Since the dawn of the Transformers in 1984, the spunky little Autobot called Bumblebee has been a fan favorite. Why? He was the underdog. He was small, and he was one of the weaker Transformers, but his heart was huge and he showed great bravery on the battlefield. As a result, he was an admired and gentle friend not only to humans, but to his peers as well. And it didn’t hurt that his alternate mode was a cute little yellow Volkswagen Beetle.
He’s continued to be lovable through many different continuities, all the way to the current live-action film series. But as much as you love him, there may be a few things you don’t know about him. So let’s take a look at some of his strange real-world facts, storyline goofiness, pop-culture tie-ins and even his relationship to Back to the Future.
Put on your best yellow suit to get in the mood for 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bumblebee.
15 HE’S IN THE TRANSFORMERS HALL OF FAME
There may be two things you didn’t know in this one: 1) Bumblebee is in the Transformers Hall of Fame; and 2) There’s a Transformers Hall of Fame. The shrine to all things Transformers was the brainchild of Hasbro, the American toy company that worked with Japanese toy company Tomy to create the Transformers in 1984. Starting in 2010, they wanted to honor not just popular characters, but also the real people behind the toys, TV shows, comics, and films.
Bumblebee, being the popular character he is, was one of the first five characters inducted into the Hall in 2010, during a ceremony at BotCon; the convention for all things Transformers. He was joined, not surprisingly, by other super-popular transformers: Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, and the Dinobots. Humans enshrined in the Transformers Hall of Fame over the last few years include everyone from director Michael Bay to Peter Cullen (the iconic voice of Optimus).
14 HE MAY BE THE SECOND TRANSFORMER YOU EVER SAW
If you’re a child of the ‘80s and grew up with the original The Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee may have been the second Transformer you ever saw-- in the narrative of the show, anyway. In the first episode, “More Than Meets the Eye,” you would’ve started off by watching the memorable opening sequence. There, you first get a quick glimpse of a group of five Autobots in vehicle mode, including Bumblebee alongside Optimus Prime.
When the narrative begins, we’re taken to Cybertron, where a narrator tells us of the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons, a war fueled by the Decepticons’ desire for total domination. We’re told, “The Autobots, on the verge of extinction, battled valiantly to survive.” Then, two Autobots in robot form climb out from under a grate, armed with a bunch of energy conductor sticks: Wheeljack and Bumblebee. Wheeljack transforms into a Cybertronian vehicle, then Bumblebee loads the sticks inside him. Bumblebee is so relatively small that he remains in robot form and hops inside Wheeljack for a ride, rather than transform himself.
13 HE BECOMES GOLDBUG
One of the taglines of the Transformers universe is “more than meets the eye.” It’s meant to suggest, of course, that these robots are not just robots; they can turn into vehicles and boomboxes and dinosaurs. But some of the characters themselves tend to be more than meets the eye. In fact, they can become other Transformers. Megatron becomes Galvatron, Orion Pax becomes Optimus Prime, and Bumblebee becomes Goldbug.
The Goldbug change happens in many different continuities, but in the original animated series, it happens like this: while trying to rescue the body of the dead Optimus Prime, which was being held by evil humans, Bumblebee’s damaged by Superion so badly that they have to rebuild him as a more powerful Throttlebot. His new body is much shinier, so a restored Optimus Prime dubs him Goldbug. In the Shattered Glass continuity, he goes evil as Goldbug. And in the IDW comics, confusingly, Goldbug was never affiliated with Bumblebee, but is the leader of the Throttlebots.
12 HE HAS AT LEAST EIGHT ALTERNATE MODES
Undeniably, the most iconic of Bumblebee’s alternate modes is his original: the small but always reliable classic yellow Volkswagen Beetle. It was evocative of his personality, always striving to go above and beyond what everyone perceived to be the limits of his size. These days, thanks to the Michael Bay live-action movie franchise, he’s known as a modern Chevrolet Camaro, which looks cool but as a strong muscle car deviates from his personality. At least it’s still yellow? Bay says he didn’t want him to be a Beetle anymore because there was already an iconic movie Beetle: Herbie the Love Bug.
But in between those two most well-known alternate modes, Bumblebee has had at least six others. For the Transformers: Alternity Japanese toy line, he was a yellow Suzuki Swift Sport, which at least is still a small, quirky car. Ditto the AMC Pacer, the form he took when he travelled back in time to the ‘70s in a G.I. Joe vs. The Transformers crossover comic. Somewhat similarly, he’s a Supermini police car in the Transformers Animated series. But then he’s also been a couple of other muscle cars: as the Timelines Deluxe Goldbug toy, he’s a Chrysler ME 412 concept car, and in the Transformers: Prime animated series he can take the form of the fictional Urbana 500 muscle car. Bumblebee also has a number of different Cybertronian vehicle modes.
11 HE INTRODUCED THE WORLD TO THE NEW CAMARO
Bumblebee seems to have finally settled on one mode for the film franchise: the Camaro. Chevrolet had actually stopped producing the Camaro in 2002, after having it in their stable since 1966. It wasn’t without controversy that Bay and company decided to make Bumblebee a Camaro for the first live-action film in 2007, but Chevrolet used the product placement opportunity to help relaunch the brand.
In the movie, he starts out as a 1976 Camaro before modernizing himself. But the 2007 version (the fifth generation of the model) was a concept car-- you couldn’t even buy a new Camaro until 2009. They later switched to the production version for the 2009 sequel Revenge of the Fallen and he was yet another updated model for Dark of the Moon in 2011 (the SS model). In Age of Extinction, he appears both as a 1967 model and another new model of the current version. Finally, back in June, Bay tweeted that in next year’s The Last Knight, Bee would be a custom-built 2016 Camaro. Over the first two years of the relaunch, Chevy sold an astounding 140,000 Camaros and saw a 10% spike in the yellow model, thanks largely to our friend Bumblebee.
10 THE LIVE-ACTION VERSION IS BASED ON MICHAEL J. FOX
In our list of things you didn’t know about Optimus Prime, we learned that the live action version of Optimus was based on actor Liam Neeson. It turns out Michael Bay likes to base his Transformers on real actors, because it’s been revealed that Bumblebee’s character movements are based on Michael J. Fox-- but not just regular old Michael J. Fox; we’re specifically talking about Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies.
Of course, while Bumblebee does a lot of serious action in the films, tumbling and punching and kicking, you don’t see McFly doing a whole lot of that in the Back to the Future films. In fact, McFly doesn’t get up to too much more hard-core physical action, aside from some skateboarding and wailing on the guitar. Nevertheless, Fox does have a distinctly bowlegged gait, and you can see some of that in Bumblebee, and you can maybe see some Fox mannerisms in his more casual interactions with Sam Witwicky.
9 HE’S BEEN KILLED
Bumblebee may be beloved, but so is Optimus Prime and writers have seemingly killed off Optimus a million times in different continuities. So it can’t be too much of a surprise to know that Bee has met his maker on a few occasions as well. In the “Dark Cybertron” storyline of the IDW Generation 1 continuity, Decepticon Shockwave goes mad with power and wants to destroy all Autobots and Decepticons. In the process, Shockwave kills Bumblebee and sets off a chain of events that leads to retribution against Shockwave.
In Transformers vs. G.I. Joe comics, Bumblebee is offed as well. His ship is damaged during a space chase with Starscream, so he lands on Earth where G.I. Joe and Cobra are going at each other (as per usual). But his fatal mistake was helping G.I. Joe favorite Snake Eyes, who was trying to take on Starscream. In the process, Bumblebee got in the Joe-Cobra crossfire and was ripped apart by missiles. This wasn’t a true death, however. First, Starscream took Bee’s head to Megatron, who wore it on a necklace (yes, really), but eventually the head got back to the Autobots, who planted it back on his repaired body and he came back to life.
But despite his comic book deaths, Bumblebee is the only one of the five original Autobots in the live-action film series who has not died.
8 THE MOVIE VERSION HAS 9 DIFFERENT LICENSE PLATES
When you’re a Cybertronian robot-alien who could easily blow any human to bits if you wanted, having a license plate can’t be that important. Really, if you’re in car mode and a cop pulls you over for not having plates, and sees that you also don’t have a driver, and then perhaps sees you turn into a giant robot, what exactly is that cop going to do?
Nevertheless, perhaps just to fit in, Bumblebee has sported a number of different license plates in his live-action film life, including toys and video games related to the film franchise.
In the first movie, when he was the ‘76 Camaro, his plate was 489 PCE. But the plate most associated with him came later in the first two films while in robot mode: 4NZZ454. Some of the associated toys had a misprinted plate that added an extra Z in the middle.
Oddly, he had a different plate in those films when in car mode: 900 STRA. In Dark of the Moon, they finally decided to keep his robot and car mode plates consistent. In robot mode in the Dark of the Moon and Revenge of the Fallen video games, he wears 5BBM2. 5LKZ213 was seen in some set photos of robot mode for the first film. Various models for promotional exhibits have featured KDM 0814, FXPERTS, and, of course, BUMBLBE.
7 HE WAS IN A SIMPSONS COUCH GAG
An absolutely incredible 28 seasons in, The Simpsons writers and producers have had to be unbelievably creative in coming up with a new couch gag for more than 600 episodes. They’ve had a doppleganger Simpsons family walk in on the family, the whole town has absurdly squeezed into their living room, and we’ve toured the inner workings of Homer’s body.
They’ve been invaded by pop culture favorites, too. Robot Chicken turned the couch gag into stop-motion animation, they’ve parodied Breaking Bad and the Game of Thrones opening sequence, and the living room has gone all topsy-turvy M.C. Escher-style. But best of all, for our purposes, was when the five Simpsons drove into the living room as familiar vehicles, then transformed into robo-Simpsons. Baby Maggie was a blue Volkswagen Beetle, clearly as an homage to Bumblebee, despite the odd color choice. Perhaps it was it was switched to match her onesie.
6 HE BECOMES THE AUTOBOT LEADER
Certainly the most iconic, and most common, leader of the Autobots is Optimus Prime. But the thing about Optimus Prime is that he dies... a lot. And every time he dies, someone has to take his place-- until he’s invariably resurrected in one way or another, that is. In many storylines, including the original animated Transformers: The Movie, it’s Hot Rod who takes over as Rodimus Prime.
In some continuities, though, it’s our lovable pal Bee who takes the leadership reigns. In the animated series Transformers: Robots in Disguise, with Optimus having died at the end of the previous series, Bumblebee starts off as the Autobot leader, but he’s apprehensive about it. And he even takes the leadership mantle in the live-action film series; taking over for Optimus, who leaves the Autobots behind to head into space to search for the Seed at the end of the last movie, Age of Extinction.
5 HE CAN SWITCH FROM MOVIE MODE TO GENERATION 1 MODE
We know that despite starting his fictional life as a lovable, horn-headed robot who could turn into a Volkswagen in Generation 1, Bumblebee's most well-known these days as a round-headed robot who turns into a Camaro. In fact, younger viewers might not even realize he was ever anything but the Chevy muscle car. But there’s one quirky continuity where he’s able to switch between original and movie modes at will.
This occurs in a Japanese toy line, animated series, and mobile video game called Q-Transformers. Specifically, the video game is called Q-Transformers: Mystery of Convoy Returns. Both Bumblebee and Optimus Prime are able to switch between their Generation 1 and movie modes in the series and game-- specifically Q-Transformers: Mystery of Convoy Returns. Strangely, though, when he’s in Generation 1 mode, he’s not a Volkswagen but another small, quirky car: a Daihatsu Copen. The show is pretty meta, with the characters being aware that they’re toys and they even talk about the Mystery of Convoy video game that they’re in.
4 HASBRO LOST THE RIGHTS TO HIS NAME IN THE ‘90S
Hasbro has had a bit of a strange relationship with Bumblebee. In the early days (we’re talking mid-’80s) he was hugely popular, both on the TV show and as a toy, and Hasbro was sure to capitalize on that. As a result, there were more different Bumblebee toys during that time and into the early ‘90s than for any other Transformer. Of course, the alternate Goldbug version helped boost the number of toys they could make.
But around the mid-’90s, Hasbro let the trademark for a toy named “Bumblebee” lapse. At that point, the Generation 1 Transformers were almost passé, as they focused on the newfangled Beast Wars and Beast Machines lines. In fact the Unicron Trilogy continuity (mid-2000s) character called Hot Shot was originally going to be called Bumblebee, and in fact had a lot of Bee’s personality traits and yellow color, until they realized they couldn’t use the name. Fortunately, they got it back soon after.
3 HE’S BEEN VOICED BY A POWER RANGER AND A BATMAN
The subject of Bumblebee’s voice is a bit of a complicated matter. Just as he was the second Transformer ever seen on the original TV show, he was also the second to speak and did so in the loud and clear voice of Dan Gilvezan, who voiced him throughout the original series and animated movie. But by the time we get to the first live-action movie, he could only talk via audio clips because, according to a prequel comic, Megatron had destroyed his voice capacitor during a battle on Cybertron.
Of course, many voice actors have voiced him in different TV shows and video games over the years, in both English and Japanese. Most notably by a Power Rangers actor and a Batman voice actor. The latter is Will Friedle, who voiced Bee in the most recent series, Robots in Disguise, plus cameos in Rescue Bots, Transformers Prime, and the Predacons Rising TV movie. Friedle is well known as Batman’s voice in Batman Beyond. As for the Power Ranger, that would be Johnny Yong Bosch, who played Adam Park, the original Black Ranger. Bosch was Bumblebee’s voice in the video game Transformers: War for Cybertron.
2 HE HAD A HUMAN SHELL
This is a weird one. Back in the late-’80s, the original TV show had ended and Marvel Comics decided to take the “transform” part of the property a step further and gave a handful of Transformers an organic, human-looking shell. Bumblebee was one of the lucky Autobots to get one. According to the storyline, the Decepticons developed the technology first, but the Autobots secretly caught wind, made their own human shells, and fooled the bad guys into thinking they were fighting mere humans, until they burst out of their shells.
Bumblebee had many adventures in his bizarre humanoid form. He wound up in the heart of Cybertron to find the resting place of the creator/god of all Transformers, Primus, and learn of their origin as a race. Later, he went on a quest to find the all-powerful Creation Matrix, also known as the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, but stumbled upon the Cybertronian Decepticon commander, Thunderwing, who blasted away Bumblebee’s Pretender shell.
1 HE’S GETTING HIS OWN MOVIE
Summer of 2017 will bring us the fifth Transformers movie, The Last Knight. It’s said that it will be a little different from the previous films; an entry point for new viewers that will help launch a series of spinoffs or stand-alone movies. And the first of those spinoffs is a Bumblebee movie, slated for release in the summer of 2018. At one point, Michael Bay said he would love to make an R-rated, Quentin Tarantino-style movie featuring Bee, but that’s not likely to come to fruition, considering how much kids love the character.
But up first, as we said, is The Last Knight. The teaser trailer was released earlier this month and boy did it tease a doozy: it depicted Optimus Prime and Bumblebee fighting. Yes, the two old pals, mentor and protégé of sorts, were locked in fisticuffs, the Autobot leader giving Bee a sound pounding. There are a number of theories as to what’s going on there, but what we do know is that it promises an intriguing storyline for our favorite yellow robot, and it may well lead directly into the plot of his solo flick.
Do you know of any other quirky bits of Bumblebee trivia? Let us know in the comments.
Transformers: The Last Knight opens in U.S. theaters on June 23, 2017, followed by the Bumblebee spin-off on June 8, 2018, and Transformers 6 on June 28, 2019.