I don’t think anyone would defend the Transformers live action movies as really good. For a property that was pretty young adult friendly, the movies are shockingly violent. They also feature characters that can be really, really dumb and plots that don’t really make sense. But the action scenes, brief as they can be, are usually pretty exciting. And the basic idea of transforming robots never gets dull. Still, the actual Transformers seen in the four live action films run the gamut from fun and accurate to racist and depressing. Let’s take a look at all of the Transformers we really see in the movies and list them, best to worst.
I would argue Ratchet is the most accurate to the versions of Ratchet we’ve seen in cartoons, comics and toys. He’s a medic for the Autobots, transforms into an emergency vehicle and he’s kind. So of course he gets murdered brutally in the fourth movie.
Starscream is an ideal adaptation from the back-stabbing second in command of the Decepticons. He transforms into a jet. He sounds whiny, but he’s dangerous. The only reason he’s not at number one is his robot design is harder to understand than Ratchet. His face looks like we dropped a ton of silverware on a magnet.
Megatron is well-portrayed in the movies, especially in 1 and 4. He’s the leader, he’s angry, he’s powerful. The one thing missing is he never has an opportunity to have a crazy plan to steal energy. In the first movie he shows up late, in the second he’s following the Fallen, in the third he’s damaged and we don’t know about his secret plan until late in the game (and he is sort of duped into it) and in the fourth he only shows up in the final act. Still, his personality is intact. And changing into a jet or a truck may not be something a toy version has ever been but then again he’s had toys where he’s a gun, a tank, and a dinosaur so his alt mode isn’t THAT important to his character.
4. Optimus Prime
He really should be the top-ranked character, especially with his voice performed by his original cartoon voice, Peter Cullen. Some hardcore fans criticize his truck design with the flames but I think the red and blue make him much easier to visually comprehend quickly and they are his traditional colors. His robot form is identifiable as Optimus, he sounds like Optimus, he’s a noble and good leader to the Autobots. So why isn’t he at the top? Because the movies, especially the third and fourth, have him occasionally act radically out of character by killing people, violently murdering Decepticons that are surrendering or shouting stuff like “Kill them all!”
Overall, I like Bumblebee in the movies. He’s loyal, his friendship with the humans is an important trait that’s maintained, and he’s got his yellow car scheme going. He may not look exactly like the car or robot form of the cartoons or toys but it’s certainly close enough and overall, he probably has the second-best design after Optimus Prime. It’s easy to overlook his one flaw which is that he doesn’t talk in the movies, instead using his radio. And that worked fine for the first movie because there was a story reason for it. It just didn’t make sense in the following films because he supposedly got repaired and really, how would he be able to tune into radio stations that are live broadcasting exactly what he wants to say?
Jazz is really close to the cartoon version. A high-end luxury car in silver. And as a robot he has his visor. He also talked “street” and Jazz always liked Earth music. It’s why he took that name. But the cartoon had Scatman Crothers’ distinct voice and the movie version was kinda close to being fake-street. Not exactly racist but not quite right. Still, not a bad take on the character.
Ironhide is a big truck and a tough warrior in the movies. That’s what he is in his other versions. He’s not red which seems like a bit of a mistake (it’d certainly be easier to make his CGI robot form out in red than black) but he’s got the right voice, role, and size. He’s just a bit of a jerk sometimes, yelling at humans. It takes away from his likability.
It’s a pretty brief appearance for such an important character. He’s really just briefly used in 2. And these are grouped together because the operate as one unit. It’s the right role – espionage. Soundwave may not be a cassette recorder but that wouldn’t have worked so a satellite makes sense and Ravage is a panther. Plus, Soundwave is voiced by original voice actor Frank Welker. He’d be higher if he appeared more.
11. Sentinel Prime
Sentinel Prime was created in the comics but was really only mentioned as being a previous Autobot leader. So he was a fairly blank slate for the movie and the used him well. His backstory in the third movie is kind of a confusing mess but his character arc of betraying the Autobots is a pretty good one, storywise. He’s also voiced by Leonard Nimoy and they even give him some lines that are similar to Nimoy’s Galvatron from the original animated movie. He’s decent, but again, his backstory does not hold up on the logic front and he features a robot design with my least favorite thing the live action movies do – give the characters robotic facial hair.
Lockdown is similarly not a huge character in Transformers mythos prior to the fourth movie. So however they choose to portray him shouldn’t really offend any Transformers fans. In this he’s not really a Decepticon, but more of an independent bounty hunter who works for the (unseen and unnamed) creators of the Transformers. He’s established as a solid threat. But he also has a huge spaceship with drone soldiers that he never uses until the end of the movie. And his plans with some corrupt humans are nonsense. Also, the cannon coming out of his face was just weird looking. Still, I liked his car and robot design fairly well.
Galvatron is not really like the one from the cartoon or comics in his design. He isn’t a purple guy that turns into a cannon. But he does share a similar origin, being a version rebuilt from Megatron’s “dead” body. So that’s kind of cool. The human scientists that build him are trying to make a remote controlled Transformer based on Optimus Prime but he keeps rewriting his design to look more like Megatron. And he goes rogue a few times, inexplicably. It’s kind of a cool bit of a mystery in a completely terrible movie.
Well, he transforms into a bird and he’s a spy, so that’s basically Laserbeak’s role. That’s accurate. But how he’s used creates logic fails. He kills Ken Jeong’s character by pushing him out a window to make it look like a suicide. But then he starts blasting up an office, so why was he trying to be sneaky about killing him? It just didn’t make any sense.
I found Drift to be nearly the only likable Autobot in the fourth movie. He is supposedly a former Decepticon but that’s never mentioned in the movie that I noticed. He’s a samurai robot that transforms into a helicopter. Okay, that works. Visually, you can tell its him whenever he’s onscreen. And he’s voiced by Ken Watanabe. But he sort of plays up the Asian accent a LOT. Is it racist if an actual Asian voices an Asian character in a stereotypical way?
Barricade is the first of three Decepticon in a row that isn’t really a well-known character from the toys or cartoon or comics. He’s just additional muscle. But he has a good scene in the first movie where he interrogates Sam Witwicky. It’s funny and he also looks dangerous. He’s inexplicably absent from the second movie but then back in the third. Weird. He murders Que/Wheeljack. Kinda depressing. Also, he’s one of the few bad guys to get killed by human troops, so he goes out like a bit of a wimp.
Blackout is really only seen at the very beginning and very end of the first movie. But he’s the first Transformer we see and he makes a good impression. It’s exciting seeing him infiltrate a military base and transform. He’s massive and dangerous. But he doesn’t really talk so he has no true personality. And he’s only used twice so we don’t see him that much.
Bonecrusher is similar to Blackout. We get no real sense of character. And he’s only used in one scene. But it’s a pretty exciting scene – a highway battle against Optimus Prime. Seeing him “skate” as a robot down the highway and blast through a bus, you know he’s dangerous. Good, unique truck (bomb dispersal truck).
We never see Scorponok transform. And he doesn’t have a voice. But at least he’s a scorpion, so that’s accurate. And he has a great scene where he attacks people from beneath the desert. It’s legit scary. In the toys and comics and cartoons, Scorponok is a Decepticon leader. In this, he’s a minor henchman.
Visually, he’s mostly recognizable as Grimlock. Except he’s more of a dragon than a T-Rex. He has horns. And breathes fire. He never talks. In fact, we don’t ever learn where the Dinobots really came from, or why they chose vaguely dinosaur forms. He’s big and strong, like the Dinobots should be. And teams up with the Autobots. But the Grimlock from previous Transformers stories would never let Optimus Prime ride him around.
21. Shockwave (with Driller)
Kind of a weird interpretation of the character, actually. The cartoon positioned him as Megatron’s appointed leader of the Cybertron Decepticons. The comics had him battle to rule the Decepticons. The toy transformed from a one-eyed robot into a big sci-fi gun. The movie version was just black, not bright purple but he did have the one eye and a gun arm. But he sort of controlled this huge drill. I thought he was the drill, but reading up on it, apparently that was a separate Transformer called Driller that Shockwave controlled. He didn’t speak much but when he did, it was by Frank Welker. That gives it some points. He was just muscle but it was okay.
22-27. Sideswipe, Jolt, Mirage, Roadbuster, Leadfoot, Topspin
I mean, I couldn’t tell you who any of these guys were. They were background troops in 2 and 3 but had no distinguishable characteristics, voices, or scenes.
28-34. Brawl, Igor, Crankcase, Crowbar, Hatchet, Junkheap, Traxes
I think the Decepticons were even harder to tell apart. The movies list these as characters but I don’t know who any of them were. Well, Brawl was a tank at the end of the first one. But still, these guys are only seen briefly and not personalized in any real way.
35-37. Strafe, Slug, Scorn
These three Dinobots pop up right at the end of the fourth movie and just stand around until Optimus Prime has them fight some bad guys. They don’t talk and you barely see them. These go lower than the rest because the Dinobots are always portrayed with big personalities and awesome dinosaur designs and these are a disappointment. Anonymous guys that have weird designs like a pterondon with two heads. Huh?
Created by the company KSI, Stinger was a pink knockoff of Bumblebee. A drone. Inspires Bumblebee to act jealous which was just lame.
The only appear briefly and are quickly destroyed. Supposedly director Michael Bay didn’t like the idea of a female Transformer so he just had her created to be killed off. That’s gross.
40. The Doctor
Weird little robot that inspects Megatron and Sam Witwicky in two small scenes of the second movie. No real personality or functionality. They should’ve just given this role to an existing character like Starscream. Useless.
Grindor was a helicopter in the second movie that seems to reuse the Blackout model/effects. He really only has one small scene where he attacks Optimus Prime along with Megatron and Starscream. Optimus violently murders him and calls him tin. For being a reused design and being part of Optimus acting out of character, this guy loses points.
The combined form of the Constructicons. We don’t really get to know the Constructicons but Devastator seems fairly dangerous. Then he has huge testicles. That’s what he’s mostly remembered for. Also, he sucks cars and trucks into him but humans are able to somehow hang onto the ground and avoid his suck power. He actually doesn’t last very long.
Ugh, I can deal with John Goodman’s gruff military persona but I hate Hound’s design. He’s a fat robot with a beard and he smokes a cannon shell. That’s so silly. Plus, he’s a jerk to humans and in one scene he sees a sentient alien that he thinks is ugly so he murders it. This is a good guy?
Also called Que (“Q”). Okay, so he’s sort of a scientist and that was Wheeljack’s role. But then they gave him an indecipherable Scottish accent and a really terrible face – sort of a skull with a beard? He mostly just pops up to get violently murdered. A waste of an interesting inventor character.
Acts like a total asshole the whole time he’s on screen. Constantly trying to quit being an Autobot, to fight his allies, to murder humans or usurp Optimus’ job. Also inexplicably abandons humans by jumping into the sky with some parachutes. How did he get those?
Awful interpretation of the character. He retired and disguised himself in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum? How did he do that? Or was he always the actual jet that the U.S. used somehow? Why does he have a cane? Why does he have a beard? He’s a supersonic jet and near the end of the movie he needs to get to Egypt. Instead of transforming, he teleports! What? Since when can Transformers do that?
Where did this guy come from? All of a sudden, Megatron has a boss. And he wants to blow up Earth. It included all sorts of weird backstory that fails logic. He used to be a “Prime” but killed his fellow brothers so he could steal more energy. But somehow they still sealed him in another dimension. Which he seems to have gotten out of at some point, somehow. And his presence retroactively makes the Matrix of Leadership a tool to blow up the Earth. What?
Just annoying. He’s a tiny boombox that sneaks onto Air Force One in the first movie. He jumps around all crazy and kills Secret Service guys but loses a fight to Sam Witwicky. He ends up just a head that transforms into a cell phone. I hate that Transformers can become whatever they want, whenever they want in these movies and Frenzy went a long way to establishing that early on.
Oh, now the Decepticons can just transform into people? What? Where did that come from? If they can do that, why disguise themselves as cars? They could insert themselves into high level government positions. Instead, just one tries to get a date with Sam Witwicky. And somehow she was already enrolled in school? Alice makes no sense.
One of the most annoying characters ever. A tiny remote control car Decepticon that switches allegiances pretty fast. A total wimp. Spazzy voice. Humps Megan Fox’ leg. Not funny. Shows up in the second and third movie then is inexplicably gone in the fourth. I’m fine with never knowing why as long as he stays gone.
Basically an amped up version of Wheelie. Goes through Sam’s girlfriends underwear and acts like a bigger pervert than Wheelie. Also a tiny Decepticon car that becomes an Autobot. They just loved Wheelie so much they repeated the story. But he’s more annoying, has a worse robot design with weird hair, and in the fourth movie he basically switches back to being evil and then good again. Who cares?
Just an obvious, racist caricature. Terrible. Useless within the story. They have buckteeth and talk in ebonics and saw they can’t read. Offensive. The lowest the movies have gotten although there is competition.