If your familiarity with Transformers hero Optimus Prime begins and ends with Michael Bay, then you know that he is a giant robot who turns into a truck and fights other, more evil robots, occasionally while riding a mechanical dinosaur.
But Optimus has been around for just over 30 years, and he has abilities far beyond mere shapeshifting and Grimlock wrangling. He has appeared in a half dozen distinct “branches” of the property, each with its own take on car-bots, but the leader of the Autobots, like the ninja persona of South Park‘s Eric Cartman, has lots and lots of powers. Prime just doesn’t wield all of them in every incarnation.
Here are 15 bizarre and lesser known abilities that we kind of hope end up in future Transformers movies, if only because that’s the only way they could be any more insane. So if Michael Bay is reading this: First of all, we still love The Rock. But mostly, these options are available to you.
15. laser axe hand
The second episode of the original Transformers contains one of the series’ most baffling moments: Optimus Prime and his foe Megatron are battling on a crumbling dam and exchanging the kind of head-scratching dialogue that ’80s, episode-length toy commercials were known for.
“You destroy everything you touch, Megatron!” Optimus exclaims.
“Because everything I touch is food!” the evil robot replies. “Food for my hunger … my hunger for power!”
“No!” the first says. “I’m going to end your hunger once and for all!”
First, notice that Optimus just totally goes along with Megatron’s crazy food metaphor and lets him set the direction of the banter, and that’s just a rookie mistake. None of that matters because at the end of his first line, the Autobot’s hand retracts, and a glowing axe made of energy replaces it. And once you see that, the two enemies could be swapping dirty jokes about penguins for all the sense that scene makes anymore.
For his part, Megatron produces a laser mace, and that’s the last thing we remember before our brains melted.
We’re including this one first because it was apparently iconic enough for Hasbro to include in several Optimus toys, but if you didn’t see the one episode in which he uses this ability, you might think those figures are just holding the axe.
14. Energy blasts from out his eyes
We don’t know if this was some kind of a play on “headlights,” but the original cartoon version of Optimus Prime could shoot solid beams of light out of his eyes like Scott Summers from the X-Men. He didn’t quite have Cyclops’ range, however, so we don’t think he was in danger of blowing any schools in half. But we’ll probably never know because he is a giant robot and unable to fit inside of our human buildings.
Anyway, in a later, way less evenly matched rematch against Megatron, Optimus takes advantage of the Decepticon leader’s depleted power (from fighting all of the other Autobots) to punch him repeatedly and throw him off a cliff. And then, because mere metal fists are not enough to humiliate his nemesis, Prime picks him up and gives him a close-range burst of optic lasers to the face.
This is another of those powers that Prime apparently saves for special occasions because it doesn’t happen that often. We like to think that every Transformer gets one of these, and they have to make it count.
You wouldn’t think that a robot who turns into a semi would need, want, or be able to fly, but the Transformers universe never met an Autobot or Decepticon it didn’t want to throw more parts on.
Normally, the shows save that flying nonsense for the ‘bots that could turn into jets (or random other ones, with neither reason nor explanation), but computer-animated series Transformers: Prime grants its hero mad flying powers after the ancient and powerful Forge of Solus Prime rebuilds and upgrades his body after he almost robo-dies. Megatron is as surprised as anyone to see his foe airborne, but he only has about five seconds to come to terms with it before Optimus lands and punches him right in his mean face.
This leads to a cool action scene that puts the newly jetpack’d Prime in a dogfight with Megatron, whose vehicle form is a fighter jet. It ends with the good guy somehow whirling the villain discus-style in mid-air — even though that’s ridiculous and impossible — and then flinging him into a vulnerable point of his own fortress, Darkmount. Megatron’s body shorts out the outpost’s weapons, leaving it vulnerable to puny human missiles that quickly bring the entire structure down.
12. Turning into a fire engine
If you thought the only variety in Prime’s vehicle form is whether he becomes a long- or flat-nose semi truck, we have either the best news you’ve ever received about Optimus Prime or the dumbest thing you’ve read since that part just now when we mentioned that he flung Megatron like an Olympic hammer thrower even though neither of them was touching the ground.
2001 anime series Transformers: Robots in Disguise — which came out in Japan under the more on-the-nose title Car Robots — takes place in major cities like Tokyo and New York, and it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to have a semi rolling around there. That business was fine when most of the action took place in the desert like in the first show, but if a robot is going to blend in as a vehicle before suddenly becoming a robot again to fight mechanical animals and giant hands, context is important.
11. Blizzard Storm
Volcanoes are the planet’s way of saying, “Shut up; I’m working.” And when one’s going off, people don’t have much to do but stay out of the way and take insane, apocalyptic videos.
The aptly named Robots in Disguise episode “Volcano” has the Decepticons setting an eruption while trying to tap a fire mountain for its energy. This puts some bystanders in danger, and Optimus tries to put an end to all of the fighting long enough to help. But megalomaniacal murderbots are, by their very nature, unconcerned with human lives, so Megatron turns down the Autobot’s request. Optimus sends his crew off to distract the bad guys, and then things get weird.
While our universe hasn’t decided how to prevent mountains from losing their minds, the sci-fi genre is pretty sure that all you have to do to counteract the immense pressure that’s throwing molten rock into the air is to make the mountain really cold. Star Trek: Into Darkness pulls this stunt with its idiotic “cold fusion bomb,” and Optimus Prime does the same with his Blizzard Storm attack, which is exactly what it sounds like and turns the ladder part of his vehicle body into a massive, shoulder-mounted cannon.
10. Power Stream
That ladder has several other attacks which make varying levels of sense. It fires missiles out of its top — as opposed to the front, where most other weapons expend ammo. But Optimus Prime is not like most sentient beings.
More logical is the add-on’s Power Stream move, which fires dual water jets so powerful that they can … make Decepticons really scared. But we’re sure it would totally do some damage if it connected. We’re less sure where that water comes from, since it’s not connected to any kind of tank or external source, and all of those missiles have to take up most of the thing’s internal storage. But as with most elements of the Transformers series in all of its different versions, we’re inclined to just go along with it. The alternative is not being able to enjoy a series of epic battles between talking, shapeshifting robots, and what kind of life would that be?
9. Gyro Strike
Yes, most of our entries are going to be about Robots in Disguise, but that show is super weird.
Anime uses every part of the giant robot, so the creators of RiD don’t let any of Optimus’ car bits go to waste once he assumes his true form. Whereas other Autobots are content to just tuck their wheels off to the side until they need to roll out once again, their leader keeps his handy for tactical purposes.
During one fight with a bunch of his enemies, Optimus amps up and starts running at “penultimate power,” which means that he’s more than capable of taking on a full crew of baddies. So where was that when Megatron was destroying you with that hurricane thing, Prime? Regardless, he unleashes a devastating series of attacks that include missiles, lasers, and, yes, the Gyro Strike, which involves spinning up his leg-wheels to incredible speed and then just kind of slamming them into his enemy.
8. Super Fire Convoy form
Like his American counterpart, the Robots in Disguise version of Optimus Prime transforms in two sections. And that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a fire engine, but we’re willing to let this one slide. The front section of the truck turns into Optimus himself, and the back is full of back-up gear and weapons like the fire/ladder assembly that lets him do that weird Blizzard Storm thing.
But in extreme, awesome circumstances, Optimus can equip all of that stuff to become his final form, Super Fire Convoy (“Fire Convoy” is OP’s anime name, even though he is but one truck). In the Japanese version, he does this with a cry of “Kyodai gattai!” That means “Transform to make bigger!” or “I am crying!” depending on who is doing the translating. The English version has him just shouting, “Optimize!” which is a pretty good gag but not as cool. But the main thing is that he gets a lot of super-cool new armor that can do way more damage.
7. Flying fist attack
In the debut episode of Robots in Disguise, Optimus tries to take on Megatron and his gang of beast-bots on his own. This doesn’t work out very well, and the villain uses his Hurricane Shockwave attack to incapacitate the Autobot leader. The series’ obligatory child sidekick, Koji, whom Optimus has callously taken right into the middle of a huge battle, comes to the rescue.
He jumps up on a rock and tells Megatron that he’s a “big punk,” a bully, and a loser, which bruises the villain’s ego long enough for Optimus to recover. The hero remotely activates the gear in the other half of his truck to unleash his Flying Fist Attack, which involves using the ladder as a cannon to launch one of his super-mitts like a missile.
“You’ll find it packs quite a punch!” Optimus yells, confirming that no situation is too dire to skimp on puns.
The projectile strikes Megatron and then hilariously drops to the ground. It doesn’t even seem to do that much damage, but it was apparently enough for the evil robot to decide that this is not a fight he can win. He transforms into his jet mode and takes off. Optimus calls this “a wise decision,” even though anyone who was watching knows that he had totally lost that fight.
6. Combining with three other robots for the most super mode possible
We’ve already seen one of the many Optimus Primes’ “Super Modes” when he transforms to make bigger as Super Fire Convoy in Robots in Disguise. But the creators of 2002’s Transformers: Armada didn’t think it was enough for the hero to just join up with his truck body to get bigger; they had to bring in two other Autobots. Obviously, that would make this Super Mode
sell three times as many toys three times cooler.
This Optimus can also combine with his trailer to make a bigger robot, but he can also gain additional powers and abilities by calling in some help. This starts with Sparkplug, Optimus’ tiny Mini-Con buddy, who grants additional firepower. The Autobots’ second-in-command, Jetfire, becomes the boss’ new legs to create the airborne “Jet Optimus,” and Overload can join the party by hopping up on Prime’s shoulders to give him even bigger cannons.
The Japanese versions of Armada call these configurations “Jet Convoy” and “Magna Jet Convoy,” and that’s a way better use of “convoy” than the anime series was throwing around so carelessly.
5. Hand tools …
At the start of Transformers: Animated, Optimus works on a maintenance crew and has never heard of Earth or people. He and his cohorts, therefore, have abilities designed to aid them in clearing space debris and other, non-fighting tasks.
His main tool in this endeavor is a huge axe — probably a callback to that ridiculous laser weapon from the original series — but he has a few other tricks up his sleeve. We’d mean that literally if the Transformers didn’t just run around shiny and naked all the time, but nobody makes shirts their size. The ‘bots access their tools by retracting their hands and then just kind of automatically picking whichever thing they want to use. Some of them have grappling hooks (more on those below), and others have rock-busting lasers.
Optimus’ toolset includes enemy-tripping bolas and a cargo net that we’re not sure belongs in construction or maintenance, but it comes in useful, anyway. It’s almost like the show knows that he’s not going to spend the whole time doing road work.
4. … and hand guns
The makers of Transformers: Prime apparently thought that all of those tools were a waste of a perfectly good soldier-bot, and they also didn’t understand why a giant, sentient machine that could change his body shape at will would even need to carry separate weapons. And we’re with them on that second point, now that we think of it. And we agree even more considering all of that bulky stuff he has to lug around in Robots in Disguise.
Instead, Prime‘s … Prime just morphs his hands into his blasters and guns. It’s a pretty elegant solution, really, and we wonder why it took so many different incarnations of the series for animators to make this happen. We’re glad it did, though, because now, the idea of a robot having to carry weapons just reminds us of that scene in James Cameron’s Avatar in which the exo-suit pulls a knife.
3. Spider-Man swing lines
The series probably call these features “grapple lines” or something, but we know what we’d do if we had super-strong cables with little grabby claws on the end that we could shoot out of our wrists.
Optimus Prime uses this feature in the premiere of Transformers: Animated to reach a control panel that’s temporarily out of reach on account of Megatron strangling him and stuff. The switch turns off Optimus’ ship’s artificial gravity and reducing Megatron’s ability to continue beating him to death. We suppose that this is a pretty good use of the swing lines, too. And now that we think about it, it’s likely safer than trying to find a structure that can support the weight and angular momentum of a nine-ton robot.
Cartoon logic dictates that things work however the writers want them to, though, so Optimus doesn’t have any trouble there. And we’re really happy that it worked out for him because we’d be pretty bummed if we had grappling hooks and couldn’t use them.
2. The transformation hat trick
Transformers: Rescue Bots has more episodes than any other series in the franchise. It’s also the most obviously geared toward children, as the character designs look straight out of the Little Tikes catalog. Seriously, they look like My First Transformers.
Regardless, the show counts, and the producers even claim it shares continuity with Armada. But it takes place almost entirely on a remote island, so it could just as easily share continuity with Gilmore Girls. And those scenes that do not happen on that island occur on an even more secluded landmass close by.
In the episode “Land Before Prime,” the youthful Rescue Bots — whom Optimus Prime has assigned to additional training before they go taking on Decepticons — travel to nearby Wayward Island to investigate the small matter of the dinosaurs who live there. The “kids” all get stuck in a tar pit, so Optimus decides he should step in and bail them out. But the dinosaurs don’t like how his face looks, so he scans his fallen robot-dinosaur buddy Trex to relate to the inhospitable lizard-folk and gains a new, rare ability: the power to assume not one extra form, but two. This makes him a Triple Changer, and while he says he’s not sure how this will affect him, no issues ever arise from his new abilities.
The Transformers series is complicated enough without multiple, unrelated series sharing titles, but that doesn’t stop the 2015 sequel to Prime from yanking its name from the American version of the 2001 animated series. And it only gets more convoluted from there.
At the end of Transformers: Prime, Optimus decides that he’s unfit to lead his team and exiles himself. By the time the second Robots in Disguise begins, nobody knows what has happened to him, and the rest of the Autobots have returned to their home planet of Cybertron to start less punch-filled lives. But series hero Bumblebee isn’t done with his old leader, and he starts to see him in visions. It would be a little sad or creepy if Optimus weren’t actually trying to tell him that he and his friends are needed on Earth. But for whatever reason, the old Prime can’t deliver this message in person, so he appears in reflections and the like.
In the second part of the series pilot, Optimus manages to appear in person, temporarily, when he shows up just in time to save one of the Autobot’s human allies from the metal-munching Decepticon, Underbite. He’s there just long enough to do that and deliver one of his trademark speeches before he phases mysteriously out of existence again.
He mentions that he’s not sure if he’s alive or dead, but no installment has managed to kill Optimus Prime off for good yet, so he comes back in full force soon after. Regardless, his ability to somehow Kenobi himself to where and when Bumblebee needs him is a pretty neat trick, especially for a robot.