alien invasion. Even Jem and the Holograms is technically a part of the shared universe! (Sorry, Bronies: My Little Pony remains on the outside—at least for now.)
Transformers underpins the entire Hasbro Universe and provides much of its underlying lore and structure. For example, the G.I. Joes have a Transformer named Skywarp on the team. The Micronauts universe comes from Micronus Prime, one of the legendary 13 Primes from Cybertronian history. The unique vehicles used by M.A.S.K. are backwards engineered from captured Cybertronian technology.
Michael Bay's Vision for Transformers on the Big Screen
You could rattle off plenty of reasons why Michael Bay's Transformers are so popular. The mind-melting CG effects. The copious heat-searing explosions. Mark Wahlberg's welcome, wisecracking face.
So it's easy to forget what makes these movies so important: that simply having the Transformers on the big screen at all is a cinematic marvel.
Adult Transformers fans felt like 10-year-olds during that first Optimus Prime transformation scene. Then he spoke, and it was Peter Cullen providing the voice. The original Generation One Prime was there in all his cinematic glory! Seriously, it was worth the price of admission for that one scene alone.
But the sheer technical accomplishment of realizing the Transformers in a live-action movie is breathtaking."
Beyond that, the Bayverse has brought fans some truly wonderful moments. Blackout’s opening attack at the start of the first film set the stage for action scenes that doubled the wow factor every single time. And whose tongue wasn’t wagging while watching that set piece involving the Dinobots in Hong Kong? Come on!
Yes, King Arthur Is In A Transformers Movie
The Transformers series gives us a universe of wonders. Robots that can transform into cars. Robots that can transform into dinosaurs. Ancient technology hidden in pyramids that can destroy the sun.
Now, it's giving us King Arthur. Yes, that’s right—King Arthur is in the latest movie, Transformers: The Last Knight.
Transformers have been on Earth for far longer than we thought, and they’ve been pivotal players in human history. This “secret history” has been alluded to in previous Transformers films, but now it is due to play a vital part in the movie series. And part of that history is the time ancient, dragon-based Transformers fought alongside King Arthur.
This is totally in line with the insane history of the Transformers, and we're excited to see where the franchise goes next.
Star Wars fan and general pop culture addict. Only two beverages worth drinking are tea and whisky.