In 1986, Hasbro decided it was time to refresh their popular Transformers toy line and reset the successful cartoon series with a movie. Or, from a creative viewpoint, discard the old storylines and engage in more adult themes, including the death of a main character.

Thirty years later, Steven Speilberg tackled the Transformers characters to tell a more modern story and hired slam-bang director Michael Bay to give the movie an action sheen. In the mid-80s, The Transformers: The Movie was aimed at a young adult audience. Since 2007, via explosions, babes, and nonsensical plots, the Transformers movies are adult productions with childish sensibilities.

10 New Movies Are Better – Computer Graphics

As there was no way to show vehicular transformations “on camera” in 1986, it made sense to use animation to manifest The Transformers special effects.  The TV series had already been running for three years in the same style – and the toys themselves “transformed” in a simple fashion, as well.

But by 2007, computer effects technology had evolved to the point of allowing Bay to present brilliant transformation sequences in Transformers, with careful use of Autobots mass and components to seamless effect.

9 Old Movie Is Better: Heavy Metal Lite

With a rock-and-roll soundtrack, Japanese production values, and smoky death scenes, The Transformers: The Movie evoked the sci-fi/fantasy/erotica magazine Heavy Metal in a PG fashion. Animation in the U.S., at the time, was strictly the domain of Disney features and Saturday morning cartoons, with only the occasional adult theme.

The Restricted Adult stories of Heavy Metal magazine – and the feature film five years earlier – were nowhere to be found in The Transformers: The Movie. But the fantastical metallic esthetic pervades the 1986 movie and gave moviegoers a taste of what adult-orientated animation could look like.


8 New Movies Are Better – Boys First Car 

The Transformers TV series, when it did include humans, dwelt on Autobot coworkers or doe-eyed children in awe of the gentle giants. The stories rarely focused on any non-metallic characters, so fans were forced to imagine themselves within the robotic stories.

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In Transformers, Speilberg wisely drafted a story based on a teenager’s love for this first car, making the bond between human and robot stronger. This theme of boy-meets-car would be replicated in Bumblebee in 2018, with Halie Stanfield acting as the audience surrogate.

7 Older Is Better – Cast

Featuring gravelly-voiced Leonard Nimoy, teen heartthrob Judd Nelson, and master filmmaker Orson Welles – not to mention series regulars like Peter Cullen and Frank Welker – the characters in The Transformers: The Movie were well vocalized.

Joined by actors Scatman Crothers, Eric Idle, Casey Kasum, and Robert Stack, the voices in The Transformers: The Movie were strong and distinctive – perhaps apart from Idle, who played distorted, gibberish spouting robot Wreck-Gar.  The Transformers: The Movie would be Crothers and Welles’s last performance.

6 Newer Is Better – Modern Cast

The cast in the initial Transformers movie is filled with memorable human characters as played by Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight, and Sam’s parents Julie White and Kevin Dunn. And love him or hate him, Shia LaBeouf does a capable job playing an amusing teenage boy, with bombshell Meghan Fox as the female lead who’s “more than meets the eye.”

There’s no-one in the current cast as venerable as Welles – although Cullen was wisely allowed to re-voice Optimus Prime from the cartoon series – but the cast is believable in unbelievable situations.  Actors like John Turturo and later Stanley Tucci would overplay their roles in the sequels.

5 Older Is Better – Set On Cybertron

The TV series in the earlier 80s mostly took place on modern-day earth, showcasing the endless battle of Autobots and Decepticons. This allowed for lower production costs – even for animation – and gave the characters a down-to-earth tone.

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Thankfully, large portions of The Transformers: The Movie are set on the heretofore unseen Cybertron, home of Autobots and Decepticons, as well as on other planets. Animating an entire planet with mechanical details is hard and expensive work, but it gave the original movie an otherworldly appearance and fantastic setting – the modern movies would eventually catch up to Cybertron in 2017 Transformers: The Last Knight.

4 Newer Is Better – Sense Of Humor

No-one would mistake Transformers for a comedy, but it goes out of its way to be humorous and fun – which is more than you can say for the sequels. Although their characters get a bit tiresome, Sam’s parents especially provide light comic relief to keep the movie moving.

In contrast, The Transformers: The Movie is a straight forward action movie, with only as much humor sprinkled in as necessary. Idle’s character Wreck-Gar adds a dose of fun and parody, but its meant as merely a break from the action. Transformers is more fun.

3 Older Is Better – Death Of Optimus Prime

The most memorable part of The Transformers: The Movie happened, for better or worse, in the first act, when the stalwart leader and robot icon Optimus Prime succumbed to his injuries fighting the Decepticons on earth. Besides the emotional blow, his death was a key part of the plot, as he passes the “Matrix of Leadership” to a new hero.

In Transformers, Optimus Prime dies and is resurrected – or was that in one of the sequels? Whenever someone “dies” in the modern movies its doubtful they are truly dead – the new movies wish they could have the impact that The Transformers: The Movie did with the death of key characters.

2 Newer Is Better – Cinematography 

Cinematographic Mitchell Amundsen knows how to shoot an action movie – although he only worked with director Bay on the first Transformers, the sunlight scenes and bright cityscapes have continued in all the modern movies.

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Despite the animator’s best efforts, The Transformers: The Movie shows the limits of old-school hand-drawn animation, as colors and scenes are often muddled and eclectic (particularly on Cybertron). Transformers, by virtual of digital film, is brighter, warmer, and more explosive (as is Bay’s style).

1 Older Is Better – Heroes Can Die

As mentioned above, and noteworthy throughout many modern sci-fi movies, the main characters have a habit of being resurrected. Sometimes its to serve the plot, sometimes to serve the box office – either way the audience is cheated and manipulated.

For an ardent fan of the Transformers franchise, it was a shock when several Autobots were killed in the first 15 minutes of The Transformers: The Movie – one beloved character is shot in the head (off-screen). It was a daring way of telling the audience this wasn’t Saturday morning fare, and the characters weren’t holding back in this adventure.

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