"Freedom is the right of all sentient beings" reads the quote from the original Optimus Prime's bio cards, a sentiment without which we wouldn't be here today, leaving him off of a list of the best transforming Optimus Prime toys.
That's right, the original Optimus Prime toy, introduced to North American children with the Transformers brand in 1984, does not make this list of the top Optimus Prime toys, but only because he was pretty hideous.
Look at those forearms. Those aren't the forearms from the cartoon. And those removable fists? How many pairs of those have been lost over the years to couch cushions, asshole dogs and mean neighbor children? I respect his inspiration, but we can do much better.
Before we begin, a few ground rules. This is a list of Optimus Prime toys. Not Orion Pax. Not Optimus Primal. Some Convoys, but no Lio Convoys. Also, as indicated above, this is a list of transforming Optimus Prime toys. If we included the non-transforming figures this entire list would be Luke Plunkett telling me how much he loved Action Masters, and nobody wants that. Sorry Hot Toys. Sorry Revoltech.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos in this article are lovingly borrowed from the Transformers Wiki at TFWiki.net, the best place to read everything there is to know about Transformers ever.
Now that we know the rules, let's transform and roll right into it, in no particular order.
Representing the first generation of Transformers toys is the Optimus Prime who didn't die on us, breaking the hearts of millions of children. Sure he's technically the same guy, but after crying over our original Optimus Primes for two years, the 1988 reformatted version of OP was exactly what young fans needed to get over it.
As a Powermaster, Optimus Prime came with a tiny robot named Hi-Q, who may have been a person in a robot suit, depending on the continuity you follow. Hi-Q transformed into Prime's engine and unlcoked his ability to transform.
The best thing about Powermaster Optimus was the ability to combine with his cab to form Super Optimus Prime. Yeah, he could barely move in this form, but his stoic standing prepared one-day collectors to appreciate figures sitting on shelves.
Revenge of the Fallen Leader Class Optimus Prime
No one hates on the Michael Bay live action films more fiercely than I, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate an excellent figure. A few years before Hasbro started dumbing down the Transformers TV and movie lines to make things easier for the kiddies they released Revenge of the Fallen Leader Class Optimus Prime, featuring one of the (if not the) most complicated transformations in franchise history, all in the name of film accuracy.
Transforming this version of Optimus Prime from truck to robot form requires an advanced engineering degree. YouTube review Optibotimus makes it look easy, but it still takes him a good seven minutes to get it done.
And just when it couldn't get any better, Optimus Prime combines with Leader Class Jetfire.
Now he's the most complicated and movie-accurate Optimus Prime with a backpack and shoulder pads!
To garner so much love from a fanbase that typically has little for his movie origins, Revenge of the Fallen Leader Class Prime earns a place on the list.
While most of the Optimus Prime toys on this list were chosen by the
Matrix of Leadership based on a combination of general fan reactions and my own, this one is all mine. And for those of you who don't approve of the Cybertron animated series fire truck depiction of Optimus, my second choice was Car Robots Optimus, also a fire truck. One way or the other, fire truck was making the list.
After a pair of less-than-stellar primes from the Armada (super pants) and Energon (Voltron?) animated series, along came Transformers Cybertron Optimus, all red and blue and bulty and brilliant.
By himself his chunky robot mode is a powerful brute. Combined with his trailer he's a flying engine of destruction. Just look at that ordinance. Check out those massive platform boots. I'm looking at mine now and realizing I have him transformed incorrectly on my shelf. Whoops.
Along with combining into an alternate robot mode with Cybertron Wing Saber, Cybertron Optimus Prime can also combine with the leonine Leobreaker into a form that pleases me greatly (photo via Seibertron.com).
Surely Lion-Fisting Optimus Prime deserves a spot on this list. Or any list, really.
Back in 1995, during the short-lived Generation Two Transformers line, Hasbro released a pretty amazing Optimus Prime figure called Laser Optimus Prime. Featuring extended shoulders, a freaking sword and an oil tanker back end, he was incredibly bitchin'.
I have this figure—I may even still have the sword. He's in a drawer not two feet from where I type this. He would have made this list, if not for Hasbro's 2010 homage to him, which blew the original figure away.
Sam big-ass shoulders, a much-cooler laser sword and more articulation that the mid-90's ever dreamed was possible, Reveal the Shield Deluxe Optimus Prime is exactly the sort of thing a grown collector wants to see if a new toy styled from an older classic.
So beloved is the newer figure that custom Transformer makers MakeToys crafted a $110 tanker upgrade that turns him into this:
That's love right there.
I struggled over which of the Masterpiece line of Optimus Prime figures to include on the list. There was never a doubt that one would make the cut, but should I go for the original larger-sized MP-01 released, scaled with the real-car Transformers Binaltech/Alternators line, the MP-04 which added a trailer to MP-01, or the smaller retooled MP-10, complete with trailer, Roller and a tiny Spike figure?
Okay, so the tiny Spike figure sealed the deal.
The Masterpiece line's goal is to create figures that better represent the characters as they appeared in the original Transformers cartoon. Armed with modern engineering techiques and unfettered by the need to keep prices in a kid-friendly range, the designers at Japanese Transformer maker Takara pulled out all the stops in giving fans an Optimus Prime that puts the original toy to shame.
If I was including variants in this list, I would only have changed one thing.
Honorable Mention - Beast Wars Optimal Optimus
I know I said Optimus Primal's didn't count, which is why the massive Optimal Optimus didn't make the main list. Still, as Optimus Primal gained his powerful Transmetal II form by taking the spark of the original Optimus Prime into his body in an effort to defeat the Predacon Megatron, it straddles the line between the two.
The marriage of two beloved Transformers properties into one figure made me giddy with excitement. Also, Optimal Optimus features nipple cannons in robot form. You cannot beat nipple cannons.
I understand that the love for a Transformers figure can be a very deep and very personal thing (Kiss Players), so if you feel your favorite version of Optimus Prime was unfairly excluded from this list, write to Hasbro and Takara and complain about them not making them good enough.