Debuting in the early ’80s, the Transformers franchise has stood the test of time for over 30 years, spawning over a dozen cartoon series, quite a few Japan-exclusive anime, multiple films, manga, video games, and more toy lines than some characters have action figures. And through all of that, they’ve created some awesome characters, some of which are easily some of the best characters in fiction. They serve as powerful archetypes that echo throughout multiple incarnations of the franchise as part of the backbone of any noteworthy Transformers universe. Then there are others…that thankfully vanish into the Allspark, and are never to be seen or heard from again. You know, unless it’s time to induct them into a hall of shame.
For this list, CBR counts down the top seven Transformers characters that totally rule, and eight that absolutely suck, either because of their inability to connect with the fans or their complete, total uselessness inside their own series, or both. To set some parameters, for this list we’re not counting anything other than the cartoons; that means none of the games, the Michael Bay Transformers films, or any past or present comics count, only the original cartoon series and the various spin-offs and sequels.
15. SUCKS: WASPINATOR (BEAST WARS)
Fans fell in love with Waspinator because they could relate to him being picked on so much. If any ‘bot in the Beast Wars universe had to wind up with the short end of the stick, it was almost always Waspinator. It was sad too, because he was one of Megatron’s most loyal allies, but loyal doesn’t mean useful.
From an in-universe perspective, Waspinator’s useless. Once the writers settled into the roles they wanted each character to play, Waspinator went from giving Hot Shot-stand in Cheetor trouble to being shot and/or blown up so much that he actually uttered the line “Waspinator having good day! Not get shot once!” in an early season three episode, “Changing of the Guard”, and he definitely got shot immediately after saying it. As amusing as Waspinator is, there’s no denying that being the butt of every cosmic joke in his universe means he sucks.
14. RULES: METROPLEX (GENERATION 1)
It takes some real creative cajones to suggest that in a universe full of giant robots, that the best idea is to add an even gianter robot, but it works! The combiners were popular enough, but Metroplex takes that idea to the next level. Rather than have a set of Transformers combine to create a single one, Metroplex is instead a single Transformer…that serves as an entire city that the other Autobots live in.
So not only does Metroplex serve as the Autobot’s home base, but he’s also their last line of defense, boasting a devastating battle mode as well as his robot formation, armed with guns that are probably bigger than most Decepticons are. The boldness of his concept alone earns him his spot on this list.
13. SUCKS: HOT ROD/RODIMUS PRIME (GENERATION 1)
Transformers: The Movie is a bit of a polarizing film for many Transformers fans, as it committed some major no-nos for any franchise, such as killing off several old characters only to replace them with new characters fans don’t even know. One of the worst cases of this was the creation of Rodimus Prime.
Originally an Autobot named Hot Rod, the poor reaction he gets from fans probably comes from him not only being essentially responsible for getting Optimus Prime killed, but being rewarded for it, because the Matrix transfers its power to him an makes him the newest Prime. But if he ever has the Matrix stolen, he inexplicably reverts to his younger, less powerful self — something Optimus never had to deal with. Hot Rod sucks so bad he couldn’t even finish the series as Autobot leader, and was replaced by Optimus Prime in the last five episodes.
12. RULES: BLACKARACHNIA (BEAST WARS)
Blackarachnia is one of the reasons Beast Wars is so fondly looked upon. Serving as a member of Megatron’s Predacon army for a good portion of the show, Blackarachnia consistently proved herself to be one of his best warriors. But despite her usefulness in combat, she was known for constantly scheming — either to get out from under Megatron’s overbearing control or to be rid of him altogether — and she was even occasionally successful at gaining the upper hand.
Of course, deep down Blackarachnia was too good of a bot to continue to serve Megatron, and so after falling for the Maximal Silverbolt, she finally switched over to the side of the heroes and would eventually climb in the ranks of the Maximal army, becoming one of the commanders of the team during Beast Machines. A multi-layered bad-ass of a character, this spider had some bite to her.
11. SUCKS: ULTRA MAGNUS (ROBOTS IN DISGUISE)
Transformers: Robots in Disguise was the return to the Transformers as classic vehicles after Beast Wars/Beast Machines. The 2001 series was the first time fans would get to see many G1 characters return, with revised personalities for a new generation, including Ultra Magnus. Recast here as Optimus Prime’s brother, the normally by-the-books ‘bot was a bit of a brat here. After battling the Predacons alongside his brother during the “Civil Wars”, Ultra Magnus promptly abandoned Cybertron when the super-computer Vector Sigma chose his brother to be the new bearer of the Matrix over him.
This version of Ultra Magnus sucks because he was usually more trouble than he was worth. He often spent just as much time attacking Optimus for being the owner of the Matrix as he did the Predacons. He even once fused with Optimus…just because he thought it would allow him to take control of the Matrix!
10. RULES: JETFIRE (GENERATION 1)
Some of the best characters offer a level of character development that takes the show beyond its “good guys vs. bad guys” roots. Jetfire is one of those characters. Long before the war, he and Starscream were science bros that loved to explore new worlds for the sake of learning more about the galaxy. After a trip to Earth went wrong, Jetfire wound up encased in ice for billions of years.
When he was brought back by the Decepticons, he joined their ranks because of his old friend, believing them to be good bots. But when he discovered the truth, Jetfire quickly joined the ever-growing Autobot army, granting them a degree of control over the skies the team had never possessed before. Ever a powerful ally, Jetfire’s usefulness in battle, desire to remain true to himself and his conscience makes him one of the best Transformers ever.
9. SUCKS: STARSCREAM (GENERATION 1)
The favorite of many Transformers fans, it’s impossible to include Starscream on this list without admitting that the Decepticon is hilarious. His constant attempts to betray Megatron and take the seat of power from him once and for all are some of the best parts of a series that, if we’re being honest, probably doesn’t stand up like fans swore it did years ago.
But once again from an in-universe perspective, this guy is utterly useless. He’s so busy trying to become the leader of the Decepticons that he can barely get anything done as second-in-command. More importantly, all his attempts to unseat Megatron are always poorly thought out. Future incarnations would amplify Starscream’s conniving nature until he became the near legendary schemer we know today, and in the comics he’s even taken over as the leader of not just the Decepticons but Cybertron itself, but OG Starscream? Sucks.
8. RULES: GRIMLOCK (GENERATION 1)
A combination between a T-Rex and a giant robot, Grimlock is every kid’s dream character. One of the Dinobots created by Wheeljack and Ratchet after seeing holograms of dinosaur fossils, Grimlock is the leader of a team that is absurdly powerful, as they’re one of the only factions on either side that doesn’t combine, because they don’t need to — even when they face off against their combiner opposites the Constructicons, they rarely seem outclassed.
Admittedly, Grimlock can be kind of like the Autobot version of Starscream in that he would prefer to lead the Autobots himself, but because he respects Optimus he’s still able to let someone with more experience and leadership abilities take control. Oh, and in robot form he wields a freaking laser sword, because every time they felt like he was cool enough, someone thought “no, add more awesome”.
7. SUCKS: RATTRAP (BEAST MACHINES)
Between Hot Rod 2.0, Cheetor, and a more useless Bumblebee in Rattrap, it’s no wonder Optimus Primal stayed on the losing end of the Maximal/Predacon war. Rattrap was meant to be a character that wasn’t especially powerful but made up for it with specialist skills. In Beast Wars this was useful enough, so it’s the sequel series Beast Machines that downgrades him from slightly useful comic relief to suck tier.
When the Maximals land on Cybertron, they find themselves trapped in animal forms and unable to return to their robot modes. Though all the Maximals were forced to learn how to transform again, only one let his inability to do so put the Maximals in danger several times. Realizing how much he sucked, Rattrap even protected Megatron once in exchange for the weapons his robotic form lacked, making him useless and a traitor.
6. RULES: STARSCREAM (ARMADA)
Transformers: Armada isn’t exactly looked upon fondly by many fans of the Transformers franchise, as it’s filled with translation, animation, and continuity errors. Still, Starscream from Transformers: Armada? Totally ruled. One of Megatron’s youngest soldiers, this Starscream has a lot more nobility to his character — he frequently challenges people to one-on-one duels, for own his honor or the Decepticon cause.
He’s still Starscream though, so throughout Armada he betrays Megatron multiple times…but only because he’s taken for granted when all he wants is for Megatron to give him some level of acknowledgement for his skills and how hard he fights for the Decepticons. Deeply conflicted, he even switches sides to the Autobots when the Decepticon plans for victory become too dangerous and risk destroying Earth altogether to win the war. Ultimately, Transformers: Armada’s Starscream ruled because he managed to be a bright spot in an otherwise weak Transformers instalment.
5. SUCKS: SKY-BYTE (ROBOTS IN DISGUISE)
Waspinator got off easy since he was more of a grunt — Megatron rarely ever trusted him with mucH — but Sky-Byte’s sins are much less forgivable. Serving as second-in-command of Megatron’s Predacon army, Sky-Byte’s constant need to impress Megatron backed by his ability to consistently foul up his own well-laid plans makes him one of the most useless Transformers depicted in-universe.
Sky-Byte sucks so badly that his own lackeys don’t respect him. Worse, as Megatron gains more allies, Sky-Byte’s own standing begins to plummet. The Decepticons that appear later in the series are led by Scourge, an evil version of Optimus Prime, and consist of a quintet of combiners — so not only is Sky-Byte unseated, but so are his lackeys! He goes from being Megatron’s second-in-command to becoming comic relief by the end of the series, most likely because he spends more time writing haikus than actually working.
4. RULES: MEGATRON (ALL VERSIONS)
Megatron is one of the most frightening villains in fiction. He’s waged war for millions of years with the Autobots, and claimed trillions of lives on countless planets in multiple universes. He always possesses a brilliant tactical mind as well as frightening levels of combat capabilities.
He’s so overwhelmingly powerful that it doesn’t matter if his lackeys are constantly trying to stab him in the back like in Generation 1, or if he’s surrounded by bumbling idiots as he is in Beast Wars, or even if he’s outnumbered two-to-one as he was in the 2001 version of Transformers: Robots in Disguise. Everything from other planets, to his Decepticon army is used and discarded in the hopes of getting him closer to his goal: utter domination. That’s the kind of evil that people have to respect even if they don’t even like villainous characters.
3. SUCKS: WHEELIE (GENERATION 1)
There’s little redeemable about Wheelie, as he’s so much of what fans dislike about any franchise. Introduced during Transformers: The Movie, Wheelie is rescued from the home of the Quintessons by Hot Rod, but there’s a good chance most fans think he should’ve been left there instead.
To start out with, he’s the Scrappy-Doo problem: when a franchise adds a little kid to the dynamic for the children to relate to, only the kids never asked for that. He wastes time going on less interesting side adventures, and despite surviving on the dangerous planet of Quintessa for who knows how long, Wheelie’s actually incredibly likely to get captured during these adventures, making him a liability as well. And all that before you get to the fact that the Autobot brat can’t get through a sentence without rhyming. Fortunately he was only in one season before the show ended.
2. SUCKS: COMPUTRON (GENERATION 1)
Debuting in the third season G1 episode “Grimlock’s New Brain”, Computron debuts as the combined form of the Technobots, a team Grimlock made after gaining a massive increase in intelligence during a mission with Rodimus, Kup, and Ultra Magnus. Because it’s an ’80s cartoon, and every episode had to maintain the status quo unless it was introducing a new toy, Grimlock transferred his super-smarts into the Technobots’ combined form, Computron.
He’s a massive super-computer combiner, which one would think is pretty awesome but unfortunately, Computron’s intellect causes him to spend so much time analyzing that he hesitates during crucial moments, which usually leads to his defeat. So the one thing he’s good at…makes him garbage. No one ever expected Wheelie to be useful, but Computron is a combiner, and he’s rarely ever useful because he wastes too much time thinking about what to do, instead of just doing.
1. RULES: OPTIMUS PRIME (ALL VERSIONS)
“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.” From that statement alone, Optimus earns the top spot on this list — it’s probably the most inspiring thing ever written for a television series that was basically trying to see how many toys it could hock to the kids. But it helps that he backs it up — Optimus commands from the front lines, never asking anything of his Autobot allies that he won’t do himself.
The opposite side of Megatron’s nihilistic coin, Optimus has managed to stave off a bot that is literally willing to throw away any ally or any planet if it means his victory and domination of whatever’s left standing, for millions of years. The iron will and boundless optimism it must take to continue to fight back in the face of that kind of unrelenting evil makes Optimus the most impressive Transformer of them all.
Are there any Transformers that should have been put on this list? Post your comments below!
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