Few characters in fiction have eaten shit as much as Optimus Prime, with The Last Prime dying at least a dozen times during his tenure as the wisened leader of the Autobots. Inarguably his most shocking death though was in The Transformers: The Movie. A death the studio not only insisted upon, but had no idea would affect kids.
First though for anyone unfamiliar with the many times Optimus Prime has being shot in the face and killed, the Transformers wiki has an exhaustive list detailing the, we shit you not, three dozen times or so Optimus Prime has bit the robotic bullet. In fact, dying is seemingly so intrinsically associated with Prime’s character that, in Gen 1 he canonically died before becoming Optimus Prime.
Anyway, it’s become something of a running joke among Transformers fans that Optimus Prime always dies, usually just in time for the launch for a new toy. Which, well, is to be expected given that The Transformers literally existed as a, if you’ll excuse the pun, vehicle to sell toys. So much so that even the cold embrace of death hasn’t been enough to stop Hasbro literally making toys out of Optimus’ corpse.
However, this doesn’t mean that the first handful of times Optimus died it wasn’t traumatic for young fans. This is especially true for his now infamous demise in the aforementioned Transformers movie in which Optimus succumbs to grievous wounds sustained in a knockdown, drag out brawl with Megatron. Somehow even dying like an absolute boss.
Now while this moment has become an established part of pop culture history, its kind of easy to forget that Prime’s death occurs 20 minutes into the movie. Like, it coming out of fucking nowhere is a massive understatement given that in the Transformers show people got blown apart by laser beams every other episode and walked that shit off like it was nothing. So the idea of Optimus not just dying, but doing so while in obvious agony as his friends cry manly robo-tears was so far out of left field it was basically in the parking lot.
But it gets worse because as it would later turn out, the writers absolutely knew this would happen and Hasbro just, didn’t give the faintest whiff of a shit. Telling them that it was just a toy and that nobody would care if they had the main character of the show dying barely a quarter of an hour into his feature film debut.
As it turns out, people did care, like, a lot. According to contemporary reports children across the country were in hysterics throughout the whole film from the moment Optimus’ spark went out. Which among other things, given that his death happens so soon into the film, sounds like really fucking annoying.
Other reports speak of a mass write-in campaign from kids to bring Optimus back as well as at least one kid who spent two weeks crying in his room about it. Which admittedly is very funny, but it’s worth noting that a lot of kids looked up to Optimus as a father-like figure and the movie fucks him like, all the way up. To sell a toy. A toy not a lot of kids bought because who wants an action figure of the thing that killed their pseudo-robo dad?