Starting in 2007, the Transformers series has managed to spawn six films, including a spin-off feature for the character Bumblebee. With a number of other projects currently in development, it’s clear this series is not ending anytime soon. Just as the Transformers have proven enduringly popular in your local toy aisle, these shapeshifting robots have had a similar longevity in their presence on the silver screen.
However, among the six current Transformers movies, it can be easy to get lost in terms of where certain events fall in the continuity. Not only did these films adapt core parts of previously-established Transformers mythology, but they also created their own lore that introduced the idea of Autobots and Decepticons having a significant impact on human history. This has led to non-linear digressions throughout the various films that take the viewer everywhere from the days of King Arthur to the extinction of dinosaurs and everywhere in between. Bumblebee, the franchise’s most recent installment, takes place in the 1980s, two decades before the original film. The Transformers movies love to jump all around time almost as much as they love giant robots that turn into various forms of transportation. Considering that fact, it can be hard to parse out where exactly each film takes place in time.
In the interest of solving that problem, here is an in-depth guide of how to watch every film in the Transformers series, both chronologically in order of events and by order of release date. Making sense of this franchise’s delightfully absurd lore has never been easier.
The first spin-off in the franchise takes things back to the 1980s, the decade when the Transformers animated series first debuted. Set against the backdrop of 1987, this film sees Bumblebee crashing to Earth and meeting human teenager Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). The two become unlikely friends as Charlie learns to move past the death of her biological father and Bumblebee learns to become the protector of Earth that Optimus Prime believed he could be.
Unlike the rest of the movies in the series, Bumblebee never breaks away for digressions into other time periods. This includes both the films ending and mid-credits scene, in which Bumblebee parts ways with Charlie and reunites with the newly arrived Optimus Prime.
The notable presence of a 2006 Chevrolet Camaro, eBay, and a stand-in for then-President George W. Bush all factor into the runtime of Transformers. The movie absolutely wants you to know it takes place squarely in the year 2007, twenty years after Bumblebee. We’re introduced to nerdy high school student Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), the protagonist of the first three Transformers films, as he, Mikela Banes (Megan Fox), and a handful of friendly Autobots try to track down the powerful AllSpark. It turns out the AllSpark’s location was accidentally engraved onto a pair of glasses belonging to Witwicky’s grandfather by a frozen Megatron. The journey culminates in a battle in Mission City that leaves the AllSpark reduced to a shard and Megatron defeated.
Even with all of this to juggle, the story does make time for brief digressions to the year 1897 to depict a fateful arctic encounter involving Megatron as well as footage of the supposedly lost Beagle 2 Mars Rover having a run-in with a Decepticons in December 2003.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Revenge of the Fallen is set against the landscape of 2009, which means you can look forward to references to the Global Recession of 2007 as well as brief news footage of President Obama. Set two years after the original film, Sam Witwicky is now heading off to college. However, his academic pursuits become jeopardized after he touches a shard of the AllSpark and starts behaving erratically. Meanwhile, the resurrection of Megatron has allowed the sinister plans of an archvillain Decepticon known as The Fallen to move forward. These plans somehow involve the Giza Pyramids, meaning we’re going to get a thrilling showdown set against a backdrop of antiquity.
Before all of that mayhem, though, Revenge of the Fallen opens with a prologue set on Earth in 17,000 B.C. This scene depicts a group of Transformers building a Star Harvester, a machine that will be utilized in the film’s climax. While they’re doing this, the robots are discovered by cavemen, cuing up the first (but far from the last) violent encounter between man and machine.
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Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Transformers: Dark of the Moon takes place three years after the events of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Sam Whitwicky has finished college and is now looking for a job. Despite saving the world on two separate occasions, he’s somehow finding it difficult to hang on to steady employment. At the same time, Sam is also dealing with his new girlfriend, Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whitley), and a new plan by the Decepticons to essentially bring Cybertron to Earth, effectively destroying the planet. The climax involves a full-scale attack on Chicago, with the Autobots racing in to thwart the invasion after briefly being banished from Earth. Meanwhile, Sam has to save Carly from her villainous boss, Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey), who has fallen in with the Decepticons.
Like its predecessor, Dark of the Moon kicks its story off with a prologue set in the distant past. This time, the Space Race of the 1960s is the focus, with the film revealing that the Moon was actually the secret crash site of an Autobot ship called The Ark. This digression to the past involves a whole slew of historical figures including John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, and Buzz Aldrin, the latter figure making an appearance as himself to help explain the conspiracy.
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Transformers: Age of Extinction picks up the action five years after Transformers: Dark of the Moon. With that time jump comes a new protagonist. Say goodbye to Sam Witwicky and say hello to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a single Texas dad with an inexplicable thick Boston accent. He, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) get swept up in a new Transformers adventure after Yeager stumbles on a hibernating Optimus Prime. Once the Autobot leader awakens, he and the three humans reunite with the few remaining Autobots to face a new foe. CIA operative Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) has joined forces with a robotic bounty hunter named to wipe out all the Transformers. Yeager and the Autobots face off against Lockdown and a resurrected Megatron (now called Galvatron) in Hong Kong. This battle eventually involves the Dinobots and concludes with Prime heading off into space to challenge his creators.
Even with so many new characters and storylines to juggle, Age of Extinction still makes time for an extended prologue set deep in the past. This time around, viewers are lurched millions of years into prehistory to show that The Creators, the aliens responsible for making the Transformers, were also the ones who wiped out the dinosaurs.
Transformers: The Last Knight
After a bonkers prologue establishing how the Transformers were essential allies to King Arthur, Transformers: The Last Knight flashes forward to an era set relatively close to the present and set an unspecified amount of time after Transformers: Age of Extinction. Yeager is now helping Autobot refugees in his junkyard while Optimus Prime, lost in space on a hunt for his creators, is captured by the nefarious Quintessa (Gemma Chan) and turned evil. Soon, Prime and Yeagar are competing in a race against time to secure an ancient sword, which Prime intends to use to revive Cybertron, destroying Earth in the process.
While on a quest to save the day, Yeager and new love interest Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) discover an organization led by Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) dedicated to protecting the secret that Transformers were involved in every significant event in human history. Though we are told that the shapeshifting robots were involved in everything from the Underground Railroad to the life of William Shakespeare, the only instance of this phenomenon the audiences get to see is a brief flashback depicting Bumblebee fighting alongside Allied forces in World War II.
The live-action Transformers movies jump all over time to flesh out their ludicrously dense lore, but the events are more or less a continuous narrative. Here’s how to watch the series by order of release date.
Transformers – July 3, 2007
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – June 24, 2009
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – June 29, 2011
Transformers: Age of Extinction – June 27, 2014
Transformers: The Last Knight – June 21, 2021
Bumblebee – December 21, 2018
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