The Transformers: The Movie

The Transformers: The Movie is a 1986 animated film based on the Transformers television series, in turn based on the Transformers toyline created by Hasbro. It was released in North America on August 8, 1986, and in the United Kingdom on December 12, 1986.[6] The film was co-produced and directed by Nelson Shin, who also produced the original Transformers television series. The screenplay was written by Ron Friedman, who would create The Bionic Six a year later. The movie features the voices of Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Casey Kasem, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, John Moschitta Jr., Peter Cullen and Frank Welker. It also marked the final roles for both Orson Welles, who died the year before its release,[7] and Scatman Crothers, who died months after its release.[8] The film's story takes place in 2005, 20 years after the events of the TV series' second season, and serves to bridge into the third season.[9]

The Transformers: The Movie
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNelson Shin
Produced by
  • Joe Bacal
  • Tom Griffith
Screenplay byRon Friedman
Based onTransformers: Generation 1
by Hasbro
Narrated byVictor Caroli
Music byVince DiCola
CinematographyMasatoshi Fukui
Edited byDavid Hankins
Distributed byDe Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Release date
  • August 8, 1986 (1986-08-08) (United States)
  • October 21, 1989 (1989-10-21) (Japan)
Running time
85 minutes[1]
  • United States
  • Japan[2]
Budget$6 million[3] or $5 million[4]
Box office$5.8 million (US)[5] or $2.6 million (North America)[4]

After the death of Optimus Prime during a devastating assault on Autobot City, the remaining Autobots are pursued by Galvatron, the regenerated form of Megatron and servant of Unicron, a planet-devouring Transformer who sets out to consume Cybertron. The film is set to a soundtrack of synth-based incidental music composed by Vince DiCola and hard-driving metal music performed by various groups. The film features several grand battles in which multiple characters meet their end, often in a somewhat brutal fashion. This has led to the film being considered surprisingly dark given its target audience.


In 2005, the war between the Autobots and Decepticons has culminated in the Decepticons conquering their home planet Cybertron, while the Autobots operate from its two moons preparing a counter-offensive. Optimus Prime sends an Autobot shuttle to Earth's Autobot City for Energon supplies, but the Decepticons, led by Megatron, commandeer the ship and kill the crew, consisting of Ironhide, Ratchet, Prowl and Brawn. Travelling to Earth, the Decepticons attack Autobot City, slaughtering many Autobots and leaving only a small group alive including Hot Rod, Kup, Ultra Magnus, Arcee, Springer, Blurr, Perceptor, Blaster, and the human Daniel Witwicky. The next day, Optimus and the Dinobots arrive as reinforcements. Optimus single-handedly defeats the Decepticons and engages Megatron in a climactic battle that leaves both of them mortally wounded. On his deathbed, Optimus passes the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus, informing him that its power will light the Autobots' darkest hour, and dies.

The remaining Decepticons retreat from the battle at Autobot City and head back to Cybertron. Mid-journey they jettison their wounded from Astrotrain, including Megatron at the hands of his treacherous second-in-command Starscream. Drifting in space, the wounded are found by Unicron, a gigantic sentient cyber-planet who consumes other planets. Unicron offers Megatron a new body in exchange for destroying the Matrix, which has the ability to destroy him. Megatron reluctantly agrees and is converted into Galvatron, while the corpses of the Decepticons jettisoned along with him are used to create his new troops. Going to Cybertron, Galvatron crashes Starscream's coronation as Decepticon commander and destroys him, before travelling back to Autobot City to eliminate Ultra Magnus. The surviving Autobots escape in separate shuttles, which are damaged by the Decepticons and crash-land on different planets.

Hot Rod and Kup are taken prisoner by the Quintessons, multi-faced tyrants who hold kangaroo courts and execute prisoners by feeding them to the Sharkticons. Hot Rod and Kup learn of Unicron from Kranix, a survivor of Lithone – a planet devoured by Unicron. After Kranix is executed, Hot Rod and Kup escape their own trial, aided by the arrival of the Dinobots and the small Autobot Wheelie, who helps them find a ship to leave the planet. The other Autobots land on the Junk Planet, where Galvatron kills Ultra Magnus and seizes the Matrix, intending on using it to control Unicron. The Autobots reunite and befriend the local Junkions, led by Wreck-Gar, who then rebuild Magnus. Learning Galvatron has the Matrix, the Autobots and Junkions fly to Cybertron, which Unicron, discovered to be a gigantic Transformer also now in robot form, begins to destroy.

The Autobots crash their spaceship through Unicron's eye, but they end up separated. Daniel rescues his father Spike and Jazz, Bumblebee and Cliffjumper from being devoured. Hot Rod confronts Galvatron, who tries to form an alliance, but is forced into attacking Hot Rod by Unicron. Hot Rod obtains the Matrix, which converts him into Rodimus Prime, the Autobot that Optimus said would light their darkest hour. Rodimus tosses Galvatron into space and uses the Matrix's power to destroy Unicron from the inside. The Autobots celebrate the war's end and Cybertron's retaking with Rodimus Prime's inauguration, while Unicron's severed head orbits Cybertron.


Character Voice actor
Optimus Prime Peter Cullen
Hot Rod /
Rodimus Prime
Judd Nelson
Ultra Magnus Robert Stack
Springer Neil Ross
Arcee Susan Blu
Kup Lionel Stander
Wheelie Frank Welker
Blurr John Moschitta Jr.
Blaster Buster Jones
Perceptor Paul Eiding
Grimlock Gregg Berger
Slag Neil Ross
Swoop Michael Bell
Jazz Scatman Crothers
Cliffjumper Casey Kasem
Bumblebee Dan Gilvezan
Ironhide Peter Cullen
Brawn Corey Burton
Megatron Frank Welker
Galvatron Leonard Nimoy
Cyclonus Roger C. Carmel
Scourge Stanley Jones
Starscream Chris Latta
Soundwave Frank Welker
Frenzy Frank Welker
Rumble Frank Welker
Devastator Arthur Burghardt
Bonecrusher Neil Ross
Hook Neil Ross
Scavenger Don Messick
Scrapper Michael Bell
Shockwave Corey Burton
Astrotrain Jack Angel
Blitzwing Ed Gilbert
Kickback Clive Revill
Shrapnel Hal Rayle
Unicron Orson Welles
Quintesson Leader Roger C. Carmel
Wreck-Gar Eric Idle
Spike Witwicky Corey Burton
Daniel Witwicky David Mendenhall
Kranix Norman Alden
Narrator Victor Caroli
Ramjet Jack Angel


The film was budgeted at $6 million, six times greater than the budget used to create 90 minutes of the regular cartoon series.[3] Nelson Shin's team of almost one hundred personnel normally took three months to make one episode of the series, so, despite the extra budget, faced considerable time constraints in making the film whilst also continuing production on the TV series at the same time.[3] According to Shin, the decisions on which characters to include or kill off were made by Hasbro. "They created the story using characters that could best be merchandised for the film. Only with that consideration could I have freedom to change the storyline." Shin also came up with the concept of the Transformers changing color when they died: "When Optimus Prime died, I changed his color from red and blue into grey to show the spirit was gone from his body."[3]

Toei Animation Vice President Kozo Morishita spent one year in the United States during production of the film. Morishita supervised the art direction, insisting the Transformers themselves be given several layers of shading and shadows to give them a more dynamic, detailed appearance.[10]

The Transformers: The Movie was the final film to which Orson Welles contributed before his death.[11] Shortly before he died, he told his biographer, Barbara Leaming, "You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen."[12] However, director Nelson Shin states that Welles had originally been pleased to accept the role after reading the script and had expressed an admiration for animated films.[3]


Stan Bush's song "The Touch", which prominently featured in the film, was originally written for the Sylvester Stallone film Cobra.[13] The song later appeared again as remixed version for the 2012 game Transformers: Fall of Cybertron,[14] and in the live action 2018 Transformers film Bumblebee. The film also features other well known songs including "Instruments of Destruction" by NRG,[15] Stan Bush's song "Dare",[16] and also two songs by Spectre General, "Nothin's Gonna Stand in Our Way" and "Hunger".[17] The Transformers theme song for the film was performed by the band Lion.[18]


In 2018, the film was re-released in September for one night only in the United States, screening in 450 (later increased with 300, totalling 750) theaters.[19]

Box office

The film was released on 990 screens in the United States and grossed $1,778,559 on its opening weekend. It opened in 14th place behind About Last Night, which had been in theaters for five weeks at the time. The film's final box office gross was $5,849,647, which made it the 99th highest-grossing movie of 1986.[5] Hasbro lost US$10 million on the combined poor performance of this, and their previous collaboration with De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG), My Little Pony: The Movie.[20] However, Transformers has become a cult classic.[21] The film has been remastered and re screened at night since.[22][23]

Home media

Although the trailer describes the film as "spectacular widescreen action", the film was animated in 4:3 "fullscreen" format. The feature was vertically cropped to widescreen dimensions for theatrical showings and released in fullscreen on home video and DVD. The 20th anniversary DVD released by Sony BMG in 2006 features remastered video, and includes both the fullscreen and widescreen versions of the film.[24]

The UK version, as well as the 1999 Rhino Films VHS release, feature scrolling text and narration at the beginning of the film replacing the cast credits, and an additional closing narration assuring viewers that "Optimus Prime will return."[25][26]

The film was originally released in 1987 on VHS,[27] Betamax, and LaserDisc in North America by Family Home Entertainment.[28]

The film was first released on DVD in 2000[9][29] by Rhino Entertainment and distributed exclusively in Canada by Seville Pictures.[note 1]

Metrodome Distribution released an Ultimate Edition of The Transformers: The Movie DVD in June 2007 (a month prior to the release of the live-action Transformers film) in the UK (Region 2). The extras include many of the extras that were contained on the "Remastered" edition of the film on the first disc, with fan commentary serving as the only addition besides a fan-made Transformers trailer. The second disc contains interviews with Peter Cullen and Flint Dille. "Scramble City" is also included as an extra.[9][24]

Shout! Factory released a 30th anniversary edition of the film on Blu-ray and DVD on September 13, 2016.[30]


The Transformers: The Movie received mixed reviews and currently has 58% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes with 23 counted reviews (14 "fresh", 10 "rotten") giving it a "Rotten" rating, with the Critics Consensus calling it "A surprisingly dark, emotional, and almost excessively cynical experience for Transformers fans." The film has an average rating of 5.3 out of 10.[31]

Film historian Leonard Maltin called the picture a "BOMB" (the lowest possible rating in his Movie & Video Guide), and "Little more than an obnoxious, feature-length toy commercial...That deafening rock score certainly doesn't help."[32]

Caryn James of The New York Times described the film by stating, "While all this action may captivate young children, the animation is not spectacular enough to dazzle adults, and the Transformers have few truly human elements to lure parents along, even when their voices are supplied by well-known actors."[6]

"Though a modest film compared with Michael Bay's (2007 Transformers), the original Transformers is the better film," wrote John Swansburg of Slate. "[T]here's nothing even approaching the original's narrative depth. The good guys beat the bad guys, and no one we care about is harmed in the process—the movie hasn't succeeded in making us care about anyone."[33]

Gabe Toro of CinemaBlend wrote in 2014: "...Transformers: The Movie otherwise provides the sort of chase-heavy thrills that comes from robots that can become cars. Contrast that with Michael Bay's vision, where the robots basically abandon their transforming skills to have endless, violent punch-outs that annihilate cities. Bay's films show the action as a junkyard orgy. The '86 offering slows down to allow for actors like Leonard Nimoy and, yes, even Orson Welles to give actual performances. Fans of Michael Bay's Transformers movies are free to enjoy them. But they'll never top the gravity and excitement of The Transformers: The Movie."[34]

"[N]ostalgia is a funny thing: for many of us in the 30-and-over Transformers fan club, that first movie was an integral part of our childhood. To hell with what the reviews said — the O.G. Transformers movie rocked our collective worlds," Kashann Kilson of Inverse wrote in 2015: "We still love the original so much today, part of the fun of watching Bay’s explosion-fests is being able to wave our canes at the youngsters and wax poetic about how back in our day, Hollywood knew how to make a real movie about giant, alien robot warriors."[35]

Comic book adaptations


  1. The Transformers: The Movie printed text on DVD and accompanying packaging reads: "Distributed exclusively in Canada by Seville Pictures."


  1. "TRANSFORMERS (U)". British Board of Film Classification. August 21, 1986. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  2. Leaming, Barbara (1995). Orson Welles: A Biography (1st ed.). New York: Limelight Editions. p. 552. ISBN 9780879101992. Retrieved April 30, 2017.
  3. Dormehl, Luke (August 2011). "Transformers: The Movie retrospective". SFX Magazine (211).
  4. De Laurentiis PRODUCER'S PICTURE DARKENS: KNOEDELSEDER, WILLIAM K, Jr. Los Angeles Times August 30, 1987: 1.
  5. "Transformers: The Movie (1986)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  6. James, Caryn (August 9, 1986). "Movie Review - - Screen: 'Transformers,' Animation For Children". The New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  7. Rose, Steve (May 4, 2007). "Transformers The Movie". The Guardian. London. Retrieved July 4, 2009.
  8. "California Death Records". Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  9. "Transformers: The Movie". IGN. January 29, 2002. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  10. Kōzō, Morishita (2010). Tōei Animēshon enshutsuka 40-nen funtōshi: anime "Doragon bōru Z" "Seinto Seiya" "Toransufōmā" o tegaketa otoko. Tōkyō: Ichijinsha. pp. 116–117. ISBN 9784758011860.
  11. The Associated Press (June 23, 2007). "Welles' last role? Original 'Transformers'". Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  12. Leaming, Barbara (1995). Orson Welles: A Biography (1st Limelight ed.). New York: Limelight Editions. p. 522. ISBN 9780879101992. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  13. "The Touch Songfacts". Retrieved April 27, 2010.
  14. "The Best Licensed Songs Used in Video Game Commercials"You Got the Touch" - Stan Bush". Complex.
  15. "Transformers The Movie - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack 20th Anniversary Edition". IGN. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
  16. Entertainment, Newsarama Staff 2018-08-30T19:30:51Z. "'Transformers: The Movie' Re-Release Has the Touch, the Power and 300+ More Theaters".
  17. "Kick Axe Songs". Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  18. "The Transformers (Theme) Lyrics by Lion - The Transformers Soundtrack Lyrics". Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  19. "Transformers: The Movie Returns to Theaters for One Night Only". MovieWeb. August 1, 2018.
  20. Kline, Stephen (1993). Out of the Garden: Toys, TV, and Children's Culture in the Age of Marketing (1st ed.). London: Verso. p. 200. ISBN 086091397X.
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  29. Tribbey, Ralph (May 7, 2001). "Rhino Follows Up 'Tranformers Movie' Sales Shocker With Two More Special Editions on May 8". Archived from the original on May 28, 2001. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
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  32. Connelly, Sherilyn (March 7, 2017). "Ponyville Confidential: The History and Culture of My Little Pony, 1981–2016". McFarland via Google Books.
  33. Swansburg, John (July 2, 2007). "When Orson Welles Was a Transformer". Slate. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  34. Toro, Gabe (June 24, 2014). "Sorry, Michael Bay - Why 1986's Transformers: The Movie Is The Best". CinemaBlend. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  35. Kilson, Kashann (October 22, 2015). "6 Enduring Legacies of 1986's Animated 'The Transformers: The Movie'". Inverse. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
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