Optimus Prime has died many times. It’s like a rite of passage. Every generation of Transformers fan has a story about their Prime dying. Usually, it’s done to bring in new characters (and therefore, new toys) or to bring him back into a new body (and therefore, a new toy). Back in the early years, those first deaths were dramatic and affecting. Now, they’re every bit the rite of passage for Prime as it is the fans. It’s just something he does. It’s a character trait—a quirk.
His deaths have affected kids, but also the Transformers themselves. Autobots (and oddly, some Decepticons) can be struck by a psychological condition called Primus Apotheosis. It’s an overriding desire to emulate Optimus Prime in some ways rather minor, like changing your looks, to more committed ways, like sacrificing yourself. So, yeah, Prime’s nobility can inspire them to die. It’s a special kind of legacy.
At this point, it doesn’t even seem like either Autobots or Decepticons react to his death anymore. On a meta level, it’s like they know he’s just going to come back eventually. Also, considering how quick the turnaround is these days, it’s doubtful that the Autobots even give him a funeral. They just put the “Days Without a Prime Death” chart back to zero.
We couldn’t mention every single one of Optimus Prime’s deaths because this is a list, not Margaret Hamilton’s NASA software code. Instead, we cherry-picked the best, the worst, and the infamous 15 Times Optimus Prime Died.
15. “Transform and Roll Out”: Transformers Animated
Not one of Optimus Prime’s better deaths, but certainly his most efficient. Starscream loses his patience with Prime over a game of Keep Away (it’s a kid-friendly show, what do you want?), Starscream repeatedly shoots Optimus, and they fight over the AllSpark. It blasts them both, knocking out Starscream and ripping Optimus apart.
The Autobot leader dies (even turning black!) and suddenly, these new fans know what it was like growing up when Transformers: The Movie came out…for just over one minute. Sari Sumdac, one of the least obnoxious human characters in the franchise, shows up and uses the AllSpark (which just killed him) to bring Optimus Prime back.
The death is a serious moment in a silly show, and it was reasonably well handled, despite its brevity. If anything, it lets kids know that there are consequences to war. Then, of course, they also learn that all you need is a MacGuffin to bring you back to life.
14. Transformers Prime
Optimus died a few times in Transformers Prime, likely to desensitize kids to the trope. It’s good to learn early. Each of Prime’s deaths are heroic, but they’re made less effective because of how brief they are. At the same time, both deaths and resurrections hit all the major key points. He dies nobly to save his friends, he turns black, sad music plays, and he returns in a new body so new toys can be sold. Everyone’s a winner! Transformers Prime offers the cliff notes version of Optimus’ heroism and Transformers history.
While the content is derivative–or an homage, if you want to be kind–Prime does give us the long awaited Optimus vs. Unicron showdown that we were denied in the 1986 movie. (You could say we got it in the Unicron Trilogy, but the less said about those shows, the better.) Prime offered us the battle we wanted and delivered fitting ends for both Unicron and Optimus Prime, both of whom love to get resurrected time and again. Of course, Prime came back yet again, because, well, the clichés must be served.
13. The Michael Bay Movies
If there’s one thing Michael Bay has, it’s a formula. Of the five Bay-directed films, Optimus Prime has “died” in four of them. In Revenge of the Fallen, Optimus is given a brutal death (we think, it’s hard to tell), only to get resurrected by a sock full of sand. Please take note that this franchise has earned more than three billion dollars.
In Dark of the Moon, Optimus faked his death for tax purposes to fool Sentinel Prime and Megatron. In Age of Extinction, our hero started out the movie dead (efficiency!), having been killed by human military forces that were sick of the whole Autobot/Decepticon war. Optimus was quickly resurrected by Mark Walhberg and a car battery. The Last Knight has not yet been released, but we do know that the movie begins with Prime’s dead body drifting out in space. This is the mafia equivalent of sleeping with the fishes.
Transformers has always abused the dead-Optimus thing, but, even for Michael Bay, this is excessive. Does it matter that he dies? Does it matter that he comes back? At this point, we’re gonna go with no.
12. Robots in Disguise (2015 cartoon)
If you haven’t noticed, we here at Screen Rant appreciate an efficient Optimus Prime death and resurrection. Of all the items on this list, Prime’s death in the Robots in Disguise cartoon is the most efficient. In order to get the necessary death out of the way, Optimus begins the series off as a corpse who is haunting Bumblebee from beyond the grave (as friends often do). This was actually pretty clever. It allowed the series to introduce the familiar lore but take a different route in getting there. The Autobots still go to Earth, the Decepticons are still evil, but by changing the order in which things happen, it allows for some much-needed focus on secondary characters, while giving a build-up to Prime’s eventual return—making him seem even more mythic than he already is upon his resurrection.
He’s given a new body (TOYS!) that is either incredibly patriotic or based on a Pepsi can. Prime and Megatronus have a mediocre battle and the day is saved. Like certain other Transformers shows, Robots in Disguise was very good at building up to an anticlimax.
11. “Birth of the Fantastic Double Prime” Transformers: Headmasters
Headmasters was the Japanese continuation of the ’80s G1 cartoon. Like their American counterparts, Japanese children didn’t take the death of Optimus Prime well, and were glad to have him back following “The Return of Optimus Prime.” But Takara, the license owner, didn’t agree. They wanted to continue churning out new toys, so three episodes after his return, Optimus Prime died again. How awful do you think those kids felt?
On the whole, Headmasters was much better at integrating old and new Transformers in their stories, but Optimus is something different. Not only did he mean more to kids, he was also much more expensive of a toy…which was now useless. Again.
Prime merged with Vector Sigma to keep Cybertron from exploding. Rodimus Prime became the leader again, though a few episodes later, Cybertron was destroyed anyway, rendering Optimus Prime’s latest death meaningless and proving how awful Rodimus is as a leader.
10. The “Non-Deaths” in IDW
The IDW comics have teased Optimus Prime’s death repeatedly. From the early Simon Furman issues where Prime had a near death experience (another classic trope) to All Hail Megatron when he was in stasis lock for most of the series, to the one-shot called The Death of Optimus Prime, which contained his metaphorical death. In the latter, he returned the Matrix, reverted to Orion Pax, and left Cybertron following the end of the war. IDW’s decision to not kill Prime off subverts the trope, but in their consistent use of having him “near death,” “badly damaged,” or “on a philosophical journey” are also well-worn roads in Transformers lore.
The attempts are obvious enough: they get to keep Optimus Prime off the field for a while, give other robots in disguise the spotlight, and build up anticipation for his return. The only problem is the frequency and duration with which they’ve resorted to this. However, with the Optimus Prime ongoing solo series, it looks like IDW has found a balance.
9. Optimus Primal in Beast Wars/Machines
Even Optimus Prime’s descendants aren’t safe from the temporary grasp of the Grim Reaper. (Though, whether Optimus Primal is a descendant or suffering from the apotheosis is never confirmed.) Primal died twice—once for each series he was a protagonist.
In Beast Wars, Primal accidentally sacrificed himself to destroy the Vok planet killer weapon. Megatron hacked the pod he was traveling in and made sure he went down the with the ship. By the end of the following three episode arc, Primal returned with a new body that probably made your local toy store a bundle.
In Beast Machines, Primal (now a religious fundamentalist because that’s not at all uncomfortable or bizarre) dies to turn Cybertron into a technorganic rainforest thing. Yeah, it’s not a great reason, but it was heroically present. Given that this was the end of the saga, Primal stayed dead—unless you count the Beast Wars Reborn comics, where they were resurrected as amnesiacs by the Vok sometime later. Two deaths and two resurrections. He’s a Prime, all right.
8. Orion Pax and a Long Nap (G1 cartoon)
In “War Dawn,” a second season episode of the old G1 cartoon, we learn the story of dockworker Orion Pax, his girlfriend Ariel, and his best buddy Dion. In the beginning, before the war really exploded, Pax admired the Decepticons; they took charge and they could fly. Then, Megatron killed his friends and shot him in the gut. That usually does change your opinion on some people. Ariel was rebuilt into Elita-One, Dion wasn’t rebuilt into Ultra Magnus, and Orion Pax became Optimus Prime. Without that first death, there wouldn’t have been an Optimus Prime. All kinds of things would’ve been different. Maybe Megatron would have overrun Cybertron. Maybe Wheelie would be the leader of the Autobots.
Then, there’s Optimus Prime’s power nap. When the Ark and the Nemesis crash landed on Earth, the Autobots and Decepticons went into stasis lock for four million years until, in 1984, Mount St. Helen erupted, waking everyone up. Imagine Prime explaining that to the remaining soldiers on Cybertron: “No, you don’t understand. I wasn’t dead. I was asleep!” Top-notch leadership, big red. Without that nap, Cybertron never would have recovered. The Autobots would have no Matrix, and without the Matrix, Unicron would’ve won.
7. Afterdeath (Marvel G1 Comics)
People don’t really give The Transformers credit for being as absolutely insane as it is. A robot shark once fought a robot ape in outer space. The Decepticons opened hypnotic nightclubs and car washes. The Beast Wars Megatron has a rubber ducky. There’s a country called Carbombya, ghost robots, mermaids and Stan Bush.
Needless to say, Optimus Prime’s first death was everything it needed to be. Both sides fought it out in a VR computer game, where the leader of the losing army must die. Megatron uses cheat codes to survive, but Optimus ends up winning—at the cost of the in-game computer characters. Prime feels he’s sacrificed his principles by letting the entirely non-sentient computer people die. He then tells Ethan Zachary, the programmer, to kill him. Prime dies, but Zachary saved his entire personality, memories, and programming on a floppy disk. A year later, Prime returned in a new body: Powermaster Optimus Prime, which, yes, does sound like a gimmicky adult-themed toy.
Here, you have all of Prime death/resurrection tropes in their original form and a magnificent helping of ’80s futurism and insanity: everything that The Transformers is built upon is on display in “Afterdeath.”
6. The Agenda, Pt. 3 (Beast Wars)
Beast Wars’ version of Megatron is the Bret Hart of Transformers: the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. Megs successfully takes over the Ark, where his Autobot and Decepticon ancestors sleep in stasis lock. The sleeping Optimus Prime is killed by Megatron’s awesome speech (followed by a fusion cannon shot, incidentally), causing a time storm that affects all of galactic history. While the Maximals eventually undid the damage he’d done, the effect of it is telling. No one figure has directly or indirectly affected the universe more than Optimus Prime.
The alternate universe one-shot Dawn of the Predacus details the brutal future where Optimus Prime died in the Ark, highlighting not only how devious Megs is, but how much everything relied on Prime’s survival. Without him, the Decepticons would rule Cybertron, and the Maximals—Autobot descendants—would all cease to exist. The Decepticons ravaged half the galaxy and Cybertron itself looked like Detroit. According to Prime, freedom is the right of all sentient beings—provided he’s actually there to help them.
5. “War to End all Wars” Transformers: Regeneration One
Regeneration One is the end of the original Marvel Transformers series that was canceled twenty years prior. Written by legendary Transformers scribe Simon Furman, you knew there’d be a hefty body count. The Dark Entity took control of Optimus Prime and created three alternate evil versions to attack Rodimus Prime and steal the Matrix. It takes a combined effort of a dozen Rodimus Prime from the Multiverse to defeat the evil Optimuses…Optimi? Whatever. Look, point is, Optimus Prime is generally stronger and better, and even while evil, he’s able to sacrifice himself for the great good. He gives Rodimus Prime a way to stop the Dark Entity, and then dies (as per usual) after making sure the Entity had no way out of its dimensional prison.
Regeneration One had a number of plot and pacing problems, but it managed to create the largest possible threat for the Autobots to face and for the original version of Optimus Prime from that old Marvel comic to have one last chance to die for our sins save the universe.
4. “A Rage in Heaven” Transformers Generation 2
Generation 2 didn’t last very long, but it sure knew how to drop the mic on its way out the door. Yes, Optimus Prime died. Look, it’s in the title of the article, were you expecting any less? Here, an evolutionary off-scouring of the Transformers called The Swarm—a plague-like black mass—is killing off all life. With the combined forces of the Autobots and Decepticons unable to make a difference, Prime fed himself and the Matrix to the Swarm.
The good vibrations or something turned the Swarm good, but at the expense of Prime, the Matrix, and planet Earth (oops). But, hey, the Swarm is good now, so they bring Optimus Prime back and—you guessed it—gave him a new body to futz around in.
Despite the predictability of Prime’s role, the Swarm story was well handled and built with a great tension that was hard to achieve at the time in Transformers comics. The darkness that writer Simon Furman infused into G2 gave the climax a real sense of stakes and scope. While Prime’s latest resurrection wasn’t a surprise, it added a happy ending to a story that badly needed the levity.
3. On the Edge of Extinction/Still Life (Transformers G1 UK)
Yet another Simon Furman story finds the audience getting the showdown we wanted in the first place: Unicron vs. Optimus Prime. While the end of G2 had incredible tension and huge stakes, this story is slightly more important to the lore. The UK Transformers book told different stories, including an entirely different take on the battle for Cybertron against Unicron. While Cybertron crumbles, Optimus Prime infiltrates Unicron’s body and releases the power of the Matrix. The energy released is concentrated wisdom and goodness filled with “terrible, wonderful life.” Naturally, that kind of stuff will make you explode. And it does, killing Unicron and leaving Optimus near death.
He gets to traumatize kids with his broken disfigured face before, with his final words, telling genius Prowl that he’d rather have the brutal and stupid Grimlock take command of the Autobots rather than Prowl himself. Either Prime was delusional, or he really wanted to passive aggressively spite Prowl.
This death mattered in Transformers. It wasn’t Prime’s first death, but it was one of his most heroic, and against the biggest evil that the lore has to offer. Having the two biggest and best kill each other is Biblical in the best way.
2. Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Transformers: The Movie changed the way fans and creators interacted. So many children were traumatized by the death of Optimus Prime that the upcoming GI Joe animated movie had to be changed at the last minute so that Duke was in a coma and not dead; nobody wanted a repeat of the blowback.
It wasn’t even the fact that Prime died that rankled fans so much. It was the way it happened. You know the story: the battle of Autobot City at the beginning of the movie. Optimus vs. Megatron. Hot Rod tries to help but gets Optimus killed. Hot Rod gets promoted and becomes Rodimus Prime and an entire generation resents his very existence because of it.
For fans who didn’t read the comics, this was the first death of Optimus Prime they had to deal with. This is after at least three-quarters of their favorite characters died, letting them know that death comes to everyone and all your toys are now useless.
The feedback was so negative to this that later versions of the movie ended with a narration that Optimus Prime would return; it also forced the TV series writers to write in cameos and resurrect him. Twice.
1. “Dark Awakening”: The Transformers (1986)
This is his best death.
A zombified and evil reprogrammed Optimus Prime leads the entire Autobot armada into a Quintesson trap—scores of Autobots are dying. Optimus and Hot Rod fight. Prime’s arm gets ripped off. Optimus beats Hot Rod silly. Prime’s eye explodes. Finally, the love of his friends and allies allows him to overcome his evil programming and become the noble bot we all remember again. He sacrifices himself to save the armada by flying into the trigger zone, destroying the solar system, and creating a supernova in the process that would become his memorial.
Most importantly, it was somehow a more violent death than in the movie. It’s a hilarious reaction. Yes, this is the way we’re going to make it up to the fans. Bring him back, kill him again—but make it more traumatic.
Of course, depending on the version of the episode you watch, Victor Caroli’s narrator comes on to let you know that Prime would come back again—for real this time—in the poor retconning “Return of Optimus Prime” two-parter.
What are your favorite Optimus Prime deaths? Will this guy ever make it through a storyline in one piece? Sound off in the comments!