Before Michael Bay came along and ruined LITERALLY EVERYTHING THAT COULD BE RUINED, there was only one Transformers movie; the 1986 animated nostalgia-thon with the simple name of Transformers: The Movie. It kicked ass then, and it still does, and that’s why it’s number two on this list.
Now I love me some Transformers. Although I liked what I saw of Transformers Animated and Transformers Prime, my first and only real love is for what I grew up with; Generation 1. For non-Transformers fans, Generation 1 was the original cartoon and toyline that ran from 1984 to 1991, though some also include the short-lived Generation 2 (1992 – 1994) as part of G1. Generation 1 is the most successful and recognised of the Transformers series, because it’s where the franchise’s most iconic characters such as Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream and Bumblebee all come from.
I was way too young to go see the movie when it was released in cinemas, but I have a distinct memory of my mum renting it out for me at the local video store when I was about four or five, whereupon I experienced the giddy heights of emotion that only a small boy watching a movie about robots can truly feel. If I think about it, Transformers: The Movie was probably one of the very first full-length films I ever watched.
Now, I’m going to go into a plot synopsis, as is custom, but first I want to give a little pre-emptive warning. If your only Transformers movie experience is Michael Bay’s cinematic abortions, I have to advise you that this film, entitled Transformers: The Movie, is actually about the Transformers, not Megan Fox’s T and A. There aren’t going to be any “hilarious” moments like dogs having sex, or Sam’s mother getting stoned, or robot testicles, or wrestling matches in a men’s bathroom with a Chinese secret agent called Deep Wang, or endless, relentless racist stereotyping.
I’m not saying Transformers: The Movie is Citizen Kane by comparison or anything, but Jesus.
Anyway. Deep breaths.
T:tM starts as all movies should start; with a giant robot planet chowing down on a smaller robot planet and its even smaller doomed robot population. We then cut across to the Autobot base on one of Cybertron’s moons, where Optimus Prime orders a shuttle mission to Autobot City on Earth. However, the Decepticons ambush the shuttle, and it’s about here when we can mark the death of innocence along to some thrashing hair-metal.
Meanwhile, on Earth, we get introduced to a load of new Autobot characters which I’m sure in no way corresponded with the new toys then being released in stores. Hot Rod, a hot-headed youngster, sees the shuttle arriving and notices that it’s full of Decepticons, and so begins a huge battle for Autobot City. The Autobots manage to radio for reinforcements, and Optimus Prime arrive to deliver the mother of all beatdowns on the Decepticons. Finally, he goes head to head with Megatron, the Decepticon leader.
Now, Prime and Megs have fought before in the cartoon series. But this time, it’s on. They beat the scrap out of each other, until eventually Prime collapses, mortally wounded, while the Decepticons escape with Megatron, also near death. We then have That Scene. The one where Optimus Prime *sob*… dies. Meanwhile, Megatron is thrown into space by his treacherous lieutenant Starscream, and while drifting through the void, encounters Unicron, the aforementioned giant robot planet who eats smaller robot planets. Unicron is essentially robot Satan, and makes Megatron his servant, upgrading him into Galvatron, who is far more powerful and substantially more purple. In return, Unicron wants the Autobot’s Matrix of Leadership destroyed, as it is the only thing that poses a threat to him.
After making a quick detour to disintegrate Starscream, Galvatron leads the Decepticons in an attack against Autobot City, where Ultra Magnus, the Autobot’s new leader, is overseeing repairs on the city. As the Decepticons attack, the Autobots escape in two groups, but become separated. Ultra Magnus’s group land on the planet of Junk, where they are tracked down by Galvatron. Ultra Magnus is killed, and Galvatron claims the Matrix. Meanwhile, Hot Rod and grumpy veteran Kup run afoul of the Quintessons, a group of sadistic alien judges who condemn innocents to death. They’re saved by Wheelie, the Transformer’s equivalent of Jar Jar Binks.
The two groups of Autobots reunite, and go to stop Unicron, who is attacking the Transformers homeworld of Cybertron. The Autobots enter Unicron’s enormous body, and Hot Rod battles Galvatron. Hot Rod wins, and claims back the Matrix, ascending and becoming Rodimus Prime, the new Autobot leader. He throws Galvatron into space, and sets off a chain reaction in Unicron’s body that destroys the planet-eater, all while Stan Bush is blasting out in the background.
I adore Transformers, and I adore Transformers: The Movie. The soundtrack is pure 80’s hair metal awesomeness, the animation quality blows the old animated series clear out of the water, the cast is astounding for a kid’s movie about robots who turn into cars (Leonard Nimoy, Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Peter Cullen, motherfucking Orson Welles), and the story is just plain solid adventure with strong characters and memorable dialogue. This film is where the Transformers fandom gets iconic phrases like “‘Til all are one”, the Monty Python-esque universal greeting “Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep mini bong”, and the badass “One shall stand, one shall fall.” At least Michael Bay remembered to include that line in his films.
If you’ve seen the Bayformer films but not T:tM, you owe it to yourself to watch it. Trust me, you’ll love it, or at the very least, you’ll hate it less than the Bayformer films.
We’re nearing the end of the list now, but tomorrow won’t be the finale. No, tomorrow we’ll have a few honourable mentions for films that almost made the list.