A timeline chronicling the international history of the Transformers:
- 1984: Hasbro introduces the first line of Transformers toys and a cartoon to accompany them in the United States and Europe, based on molds previously designed by Japanese toymaker Takara. The exploits of the heroic Autobots battling the evil Decepticons prove a quick hit with American audiences. However, the "Transformers" toy line itself is not introduced to Japan (a country already thoroughly familiar with transforming robots -- see Voltron and Robotech, et.al.) until the following year.
- 1985: The first "beast" Transformers are introduced, namely the Dinobots and Insecticons, and are animated in the first season of episodes. In the fall, the second season of the cartoon adds a considerable number of new episodes in an effort to showcase every single character available for sale (at least, every one made by Takara).
- 1986: Taking full commercial advantage of the toys' and cartoon's success, Transformers: The Movie is released in the summer. Optimus Prime is killed and Galvatron replaces Megatron as the cartoon series is interrupted and thrust twenty years into the future. Years later, maturing fans realize that this third season badly lacks the animation and storytelling they enjoyed over the previous two years.
- 1987: The cartoon utters its last gasps in the form of Rebirth, a three-parter which introduces the Headmasters and Targetmasters. However, the Japanese market for Transformers is still expanding, with a number of Japanese-only toys and a new season of Headmasters and Targetmasters which ignores Rebirth entirely.
- 1988: More new toys, including the new semi-organic Pretenders. But the cartoon is gone and the Transformers comics published by Marvel are on life support, meaning that the toys are being sold almost entirely to collectors in America and Europe. Japan gets its second season of native-only cartoons, Transformers Masterforce, featuring many of these toys.
- 1989: Japan gets Transformers Victory, its third and final season of new cartoons, mostly featuring a number of new, Japanese-only toys. The rest of the world gets only Pretenders and Micromasters, minor variations on last year's toys.
- 1990: A few more Micromasters and the "Action Masters", non-transforming action figures of the most popular characters from the 1984 cartoon. With no cartoon or radically new toys introduced in Japan either, "Generation One" comes to a close.
- 1991: The US Transformers comic book comes to an end. The UK comic book expires the following year.
- 1992: After more than a year, Transformers Generation 2 is released in the U.S. This consists of a handful of toys from 1984 and 1985, re-colored (usually very, very brightly) but using the same names. A cartoon attempt is made, using the original cartoon with some computer-generated animation in place of the old scene cut animations, which quietly fails to bring in any new fans.
- 1993: Generation 2 plugs on, with more recolored classics but a few new toys as well, many featuring air-propelled and water-squirting weapons in an effort to introduce novelty to the toy line while keeping them cheap. Japan is largely Transformer-free, however.
- 1996: After two more years of Generation 2, the Transformers are taken up by Kenner and completely re-created as Beast Wars Transformers, organic-looking animals which turn into semi-organic Maximals and Predacons. Optimus Prime becomes the gorilla Optimus Primal, Megatron becomes a big purple dinosaur, and while a few old names are re-used, the rest of the lineup is clearly all-new. A new, fully computer-generated cartoon spotlights these new Transformers in a universe completely different from that of the old cartoon, and if some fans aren't impressed by the new "organic" look to the toys, almost all are by the maturity of the show's storytelling. (Sadly, the transforming sound is conspicously absent.) At the same time, non-beast Machine Wars Transformers arrive exclusively at Kay-Bee stores to gauge interest in vehicle Transformers.
- 1997: Beast Wars performs a second season in America and successfully invades Japan -- so successfully, in fact, that they create their own hand-drawn animated series while they're waiting for more CGI episodes from the States. The Machine Wars line quietly introduced last year gets a handful of additions, then dies out in Beast Wars' wake.
- 1999: Beast Wars evolves into Beast Machines Transformers, with Vehicons replacing Predacons and a new two-season CGI cartoon forming a logical sequel to the previous Beast Wars. Japan, however, gets a number of exclusive "Beast Wars Neo" toys in response to their own fascination with that line of toys.
- 2000: While Beast Machines continues in the U.S., Takara performs a partial return to the original series with Transformers Car Robots, with several new toys joined by re-colored toys picked from the last fifteen years.
- 2001: Hasbro ends the Beast Machines toys and brings over the Car Robots line and hand-drawn cartoon in its entirety, renaming them Transformers Robots In Disguise and nearly doubling the size of the toy line with their own additions. Takara drops the toy line, however, following low interest in the new toys and animated series.
- 2002: Transformers Armada is introduced with a new animated series, a sharp-looking comic book, and a whole bunch of new (American) toys. Meanwhile, Generation One makes a remarkable comeback with an insanely popular comic book, the complete first season of cartoons in VHS and DVD boxed sets, and special collector's editions of the original toys and PVC statues of their robot modes (both of which had been popular sellers in Japan).
- 2003: Late in the year, Transformers Energon begins as a sequel to Armada, with many of the same characters but all-new toys and gimmicks. Meanwhile, Transformers Universe is released as a separate line composed entirely of repaints from older Transformers lines, while "Transformers Generation One" re-releases come out one at a time to market to older fans. Takara begins a new line of G1-inspired toys targeted at collectors, known as "Transformers Binaltech" in Japan and, early next year, as Transformers Alternators in Hasbro-controlled markets.
- 2004: Energon, Universe and Generation One continue to release toys on a steady schedule and the Energon cartoon begins in January. In addition, old-school fans rejoice at the arrival of Transformers Alternators in English-speaking countries, as well as the release of a new transformable toy of Generation One Optimus Prime to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Transformers.
- 2005: The script and producer for a live-action Transformers movie is announced, with a target release date of late 2006. The "sequel" to Armada and Energon, Transformers Cybertron (Japan: Transformers Galaxy Force), is formally announced. Universe and Alternators continue unabated. Generation One re-releases continue in Japan but not the U.S.
- 2006: On the way to the live-action movie (now scheduled for Independence Day weekend 2007) and its corresponding toy line, Hasbro issues the Transformers Classics, a short but compelling line of toys which takes the most popular G1 characters and re-creates their original robot and alternate modes using modern design techniques. Early design drawings for the movie incarnations of Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron and others draw an astonishing amount of vitriol from die-hard fans, which director Michael Bay largely ignores. A teaser trailer for the movie is released over the summer, and a full trailer later on in the year.
- 2007: The live-action movie is slightly rescheduled for two days before Independence Day when early test audiences are found to love the film. Toys sell fairly well before the film is released, very well after its release, and insanely well after the DVD is released in October and right through Christmas. Plans for the sequel are announced within days of the film's opening weekend; it is tentatively planned for the summer of 2009, but the Hollywood writers strike in late 2007 pretty much puts the kibosh on that.
Additionally, a new, American-made children's series called Transformers Animated, derived in equal parts from G1 and the live-action movie, is announced and debuts on Cartoon Network the day after Christmas. Toys are set to go on sale in early 2008.
See also: Transformers Tech Specs