Combine their limited intelligence with their enormous size, and you’ve got creatures that tend to be violent and difficult to control. All the same things can be said about the Dinobots, inhabitants of the Transformers universe who look a lot like those ancient, brutal reptiles.
The origin of the Dinobots varies depending on which version of the Transformers universe you’re looking at. In the original Generation 1 animated series, the Dinobots were created by Ironhide after the Ark landed on Earth. In true creator fashion, Ironhide discovered some dinosaur bones in the volcanic caves near the Ark, and he was inspired to build new machines that resembled the extinct animals. Ironhide built, with the help of Ratchet, a trio of original Dinobots—Grimlock, Slag and Sludge—and a bit later Optimus Prime commissioned two more Dinobots—Swoop and Snarl.
In the universe of the Marvel Comics Transformers, the Dinobots came into being in a different way. Instead of being created by Ironhide or any other Autobot on Earth, the Dinobots were already on the Ark when it landed. In this case, they were the result of a rebuilding effort by the Ark itself, which refashioned five Autobot warriors so that they would fit in better as they did battle in the dinosaur-inhabited Savage Land.
In other comic versions, the Dinobots had still different backstories. In the Dreamwave universe, the Dinobots were part of a separate Autobot organization called the Lightning Strik Coalition, and they came to Earth on their own, not aboard the Ark. In the Devil’s Due universe, the Dinobots were originally typical Autobots, but when they were sent back in time to a dinosaur-ruled era, they were refashioned to transform into dino-like bots.
In all their versions, the Dinobots are savage warriors, and they are hard to handle. The Generation 1 Dinobots were especially difficult. Because they were dumb but capable fighters, they were relied upon by the Autobots as a sort of brute squad who could do all the dirty work in battle. They eventually rebelled against their exploitation and went off on their own to fight their heavy-handed battles on their own terms. Other versions of the Dinobots boasted upgraded brain power, but none of them ever approached the cunning of the more clever Autobots.
The Dinobots are led by Grimlock, who, naturally, transforms into the king of the dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Slag is the number-two Dinobot, and he transforms into the second-most famous dinosaur, Triceratops. The other Dinbots become other high-profile dinosaurs: Snarl is a stegosaurus, Sludge is an Apatosaurus, and Swoop is a pteranadon. A sixth Dinobot, Paddles, appears in some comic versions of the group; Paddles is an ocean-dwelling elasmosaurus.
The first Dinobots toys were released in 1985. These first-generation toys included all five of the original Dinobots, each of them boxed separately. All five of the bots were made in the same colors: red and black primarily, with gold highlights. In 1989, Grimlock reappeared in the Pretenders Classics line, this time with a humanoid Pretenders shell. Both Snarl and Grimlock were part of the Action Masters line released in 1990; these are non-transforming versions of these two Dinobots. Grimlock was also released in the Kmart-exclusive Legends line in 1989; this version is essentially the Pretenders version without the Pretender shell.
A second generation of Dinobots toys debuted in 1993. These toys were manufactured from the original molds, but they were cast in different colors; several versions of each Dinobot were made, and some are more rare than others.
Some of the Dinobots show up in other toy lines as well. A gray-and-gold Grimlock is part of the 1997 Beast Wars line, and he turns up again in the 2005 Alternators line, in which he is able to turn himself into a Ford Mustang. In 2006, a new mold of Swoop turns up in the Classics line; here he is packaged as part of the Dinobot Mini-Con Team, along with new characters Knockdown and Terrorsaur. Grimlock also appeared in the Classics line, and he appeared once again in the 2008 Titanium Series, in which his transformed form is a battle tank.
In 2003, Walmart sold a line of toys called Transformers Dinobots, and the toys were sold in three different two-packs, each with one deluxe toy and one basic toy. Grimlock was paired with Terranotron, who seemed to be a version of Swoop. Snarl and Sludge were grouped together, and the third set consisted of two new names, a triceratops-like Triceradon and Slapper, who transformed into an ankylosaurus.
When the Transformers took to the big screen, there was hope among fans that the Dinobots would make an appearance in the big-budget Michael Bay-directed films. They were absent from the first two Transformers films, but it looked like a Dinobot or two were going to pop up in 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon; a Swoop-like robot was spotted in an early ad for the film, and images of prototype versions of Swoop-ish and Slag-esque toys in Dark of the Moon packaging made the rounds of the internet before the release of the film. Alas, Dark of the Moon came and went, and the Dinobots did not appear in it.
Anticipation was again high ahead of the release of Transformers 4, which is due in theaters in the summer of 2014. As of summer 2013, there is no hard evidence that Grimlock and crew will finally become Hollywood stars, but “unconfirmed rumors” and “unidentified sources” are adamant that this will be the film in which the Dinobots debut. These unverified rumors claim that the film’s story will include Grimlock and Swoop, who are reactivated by Optimus Prime and once again taken advantage of for their strength and ferocity. True or not, this plot idea falls comfortably into line with the long history between the Dinobots and the Autobots.