*Note: Transformers movie rankings updated as of 6/11 to account for the release of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts*
With Transformers: Rise of the Beasts hitting theaters this week, there’s no better time to look back upon the history of the franchise. Nearing its 40th anniversary as a whole and 37 years since it first hit the big screen, Transformers remains a worldwide phenomenon for both children and adults.
Between the original animated movie and the live-action film series birthed by Michael Bay, Transformers has seven total theatrical installments—with some considerably better than others. But, while there are peaks and valleys in terms of quality, each film has something for fans to enjoy. So, which of them is the best of the best? Behold: our Transformers movie rankings!
8. ‘Transformers: The Last Knight‘ (2017)
Coming in at dead last in the Transformers movie rankings is Transformers: The Last Knight. It’s actually somewhat shocking that this movie didn’t serve as the final nail in the coffin of the franchise. Despised equally by both critics and fans, the film retcons a large portion of the story established by those preceding it.
There’s also a great deal of boring exposition to rationalize these decisions, which takes away from the action. Fans felt that Michael Bay, who had already confirmed this would be his last Transformers film as director, had phoned this one in.
The movie’s basic premise is that, despite what we’ve been told, the Transformers have actually been living and hiding out here in some form or fashion for a couple thousand years. We also learn that Unicron, a planet-killing villain that seeks to destroy Cybertron, is hidden within the Earth (or perhaps is the Earth itself? For a movie with this much exposition, a lot of what was revealed was unclear).
Oh, and Optimus Prime is brainwashed to be evil. One of this movie’s few redeeming qualities is that we finally got a live-action version of Hot Rod, a fan favorite from the 1986 film (not voiced by Judd Nelson this time, though—bummer).
The film was also a commercial failure, grossing just $605M worldwide against a $250M budget. In retrospect, it’s ironic that the Transformers franchise released what is arguably its worst film in The Last Knight and one of its very best in Bumblebee within a year of one another.
This is also the most likely reason why the franchise was able to continue, as fans and critics were able to quickly wash the taste of this film out of their mouths. As the events of Bumblebee and the upcoming Rise of the Beasts have essentially rebooted the Transformers franchise, The Last Knight is one that if you’ve yet to see, you can safely skip.
7. ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ (2014)
Transformers: Age of Extinction serves as a reminder to us all that box office success and overall movie quality don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Coming in 6th in our Transformers movie rankings, the film grossed $1.1B against a $210M budget.
It also ushered in new human characters, highlighted by Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), and was the first live-action Transformers film to not involve Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). Despite its strong financial performance, however, Age of Extinction was critically panned for its bloated (and somewhat uninteresting) story and repetitive plot devices.
Taking place five years after the events of Dark of the Moon, this film follows Yeager (Wahlberg), a struggling inventor who happens upon a severely damaged Optimus Prime. While not directly stated, it’s assumed that Optimus sustained this damage as part of his efforts to evade the CIA and other groups seeking to eradicate Transformers from the Earth, as humans have turned on them.
We quickly find out, however, that these same covert groups are recycling inactive Autobots and Decepticons to try and turn them into brand-new prototypes of their own. You can probably guess how fruitful that endeavor proves to be.
One of the biggest flaws of the Transformers franchise is that it just can’t seem to stop resurrecting Megatron—a trope that is once again repeated in Age of Extinction. This time, Megatron is recycled into a new entity named Galvatron (a nod to the 1986 animated film), but winds up just being the same old Megatron in a new body.
The insistence on clinging to the same villain in a different package, along with far too much Mark Wahlberg (including a scene where Marky Mark fights a Transformer 1-on-1), were fatal flaws that dampened what could have been a compelling story involving a borderline-apocalyptic Earth.
6. ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)’
A disappointing sequel to the 2007 blockbuster that kickstarted the franchise, Revenge of the Fallen takes the fifth spot in our Transformers movie rankings. Apparently, if you decide to resurrect Megatron just so he can kill Optimus Prime, only to revive him cheesily shortly afterward (and then do the same exact thing with your main human character), audiences aren’t too thrilled! This movie began the trend of resurrecting Megatron over and over again because the writers were either too lazy or too scared to introduce a new primary villain.
Although high points in this film are sparse, one of its highlights is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) struggling to put the events of the previous movie behind him. Sam just wants to be a normal college student and has no desire to once again get himself tangled up in alien warfare. However, after having his mind affected by the remains of the AllSpark, Sam is quickly dragged right back into the thick of things (along with his annoying conspiracy theorist roommate, who luckily doesn’t return in the next film).
In addition to LaBeouf, many other members of the previous cast return for Revenge of the Fallen, including John Turturro, who injects his typical brand of humor into the story. Ultimately, though, the film just lacks the originality and the magic of its predecessor. This also marks the final appearance of Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox) on screen, even though the film’s ending led audiences to believe she would return (more on this shortly).
5. ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ (2011)
Taking the fourth spot in our Transformers movie rankings is Dark of the Moon, which, while unremarkable, is the most commercially successful franchise entry to date (its $1.124B gross narrowly edges out Age of Extinction).
It is the final Transformers film to feature the Sam Witwicky character, who is joined by a new love interest, Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). The absence of Megan Fox, which is dismissively explained away as Sam and Mikaela breaking up, was puzzling to fans.
Fox’s departure from the Transformers franchise was due largely to the controversial comments she made about director Michael Bay in a 2009 interview. Fox has since made amends with Bay and clarified those comments, but the damage was done, and her character was written out of Dark of the Moon offscreen. But rest assured, Fox’s absence from the film had little to do with its place in our Transformers movie rankings.
Ultimately, while Dark of the Moon has some creative moments, its story is predictable. The Decepticons want to turn Earth into Cybertron, Megatron is once again killed in the end (only to be revived in a future film) and we get a big Autobot death fake-out scene that you saw coming from a mile away. McDreamy playing a villainous human was kind of cool, though!
4. ‘Transformers’ (2007)
3 four of our Transformers movie rankings are where things really start to get fun. 2007’s Transformers seems to have become underrated over the years—perhaps because of the lackluster films that followed it over the next decade. However, this movie was a legitimate blockbuster when it first hit the big screen. Its CGI and effects were widely praised. It is definitely one of Michael Bay’s hits, big explosions and all!
This film’s spot in the top
3 four of our Transformers movie rankings is likely secure for the foreseeable future, despite being the one responsible for completely changing Megatron’s look. Seriously, compare his look in this movie and the rest of the Bay-Verse to the next number two film on our list. He looks (and sounds) like a completely different character! Nevertheless, the original Transformers live-action project still holds up and is extremely rewatchable.
3. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023)
Debuting in the number 3 spot, formerly occupied by the first Transformers film is Rise of the Beasts, which has enjoyed early box office success and acclaim among fans. Introducing brand-new human and CGI characters, Rise of the Beasts is a satisfactory sequel to 2018’s Bumblebee and builds intrigue and excitement for future franchise installments.
Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) and Mirage’s (Pete Davidson) charm is on full display throughout the film. The introduction of the legendary Maximals, including Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Rhinox and Airazor, was something fans have been looking forward to for a long time. Their portrayal was knocked out of the park and leaves fans craving more. Directed by Steven Caple Jr., Rise of the Beasts has helped repair the strained relationship between the franchise and its fans.
2. ‘The Transformers: The Movie’ (1986)
Some people might raise an eyebrow over an animated film taking up a spot on our Transformers movie rankings list at all, much less claiming second place. To those people, I say: please watch this movie! The Transformers: The Movie packs a ton into its hour and 25-minute runtime.
The voice cast ranges from 80s bad boy Judd Nelson, who voices the Autobot Hot Rod, to Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron and Orson Welles (yeah, that Orson Welles) as the iconic villain Unicron. Come on, tell me you aren’t interested in seeing that play out!
It’s no surprise that a movie that’s still talked about as often as this one would be so close to the top of our Transformers movie rankings. Universally beloved by fans young and old, The Transformers: The Movie is extremely rewatchable. It’s worth wondering whether the writers would have re-thought killing off Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) in this film had they known how fans would grow to become attached to him in later years. The decision definitely worked for the purposes of this particular story, though.
1. ‘Bumblebee’ (2018)
Never before has a film completely revitalized a dying franchise more than the number one pick in our Transformers movie rankings. Bumblebee is the first Transformers flick to be beloved by both fans and critics alike, as evidenced by its 91% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Bumblebee not only injects some much-needed life into the franchise, but also serves as somewhat of a soft reboot, as the film takes place 20 years before the events of Michael Bay’s Transformers.
But to take the top spot in our Transformers movie rankings, there’s gotta be more to it than “it resets things and critics liked it.” No worries, there is; Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic in the role of Charlie Watson, and her bond and partnership with the titular Bumblebee is something that the Michael Bay films never managed to achieve.
The film succeeds in building high stakes despite the more self-contained story. John Cena knocks his role as a shady Sector 7 operative out of the park, too. I highly recommend Bumblebee to anyone who may have checked out on this franchise—it’ll reel you back in!
How will ‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts‘ shake up our Transformers movie rankings?
So far, initial reviews for Rise of the Beasts have been mixed, but generally positive. Based on this alone, it’s likely to land anywhere from three to five on our Transformers movie rankings list. If you’re a fan of the franchise but somewhat torn on whether to see this latest installment in theaters, we’ll have a full review right here in short order—check back soon!
Update (6/11/23): Rise of the Beasts wound up exactly around where we thought it would, in the third spot of our Transformers movie rankings.
Stay tuned to the Agents of Fandom socials for the latest news, reviews, and interviews!