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Movie Legends Revealed | How Did Optimus Prime Save Duke’s Life?


MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The negative reaction to the death of Optimus Prime in the animated Transformers movie saved Duke from dying in the G.I. Joe movie.

A recurring rumor in the months leading up to the recent release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation suggested the delay in the film’s release from June 29, 2012, to March 28, 2013, wasn’t just for the stated reason, to allow time for 3D conversion, but also to change the plot so that Channing Tatum’s character Duke was killed off, as he was believed to be in the original version.

That director Jon M. Chu did, in fact, shoot new scenes with Tatum seems to bear out the rumor that, after Paramount Pictures saw the actor’s star status explode in early 2012 (with hits The Vow and 21 Jump Street coming out before G.I. Joe’s original release date was scrapped, and Magic Mike following later in June 2012) that executives figured they better change the film so Duke survives for possible use in future franchise installments. The film is new enough that I won’t spoil whether that actually happened, but it is fascinating to note that if the studio did do that, it would be the second time Duke has been saved from death after a G.I. Joe movie had been made! Read on to see how it happened last time, and how the 1986 animated Transformers movie actually caused the reversal!

dukedeath1Amusingly enough, the death of Optimus Prime in The Transformers: The Movie was directly influenced by the planned death of Duke in G.I. Joe: The Movie. Both were done by Sunbow Productions, the animation studio that produced the 1980s Transformers and G.I. Joe TV series), and originally each movie was planned to be released in 1986, along with a My Little Pony movie (also a TV series produced by Sunbow). Some distribution issues, as well as the relative lack of success for the Transformers and My Little Pony films, delayed the release of G.I. Joe until 1987, and even then it was just a direct-to-video release. But the important thing to note is that all three films were in production at the same time.

The writers of G.I. Joe figured that because the film (like The Transformers) was shooting for a PG rating rather than a G, they would include a death (something they had never done in the TV series). Because part of the idea behind the movie was to introduce new G.I. Joe characters for the newest release of Hasbro action figures, the writers theorized they should be able to kill off one of the earlier characters, someone who was no longer going to be part of the toy line. Duke was chosen, and Hasbro not only agreed to the idea, but executives liked it so much they told the writers of the Transformers movie they wanted them to do the same thing with that project, which was also intended to introduce new characters to coincide with a new release of Transformers toys. The Transformers writers took the idea and ran with it, and in the first scene of the film they had a battle where nearly all the original Transformer toys were killed off: Autobots (the good guy robots, for those of you unfamiliar with Transformers) Brawn, Ironhide, Prowl, Ratchet, Windcharger and Wheeljack. Most notably, though, the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, died.

As I’m sure anyone who saw the Transformers movie as a kid could tell you, this was a pretty traumatic event. People still talk about the death of Bambi’s mother as being traumatic, but imagine if you watched Bambi’s mother in an ongoing television series every day for a year or so before you then saw her and a bunch of her friends get slaughtered in Bambi? No amount of Eric Idle comedic riffs would keep you from freaking out. So not only did the Transformers film not do particularly well at the box office, but Hasbro was also dealing with a major negative response from parents, which forced the now-delayed G.I. Joe film to make changes. It was already finished, but now producers dubbed in a few lines to state that when Duke dies (after being stabbed in the heart with a spear by Serpentor) he didn’t actually die but instead went into a coma, and then at the end of the film, a character reports that Duke (off-screen, of course, as they didn’t have a separate scene made with him alive because he was, you know, dead) came out of the coma and was okay and the film thus had a death-free happy ending.

And all because of Optimus Prime. What a hero, saving other people’s lives even in his death!

The legend is …


Thanks to the great G.I. Joe writer Buzz Dixon and the Ultimate G.I. Joe Cartoon Website for the information. Dixon is always a valuable source of fascinating information! It is also worth noting that another factor in Duke’s “resurrection” was that production delays pushed G.I. Joe back from its original release date, which would have been before the Transformers movie. Had that been he case, obviously Duke would have died for real.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!


  • brandon

    It was Eric Idle in “Transformers: The Movie,” not John Cleese.

  • John Pannozzi

    Also, I’ve read that the Japanese laserdisc kept the original ending with Duke dying.

  • Jon Melius

    Totally traumatized me as a kid to watch Optimus die. It also entranced me. I would look for other cartoons that were more realistic which lead me to Robotech and I swear I saw an episode of Galaxy Rangers where non main character Rangers were dropping like flies. Then Aliens, Predator and Robocop. Back then nobody kicked kids out of theaters. It lead me to take up watching anime and now I am just hard core sci fi and horror junkie.

  • Richie Simonsen

    This is one even I have heard of over the years. As a kid in the 80s transformers movie really made me cry. I left after was over tears coming down my face. Creators said they thought only toys and rolling out the new line. Not realizing how much fans grew to care about Optimus Prime. They admit it on 20th Anniversary DVD.

  • Paul-Agnew

    John, the laserdisk version kept the same animation as the U.S. release, but had the “He’s gone into a Coma” line changed to “He’s dead… he’s dead.” or something along those lines.

    Ah well, Beach Head owed Duke $50, and with him dead, Beach Head owes him nothing. Guess he came ahead in that deal.

  • Kenshiroh

    Why has his wound switched sides in the two screenshots?

  • Vizator

    I actually remember having two different nightmares about Prime’s death when I was a kid and waking up crying and sweating. When you hear about traumatized kids, it’s not an urban legend.

  • Masked Man Issue 1

    Ha! now imagine this: You are getting to the end of GI Joe :Retaliation with everyone getting their medals and blah blah blah. Cut to a familiar desert scene, where one of the destroyed trucks transforms into Optimus Prime and he extracts from his chest a pretty banged up Channing Tatum.

    “Are you alright?” says Optimus

    “I will be” says Duke.

    Cut to credits.

    Boom! That nonsense of a movie would have been saved, and turned into pure awesomeness.

  • Matthew Morris

    Hmm, if it hadn’t been delayed, maybe we’d have had Duke saving Optimus Prime’s life.

  • Joe Hundley

    When I first saw the GI Joe movie I liked it, but only a few years passed and at that time really felt like it jumped the shark. A bunch of reptile people were behind Cobra? Really?

  • demoncat_4

    heard that the main reason duke got spared was because fans got so upset over primes death in transformers. though never thought or knew the other reason duke was suppose to be killed was because hasbro was doing what they did with the transformers film retire the old characters for new toys.

  • ATK

    Completely agree, definitly a gateway that lead me to look for more realisim in animation and also lead me to Robotech, Akira and helped launch me into my love of Anime.

  • Quickguy

    No, a dead Channing Tatum is a good Channing Tatum.

  • dwain

    never noticed that

  • earzmundo

    Tatum sucks. Leave him out

  • John Cruz

    g.i.joe: retaliation major spoiler:
    duke did indeed die in the movie, just like optimus did in tf 2, but it looks like duke WONT be coming back from that one, as roadblock kept duke’s tags after the ambush

  • John Cruz

    dont forget, after the backlash from prime’s death, not only did they change duke going into a coma instead, but a 2-parter was created by marv wolfman to revive prime back to life by the quintessons of all alien races out there in season 3 of the animated series, and was made as the season finale. the series finale from the u.s. side was the 3-part headmasters which ran at the same time g.i.joe: the animated movie aired on tv (also broken into 3 parts).

  • J

    not trying to be a jerk but what are you trying to say joe at first you said you like the movie then in the next sentences you said it jump the shark

  • Joe Hundley

    Its all laid out for you. A few years passed and it didnt hold up.I changed my mind on it.

  • Tim Roll-Pickering

    The British release of the film went a step further and added a voiceover at the end telling the audience that “Optimus Prime will return!” Ironically over here the later seasons of the cartoon had limited screning so for many this never came true.

  • percane

    the rumor for retaliation wasn’t that they wanted to kill off duke and needed more time, it was that the test audience said there needed to be MORE duke (more channing tatum was a meme for a little while last summer) and that they were reshooting to expand his part.

  • John Cruz

    Paul, if you or someone else has that original Japanese laserdisk copy, where the lines were changed to keep the death in and can somehow burn a copy of it, and post it on youtube, id gladly love to see that scene, since the redone dvd has a copy of the script on it, but id like to hear the audio portion where it wasnt changed on an international release.

  • Mark Pellegrini

    I’ve watched the Japanese dub of G.I. Joe The Movie (which uses a different cast than the Japanese dub of the G.I. Joe TV series, which got cancelled midway through season 1) and the script is the same; Duke goes into a coma and comes out of it at the end. If there are different dubs of the Movie, I haven’t seen them. But the Japanese dub can be watched in full on Nico Nico Douga if anyone wants to fact check me.

  • Transformers Heroes

    Optimus never died in TF2 if u read the TF2 movie book it clearly states Optimus’s body went into stasis to send the last bit of his energon and energy to heal his wounds.