It's Easter Sunday as of this posting, so it's only natural to have resurrection on the brain. When I think resurrection, I think Optimus Prime: the beloved Autobot hero (or murder machine, if we're counting the live action movie iteration) who has died and come back to life more times than I'm comfortable counting.
The number of toy releases the character has had is far more shocking however. The Transformers franchise has several iconic characters and designs, but it would be difficult to argue that any of them trump Optimus as the most recognizable. As such, the development team at Hasbro has made sure sure there's an Optimus Prime available in the action figure aisle at pretty much all times.
Fortunately, the character's role as a leader and a major selling point for the brand means that there's usually considerable effort put into his toys. I've kept it awfully wordy thus far, but this is indeed a list post. Let's get to it: in chronological order, here are 10 of the best Optimus Prime toys released thus far!
This was the first time Optimus received an all-new toy and redesign. It was mostly made possible by negative fan reaction when Hasbro ordered that he (alongside many others from the original cast) be killed off in 1986's Transformers: The Movie to make room for new characters. New characters meaning...new toys.
The ultimate resurrection of the character and his return to toy shelves in this fancy tricked-out form can be viewed as a major attempt at apologizing (while still raking in some cash.) With tons of new features like the imposing "super" robot mode, it made a huge impression. To this day, Powermaster Optimus is one of the most highly revered Generation 1 toys.
Just in case the giant mural on the trailer and chest-scrawled name tag didn't clue you in, this is indeed Optimus Prime! The colors are a little odd, but this is a toy that holds up even by today's standards. The trailer's alternate battle platform mode is one of the best Optimus has ever had, and the robot mode warrants nothing but praise. The Generation 2 toyline was dying out when this toy was released, but I still remember it sitting proudly on Toys R Us' shelves, overshadowing everything else in sight.
Originally released in Japan as Fire Convoy, this toy had me pawing at the screen when I first saw it. You can't say I was blinded by nostalgia either; this is one of the biggest departures from the standard Optimus design on the list. The fire truck vehicular form and super robot mode could have just as easily belonged to an all-new character. Staples like the windshield-chest and blue helmet with faceplate are still there on the standard robot mode however. There was just enough familiarity with plenty of cool new ideas thrown in.
Some collectors may have disliked the "parts-forming" transformations involved in switching between the modes, but it's not a big deal as far as I'm concerned. The toy looks great, displays well, and is fun to...let's just be honest here, play with. I love it.
This is a large toy with several modes and serious "wow" factor. The unobtrusive nature of the Cybertron line's "Cyber-key" gimmick allowed for solid figures with minimal compromises to their aesthetics and articulation. This Optimus is well sculpted, sturdy, and cast in incredibly rich colors. The basic design pulls from several sources that marry American and Japanese sensibilities quite successfully. It's a difficult choice to make, but this might be my favorite Optimus ever.
There was a release gap between the end of Cybertron and the first live action movie, so Hasbro decided to fill it with a fan-pleasing assortment of updates that specifically represented the original versions of the characters. I feel the primary Optimus in the line-up is one of the most solid Transformer toys of the last decade.
The design is unmistakably G1 Optimus, simply modernized. There's a lightly armored, athletic vibe to the robot mode that I've always really dug. Combined with the somewhat aggressive looking head sculpt, this is a no-frills Optimus that looks like he could easily take care o' bitness.
Transformers: Animated ended up being one of my favorite Transformers series ever. Despite the initially controversial visual aesthetic, the show and toyline were obviously labors of love from top to bottom. This is well represented in Optimus' "Earth mode," which includes several nods to previous iterations. The overall look resembles the original iconic design quite a bit.
Animated Optimus' main toy release in the US line (the $20 "voyager class" toy) excelled in nearly every area a Transformer toy should, but it was brought down by an inaccurate axe and potentially floppy shoulders. The "Wingblade Optimus Prime" version from Japan makes up for those issues greatly with jetpack and Magnus Hammer accessories that let you recreate the look from the final few episodes of the cartoon.
I'm not the biggest fan of the live action Transformers movies. I gave them a chance and they just aren't my thing. Still, I'm happy to admit that the accompanying toylines had some impressively made figures.
Dark of the Moon's Jetwing Optimus — initially released by Hasbro as an Amazon.com exclusive — was a remold of the immaculately engineered Revenge of the Fallen Optimus with the addition of giant wings and Gatling guns. The ability to attach them to the truck mode is absolutely wacky, and since these are toys, wackiness goes a long way in providing fun factor.
This toy marked the second time Optimus Prime received the "Masterpiece" treatment, and it has all the makings of a collection centerpiece. It's wonderfully display-worthy while remaining fun to pose and make "pew-pew" noises with when no one is looking.
The aim of this toy was to capture the original 1980s character model in robot mode while still maintaining a coherent vehicle form. It isn't quite flawless, but it's impressively close. Given the iconic nature of the character and this design, I'd have a hard time choosing anything else if I were only going to have one Transformer toy.
Whoo, third store exclusive in a row! The release history of the initial few Transformers: Prime toys is quite tedious. The TL:DR version: fans wanted them, they appeared to be cancelled in the US, fans complained, and Toys R Us released them as exclusives a year later. Hooray!
With some crisp sculpting and a powerful silhouette, the voyager-class Optimus from that assortment cuts an impressive figure. He wasn't particularly exciting in the cartoon, but he did at least look cool, even with several of the oddities that some fans couldn't get behind, i.e. a nose-less face and oddly long arms.
This is potentially an odd choice (and people have responded negatively to it thus far) but hear me out! When I saw the initial images of this toy, I wasn't feeling it. I don't even like the design as much as the one from War for Cybertron, the game prior to the one this toy promotes. Regardless, I gave in during a sale and I totally fell for the thing.
It's a little shorter than most would like and the details are a little soft, but the articulation can make you forget you ever cared about such things. When combined with the crazy forward-swept chest, you can get all sorts of dynamic poses out of this figure. Poses for days, son!
FoC Prime is the sort of "desk toy" that ultimately ends up keeping you from your work. My initial impression couldn't have been more wrong.
Ok, enough! That's 10! Notice that the list is specifically titled "10 of the best." There have been plenty of other worthwhile Optimus toys. I didn't even get into those that were only released internationally or outside of the main toylines! Let me sate a few of you who might be screaming at me with a small list of honorable mentions:
- Generation 1 Optimus: The 1984 classic. It's not particularly amazing as a toy but it's still absolutely beautiful to look at.
- Armada Super-Con Optimus: The larger Armada Optimus release was a gimmicky mess, but the deluxe version kept it simple, resulting in what might be the most solid release of the entire toyline.
- 20th Anniversary Optimus: The original Masterpiece Optimus is a bit cumbersome compared to the second version, but it still looks damn good on display.
- Generations War for Cybertron Optimus: This is a large and well sculpted deluxe figure with an awesome design and intricate engineering. I just don't find it as fun as the FoC version.
- Generations Orion Pax: While not technically an Optimus toy, this recent deluxe toy turned out much more impressive than people initially expected given early size and pricing complaints.
I could go on and on! It's all a matter of taste of course, but I'm very impressed with how many awesome Optimus Prime toys have been released over the years. No matter what's done with him in comics, cartoons, and movies, I love the basic design and I always have.
Many fans are beyond tired of seeing the same characters reused over and over, but I still dig checking out what the creative team does to breathe new life into them every year or so. In the case of Optimus Prime, I sincerely believe that it has given collectors and Transformers fans some of the most bad-ass toys around.