Transformers is 15 Years Old, Happy Birthday, You Weird Series

Promotional poster for the 2007 Transformers movie with a side profile of Optimus Prime.

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Since the late 1990s, we have been living in an era of IP-oriented filmmaking that gets bigger and louder every year. There are plenty of genre films that you could say are important or iconic in some way, from Sam Raimi’s Spider Man movies to Batman Begins and independence Day† And believe it or not, one of those movies that probably deserves that status is the original Transformers movie.

The first of the live-action movies released on this day in 2007 was Hasbro and Paramount’s first proper attempt at taking the property to theaters after the box office failure of the 1986 film. Directed by Michael Bay and Starring then-relative rising stars Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox, the film received ample critical acclaim and was a huge box office success, becoming the fifth highest-grossing film of 2007, grossing $709.7 million worldwide. It would be an understatement to say how significant this film was for its time, and the marketing reflected that. Hasbro partnered with 200 companies to promote the film in 70 countries, and Bay directed tie-in promos for Burger King, General Motors, and Pepsi. They definitely wanted this movie to be a hit, and it paid off, it became a huge franchise spawning a lot of toys, couples games and so on. There were even plans for a Transformers Cinematic Universe… until there was none.

Image for article titled For Better or Worse, Michael Bay's Transformers is a Trailblazer

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It’s not hard to say that the now 15-year-old film is iconic, even if in this case it’s more of an underhanded compliment. Both the first Transformers and its sequels have been consistently used as an example of what Hollywood can do wrong about tweaking beloved IP. It’s barely interested in the mythology of the source material or the characters the camera is pointed at, and they’re rife with product placement to make you wish you could install an adblocker in your eyes. From the get-go, it’s hard to imagine Bay using the Autobots and Decepticons solely as a way to create well-executed action and chase sequences that more often than not involve the military, which he’s never failed to do in his career. to look beautiful. And what definitely made these movies so hated is that there was just no way to get rid of them. While there was plenty of other material outside of the movies for fans to delve into — the comics, the multiple cartoons, and video games, including the Cybertron series – for the larger world, Bay’s version of the Transformers was probably their only experience with the property. before there was Riverdale and the MCU, the issue of “why is this still happening?!” was primarily focused on the transformers, almost all of them made absurd amounts at the box office, despite mediocre to negative reviews.

It’s also not wrong to say that Bay’s first film was also quite influential. Without the success of that original movie, we probably wouldn’t have had other toy movies and shows around the same time as the franchise. From Lego and Battleship until GI Joe, twice, and possibly He-Man and She-Ra, they all tried to get in on the cake that the Robots in Disguise started baking. Without the Transformers would we have that many action movies spending the last 1/3 of their running times on effects, explosions and slow motion? Probably not.

Despite how hated these movies are, there are some bright spots: the original movie is still pretty solid overall, with more restraint than its successors. Likewise, the semi-soft reboot of 2018 Bumblebee managed to find a nice balance between character-driven heart and flashy nostalgia spectacle† (It probably helps that it’s the only movie that has the Transformers trend and was directed by Travis Knight instead of Bay.) Seeing these movies in theaters with friends usually makes them more bearable, and they’re good enough to sit at home when they inevitably run on FX broadcasts. For a handful of sequels – more specifically: dark of the moon, and Period of extinction-the chaotic third act VFX eruption can be quite impressive to watch.

And while these movies really don’t care about their source material, there’s something fascinatingly weird about the lore they’ve built up over the course of the movies themselves. (I still have questions about Bumblebee in WWII and how the Transformers befriended Harriet Tubman. No really, this is something that happens.) These movies are: annoyingly stupid, but somehow endearing as a result; even if a scene or moment in question is poignant, there’s probably something in one or more of these movies that you somehow managed to remember, despite your best efforts to forget it. Admit it, you probably still remember those two obnoxious racist Autobots from the second movie.

So yes, happy birthday to you Transformers† Outside Bumblebee and parts of the other movies, you’re not a particularly “good” franchise. But you’re important, in your own way…beyond having soundtracks, both from composer Steve Jablonsky and a respective line of rock artists, who really went above and beyond. Tell us in the comments how good those soundtracks are – outside of Linkin Park, clear– and I think you can tell us what you think of the movies themselves, and if your opinion about them has changed over time.


Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest miracle and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on Film and TVand everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

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