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Every Transformers movie ranked worst to best

The Transformers franchise has had a wildly turbulent cinematic history. Though they've made a ton of money at the box office, the Transformers movies have, more often than not, been the recipients of critical disdain — and even the fans have often been divided over the various directions the series has gone over the years. This applies to the animated 1986 Transformers movie as well as the recent Michael Bay films — all of which we're ranking here in a list that hopes to reflect the general voice of the mainstream fan community while highlighting the good and bad of the Transformers' cinematic history.

From the franchise's animated beginnings through 2018's prequel installment and soft reboot Bumblebee, get ready to relive all the highs and lows of one of Hollywood's most successful film series, and see how all the theatrically released Transformers movies stack up against each other.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight is a troubling movie. There are scattered flashes of brilliance, like the scene when Megatron negotiates the release of his crewmates. This scene does a great job of showing off the unique personalities of the characters, has a cohesive tone that cleverly leans on the humorous absurdity of transforming robots interacting with humans, and features some really striking, dynamic camera shots that make every moment visually engaging.

However, the film's good scenes are vastly outnumbered by bad ones thanks to its bizarre storyline, which entangles the history of the Transformers with the Knights of the Round Table. This central cog of the plot doesn't make a lick of sense and retroactively undoes things we've seen in the previous four movies, showing the writers couldn't care less about the series' canon.

And those aren't the only quality control issues in the film. There are actual shots that made it into the final cut that have cameramen in them. The aspect ratio constantly changes because no one bothered to consider that a constantly changing border might be distracting to viewers. Some central characters are completely useless, and major plot points are consistently underdeveloped and lazily executed, like Bumblebee's and Optimus' climactic face-off. In short, most of The Last Knight represents a sloppily produced missed opportunity.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers: Age of Extinction learned all the wrong lessons from the previous live-action Transformers movies, and forgot to include most of what made its predecessors entertaining. AoE's human characters all lack compelling motivation and have personalities that range from infuriatingly annoying to painfully cringeworthy, which is a flaw the previous flicks didn't suffer from quite as much. And the insufferable humans get the lion's share of screen time because, besides Optimus and Bumblebee, no Transformer gets a real spotlight. Take the dinobots, for example. This movie promoted the heck out of them, and yet they're only in the final 30 minutes of the film — and even then, only in a few big shots.

The plot is another massive point of contention, given that it undoes much of the lore previous Transformers 1-3 laid out. It's not done in a crafty way, either. The movie just presents its retroactive changes to the series' continuity and pretends no one will notice.

There are still other flaws, like shoehorned-in elements that were inserted solely to gain favor with the Chinese market and government. And we can't forget how undercooked most of this movie's CGI was. Still, for all these issues, Age of Extinction didn't waste much of what little narrative potential it had.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a tricky one. Although critics absolutely blasted it, fans remain divided. On one hand, it has the charm of Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky and the allure of Megan Fox's Mikaela Banes. It also features a lot of top-tier CGI action and epic fights, such as the forest battle when Optimus Prime dies defending against multiple Decepticons. Plus, as is guaranteed with any Michael Bay film, the cinematography is as stylish and stereotypically "Hollywood" as it gets. For fans of pretty actors, likable enough characters, gorgeous cinematography, and mind-numbingly bombastic action, there's a lot to love in Revenge of the Fallen.

However, this movie is also loaded with a lot of not-so-great elements. The plot contradicts itself constantly, some of the cast (both human and robot) is obnoxious, there's a lot of crude and unnecessary humor, and the tone oscillates between serious action-drama and juvenile comedy too clumsily for anything to be taken seriously or humorously. With that in mind, if you just want some incredible CGI action featuring transforming robots, Revenge of the Fallen can still be a fun time.

The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Though it fails to hold up by today's standards for animated sci-fi flicks, when observed as a relic of 1986 and an ode to the Transformers toys, The Transformers: The Movie does a solid job. Beyond its fan-pleasing, ultra-expansive cast of transforming robots, it has other merits, such as its plot. This movie's story goes to some very Game of Thrones-like places in a way that's wholly befitting of the Transformers' perpetual civil war. Though some might find it to be a bit dark, a lot of fans really love that this is the one Transformers movie that dared to take risks with its plot beats, putting beloved Transformers' lives on the line to keep stakes high and maintain the realism of war.

For all these pros, there's no getting around the fact that the movie has issues. Its animation quality is weak, the soundtrack is infused with too much cheesy rock for its own good, and the plot fails to articulate certain points in smart, digestible ways (such as who the Quintessons are). Still, the movie is a solid '86 Transformers time capsule. It's got a great voice cast, cool robots, it explores surprisingly risky themes — overall, it sports many or most of the key ingredients that helped get the Transformers franchise where it is today.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon marked the first time the franchise really dug deep into historical revisionism for plot points, and it remains the only time it's panned out well. The plot uses moon landing conspiracy theories to its advantage and weaves them into Transformers lore in a way that's both smart and compelling, giving characters from the previous two movies new information that organically feeds into new missions and character arcs. Plus, the finale is basically just one hour of breathtaking, uninterrupted robot carnage, for those who only care about seeing Optimus fly a jetpack, swing a sword, and kill a giant driller worm that eats skyscrapers.

DotM hits all of Michael Bay's usual beats: pretty stars, hot cars, incredible camerawork, breathtaking scope, insane action, and lots of explosions. But this movie, unlike some of Bay's others, backs all of those things up with real heart, real characters, and real storytelling. Plus, the CGI is outstanding and the soundtrack is killer.

People have issues with this movie for various reasons, including its lengthy runtime of over two and a half hours, its occasionally unwarranted and unfunny humor (an element that pervades all of Bay's Transformers work), and its unending onslaught of chaotic CGI action. However, for many movie fans within Bay's target demographic, this trilogy capper remains the Transformers epic to beat.

Transformers (2007)

Many casual moviegoers and film critics would agree that Michael Bay's first foray into the Transformers universe remains his best. 2007's Transformers is a narratively tight movie that keeps its action, plot, and characters all firmly planted within our reality, though it also leans heavily on the humorous nature of its central sci-fi premise. In this sense, it's almost a Marvel movie: fun, relatively inoffensive, minimal on melodrama, and loaded with quirky, likable characters that operate within a believable yet fantastical universe.

Transformers was never just about narrative, though; there was always a technical element present. Part of this movie's charm stems from the fact that it was the first film to showcase how CGI could take Transformers from a plastic toy line to the very definition of what badass robots of the future might look like. Back in 2007, Transformers set a new bar for creativity and polish in Hollywood VFX, which remains one of this movie's biggest merits and a key part of why it's remembered so fondly. But it's also beloved for being the starting point of an engaging trilogy centered around Shia LaBeouf, Optimus Prime, and Bumblebee getting into wacky adventures together, with Shia as the relatable stand-in for every kid who always wanted to meet a Transformer in real life.

Bumblebee

For many people, Bumblebee is likely to be the most pleasing Transformers movie to date. Though the Michael Bay movies approached the franchise from a "how cool can we make this?" angle, Bumblebee takes a step back from the bombast and focuses almost exclusively on injecting relatable emotion into the performance and arc of its titular robot and lead cast. Spectacle is secondary in Bumblebee, and though that's going to require a substantial gear-shift for fans of the previous films to fully appreciate, it's an interesting breath of fresh air for the franchise. Director Travis Knight's style revolves around sensitivity and nuance, making this a far more Spielberg-ian project. Knight handles the film's social and interpersonal dynamics with a delicacy and care rarely seen in Hollywood blockbusters, and that alone makes this a more easily digestible film than most of the other Transformers flicks. That's why Bumblebee reigns supreme over its competition: it may not indulge in the pure over-the-top action of the Bay-helmed installments, but it's definitely a bit more innocent, as well as a good deal more human. And for a viewing audience that's entirely human, it turns out those qualities really matter.