Transformers is one of Hollywood's biggest film franchises, but which movie is the best one? With the addition of the newest entry, Bumblebee, there are now six live-action feature films about the war between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons since 2007. Including the 1986 animated film The Transformers: The Movie, the franchise as so far earned over $4.3 billion at the global box office.
Development on first Transformers live-action film revved up in 2004 when Steven Spielberg signed onto executive produce alongside producer Don Murphy. Michael Bay signed on as director a year later and would, for better or worse, remain as the primary auteur of the franchise for over a decade, helming the next four sequels as well. Cast as the human hero Sam Witwicky, Shia LaBeouf was the star of the first three films alongside Megan Fox as co-lead for 2007's Transformers and 2009's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Fox was then replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in the third film, 2011's Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the highest grossing entry of the saga, which earned over $1.1 billion worldwide. Mark Wahlberg then took over as the new lead character of the franchise, Cade Yaeger, and the next film, 2014's Transformers: Age of Extinction became the second Transformers to gross over $1 billion. But the fifth film, 2017's Transformers: The Last Knight drastically underperformed, ranking as the lowest-grossing live-action Transformers.
Bay's Transformers movies are taken to task for emphasizing noisy action, incoherent plotting, and juvenile humor at the expense of character and story. After ten years and five films, Michael Bay finally stepped aside as director (he'd been claiming each film since the third would be his last, but he kept returning) and allowed the Transformers franchise to head in a new direction. The planned Transformers 6 was canceled and instead, everything fell on Bumblebee, directed by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings). Set in 1987, Bumblebee stars Academy Award-nominee Hailee Steinfeld and doubles as both a prequel and a soft reboot of the series. Let's now assess the entire franchise and determine which Transformers movie is the best one of all.
7. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Set and released two years after Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen introduces a new evil Decepticon threat: the Fallen, a former Prime who wants to use a device called the Sun Harvester, which he hid on Earth in 17,000 B.C., to destroy the sun in order to create Energon. Now working together as the Non-biological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty (N.E.S.T.), the Autobots and human military hunt down the remaining Decepticons on Earth. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky begins college but discovers he's the Chosen One who holds the key to discovering the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, the only thing that can destroy the Fallen, who comes to Earth to activate the Sun Harvester. Sam reunites with his girlfriend Mikaela Banes and Bumblebee, but Megatron is resurrected and kills Optimus Prime. It all culminates at a battle between the Autobots, N.E.S.T. and the Decepticons at the Pyramids of Giza where the Sun Harvester is nearly activated. Sam dies but receives a vision from the Primes that he's the Chosen One; returning to life, Sam uses the Matrix to resurrect Optimus Prime, who then kills the Fallen and destroys the Sun Harvester as Megatron escapes.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen's screenplay was rushed together ahead of the 2008 writers strike and it showed. While the movie introduced fan-favorite characters like Jetfire and the Constructicons, who merged to form Devastator, the story is an illogical mess with both Sam and Optimus Prime dying and being resurrected. However, the film is best remembered for its sophomoric humor, like the Decepticon Wheelie humping Mikaela's leg, a closeup of Agent Seymour Simmons stripping down to his tighty-whiteys, and the outright racist portrayals of Skids and Mudflap, two Autobot comic relief characters that accompany Sam and Mikaela (but were thankfully never seen again in the series). Revenge of the Fallen would be the final appearance of Megan Fox in the Transformers franchise after she referred to Michael Bay as "Hitler" in an interview. Finally, the visual of Devastator climbing the Great Pyramid while displaying wrecking balls that double as its testicles contributes to the second Michael Bay Transformers checking in as the early nadir of the franchise, at least creatively.
To be fair, Revenge of the Fallen's $402-million is the franchise's highest domestic gross, though it ranks third in worldwide grosses behind Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction, respectively.
6. Transformers: Age of Extinction
65-million years ago, aliens called the Creators seeded the Earth with Transformium, a programmable metal that the Transformers are made out of. The main film is set five years after the Battle of Chicago in Dark of the Moon; humans have turned against the Transformers and Optimus Prime is hiding in Texas where he's discovered by a struggling inventor named Cade Yaeger. A government task force called Cemetery Wind arrives to kill Optimus, who is revived and escapes with Cade, his daughter Tessa, and her boyfriend Shane. As Optimus rallies the Autobots, including Bumblebee, the plot expands to involve a corporation using a device called the Seed to build man-made Transformer drones, one of which, Galvatron, is possessed by the spirit of Megatron. Meanwhile, a Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown is on the hunt for Optimus Prime. After another battle in Chicago, the Autobots travel to Hong Kong to stop the Seed from being detonated and terraforming the Earth, with Optimus resurrecting Grimlock and the Dinobots to help him. After the Seed and Lockdown are destroyed, Optimus leaves Earth to hunt for the Creators, setting up the next film, Transformers: The Last Knight.
At a grueling 165 minutes, Age of Extinction is the longest Transformers movie, and really doesn't know how to use it. While Age of Extinction finally introduced the Dinobots (and its marketing sold it with the image of Optimus Prime riding Grimlock), the fan-favorite Autobots don't appear until nearly two hours into the film. Instead, audiences had to endure the Yaegers' embarrassing family drama, specifically Cade's outrage at Tessa dating the much older Shane and Shane arguing the legalities of his dating a minor. Aside from starting the Mark Wahlberg era, Transformers: Age of Extinction is also remembered for Lockdown, the Transformer whose face transforms into a gun, Stanley Tucci as the human villain (Tucci would return in the next film, The Last Knight, as an entirely different character), and for being shot in China, with the Chinese co-financing the production. Despite its poor reviews, Age of Extinction nevertheless was the highest grossing film of 2014 and the second Transformers movie to earn $1-billion worldwide.
Page 2 of 3: The Best of Michael Bay's Transformers
5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Dark of the Moon reveals more secret Transformers history: when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in 1969, they discovered a crashed Transformers ship called the Ark that contained the Pillars, devices which, when placed around the world, can open a space bridge that would bring Cybertron to Earth. After learning the humans kept all of this from him, Optimus Prime and the Autobots travel to the moon and revive Sentinel Prime, Optimus' predecessor as Autobot leader. It turns out Sentinel Prime was actually evil and joined the Decepticons in a bid to bring Cybertron to Earth and enslave humanity, a fact Sam Witwicky and his new girlfriend Carly Spencer discover. Meanwhile, the Autobots are banished from Earth and are seemingly destroyed by Starscream. It all culminated in the Battle of Chicago as a Decepticon invasion force lays waste to the city while N.E.S.T. fights back. Optimus Prime and the Autobots return and defeat the Decepticons, killing all of them including Shockwave, Starscream, Laserbeak, Megatron, and Sentinel Prime.
The final Transformers movie starring Shia LaBeouf, Dark of the Moon was at least an improvement over Revenge of the Fallen. Bay intended it to be his final Transformers, which is why it culminated in the spectacle of an all-out massacre of the evil Decepticons, with Optimus Prime brutally executing Sentinel Prime. The new villain saw Leonard Nimoy return to the franchise, having voiced Galvatron in 1986's animated Transformers: The Movie (the film contains several nods to Star Trek, including foreshadowing Sentinel's villainous turn with a clip of "Amok Time" - the episode "when Spock goes nuts"). John Malkovich, Francis McDormand, and Alan Tudyk joined the cast (along with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replacing Megan Fox), but the film still features Michael Bay's offensive brand of humor, with Ken Jeong portraying a racist caricature who has a "gay panic" comedy scene with LaBeouf in a men's room. Nevertheless, Dark of the Moon was the first billion-dollar-grossing Transformers film and remains the franchise's highest grossing film worldwide - its staggering success prompted Bay to continue directing the sequels.
4. Transformers: The Last Knight
Set a year after the events of Transformers: Age of Extinction, Optimus Prime arrives on Cybertron and meets his creator, Quintessa, who turns the Autobot leader into her evil servant Nemesis Prime. Meanwhile, The Last Knight's flashbacks revealed that the Transformers were around in the days of King Arthur (and that King Arthur was real), with the film centering around the mystery of who is the Last Knight, the person who can wield the staff of Merlin that can drain the life out of Unicron - because it turns out the Earth is secretly a planet-sized Transformer and the ancient arch enemy of Cybertron. Cade Yaeger discovers he is the Last Knight when he meets Sir Edmund Burton, a British Earl who is the last of the secret order of the Witwiccans, the keepers of the Transformers' history on Earth. The Autobots and the human Transformers Reaction Force (TRF) try to protect the staff from the Decepticons as Cybertron threatens to collide with the Earth. Bumblebee restores Optimus' true personality by speaking his actual voice, and together, the Autobots defeat Quintessa and the Decepticons to save Earth. However, Unicron's horns have begun appearing around the Earth, indicating our planet could still become a Transformer.
Michael Bay's fifth and final Transformers film as director, and Mark Wahlberg's second and final film as its star, The Last Knight again rewrote Cybertron and human history, setting up a new mythology and series of films (as evidenced by the post-credits scene revealing that Quintessa survived). While most of Bay's other entries are actually much worse than this film, franchise fatigue finally did Bay's saga in and The Last Knight is infamously the lowest ranked film on Rotten Tomatoes (15% Rotten) and the lowest grossing live-action Transformers film, ending the plans for Transformers 6 and instead initiating a franchise reboot with Bumblebee. Still, The Last Knight features Sir Anthony Hopkins chewing the scenery as Sir Edmund Burton and Stanley Tucci returning to the franchise, this time playing Merlin in the flashbacks. Josh Duhamel, Glenn Morshower, and John Turturro also returned but The Last Knight's box office failure ultimately (and thankfully) marked the end of the decade-long era of Michael Bay's Transformers.
In Transformers, teenager Sam Witwicky buys a used yellow Camaro and discovers his car is Bumblebee, a member of a race of alien Autobots at war with the evil Decepticons. The Decepticons are on Earth seeking the AllSpark, a device that brings life to the Transformers, and their missing leader Megatron, who has been held captive by the secret agency called Sector Seven for the past century. After saving Sam and his love interest Mikaela Banes from a Decepticon named Barricade, Bumblebee introduces his human friends to Optimus Prime and the rest of Autobots. Meanwhile, the Decepticons locate Megatron and the AllSpark's location in Hoover Dam, the secret base of Sector Seven. Despite mistrusting the Autobots, Sam and Mikaela, Sector Seven's leader Agent Seymour Simmons and the U.S. Military join forces with Optimus Prime when Megatron is resurrected and tries to steal the AllSpark. Together, they defeat the Decepticons and Sam uses the AllSpark to kill Megatron. As the military disposes of Megatron in the ocean, Optimus Prime invites the rest of the Autobots in outer space to come to Earth while Bumblebee remains with Sam and Mikaela.
Transformers successfully launched the live-action franchise in 2007, turning Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox into global stars. Initially controversial due to Michael Bay's radical redesign of the robots, the film nevertheless won over most Transformers fans despite Bay's trademark sophomoric humor (an Autobot infamously urinates on Agent Simmons), his over-the-top, hard-to-follow action sequences, and his emphasizing the human military characters over the robots. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese, as humans soldiers Lennox and Epps, and John Turturro as Agent Simmons would return in every sequel except for Age of Extinction, and Sam's parents played by Kevin Dunn and Julie White would also return with their inane comedy for the next two films. Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime from the cartoons, returned to voice Prime in live-action and remains the one throughline for the series. Despite Bay's excesses, Transformers' core idea of a teenage boy who wanted a car to impress a girl but the car turns out to be an alien (a concept championed by executive producer Steven Spielberg) worked. Transformers is the best of Bay's films and its basic formula would also be echoed in 2018's reboot Bumblebee.
Page 3 of 3: The Best Transformers Movie Of All
In the year 2005, the Decepticons have conquered Cybertron while the Autobots have settled on Earth, living in Autobot City. Megatron decides to lead the Decepticons to destroy the Autobots on Earth, sparking a massacre of Autobots and Decepticons and a final showdown between Megatron and Optimus Prime. On his deathbed, Optimus passes the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus. When they learn that Unicron, a planet-sized Transformer, is targeting Cybertron, the Autobots rush to space to defend their homeworld. Meanwhile, Unicorn finds Megatron's dying remains and gives him a new form, Galvatron. Taking command of the Decepticons, Galvatron prepares for Unicorn to destroy Cybertron while the Autobots meet new allies, the Junkions. In the final battle against Unicron, the Autobot named Hot Rod discovers he's been chosen by the Matrix to be the new Autobot Leader. Transformed into Rodimus Prime, he defeats Galvatron and uses the Matrix to destroy Unicron and save Cybertron.
The Transformers: The Movie marked the robots in disguise's animated theatrical debut and it was a must-see event for Transformers fans of the 1980s, who were subsequently emotionally scarred by the death of Optimus Prime and the rest of their favorite robots; Hasbro wanted to use Transformers: The Movie as a way to introduce their next line of toys and they decided graphically killing the original robots was the way to go (in response to fan outrage, Prime was quickly returned to life in the small screen cartoon series). The movie was far more violent than the regular Transformers cartoon, but it also featured stunning animation and a memorable music score by Vince DiCola (who also scored Rocky IV), along with songs by "Weird" Al Yankovic and Stan Bush's "The Touch". Transformers: The Movie brought in all-star talent to lend their voices, like Robert Stack as Ultra Magnus, Judd Nelson as Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime, Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron, and Orson Welles as Unicron, one of the legendary filmmaker's final roles. Despite the success of the live-action film series, many hardcore fans feel The Transformers: The Movie is the best and it remains the purest representation of the Transformers on the big screen.
Warning! SPOILERS Below For Bumblebee!
In 1987, the Deceptions conquered the planet Cybertron, forcing Optimus Prime to evacuate the Autobot Resistance and send Bumblebee to Earth. Upon his arrival, Bumblebee is attacked by Sector Seven, led by Agent Burns, and his memory core is damaged by the Decepticon Blitzwing. Hiding as a Volkswagen in a junkyard, Bee is found by Charlie Watson, a teenage girl who is shocked to discover her new car is an alien robot. As Charlie repairs and bonds with Bumblebee, Decepticons Shatter and Dropkick form an alliance with Sector Seven, claiming that Bumblebee is an escaped criminal. After Bumblebee is captured, Charlie is able to reboot Bumblebee's memory while discovering that the Decepticons plan to build a beacon to contact the other evil robots to invade Earth. Together, Charlie and Bumblebee stop the Decepticons, earning the trust and gratitude of Agent Burns. Finally, Bumblebee parts ways with Charlie and reunites with Optimus Prime as the Autobots arrive on Earth.
Related: How Much Did Bumblebee Cost To Make?
With new director Travis Knight at the helm, Bumblebee successfully soft reboots the Transformers franchise, with across-the-board incredible reviews. With a smaller scale to the action and by centering on the relationship between Hailee Steinfeld's Charlie and Bee, Bumblebee at long last delivered a Transformers movie that emphasizes character, heart and emotion over special effects and spectacle while still promising satisfying robot-smashing action. Bumblebee also embraced the original cartoon's 1980s setting and finally revamped the robots to resemble their more aesthetically pleasing Generation-1 designs. The result is an exciting new direction for the Transformers franchise that may or may not synch up with the Michael Bay films set in the 21st century but could instead spawn crossovers with G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K, with John Cena's charismatic Agent Burns possibly linking the Hasbro properties together. Regardless of potential crossovers, Bumblebee is a welcome breath of fresh air for the saga and easily rolls in as the best Transformers movie of all.