COUNTDOWN: ‘Transformers One’ and 13 other times they ruined the franchise

Another day, another big controversial moment in Transformers history, eh?

That at least seems to be the case currently, as new details on the upcoming animated film Transformers: One have emerged thanks to a fan who attended the China Licensing Expo 2023 and evidently saw an early teaser trailer for the film. He then posted some brief thoughts about what he observed and even a rough drawing of his own interpretation of the designs used for Megatron and Optimus Prime. However, he equally stressed that these were just based on his recollection and, from the description given, it seems they’re not the final forms of the characters in the story but rather how they will look before they acquire a transformation cog and the ability to switch between modes.

You can read more about it here, but suffice it to say, it’s an exceptionally brief and somewhat vague impression based on a teaser for a film that isn’t scheduled to be released for the better part of another year. However, that naturally hasn’t stopped a fair dose of the online reaction from declaring this project the Worst. Thing. Ever.

To say judgement has been swift and harsh is perhaps an understatement, with many fans loathing everything from the look of the robots themselves (again, these are *not* the actual designs, but just a fan interpretation of what was seen) to the very idea that Cybertronians would need to acquire the ability to transform (a trope which has been used in a wealth of Transformers media before, but I digress).

In any case, it’s still early days for this project, and although there will undoubtedly be some aspects that sit less favourably than others as details emerge, it feels more than a little premature to condemn it just yet. That said, the idea that it is already “ruining” Transformers (to coin a phrase from our beloved TFWiki) puts it in very good company, as it’s hardly the first time the franchise has stoked such controversy.

All that said, here are thirteen other times Transformers was ruined over the years (even though it really wasn’t).

WARNING! A heavy dose of sarcasm is ahead…

#13: The animated movie (1986)

The first time Transformers was properly ruined was only a mere two years in. Sure, we’d been living large off the highs of Diaclone hand-me-downs (and assorted other goodies thrown in) throughout the very early days, but 1986 brought about many a controversial change in status quo that fans simply were not ready for. The most obvious of these is the big-screen animated movie, which, infamously set about killing off much of the core cast until that point and, even more incredibly, the primary antagonist and hero of the whole affair, Optimus Prime. Angry letters from parents ensued, with the size of the reaction being entirely unprecedented at the time. Oh, but that’s not all; many of the toys looked different, too, with original designs now being cooked up separate from Takara’s pre-Transformers roster. Modern fans often joke about “Geewunners” who seemingly cannot appreciate anything apart from the original era of the franchise, but it’s not an understatement to say there’s an even more hardcore subset that believes it all died in ’86 with the Autobot leader.

#12: New gimmicks (1987-89)

Image credit: botchthecrab.com

As if ’86 wasn’t contentious enough, 1987’s gimmick-laden line-up rolled round and soon cemented the franchise’s inevitable demise forevermore! Gone were the diecast and the rubber tyres, now replaced with significantly blockier and often more colourful designs now packed with action features. Suddenly, you had little men everywhere, turning into heads, guns, and, latterly, engines! A steady slew of equally over-the-top stunts persisted in the following years, each more grating than the last in the minds of their critics and irrevocably destroying the franchise until it could surely get no worse. Or could it?

#11: Action Masters (1990)

Yes, as if the likes of Pretenders weren’t bad enough, 1990’s big new gimmick was the most vexing of all – Transformers that didn’t transform! These things were deemed *so bad*, they actually did kill off the franchise completely and utterly. Well, y’know, except everywhere other than North America and if we’re being honest, it wasn’t quite that straightforward even then, but regardless, they were (and still are) the absolute WORST in the eyes of many. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

#10: Beast Wars (1996)

Despite Transformers somehow surviving all the previous times it had been ruined beyond repair, things were set to be worse than ever before when, in 1996, one of the most controversial shake-ups of all came along. Beast Wars was, it’s fair to say, nothing like anything we had seen before (which was by specific design), and immediately sparked the fury of a decent number of old-school fans as a result. Robots that turned into animals? Forget it! ‘Trukk not munky’, as the saying so infamously goes! That it soon became one of the most enduring and celebrated parts of the franchise and created a whole generation of Transformers enthusiasts all of its own is beside the point, surely?

#9: Beast Machines (1999)

Of all the entries on this list, Beast Machines is in a relatively small subgroup of those still tainted by a poor reputation even today. Whilst Beast Wars has earned its popularity over the years, the hotly-debated follow-up remains a hugely contentious proposition, perhaps because it offended not just old-school fans but those who had come to love the preceding series as well! It’s true that many of the storylines took certain fan-favourite characters in unexpected directions, and yes, much of the core premise of the show sits at odds with the classic canon of the franchise. However, once you approach Beast Machines with open eyes, you may even find there’s a fair bit to appreciate here. Or perhaps it depends on how you feel about the very idea of a plant Transformer. Either way, Beast Machines was as controversial as it got, and Transformers was so over.


#8: Robots in Disguise (2001)

A new millennium dawned, and with it came a return to more traditionally styled Transformers that actually turned into cars and trucks (mostly, anyway) and not giraffes or whatever (alright, some of them were animals, but you get the point). So, fans were happy, yes? Er, no, sadly not. Whilst not nearly as vilified as either Beast Wars or Beast Machines before it, RID 2001 still earned its fair share of fandom ire, mostly from those who didn’t care for the cartoon’s rather over-the-top approach to storytelling versus the comparatively more serious (and serialised) adventures they had become accustomed to. Also, the humans were annoying, so, naturally, it was The Worst!

#7: The Unicron Trilogy (2002)

As if RID wasn’t bad enough, there was more dismay on the horizon with the three-part series that followed. Beginning in 2002, the Unicron Trilogy inspired much discontent amongst certain fandom circles right from its earliest days and never more than when the first wave of Armada toys was unveiled. With comparatively limited articulation and a return to the blockier days of design last seen in the ’80s, the franchise was written off once again for pandering to *children* of all people – as if they’re invested in this very serious robot property to any worthwhile degree, eh? Gosh, it was all just so awful, even if it did inspire an entire generation of new fans in the process. 

#6: IDW comics (2005)

Where to begin with this one, eh? Since IDW’s acquisition of the Transformers license was announced in 2005, the resulting comics were mired in controversial opinions. IDW was not a universally popular publisher from the start, with many fans feeling the rights should have gone to Devil’s Due as one example, but really, that was just the start of a decade and a half of hotly-contested output. No doubt, the most contentious parts in the eyes of some were the exploration of relationships and gender across various storylines, as well as overt themes touching on politics and class, even though these aspects, in turn, brought in a whole new wave of fans who would otherwise never have associated themselves with the brand. Still, it wasn’t enough, and Transformers was ruined beyond repair yet again! 

#5: The Michael Bay movies (2007)

What could be left after Transformers had already been destroyed in terms of toys, cartoons and comics? Well, films, of course! Step forward Michael Bay and a whole decade’s worth of franchise-ruining antics that all began as soon as the early designs for the 2007 film were first glimpsed on the internet. If you weren’t around at the time, let’s just say that the gnashing of teeth and outpouring of discontent is not something easily forgotten, even some sixteen years on. Every new reveal or tidbit of info stoked fresh anger all the way through to the film itself… which largely won people over and racked up $700m at the box office. Still, despite that, the series would continue to be an extremely sore point for many fans throughout its lifespan, and even now, it cannot be mentioned in polite company without someone absolutely having to tell you why they are very acutely *the worst*. In fairness, there are definitely some aspects of the films which have not aged well, to say the least… but still: RUINED.

#4: Transformers: Animated (2007/8)

Although it wouldn’t fully debut until 2008, Transformers: Animated was crushing souls as early as the year prior despite the fandom already being in uproar over the live-action movie! The reaction to the stylised designs hitting the interest was… visceral, to say the least, with many fans entirely aghast and outraged by what they saw as a blight on an otherwise unblemished franchise (well, since the last thing, obvs). In truth, the show quickly won over all but the most dissenting of voices once it actually aired, but there was a moment there when it seemed like life as we know it was fair and squarely over, all thanks to this amazing cartoon.

#3: Rescue Bots (2011)

What’s this, now? Transformers… for KIDS? How dare they! Yes, I’m not exaggerating; there are adults who actively despise such a younger-orientated spin on the franchise for even existing. You might think simply ignoring it altogether would prove sufficient, but no. 

#2: Robots in Disguise (2015)

Next, we come to a series that caused fans to be disgruntled largely because it wasn’t what they wanted from a sequel to the almost overwhelmingly popular Transformers: Prime. Where that show had a mostly sombre tone and high-stakes drama, the 2015 follow-up (of sorts) went with a bright, colourful and often comedic approach alongside a more monster-of-the-week vibe (at least to begin with). It landed about as well as you might expect, which, being upfront, is unfair because the cartoon itself has tons of great stuff packed in there! Perhaps it might have been best viewed as its own thing and not as a continuation of Prime, but sadly, the damage was done.

#1: Earthspark (2022)

Finally, we come to our most recent source of outrage, and that is 2022’s Earthspark. Why? Well, it’s all a bit woke, isn’t it? “Wokeformers”! What does woke mean? Honestly, who even knows any more, but whatever it is, this cartoon is it. People on the internet said so. Needless to say, Transformers was *ruined forever*. Well, until the next time.

SPECIAL MENTION: Kiss Players (2006)

OK, ok, I felt I couldn’t go without mentioning one aspect of the franchise that probably did ruin it at least a little bit. I’m sure you’ve maybe heard of Kiss Players before, but needless to say, it deserves every bit of the disgust it typically prompts from the fandom. Sure, the robot toys themselves are pretty neat, but as far as the corresponding fiction goes? ICK.

So that’s our list! Did we miss any moment when Transformers was ruined?

TTFN

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About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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