On Sept. 27th, Fathom Events is partnering with Hasbro Studios to bring the original The Transformers: The Movie (1986) back to the big screen! For one night only, TF fans across the country can transform and roll out, back into the ‘80s. In celebration of this momentous event, we thought we’d take the time to look back at the original Transformers line and how the ‘86 movie inspired a whole new generation of toys.
Spoiler(ish) content below. If you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you! Also, you may want to watch the film before you read the article.
For most ‘80s kids, The Transformers: The Movie was one of the most pivotal moments of our pre-pubescent lives. Watching Prime square off with Megs on the big screen was something only dreams were made of. With a rockin’ soundtrack, a hip new setting in the distant future of 2005, dazzling animation, and an incredibly talented roster of A-list actors that included Leonard Nimoy, Judd Nelson, and Orson Welles (in his last cinematic appearance), Transformers had every ingredient to be a hit. But it wasn’t quite the box office success everyone had hoped.
At the time of its release, the studio execs at Hasbro were disappointed with its numbers and they decided to halt a similar budgeted G.I. Joe movie halfway through production and instead turn it into a direct-to-video release. Little did they know that this unassuming children’s movie would go on to become a cult classic.
It’s worth speculating that one of the reasons it remains so popular today is that it’s not, in fact, a kid’s movie. Sure, it was marketed to children, but that doesn’t mean it’s a children’s movie. The subject matter is heavy, the deaths monumental, and the action scenes are graphic. The futuristic space setting, coupled with Vince DiCola’s amazing soundtrack, create a sense of nostalgia that can only be felt by viewers of a certain age. It’s a hard feat to accomplish, and it’s one that was likely done on accident.
One of the biggest aspects that sets The Transformers: The Movie apart from other toy films is how the company dealt with introducing new characters. With so many new figures in development, Takara and Hasbro felt that the best thing to do was to remove the older cast and introduce a whole cavalcade of new characters in one fell swoop. Sort of like peeling off an old bandage, almost every Season 1 character was wiped out in gruesome fashion. And to add insult to injury, most of these deaths occurred in the first 30 minutes.
Where Optimus Prime was confident, powerful, and wise, newcomer Rodimus Prime (Hot Rod) was anything but. Saddled with the burden of leadership, the TF universe showcased a new type of character that was both fresh-faced and extremely polarizing. That’s not to say he was a bad leader; as the third season of the Transformers narrowed the cast down to about a dozen or so, Rodimus was one of the only characters to actually underwent any sense of real character development.
The ’86 movie introduced audiences to a whole new line of Transformers. However, these didn’t sport the traditional cars and cassette players. Instead, they featured futuristic space vehicles, Mad Max-style motorcycles, and soap-shaped flying discs. It was the beginning of a new era of Transformers, one where the Autobots and Decepticons were freed from the shackles of their primitive Earth alt modes.
While the initial movie figures were still developed in partnership with Takara, the later lines became more outrageous. The designers had free reign to develop a new line of Transformer toys. The result was an onslaught of original concepts – some good, and some not-so-good.
First came the Headmasters and Targetmasters, then came the Powermasters, Pretenders, and Action Masters. Micromasters followed soon after, and then, after a brief hiatus, the Transformers line was rebooted in the early ‘90s.
Now well into its 34th year, the Transformers line is still going strong. It’s impossible to say where the franchise will be headed in the future, but it’s safe to assume that none of this would be possible without the original movie.