A story is generally only as interesting as its villains. The Transformers franchise has been fortunate enough to have a massive reserve of compelling antagonists. It’s right there in the immortal theme song: “Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons.” An epic, millennia-spanning civil war would be pretty dull and repetitive if there wasn’t something fascinating about the villains and their motivations.
Indeed, an argument can be made that the Decepticons tend to be more interesting, better fleshed-out characters than the Autobots. While in some iterations they’re portrayed as two-dimensional mustache twirlers, more often than not they began as revolutionaries with genuine grievances toward a corrupt government who would eventually lose sight of their original goals through countless years of wanton destruction and shoddy leadership. Their methods are indefensible, but their motivations are surprisingly understandable.
All that said, for every nuanced, iconic Decepticon in the franchise, there are a handful of hilariously inept ones. Be it via burned out comic book writers, lazy character designs, or good old fashioned incompetence, there has never been a shortage of embarrassing Decepticons to tarnish the reputation of the more menacing ones. Here we run down the 10 Best Decepticons (And 5 Lame Ones).
15 BEST: Galvatron
Galvatron is not to be taken lightly. A massively powerful Decepticon, Galvatron is usually portrayed as a dark evolution of the Decepticon leader, Megatron (though not always; the current IDW comics portray him as an ancient Cybertronian warrior who is no less sadistic). The classic G1 iteration of the character was given his power by the massive, moon-crunching planet Transformer, Unicron, in an effort to help that so-called chaos bringer bring the universe to its knees.
When Unicron was ultimately destroyed, Galvatron was thrown through space, ultimately crashing on a planet covered in lava, where his brain was thoroughly fried before his Decepticon minions located him. As if he weren’t terrifying enough, Galvatron’s brain damage resulted in him becoming dangerously unhinged, essentially a schizophrenic with the power to level planets. Megatron tends to get top billing in the pantheon of Decepticon leaders, but he was never as sadistic or unpredictable as his successor… who was also him(?)
14 BEST: Ravage
When your ranks include evil robots who can turn into tanks, space shuttles, and even entire cities, it’s easy to overlook the guys who turn into tape cassettes. It’s a mistake plenty of Autobots have made, to their mortal peril. What he lacks in size and raw power, Ravage more than makes up for in stealth and killer instincts. One of Soundwave’s must trusted cassette soldiers, the robotic jaguar is among the most loyal Decepticons, believing fully in the cause he fights for.
Often utilized for reconnaissance missions, Ravage is fearless. He's always more than willing to infiltrate a target infested with enemy Autobots who would like nothing more than to lock him up like the powerless kitty cat so many mistake him for. He’s also a savvy survivor: the G1 sequel series, Beast Wars, would reveal Ravage was one of the few Decepticons who survived the Great War, and more than 300 years later was still using his wits and cunning to keep Megatron’s tyrannical dream alive.
13 LAMEST: Thunderwing
Thunderwing is a charlatan. An admittedly powerful Decepticon Pretender warrior, Thunderwing has deluded himself into thinking he should be the leader of the Decepticons, and that his destiny holds great, species defining moments. Almost without exception, this ironically blows up in his face every time.
A self-obsessed lunatic, Thunderwing unfailingly becomes transfixed by something he believes will grant him great power. A shallow hypocrite who likes to think of himself as a benevolent, compassionate leader, he’s more than happy to leave his fellow Decepticons in the lurch in pursuit of his obsessions.
When Thunderwing stole the Creation Matrix (the mystical artifact that both grants Transformers life and is prophesied to thwart a great calamity), his influence warped its life-giving powers, turning it into a force of evil and destruction. The corrupted Matrix possessed Thunderwing, and they both disappeared until very late in a battle against Unicron where both Autobots and Decepticons faced extinction. When the Matrix-controlled Thunderwing finally showed up, Unicron swatted him away like a fly. It was a fitting end for a minor player who never knew his place.
12 BEST: Cyclonus
Cyclonus is terrifying. A valedictorian of the “Cool, Silent Warrior” school of bad guy archetypes, the Decepticon’s initial appearance in The Transformers: The Movie is notable for what doesn’t happen: he never speaks a word. After being created from the remnants of a dead Decepticon by Unicron (if you don’t think there is a decades long, heated argument among fans over which dead Decepticon, you do not know Transformers fandom), Cyclonus is utilized as Galvatron’s most ruthless attack dog, single handedly crashing Autobot shuttles and decimating all in his path.
Perhaps the most interesting iteration of the character, however, is the one currently being portrayed in IDW’s Lost Light comics. An incredibly ancient Cybertronian, this is a Cyclonus who never aligned himself with the Decepticons (though he's still a no-nonsense, ruthless warrior), and in a post-war world has found himself on a ship comprised largely of Autobot minor leaguers. His evolution among ostensible enemies (and in particular, his relationship with the diminutive, hopeful Tailgate) has breathed new life into the character.
11 BEST: Laserbeak
Soundwave’s most trusted cassette minion, Laserbeak is a creature of stealth. While Ravage might engage an enemy if necessary, Laserbeak is simply too good at what he does to ever dirty his hands. He’s actually the catalyst for the plot in the very first episode of the G1 animated series; in the opening minutes, Laserbeak is seen spying on Optimus Prime and his lieutenants and hears them discussing an exploratory shuttle mission, as their resources are dwindling. The Decepticons would use that information to board the Autobots’ ship, which crash-landed on Earth and brought their war to humanity’s doorstep.
Laserbeak also initiates what is perhaps the most traumatic moment in all of Transformers lore. In a callback to the series’ first episode, The Transformers: The Movie begins with Laserbeak spying on the Autobots’ moonbase, where he learns a shuttle will soon be departing for Earth. The Decepticons attack the shuttle and gruesomely murder Prowl, Brawn, Ratchet, and Ironhide in what was (at that point) the most graphically violent moment in the franchise by a mile. If you’re an Autobot, you should really keep an eye out for that sneaky little bird; it might save your life.
10 LAMEST: Octopunch
Look, Octopunch is not exactly anyone’s favorite character. Even by the standards of this franchise, his name is ridiculous. He’s a Pretender, meaning the creators had a chance to make his outer shell into something unique and cool… and yet they went with some sort of yellow and purple deep-sea squid diver. He looks like the lamest Aquaman villain of all time.
None of these are exactly high crimes; there are plenty of Transformers with goofy names and ill-advised design aesthetics. No, Octopunch is on this list for one reason; the only reason anyone remembers him at all: he shot God in the face. That is not a metaphor. As he engaged Grimlock and a group of Autobots deep in the bowels of Cybertron, a stray shot from Octopunch’s blaster ricocheted off Grimlock and struck a giant, dormant visage, which turned out to be the face of Primus, the ancient deity that created the Transformers.
Primus’ awakening would lure Unicron back to Cybertron and spark a planet-wide calamity that nearly destroyed every Transformer in existence, all because Octopunch is a lousy shot. It’s quite the legacy he left behind.
9 BEST: Shockwave
There are two prevalent versions of Shockwave. One is the version from the G1 cartoon, who is essentially a very cool looking toady. The one from the G1 comics (and pretty much every other comic book version) is a cold, ruthless reptile. If he’s not overtly attempting to overthrow Megatron (and quite often prevailing), he’s spinning his own complex webs of conspiracy to carry out his personal agenda.
A Decepticon with no intellectual peer, his backstory was recently given tragic context in the pages of IDW’s Lost Light series. Once a personable (if a bit vain) Cybertronian senator before the war began, Shockwave served as something of a mentor to Orion Pax, the Autobot who would one day become Optimus Prime. His trust and generosity were repaid with the savage empurata ritual by the corrupt Cybertronian government, removing his face and hands. Shockwave has been attempting to inflict his own personal torment on the universe ever since.
8 BEST: Tarn
There’s nothing quite as terrifying as a zealot, and there are none more fanatical than Tarn. The leader of the Decepticon Justice Division, Tarn and his brethren are a sadistically specialized unit; they hunt down Decepticons they believe to have violated the Decepticon code of conduct in some way. No matter the level of infraction, the punishment is always the same: brutal execution. For Tarn, there are no half measures; you either fully embrace Megatron’s vision, or you die.
When the war between the Autobots and Decepticons ended in an Autobot victory, Tarn saw no reason to abandon his mission. Indeed, he ramped up his efforts, hunting down deserters and weak links. Even the news that Megatron had defected to the Autobots couldn’t sway Tarn; he was heartbroken, but more determined than ever to keep Megatron’s vision alive… even if that meant killing Megatron himself.
7 LAMEST: Bludgeon
Bludgeon is the poster boy for trying too hard. Imagine being an all-powerful, borderline immortal robot warrior who travels to distant worlds in pursuit of conquest… but still being so insecure you pretend to be a ninja and wear a skull mask over your face. A self-proclaimed master of the ancient Cybertronian martial art known as Metallikato (which seems to largely consist of a neat sword and kicking people a lot), Bludgeon is every ten year old boy’s idea of the sweetest, most kickass bad guy ever. It’s like someone took Wolverine and the Punisher and threw them in a garbage compactor.
Hilariously, Bludgeon was actually the leader of the Decepticons at the end of the Marvel G1 comic. He achieved this high honor pretty much the only way he possibly could: everyone else was dead. When Megatron eventually returned at the beginning of the Generation 2 comic, it was almost sad that Bludgeon pretended as if he was the rightful leader. Megatron killed him pretty much instantly, which was easily the most notable thing that ever happened to Bludgeon.
6 BEST: Overlord
Most Decepticons, on some fundamental level, are scary. They’re gigantic, homicidal alien robots who would happily stomp you to death if you have something they want. Overlord is not just scary: he is a horror movie nightmare. There is essentially no Transformer, Autobot, or Decepticon, who would ever want to cross paths with him.
A genetic freak on multiple levels, Overlord is essentially unkillable. This might only be mildly horrifying if he were any other Decepticon, but Overlord’s sadism transcends the usual parameters of the Cybertronian war. Indeed, Overlord has no particular allegiance to Megatron or the Decepticon cause; he just really, really enjoys murdering people.
By the back half of the war, Megatron had lost control of the psychopathic rogue, who was indulging in his darkest, most twisted fantasies on an Autobot penal colony. It's all chronicled in the acclaimed The Last Stand of the Wreckers comic, arguably the bleakest, most nihilistic story in all of Transformers lore. Overlord is what occupies the nightmares of other Transformers.
5 BEST: Soundwave
Let’s just get this out of the way: on a purely aesthetic level, Soundwave is the coolest Transformer. Along with Optimus Prime, he is the most iconic figure in the franchise. Your grandmother might not remember much about Transformers, but there’s a decent chance she remembers “the tape recorder one.” His “toys within a toy” aspect with his cassette minions made him one of the most popular toys of the original line.
On a character level, Soundwave is an intentional enigma. He doesn’t speak often, but when he does it’s in a synthesized, staccato diction, and generally not much more than a cryptic command or suggestion. Arguably Megatron’s most trusted lieutenant, Soundwave has little patience for the treacherous machinations of some of his less loyal compatriots. His personal motives are generally kept close to the vest, which only adds to his mysterious appeal.
4 LAMEST: Scourge
A fallen Decepticon warrior who was reformatted by Unicron at the same time as Cyclonus, Scourge is in many ways the polar opposite of that aloof warrior. A temperamental, duplicitous moron, Scourge is, at best, a bumbling goon and, at worst, an incompetently treacherous stooge who causes Galvatron as many headaches as any Autobot possibly could.
In one infamous incident, the Decepticons manage to steal the Matrix of Leadership from Rodimus Prime. Galvatron attempts to harness its power, but even he is savvy enough to realize its power is not meant to be used by Decepticons. Scourge, who is tasked with disposing of the Matrix, decides to keep it and insert it into his body like the Autobot leaders do. This results in him being gruesomely mutated and staging a very brief coup-- before Rodimus reclaims the Matrix and Galvatron beats him like a rag doll for attempting such a ridiculous power grab.
Scourge aspired to the traitorous heights of another entry on this list, but he was simply too stupid to ever thrive.
3 BEST: Megatron
Through virtually every iteration of the Transformers franchise, the catalyst for the events of the series begin with a Cybertronian revolutionary who ignites a civil war, be it for ostensibly noble reasons or baldly evil ones. That revolutionary is always Megatron. In many ways, the story of Transformers is more about Megatron than any other character, even Optimus Prime.
The best, most nuanced iteration of the character is currently being spotlighted in the pages of IDW’s G1 books. A young miner who aspires to overthrow a corrupt, murderous Cybertronian government through peaceful protest, Megatron gets an up close and personal lesson in the effectiveness of violence, curdling his idealistic worldview.
Consumed by hatred for his oppressors, Megatron ignites a war that will claim millions of lives across the universe. When the war ends with him on the losing side, he is left to take stock and try to understand how that young miner became history’s greatest monster, if there is any path toward redemption, and if he even wants it.
2 LAMEST: Ratbat
When one thinks of the legendary leaders of the Decepticons, a cavalcade of iconic names comes flooding forward: Megatron, Galvatron, Scorponok, Shockwave… Ratbat? Yes, the D-list Decepticon cassette was, in fact, briefly the Decepticon leader in the G1 comic. You might be wondering what skills Ratbat possessed to ascend to such a prestigious position. Was he some sort of evil genius, creating complicated, ingenious plots to destroy the Autobots? Did he have some secret, destructive power that made him intimidating to his fellow Deceptions? Nope, it was none of that! It turns out he was a really good fuel auditor, which is clearly the most valued skill for an intergalactic warrior general.
Initial Marvel G1 series writer Bob Budiansky has admitted he was essentially burned out by this era of the series, and he penned some truly ridiculous stories before franchise legend Simon Furman took over in the back half of the series. One of Budiansky’s most infamous stories prominently featured Ratbat, and you can learn pretty much everything you need to about it from the title alone: “Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom.” Not exactly essential reading.
1 BEST: Starscream
One of fiction’s greatest cockroaches, Starscream epitomizes the Decepticons in ways Megatron simply cannot. An arrogant, whiny lieutenant, Starscream believes he is the rightful leader of the Decepticons. Unlike some of his fellow Decepticons with treacherous inclinations, Starscream barely hides his intentions from Megatron. Indeed, Megatron is generally acutely aware Starscream would love nothing more than to see him dead, and would gladly shoot him in the back if the opportunity arose. Megatron uses this as a bizarre motivation to stay on his toes. He also respects Starscream’s ambition, and is grudgingly impressed by his ability to exploit virtually any situation to his advantage. It’s one of the strangest, most rewarding relationships in the franchise.
Starscream is also unique physiologically. When he was incinerated by Galvatron (who harbored none of Megatron’s twisted affection for him), it was revealed that Starscream is functionally immortal, his spark traversing through space and time in search of a new host. He would eventually play an important role in the sequel series Beast Wars. Even hundreds of years after the Great War ended, Starscream was still scheming and thriving as the archetypal Decepticon.
Who are your favorite and least favorite Decepticons in Transformers?