Every Transformers Movie And Spin-Off, Ranked – /Film
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR EVERY TRANSFORMERS MOVIE AHEAD!
Based on an 80s cartoon, a popular toy line, several other cartoon iterations, and a successful comic series, the Transformers movies are tailor-made to make buckets of money. Audiences have been chucking millions at the screen since 2007 when Transformers first appeared in live-action to blow up a major metropolitan area. While the technical side of Michael Bay’s brawling bots has always been staggering to behold, as the franchise chugged along, the storylines got noticeably more confusing and muddled. The original movie set the tone with a boy and his car, said boy pining for the popular girl, but then Megatron and company show up to wreck those plans. Pretty simple. The sequels introduce multiple ancient adversaries, various takes on fancy space objects threatening our world, and more fake-out deaths than the “Fast and Furious” saga.
With only one certified “Fresh” movie on Rotten Tomatoes, varying degrees of fan love and outrage, and a brand new Autobot outing in theaters, let’s take a trip through Cybertronian memory lane. Buckle up because this mythology may require you to take notes to follow along as Bay retcons Earth’s history from the dinosaurs to King Arthur, WWII, the moon landing, and more! These movies really are more than meets the eye … Let’s see where each one falls in our ranking of every Transformers movie and spin-off. Autobots, roll out!
8. Transformers: The Last Knight
The final Michael Bay Transformers features more revisionist history with Autobots fighting alongside King Arthur and revealing Merlin’s staff was originally a weapon wielded by the Cybertronian Goddess Quintessa, capable of draining an entire world’s life force. Prime arrives on a decimated Cybertron and confronts Quintessa, who immediately turns Optimus into the evil Nemesis Prime and sends him to Earth to retrieve her staff. Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) returns, hiding Autobots from yet another nefarious government agency. Cade and other humans, including Sir Anthony Hopkins, eventually find the staff. Nemesis appears and uses it to open the bridge between worlds, Quintessa and Cybertron turn up and wreak havoc. Bumblebee persuades Prime to be good almost instantly; they join forces and kill Quintessa. Optimus rallies the Autobots to head back to Cybertron to rebuild, and Earth finally seems safe from this millennia-long war… we think?
“Transformers: The Last Knight” features the same over-the-top battles and explosions we’ve seen in the past four movies, and it all still looks cool, but the story wears even thinner than previous entries. You can only introduce an Earth-destroying space MacGuffin or the threat of Cybertron consuming our planet so many times before it feels like the same movie with loosely different side plots. Making Optimus evil sounds like a decent way to shake up the narrative. Still, he spends too much time off-camera, and when he does pop in, Bumblebee convinces him pretty quickly of the error of his ways, and any built-up tension dissipates. While it’s fun seeing Hopkins, he serves as mainly an exposition dump machine. “The Last Knight” gets too bogged down by its own backstory.
7. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The sequel’s villain, “The Fallen,” was the original Decepticon imprisoned by the Primes for his betrayal. Now, Autobots and humans work together tracking down the remaining Decepticons, who steal a shard of the AllSpark and bring Megatron back to life. Fighting ensues, and Megatron kills Optimus. The good guys find the Matrix of Leadership, the key to activating the Decepticon’s latest world-ending device, the Sun Harvester. There’s a colossal battle in Egypt with a giant Decepticon, the Devastator, destroying a pyramid to reveal a hidden Sun Harvestor. Sam “dies” and goes to Autobot Heaven, gets a pep talk from the Primes, returns, and revives Optimus, and they defeat the Fallen. Megatron flees and lives to attempt to destroy the world another day.
If you ever wondered how bad things can get without writers, see “Revenge of the Fallen,” a significant casualty of the 2008 WGA strike. As The Guardian reported, Bay told Empire Magazine: “When I look back at it, that was crap. The writers’ strike was coming hard and fast. It was just terrible to do a movie where you’ve got to have a story in three weeks.” It’s more than just the story that misses. The adolescent humor is back and much worse. Who could forget Sam’s parents getting high and acting like cartoons? Or the anatomically correct Devastator? John Turturo actually says, “I’m directly below the enemy scrotum.” The final battle boasts spectacular stunts but runs punishingly long. In contrast, Optimus’ fight with Megatron and the Fallen clocks in at 90 seconds before he severely wounds Megatron and rips the Fallen’s face off. It might be the “Bayiest” film of the bunch, for better or worse… mainly worse.
6. Transformers: Age of Extinction
“Age of Extinction” reveals aliens wiped out the dinosaurs when they covered the planet in Transformium. Now, after the Battle of Chicago, Transformers are “machines non-grata,” hunted by the black ops group Cemetery Wind. We meet Cade Yaeger, an expert inventor who restores a damaged semi-truck, and surprise; it’s Optimus Prime! Another twist reveals the CIA is in cahoots with Cemetery Wind, and they’ve created a new Megatron (now called Galvatron) to do their bidding. What could go wrong? After a ton more exposition and explosions, it ends in a battle with Autobots and Dinobots versus Galvatron, Cemetery Wind, Lockdown, and a giant alien magnet that severely damages Hong Kong’s infrastructure.
This movie clocks in at a whopping 2 hours and 45 minutes, and it feels that long. “Age of Extinction” unceremoniously replaces Shia LeBeouf with Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yaeger, a name that sounds like something a 13-year-old in the 90s slapped on their fake ID. As a follow-up to the epic finale of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” this entry feels like an overextended rehash. One shockingly bad “joke” occurs when Shane (Jack Reynor) says he’s legally allowed to date Cade’s underage daughter because of the “Romeo and Juliet law,” which he carries around in his wallet. Yikes. The rest regurgitates previous plots, but the finale delivers the giddy sight of Optimus riding into battle on a fire-breathing Grimlock. While the Dinobots only appear for mere minutes of the mammoth runtime, their presence and the usual technical prowess make this entry slightly more entertaining.
5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” reveals the moon landing was all a ruse to inspect a crashed Cybertronian spacecraft. So, the Autobots visit the moon and find Sentinel Prime, the original leader of the Autobots. Their happy reunion doesn’t last long since he’s been working with the Decepticons all along. Sentinel opens up a portal and brings hundreds of Decepticons to Earth; the Autobots fake their deaths while Megatron and Sentinel take over Chicago and plan to bring Cybertron to Earth … for the first time. The Autobots sneak into occupied Chicago and kill a bunch of Decepticons. Prime decapitates Megatron and obliterates Sentinel Prime. The Autobots save the day and decide to make Earth their permanent home.
“Dark of the Moon” offers the best and worst elements of the franchise. The action is unbelievably bonkers, with an entire set piece revolving around a toppling skyscraper. It also features the highest stakes, allowing the Decepticons to win and see the devastation of their takeover. Optimus executing a defeated Sentinel Prime Tony Soprano-style is ice-cold. We’d say it’s “The Empire Strikes Back” of the franchise, but that gives it a little too much credit. The robot action rules, but the human characters are incredibly annoying. Every actor gets their own extended comedy bit while the audience squirms, eagerly waiting for Transformers to blow stuff up again. Megan Fox is gone, yet Sam scored another supermodel girlfriend, this time a Brit. Are all these movies just a prequel to Pete Davidson’s dating life, or does Michael Bay only cast models for any woman under 30? Maybe both?
4. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
“Rise of the Beasts” introduces the Maximals, Cybertronians able to transform into various beasts, as they flee Scourge and his Terrercons, who seek to feed the evil planet-eating god, Unicron. Fast forward to Brooklyn, 1994, we meet our new human characters, and a device called the Transwarp Key is accidentally triggered, sending a signal to the Terrorcons. The Autobots assemble, and the Terrorcons attack. Scourge “kills” Bumblebee. The Autobots discover the Maximals and team up to take down Scourge before he can summon Unicron. Bumblebee returns for the final battle with the greatest needle drop in the movie. Optimus kills Scourge, and the heroes stop Unicron’s Earthly dinner plans.
“Rise of the Beast” feels like a solid course correct for the franchise, building on the more character-driven “Bumblebee” while adding more world-ending stakes and wacky lore the franchise is known for. It also achieves the seemingly impossible feat of making the human characters actually likable, especially Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) and his ailing little brother, Kris Diaz (Dean Scott Vasquez). Yes, we’ve seen parts of this story before, but it feels more streamlined with far more fluid action scenes. The battles play out in massive wide shots with far fewer cuts and chaos than Bay’s editing style, allowing audiences to comprehend what’s happening in nearly every action sequence. While the Maximals don’t get as much screen time as the trailer suggests, they are a fun addition, and their designs are solid. In addition, the thought of having a live-action G.I.Joe/Transformers movie sounds worth the price of admission alone.
The first Michael Bay “Transformers” movie is relatively straightforward compared to its increasingly confounding sequels. He introduces the war on Cybertron between Autobots and Decepticons over the AllSpark, the “spark” of Cybertronian life. Megatron tracks the AllSpark to Earth but crashes, and remains frozen for hundreds of years, Captain America-style. Moving right along to 2007, Decepticons attack a desert military base searching for Megatron while Sam Witwicky buys a 1976 Chevrolet Camero that ends up being Bumblebee in disguise. The two form a bond, Sam woos Mikaela (Megan Fox), and the Autobots arrive on Earth. Megatron awakens, and there’s a massive battle; Sam defeats Megatron by shoving the AllSpark into his chest, and the very thing that creates Cybertronian life kills Megatron for … reasons we don’t fully understand. The Autobots win, hooray!
Wow, 2007, you were a simpler time. Before the MCU and before “The Dark Knight,” we had so few examples of “elevated” blockbusters. Audiences easily overlooked this movie’s flaws because it was just so cool to see Transformers duking it out on the big screen. The effects blew minds and still look incredible. While the editing style gets a bit too close and choppy, sometimes making things incoherent, the good outweighs the bad. However, upon repeat viewings, the cracks start to show, and our nostalgia blockers fade. Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox’s relationship is a textbook example of why the male gaze is so cringe-worthy in movies. Don’t believe us? Play a drinking game for how many unnecessary shots of Fox’s posterior exist. Actually, don’t; you’ll be drunk before the halfway point. The Fox factor aside and plot holes aplenty, we finally got a decent live-action Transformers movie, and that’s all that mattered.
2. Transformers The Animated Movie
We’ve arrived at the first Transformers (animated) movie, and the first time Unicron’s gluttonous diet threatens the Autobots. The Decepticons now rule Cybertron, with the Autobots hiding on a nearby moon, plotting their revenge. Megatron mortally wounds Optimus in battle, then Prime and several other fan-favorite Autobots kick the bucket. Starscream betrays Megatron and chucks him into space. Unicron finds Megatron and grants him new life as Galvatron. After more action and more robot deaths than any cartoon should be allowed to have, both sides arrive at Cybertron. Galvatron tries and fails to betray Unicron. Hot Rod gets an upgrade to Rodimus Prime, destroys Unicron, and tosses Galvatron back into space. The Autobots win, restoring peace to Cybertron.
The animated movie employs an awe-inspiring, if not confusing, everything and the kitchen-sink plot, filled with Autobots, Decepticons, Dinobots, Insecticons, Constructicons, Sharktacons, and more. A few new Autobots agitate, especially Wheelie, who talks like an autotuned Dr. Seuss audiobook. While the movie feels more like a 10-year-old recapping an entire season hopped up on Mountain Dew (or by the new Autobot Blurr), it succeeds by fully committing to the lore and nonstop robot-fighting action with minimal human interference. The filmmakers killed off Optimus Prime, a creative choice that scarred a generation. It’s so unapologetically 80s, too. Autobots and Decepticons become boomboxes, and their cassette tapes fight. And don’t forget Orson Welles as the voice of Unicron and a soundtrack that rocks so hard it features Stan Bush’s “The Touch” not once but thrice. How can you not love 80s cartoons?
As the war on Cybertron continues, Optimus sends B-127 (Bumblebee) to Earth, where he crashes in California. There, he narrowly escapes Sector-7, another secret military operation, but the Decepticon Blitzwing swoops in, ripping out B-127’s voicebox and damaging his memory. B-127 destroys Blitzwing and transforms into a yellow Volkswagon Beetle. Enter Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a high school student struggling with adolescence and her father’s death. She’s gifted B-127 for her 18th birthday and, while repairing it, reactivates B-127. With no voice and no memories, B-127 reacts more like a scared puppy than a war-hardened murder-bot. Charlie names him Bumblee, and the two become fast friends. Decepticons Dropkick and Shatter show up to ruin everything. Bumblebee defeats both and says goodbye to Charlie to meet up with Optimus as more Autobots arrive on Earth.
“Bumblebee” is far more intimate and scaled-down than the rest of the franchise, a huge reason why it works so well. It plays out like an Amblin movie with robots and is the ultimate wish-fulfillment story. The opening battle on Cybertron and the character redesigns are the franchise’s most cartoon-accurate. The humans feel human and less like adolescent punchline machines. The Charlie-Bumblebee friendship is well-earned and surprisingly sweet. The choices to remove Bumblebee’s killer instinct (and replace it with childlike helplessness) and to show Charlie’s reactions to his shenanigans both work. Even with their relationship pulling focus, this soft reboot offers plenty of robot-fighting action. T
Ultimately, the combination of the usual visual effects wizardry, actual character development, and genuine heart makes this entry stand out most amongst the cacophony of mindless explosions that dominate the rest.