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Why Shia LaBeouf Was Never The Same After Transformers

There was a time when Shia LaBeouf was paving a path to be the next big thing in Hollywood. Following a similar road as many other performers, LaBeouf was a child actor made famous by the Disney Channel, seemingly destined to become an A-list star. After landing the lead role in one of 2007's biggest blockbusters, "Transformers." LaBeouf was on the fast track to Hollywood stardom.

But after three outings with Michael Bay in the "Transformers" franchise, Shia LaBeouf nearly disappeared from the limelight — at least with any positive connotation. Despite landing some of the most sought-after roles of his time, the actor has self-destructed in Hollywood. Since walking away from the Hasbro toy-inspired cinematic franchise, LaBeouf's presence in the entertainment industry has turned sour as the would-be star found himself at the center of multiple controversies and legal issues.

The question remains, did the stakes of the billion-dollar movies take their toll on a young actor on the precipice of taking over Hollywood? And what other factors were at play in Shia LaBeouf's downfall? Keep reading for a comprehensive exploration of the collision between LaBeouf and "Transformers," and the sudden trajectory change in a young actor's career.

A self-built child actor

Shia LaBeouf had a complicated childhood, which he has been open about during his career. "My dad and my mom were both artists who never found an audience," the actor told Parade.com, "and so I lived in poverty." Although LaBeouf says he appreciates the humble beginnings, it was not without its challenge. LaBeouf's father, a professional clown, had a history of drug addiction following his military service in Vietnam, and attending AA meetings with his father is where the young LaBeouf "learned to smoke and play cards" (per Time Magazine).

After his parents separated, an adolescent LaBeouf began mapping a career that he hoped would help with finances. He was inspired by a friend who seemed to have it all after an appearance on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." Driven by finances instead of the pursuit of fame, "I started doing stand-up," the actor said. Standing in overalls and a bowl cut in front of a room full of adults looking for a laugh, he quickly made a name for himself for being "the 50-year-old mouth on the 10-year-old kid" (per LA Times). His next move was landing an agent by, incredibly, pretending to be his own 50-year-old English manager. Thankfully, his newfound agent helped significantly by paying his family's rent, driving him to auditions, and landing him his breakout role.

An Even Stevens sensation

At the age of 12, Shia LaBeouf began the role that would change his life on the Disney Channel series "Even Stevens." Portraying the youngest sibling of the Stevens family, Louis, LaBeouf was the rambunctious troublemaking star alongside Christy Carlson Romano as his perfectionist sister Ren. "Even Stevens" ran for 65 episodes, spanning three seasons and culminating in a full-length made-for-tv film, "The Even Stevens Movie."

During his time on the series, LaBeouf was recognized with a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding performer in a children's series in 2003. The same year, the young actor starred in the neo-western comedy "Holes" alongside famed actors Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight — the latter of which took LaBeouf on as a mentee, preparing the young actor for his upcoming run in showbiz (per OC Register). After watching the film with his children, celebrated director Steven Spielberg noted LaBeouf for his stand-out performance and recommended him for an upcoming big-budget film he was producing: "Transformers" (per USA Weekend).

Michael Bay's Transformers

Today, the "Transformers" franchise has taken on a life of its own, spanning 6 movies with another soon on the way. However, when the first "Transformers" movie was put together in 2007, there was a lot of skepticism and uncertainty. The idea of transitioning a Hasbro toy line and cartoon from the late 1980s into one of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters raised plenty of red flags. But it also had serious industry power behind it, with Steven Spielberg producing and Michael Bay directing the $200 million budget film.

Shia LaBeouf stars in the film as Sam Witwicky, who has unknowingly inherited a connection to an ongoing war between space-born robots. With Decepticons set on taking over the world, Witwicky helps the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, in saving the planet. With a heavy dose of fast cars, military weapons, and loads of CGI, "Transformers" managed a record-breaking release, collecting over $700 million at the box office. Along with co-star Megan Fox, Shia LaBeouf was catapulted into stardom, despite the film receiving mixed to negative reviews.

Pushed as an A-lister

Parallel to the marketing for "Transformers," Shia LaBeouf was being touted as the next big thing in Hollywood. Boosted by directors and on-screen partners, LaBeouf seemingly hit the A-list overnight. Spielberg doubled down on the kid he first saw in "Holes" by casting him as the son of Indiana Jones. "Shia is within everyone's reach," said Spielberg to Time Magazine. "He's every mother's son, every father's spitting image, every young kid's best pal and every girl's possible dream."

Undeniably, 2007 was the year of LaBeouf. Aside from starring in one of the summer's biggest blockbusters and landing a part in Spielberg's next outing, he appeared in the dark thriller "Disturbia" and the animated comedy "Surf's Up." But LaBeouf's highly anticipated collaboration with Spielberg, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," struggled to connect with audiences, and his reaction to the final product was equally unfavorable. "I feel like I dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished," said LaBeouf in an interview with the LA Times. LaBeouf's return to the "Transformers" franchise proved similarly difficult for the young performer.

Complicated Transformers sequels

Shia LaBeouf returned to his role as Sam Witwicky in two "Transformers" sequels: 2009's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and 2011's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Unfortunately, there was conflict from the very beginning, as LaBeouf arrived on set with an injured hand and an arrest for "suspicion of drunken driving." "I was in some hot water making this movie. At 22, you're always in hot water," said the actor in an interview with Today. LaBeouf's police charges were dropped, but the injury resulted in necessary script changes as filming began for "Transformers 2."

Making matters worse, the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike resulted in "Revenge of the Fallen" beginning production without a finalized script (per LA Times). Despite being the worst reviewed of LaBeouf's "Transformers" outings, the sequel earned over $800 million at the box office. Still, LaBeouf would once again criticize his own project: "We were given a bunch of money, we were given a bunch of toys, and we had no script," said LaBeouf in an interview with Kevin McCarthy. "We weren't making a movie to make a good movie; we were making a movie to hit a date."

The third film, "Dark of the Moon," broke $1 billion in gross income and was slightly better received critically. However, before the third film hit theaters, LaBeouf had already made the announcement that he would be moving on from the big-budget franchise.

Why LaBeouf abandoned the franchise

The news that Shia LaBeouf was exiting the extremely profitable "Transformers" franchise was a shock to nearly everyone. The CGI-heavy action films took the Disney Channel actor from moderate fame to the international spotlight, yet something had changed for one of Hollywood's most bankable young actors. LaBeouf actively chose to leave the massive budget films in favor of more artistic independent films. "I don't think there was any acting going on," LeBeouf said later of this point in his life on the Hollywood Reporter's Award Chatter Podcast. "This was, like, personality. There was no acting going on for the huge front half of my career. This was all just my personality exhibited on a camera."

The transitional moment for LeBeouf can be pinpointed to his performance in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." "I was trying to shake off Disney. I was trying to shake off blockbusters," the actor recalled. "Transformers" director Michael Bay had his own theory that LeBeouf left the franchise under the assumption that Bay also did not intend on returning. "I was going to stop doing 'Transformers' after doing three — because it's hard to make a fourth movie with the same characters," said the director in an interview with Inquirer. Bay went on to say that he resisted the studio's pressure to recast LeBeouf's character for the fourth "Transformers," and instead opted to bring in Mark Wahlberg as a fresh face for the franchise.

Transformers on-set controversies

Aside from Shia LaBeouf's attack on the artistic quality of the "Transformers" franchise, the film faced its own controversies. Specifically, lead actress Megan Fox has since revealed her discomfort on the set of Michael Bay films. While appearing on Jimmy Kimmel, the actress admitted that she felt overly sexualized at the age of 15 when she appeared as an extra in "Bad Boys II." Later, Fox would compare Bay's directing style to Adolf Hitler, saying that he was a nightmare to work for in an interview with Wonderland Magazine. The call-out inevitably resulted in Fox being fired from the "Transformers" franchise. However, Fox and Bay would eventually bury the hatchet and reunite for 2014's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

The unsettling treatment of Megan Fox was not ignored by LaBeouf, who admitted that he had a romantic fling with his co-star while filming "Transformers" (per Hollywood Reporter). "Megan developed this Spice Girl strength, this woman empowerment that made her feel awkward about her involvement with Michael, who some people think is a very lascivious filmmaker, the way he films women," said LaBeouf. "Mike films women in a way that appeals to a 16-year-old sexuality. And I think [Fox] never got comfortable with it. When Mike would ask her to do specific things, there was no time for fluffy talk. And the one thing Mike lacks is tact."

LaBeouf beyond Transformers

It was not long after exiting the "Transformers" franchise that Shia LaBeouf began building his controversial reputation. In February 2013, a Broadway production of "Orphans" was canceled after LeBeouf had reportedly quit after a "disagreeable situation," which was later revealed to be a fight between him and co-star Alec Baldwin (per US Magazine). LaBeouf would later admit on The Late Show with David Letterman that he was fired from the project while taking the brunt of the blame for the altercation, saying, "me and Alec had tension as men. Not as artists, but as men." The fight became center stage and added to the rumors that LaBeouf also got into an altercation with Tom Hardy on the set of "Lawless" a year prior. The actor claimed on the Youtube talk show "Hot Ones" (via Complex) that there was no altercation with Hardy beyond playful wrestling.

In 2014, LaBeouf had seemingly hit rock bottom when he was arrested after causing a scene at a Broadway production of "Cabaret" (per US Magazine). This was just the beginning of a string of arrests for disorderly conduct, as the actor again faced charges in 2015 (per Time) and 2017. The latter of those arrests was a self-admitted "new low" for LaBeouf, who was caught on camera ranting racist remarks while accusing a Black officer of arresting him for "being white." In 2020, LaBeouf was again charged with "misdemeanor battery and petty theft" (per AP News).

Slamming Spielberg

Much credit is due to Steven Spielberg for building Shia LaBeouf's career to the heights it reached before the actor began tearing it apart. However, LaBeouf didn't quite see it that way. In 2016, the always-candid LaBeouf was in the headlines again after an interview with Variety saw the former "Transformers" headliner insulting his work under Spielberg. "I grew up with this idea, if you got to Spielberg, that's where it is," said LaBeouf. "You get there, and you realize you're not meeting the Spielberg you dream of," LaBeouf says. "You're meeting a different Spielberg, who is in a different stage in his career. He's less a director than he is a f–ing company."

The actor went on to say that the only movie he appreciated doing under Spielberg was the first "Transformers." "Everything has been so meticulously planned," LaBeouf said about working on set with Spielberg. "You got to get this line out in 37 seconds. You do that for five years; you start to feel like not knowing what you're doing for a living." The actor later retracted his statements, admitting that Spielberg opened a lot of doors for him.

The artistic LaBeouf

Despite all the misdeeds and tactless approaches to his peers in Hollywood, LaBeouf has built himself the artistic career he dreamed of when he walked away from Michael Bay, Spielberg, and his robot castmates. As an actor, LaBeouf took on more character-driven projects like "Fury," "Borg vs McEnroe," and "Honey Boy," while largely avoiding over-the-top blockbuster productions. Meanwhile, LaBeouf challenged himself with a move into the director's chair, adding a few short films and music videos to his filmography. One of his more notable projects, a motivational speech titled "#Introductions," became a popular internet meme.

Additionally, LaBeouf has developed many other artistic outlets. In 2015, he broadcast a livestream of him watching all his own movies. A year later, he followed it up by spending 24 hours inside an elevator and going on a journey across America where fans could pick him up and drop him off wherever they chose. 

Unfortunately, LaBeouf has become equally famous for his plagiarism. A short film the budding director debuted at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival was quickly discovered to be "a complete rip-off" from a comic book written and illustrated by Daniel Clowes (per Buzzfeed). LaBeouf later tweeted an apology, which was also discovered to be plagiarized (per Wired). Subsequently, two comic books previously released by LaBeouf were also condemned for plagiarism (per Buzzfeed).

Relationship issues

Shia LaBeouf's ongoing troubles have only seemed to get worse over time. In 2020, a former partner of the actor, singer FKA Twigs filed a lawsuit alleging a range of disparaging acts, including violence towards her and shooting guns at stray dogs (per NY Times). She went on to describe many examples of his mistreatment, including not disclosing an STD infection to her.

A trial date for the lawsuit has been set for spring 2023 (per Yahoo). LaBeouf openly admits that his behavior in the relationship was disgusting. "I hurt that woman," LaBeouf said while appearing on the "Real Ones" podcast (via Variety). "And in the process of doing that, I hurt many other people, and many other people before that woman. I was a pleasure-seeking, selfish, self-centered, dishonest, inconsiderate, fearful human being." During the podcast, LaBeouf admitted to many of the allegations, including knowingly not revealing STD infections to potential sexual partners. The actor also attempted to credit his former partner for changing his life, saying, "had she not intervened in my life and not created the avenue for me to experience ego death, I'd either have a really mediocre existence or I'd be dead in full."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Future for LaBeouf and Transformers

Most recently, Shia LaBeouf has been battling for self-redemption. On the same "Real Ones" podcast episode (via Variety) where he admitted to his abusive acts towards FKA Twigs, the actor said that becoming a father has recalibrated his life. "It's almost like having the ultimate parole officer. I need someone to keep me accountable," said LaBeouf. But even with this alleged hard reset, LaBeouf has once again been at the center of a celebrity feud. After parting ways with Olivia Wilde's "Don't Worry Darling," the actor and filmmaker have been jousting over who quit and who was fired (per Variety). Still, somehow LaBeouf has managed to keep his career alive, as he is set to appear in Francis Ford Coppola's upcoming epic "Megalopolis" alongside an all-star cast (per Hollywood Reporter).

Meanwhile, the "Transformers" movies have done just fine without their former star. With Mark Wahlberg and Hailee Steinfeld taking on starring roles, the film series has expanded to six movies, with "Transformer: Rise of the Beasts" set to become a 2023 summer blockbuster. The upcoming feature is intended to launch a new trilogy of "Transformers" films (per Deadline). Separately, "Transformers: A New Generation," set for release in 2024, will act as a prequel to the established franchise (per Deadline). Additionally, another movie inspired by the toy line is reportedly in the works under director Angel Manuel Soto (per Hollywood Reporter).