As for which Transformers have thus far been revealed to be making the transit to live-action, I'm more than a little disappointed right now. Word is that only a dozen or so Transformers – from either side – are supposed to be featured... and Devastator may be getting reduced to a mere tank! Which is wrong wrong wrong: Devastator needs to be a composite (see below), Megatron must turn into a gun and as for Scorponok... well, I'd just rather not see him at all. Or for the first movie, anyway.
Before I go into this, I'll post this "disclaimer": I'm a huge fan of the original "Generation 1" Transformers. Or at least those that came out from 1984 until '87 or so. After that, gimmicks like the "Headmasters" and Pretenders sorta lost me. I'm a follower of the storyline canon that Marvel Comics had (the U.S. version, but I did read and enjoy some of the U.K. stories too). In my worldview the Transformers never met G.I. Joe and Cobra. The events of 1986's "Transformers: The Movie" never happened although I'll forever love that flick because (a) it was the very last performance by Orson Welles and (b) it featured "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Dare to be Stupid" on the soundtrack. I never kept up with Beast Wars or the Minicons storylines on the more recent TV shows. But I did read and really liked the "Generation 2" comics that Marvel did about ten years ago, the ones that had old-school characters like Hound and Ironhide cussing out Optimus Prime for being weak in the knees (they sure as hell developed some 'tude since the original comic’s run!). Speaking of which, despite only appearing for one panel, I thought that Liege Maximo was awesome (and intriguing... me want more)! Anyway, after knowing all that...
...Here are the characters that, in my opinion, a live-action Transformers movie needs the most if it's going to stay true in any way to the spirit of the original toys and saga. And I like to believe that the majority of fans will agree with me on these more often than not.
And there are probably some more that I'm not mentioning in this list, like Mirage and Beachcomber and the Insecticons and even Perceptor (who I always thought was pretty cool) but the ones I mentioned above would be a good basis around which to start up a terrific live-action Transformers movie franchise. And maybe it wouldn't hurt to throw in one final character too: a human one...
The Characters That The Transformers Live-Action Movie Needs Most
Optimus Prime, obviously. The commander of the Autobots (those are the "good guys" if you're new to Transformers lore) was the first Transformer that many of us ever beheld. Of all the "noble leaders" that came out of the toy sagas of the Nineteen-Eighties, no avatar was so beloved and respected as mighty Optimus. I know of guys (no I wasn't one of 'em) who cried tears when he died in 1986's Transformers: The Movie (which I always thought was a punk's death anyway). It's like this: if there be no Optimus, it be no real Transformers movie.
Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons (the "bad guys"). Not even four million years were enough to dillute his lust for power. The guy that Spider-Man (in the highly controversial issue The Transformers #3) called "Bazooka Joe" 'cuz of the big-a$$ fusion cannon he carries on his right arm. The Megster will definitely make the cut for the live-action Transformers movie. Far less clear is what he'll be transforming into. I say he must metamorph into a Walther P-38 pistol, just like the original toy, before all those "do-gooder" sissy-pants said that toy guns created too much violence and forced Hasbro to turn him into a puny tank.
Bumblebee: the smallest of the Autobots (the vehicle ones anyway) but by far the one with the biggest heart. After Optimus, no other Autobot (or any Transformer for that matter) was so loved. In just about every incarnation of Transformers story that I know of, it was Bumblebee who was the first to make contact with humans. There's a reason for that: Bumblebee was just a real nice guy. I never liked his later "upgrade" into Goldbug: it was like the comics writers wanted to give Bumblebee a more hard-edged Eighties attitude or something. That seems to be mostly forgotten about lately though, in favor of the classic Bumblebee.
The second Decepticon to get mentioned here had better be Starscream, or else I'm going to get jumped-flunky all over by his rabid fanbase (who are even scarier than Grimlock's fanbase, parse that as you will). In no matter what version/generation/edition of Transformers storyline, two things are certain: Starscream wants to be the top 'Con, and he'll never stop bitching about that. Starscream was always cool, and it doesn't even matter that he was basically just one different color scheme among three Decepticons that shared the exact same body/molding. This guy holds a special place in my heart because he was one of the first two (along with Brawn) Transformers that I ever owned. If he makes the cut, and if the writers are respectful of his character, expect plenty of in-fighting to erupt in the live-action movie between Megatron and Starscream.
Prowl, who I have to include here because #1 he was second-in-command of the Autobots after Optimus Prime, and #2 because he was one of the favorite Transformers of my friend Chad when we were growing up (and THAT might scare Chad that I remember something like that, heh-heh :-). Prowl transforms into a police car, which is always good camouflage when you're cruisin' the mean streets of Earth. One of Prowl's big strengths (if you ever read the "tech-specs" that came included with every Transformer, like the "file cards" with the G.I. Joe figures) was that he had a highly-advanced logic center that he used to prescribe to Optimus the best plan of action to take...
...and also made him the Autobot counterpoint to Shockwave, who was sort of the Decepticons's version of the "evil" Mr. Spock from the "Mirror, Mirror" episode of Star Trek. Heck, Shockwave even had big pointy ears like Spock! How could he not be Spock... that is, if Spock were thirty feet tall. And had one eye. And had a honking big gun for a left arm. Shockwave had an even bigger jones about wanting to be the top 'Con than Starscream, if you can believe that. That only really came out in the comic book though, and it almost came to serious blows between Megatron and Shockwave. Shocky would say that logic dictated that he be commander of the Decepticons after whatever loss Megatron had led them to... only to later admit his own defeat and then proclaim that logically, for good of the Decepticon cause, that Megatron should be leader. The flip-flopping got so bad between these two that eventually I came to believe that Rat-Bat and Bludgeon were far better 'Con leaders... and Rat-Bat was one of the cassettes and Bludgeon a Pretender! Feh, shows you how bad these internecine struggles got, doesn't it? Still, Shockwave rates high on my all-time favorite Transformers list.
Hound must must MUST be in the live-action movie somewhere. Along with Bumblebee, he's going to be the one who most "scopes out" the alien terrain that is Earth for the Autobots. And he's got all those cool holographic tricks that he can pull off. Since he transforms into an Army jeep he's going to be quite handy for slipping undetected into military bases and checking things out when the "fleshlings" decide to take the matter of giant robots into their own hands. I think Sam Elliott needs to be in the Transformers movie and play an Army general, just so he can wind up sitting in Hound while Hound drives around and tells Elliott what this whole thing is all about. Then Elliott can go tell the President that the U.S. doesn't need to be shooting at the Autobots, just the 'Cons. Anyway, I also like Hound 'cuz he was one of the first Transformers that I ever owned (and I still do).
Soundwave is probably going to be some folks's second choice of 'Con after Megatron, and I can respect that. Even though in the real world Soundwave wouldn't do much else but stand there and broadcast radio or TV signals out to the humans telling them to surrender. Seriously, I never understood the magnitude of admiration some people had for Soundwave. His best "gimmick" was that he transforms into a cassette player and his chest opens so you can insert one of the "cassette"-transforming Decepticons. He also sports some pretty cool guns. But other than that... why all this love for him? Was it his voice in the cartoon, that sing/songy way he had of talking? How was that supposed to be threatening? I didn't know why he had the love then and I don't know why now, but from a logistical standpoint it'd be foolish not to include him in the Decepticons's Earth-based operations in a live-action movie.
Soundwave's Autobot counterpart was Blaster. Who transformed into a boom-box. And Hasbro would have been in a lot of trouble if they had lengthened his name to "Ghetto-Blaster", wouldn't they? Blaster isn't supposed to do much else than Soundwave: stand there and hold Autobot "tapes" in his chest. On the TV cartoon he's made out to be a big-beat buffoon, practically. In the Marvel comic he's much more angst-ridden and bitter: the shell-shocked Vietnam war veteran of the giant robot set, which considering that this was coming ten years or so after that war ended... well, part of me's always wondered how much of the comics from the mid-Eighties (especially what they did with Snake-Eyes in the G.I. Joe comics) was subliminal "coming down" from that experience. I know that's something weird to be talking about in a Transformers live-action movie post, but look into those comics from about twenty years ago if you ever get the chance, and see for yourself. Anyway, Blaster's always been sorta popular, so I can see him in a live movie easily.
It's almost not right to include Devastator (click on the thumbnail on the left) because so far I've been alternating between Autobots and Decepticons, and Devastator really counts as six Decepticons. But in a live-action Transformers movie (and if there's any justice he won't turn into a tank) then Devastator - and all of his component Constructicons - will be featured at some point. The Constructicons are a subset of the Decepticons: they're 'Cons that turn into construction vehicles and equipment. And the six of them - Scrapper, Mixmaster, Long Haul, Hook, Bonecrusher and Scavenger (hah! I typed all of those from memory) - combine into a single "gestalt" robot named Devastator. And there were other gestalts that came into play during the course of the Transformers's run (Superion, Bruticus, Predaking, etc.) but only one is really needed for this first movie. Have the Aerialbots and Stunticons come out in Part 2 but for now: less is more.
Jetfire (yes, I know he's stolen goods from Robotech and no, I'm not calling him by his cartoon name Skyfire) because the Autobots are mostly land-based and they're going to need some air support. And just 'cuz it'd be really neat to see if Spielberg and Bay can get away with ripping off the Macross saga without getting hit with a lawsuit.
Ravage would be sweet to see in a live-action movie, but only if he was allowed to speak like any other Transformer. And he DID talk quite a lot in the comic book. Heck, he was the VERY FIRST Decepticon to speak at all in the comics (which sorta means that Ravage was the first Transformer we got to "hear" real words come out of at all). It's sorta fascinated me how the Transformers managed to "evolve" members that resemble Earth wildlife. I don't know how that is. Frankly, I don't need to know. Ravage just looks and acts too cool to care about things like that. Not only is Ravage one of the "cassette" Transformers (which always seemed to impress people for some reason) but he has the ability to hide/cloak himself in subdued light. He's like the ultimate spy. I can see lots of possible opportunities for using him to come about in a life-action flick.
After Bumblebee, Jazz seemed to be the Autobots's pre-eminent ambassador to the people of Earth. He was fun in the comics and with Scatman Crothers doing his voice, he was awesome in the animated series. Crothers brought real personality to Jazz and... oh geez, it's just gonna be hard to see and hear him without that voice from now on. Maybe this is the role that Michael Clarke Duncan is supposed to be doing. Don't quote me on that though...
Rumble would be probably the one Decepticon small enough for regular, unaugmented humans to gang up on and win. Or color him blue/purple and call him Frenzy if that suits you better. Or was it that Frenzy was red and Rumble was blue? Or was that... wait a sec, which one was Laserbeak and which was Buzzsaw? Darnnit, I hate how they mixed up the colors like that!!
Brawn was supposed to be the second-strongest of the Autobots (well the ones on Earth anyway) after Optimus Prime. Which if you ever owned the Brawn toy you had to wonder about that 'cuz Hasbro made him to be one of the smaller "mini"-sized vehicles (as opposed to the full-sized ones like Prowl and Hound). Had one of the more gusto-ish personalities in both the comics and the animated television series. Well, I always loved this guy anyway 'cuz he was the very first Autobot that I ever owned, so maybe I'm just partial to him because of that, is why I'm including him in this list.
There's not many of the "second wave" of Transformers (the ones from 1985 or so) that I'm thinking would be good for a first live-action movie (that doesn't rule out sequels though) but Astrotrain would be a fine addition, methinks. Just what a crazy movie about metamorphing robots needs: a robot that turns into not one, but two vehicles! Having a space shuttle suddenly transform into a steam locomotive oughtta throw a hella lotta good confusion into the mix.
And when those Autobots come crawling out of battle, they're gonna need someone to take care of their wounds/busted radiators/whatever. And for that, good doctor Ratchet should be on call. Which I again may be partial toward including him here out of personal interest, because I thought Ratchet's character was handled beautifully in issues #5-8 or so of the U.S. comic (the first issues of it being a regular series). If done correctly, Ratchet is a real opportunity for some multi-dimensioned characterization among what might otherwise be an all-too linear story about "I robot, kill you robot".
It might be waaaaay too early in the first live-action edition to bring him out, but if I didn't put Grimlock on this list, I'd no doubt get a nasty e-mail from an irate reader, or hundred or so. Grimlock is the leader of the Dinobots: Autobots that transform into giant mechanical dinosaurs (how such a thing comes about depends on whether you prefer the comics or the television series. Personally I like the Marvel comics's explanation). This being a movie produced by Steven Spielberg, I'd wager two energon cubes that we'll be seeing Grimlock in the first movie, and probably a sly in-joke reference to Jurassic Park thrown in for good measure.
UPDATE 2:05 PM EST: What the...?!?
This is supposedly conceptual artwork from the Transformers live-action movie that got out, that is going around on the Internet right now. According to some sources, this is a *possible* look for Starscream:
Seriously though, if this is a real indication of the direction they're going for this, my hopes for this movie just sank some.