Top Ten Movie Robots of All Time
Editor's note: With the animated film Robots opening this Friday, we asked one of our critics, a self-professed robot nerd, to compile this list of the best robots in film history.
I have a weird fascination with robots. Part of it is that I am a boy. Another part is that I like science fiction. But I think there's more to it than that: I feel a weird tension about robots that hints at something deeper.
On one hand, I think robots are darn cool. When I doodle, I doodle pictures of robots. And for the magazine I edit, Campus Life, we even built our own robot (I love my job) out of a water heater and duct work. And when I look at my movie collection, well, I see lots of robots.
But there's another side of my robo-fascination: they scare the crud out of me. I have dreams about fighting armies of cyborgs. I get chills when I read about new developments in robotics. Even the invention of the robot vacuum made me think, "Yup, this is how the rise of the machines begins!"
I'm not alone in feeling this almost intrinsic love/hate tension with technology. Science fictions films have tapped this theme for decades. On one hand you have the friendly, helper robots that in the 1950s we believed would come along any day to change our lives. And on the other hand, you have the terrifying killer robots who can't be stopped even though we created them. I think these two kinds of film robots show that while we embrace the good technology can provide, we are frightened of the bad. We like the convenience but fear the loss of humanity or the threat of rebellion.
But robot movies are not always about machine vs. human. They're also a staple of sci-fi, a genre that often probes the human condition. Because robots seem so close to being human—but yet aren't—they're the perfect means by which to explore "human themes" like the search for identity, what love is, how we connect with one another, and so much more. There are also religious themes like notions of free will and the created overtaking the creator. And then there are robotic Christ figures, often depicted as searching for what it means to be alive, and thus seeing life as extremely valuable. Hence, the 'bot knows the value of upholding life—and giving up its own.
Because of these deeper themes—and not simply envisioning the future—I think robot movies will stay relevant for a long time. When you look at the history of significant robot movies (most notably the '50s, the mid-'70s, and the '90s), they all seem to hit at times when technology is at a new peak or society is beginning to tackle major issues of what it means to be human.
With all this in mind, I wanted to identify the ten best robots in movie history: robots who were revolutionary, who carried thematic weight, who were lovable (or frightening), or who were just ultra-cool. For the purposes of this list, I defined "robot" as any manufactured entity primarily of mechanical parts that emulates human behaviors like walking, talking, working on moisture farms or hunting for Sarah Connor.
The Ten Best Movie Robots
10. MechaGodzillaGodzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)
He's 50 tons of space titanium in the shape of Godzilla! Need I say more? This monstrosity is the most weapon-equipped robot of all time with torpedo fingers, eye beams, a crazy 360-degree rotating head that creates a force field, and multiple guns in his toes, knees, shoulders and chest. And yet, Godzilla is somehow able to beat him by inexplicitly becoming a magnet (?!) Geek factor: The best part of the film comes when a Japanese scientist finds an odd metal found in a cave and says, "This material can only be space titanium." Of course! Best standard feature: Did I mention the 50 tons of space titanium?