The Creators Of Transformers: The Movie Didn't Realize How Traumatic Optimus Prime's Death Would Be

The original "Transformers" movie was about 20 years old before I finally got around to watching it, but it still took me by surprise. As a younger fan, high off of the 2007 movie directed by alleged pigeon killer Michael Bay, my first instinct was to dive right into the original animated series. The 1980s "Transformers" cartoon was immediately entrancing with its aesthetic, catchy theme song, and dated-yet-charming animation. After watching the series, the only natural step forward was to move on to the motion picture. A bigger movie budget meant better animation and a more ambitious story, which no doubt excited fans during its original theatrical run.

Then, the film's opening scene hits you like an Autobot truck. The cast of characters you've grown to love, such as the Autobots Ironhide, Ratchet, and Prowl, are immediately killed as Decepticons hijack their ship. Gone are the fights from the original cartoon that usually left both sides unscathed. The opening casualties set the stage for an epic battle early in the film that does the unthinkable — killing Optimus Prime in a blaze of glory and taking Megatron down with him. It's a bold creative decision that may have been made for purely financial reasons but caused an uproar in the "Transformers" community, as the Autobot leader's death was more traumatic than the creators expected.

'We'd always planned to kill Optimus Prime'

The writers' decision to wipe out most of the original characters in the "Transformers" movie was for a simple reason: Hasbro wanted to make way for a new generation of toys to sell. This meant killing Optimus Prime. In a behind-the-scenes video on the making of the movie, story consultant Flint Dille expressed that Prime's death was intended to be shocking. Unfortunately, the death would work better than anyone had hoped, resulting in some fans becoming a little too emotionally distressed:

"We'd always planned to kill Optimus Prime, and that was going to be the big surprise and the big dramatic thing in the movie. And when the movie actually showed, apparently some kid in Michigan, I think, locked himself in the bathroom for two weeks."

Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime was someone younger viewers looked up to, and the Autobots resonated with audiences. While the series and movie were initially created to sell toys, the robots in disguise would become characters fans loved. Dille would say, "It never occurred to us that there was that kind of loyalty and fanaticism for the characters."

A slow and painful demise

Optimus Prime's death in "Transformers: The Movie" wasn't quick either. The movie lingers on Prime as his whole body turns ghostly black and white, and his head goes limply to the side. The film revels in its slow death, and while Dille may play innocent by saying he wasn't entirely aware of how much fans loved Prime, the writer also stated that he aspired to create a distressing death similar to the ones he experienced in his childhood: 

"What I was thinking about for Optimus' death was John Wayne and the Alamo, which was my scarring childhood end. I mean, you're supposed to! There's supposed to be that childhood movie you see where everybody gets scarred. And, you know, in the mid-eighties, people just weren't doing that because everybody was thinking about the franchise."

At the end of the day, whether intentional or not, Optimus Prime's death was messed up. Regardless of it being a marketing strategy, a creative decision, or simply not recognizing the fan's feelings toward the character, it matters little. What matters is finding the one person (or robot) to blame. 

Hot Rod.

It's all Hot Rod's fault

If there's anyone to blame for the traumatic death of Optimus Prime in "Transformers: The Movie," it's the Autobot Hot Rod. A new character introduced in the film, Hot Rod is a young and strong-willed Autobot eager to prove himself. Most of the movie is centered on this shiny new transformer, and he eventually takes over as the new Prime when the Matrix of Leadership is passed on to him. However, the Autobots needed a new Prime in the first place because of Hot Rod. In Optimus Prime's final battle in the film, the Autobot leader takes down every Decepticon imaginable and even beats Megatron in a one-on-one fight. Nearly defeated and on the brink of death, Megatron begs Optimus for mercy as he tries to sneakily grab a blaster to use on him.

Optimus had Megatron dead to rights at this point, and even if Megatron did grab the blaster, it could be argued that Optimus would put an end to Megatron before he could do anything sneaky. Unfortunately, Hot Rod gets in the way, thinking he's helping, attempting to stop Megatron from reaching the gun. The arrogance of Hot Rod results in Megatron having an Autobot shield and Optimus without a clear shot, letting Megatron get the kill. 

Watching Optimus get blasted to kingdom come is, without a doubt, traumatic, and I just couldn't write this in good conscience without mentioning that it wouldn't have happened in the first place if it weren't for Hot Rod. At least I can cope by blaming a fictional robot.