The Transformers comprise one of the most popular media franchises of all time. Having started life out as a toy line in 1984, the Transformers have branched out into animated television shows, comic books, countless forms of merchandise and, most recently, a very financially successful live action movie franchise (in spite of the fact that Michael Bay has actually done a pretty terrible job of directing them).
If you aren’t already familiar with the Transformers concept (and we have to assume that you probably are, unless you’ve been living under a rock for 30 years!), it’s about two factions of feuding alien robots from the planet Cybertron – the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons – who can disguise themselves as more regular machines (such as cars, trucks, tanks and even portable music players).
There is, however, quite a lot about the franchise as a whole that isn’t such common knowledge – and that’s what this article is going to be all about. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about the Transformers:
10. Orson Welles’ Last Performance Was As Unicron
The late, great Orson Welles – the famous actor, director, writer and producer whose famous works included theatre production like Caesar, radio broadcasts like War of the Worlds and films like Citizen Kane – passed away in 1985 from a heart attack, but his final work was actually on The Transformers: The Movie (which was released in 1986).
The impressive voice cast for the movie included the likes of Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker and Scatman Crothers – the latter for who it was also his last work prior to his death. Welles voiced Unicron – the planet-sized robot who is most often an ally of the Decepticons.
9. Ratchet Was Named After Nurse Ratched
Ratchet is the name of several characters in the Transformers franchise that have appeared in every form of media from the original toy line and the Generation 1 cartoons to the recent live action movies – and he’s nearly, but not always, portrayed as an Autobot medic who can turn into an ambulance.
With that in mind, according to the original creator of the Transformers names – Bob Budiansky – Ratchet was named after the character of Nurse Ratched from the novel/film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Unlike Nurse Ratched, however – who was an absolute battleaxe and the antagonist of her story – Ratchet is actually nice!
8. Hasbro Initially Rejected The Name “Megatron”
When the idea for the Transformers toy line was first conceived back in the early 1980s, all the names of the potential characters were put forward to toy manufacturers Hasbro. Most of the ideas for character names were immediately accepted by the toy giants, but they were very apprehensive about one – that being Megatron.
Hasbro believed the name sounded too scary, given the target audience of young children, but the aforementioned Bob Budiansky argued that the very idea of a villain was that it is meant to be scary. Hasbro went along with Budiansky and Megatron was born – and he remains one of the most lasting, popular and iconic villains in any franchise to this day.
7. Optimus Prime Was Meant To Be A Cab Truck
Back when the Transformers first came into being back in the early 1980s, Autobot leader Optimus Prime’s original alternate mode in was actually meant to be a cab over truck, rather than the long-nosed Peterbilt truck we know he transforms into today.
This was due to the fact that test designs for the character proved that a cab truck could only disguise a twenty-foot robot – Optimus Prime wouldn’t “realistically” be able to fit into his own alternate mode, and so the larger Peterbilt truck was chosen to make the character taller – thirty-two foot tall to be exact.
6. There’s A Transformers Hall Of Fame
Like the worlds of acting, music and sport have halls of fame for their most famous and prestigious participants, the Transformers franchise is now so expansive and vast that it has a hall of fame all to itself.
The Transformers Hall of Fame was established by Hasbro – the manufacturers of the original Transformers toys – in 2010 in order to honour important characters and creators from the long history of the franchise. People and Transformers involved in the original toys and television shows, as well as the recent live action movies, can all be added on a yearly basis. The current list of inductees can be seen here.
5. Name Changes
A large number of the characters and concepts in Transformers originally had different names to the ones fans know them as now, prior to the final decisions being made on what they were going to be called – and here are just a few examples of that…
Jetfire (pictured) was originally going to be called “Fireball,” Cliffjumper was originally going to be called “Blowout,” Trailbreaker was originally going to be called “Guzzle” and Omega Supreme was originally going to be called “Fortress Maximus.” The Autobot’s space ship, the Ark was originally going to be called “Auntie.”
4. Michael Bay Thought People Might Confuse Bumblebee With Herbie
No, you didn’t read that wrong, Transformers live action movie director Bay really did think that fans might get mixed up between Bumblebee and Herbie. Of course, Bumblebee was originally a Volkswagen Beetle and was changed to a Chevrolet Camaro for the movies, but we bet you didn’t know that was why.
Just two years prior to the release of Bay’s first Transformers offering in 2007, the Lindsay Lohan-starring Herbie: Fully Loaded was released in 2005. Bay thought it would be too fresh in the memory to use another sentient Beetle and opted to change Bumblebee to a Camaro for that reason.
3. They Swore!
Seriously, this is totally real and you can listen in the above video (though, obviously, given the very nature of this entry, we warn you that the video does contain a curse word).
In 1986’s Transformers: The Movie, after the self-destructing Moon Base 2 fails to even scratch the mighty Unicron, Spike yells “Oh sh*t, what are we gonna do now?” (and there was also an instance of the use of the term “damn it,” which was condemned by some parents to a lesser degree). The movie was released in Australia at the time with these curse words unedited, but it disappeared from every other release of the movie.
2. They’ve Crossed Over With Marvel Superheroes
In addition to having quite famously crossed over with the likes of G.I. Joe – something which, along with M.A.S.K., is actually tipped to happen in the live action movies sooner rather than later – the Transformers have actually crossed over with the superheroes of the Marvel universe on more than one occasion.
The Transformers comic books have actually been published by Marvel in the past, so it shouldn’t really come as that much of a surprise, but the likes of Optimus Prime and company have mingled with the likes of the Avengers and Spider-Man. Wouldn’t that be cool to see in a live action movie!?
1. The Same Man Voiced Optimus Prime In The Original Cartoon And Recent Movies
Canadian voice actor Peter Cullen – whose other roles include the likes of Eeyore in the Winnie-the-Pooh franchise, Monterey Jack in Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, K.A.R.R. in Knight Rider and countless other characters in various animated shows – famously portrayed Optimus Prime (and several other characters) in the original Transformers cartoon. However, he has also gone on to reprise the role in the recent live action movie franchise!
Cullen – who is now 74 – voiced the lead Autobot in Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Transformers: Age of Extinction. He will reprise the role in the fifth movie in 2017.
Bonus fact: Cullen’s voice for Optimus Prime was inspired by John Wayne!