For nearly as long as there have been movies, there have been movie robots. Throughout the decades, they’ve come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. These mechanical men (and women, monsters, and teddy bears) never cease to mesmerize moviegoers as they intermittently aid or annihilate mankind.
With so much rich, robotic, cinematic history — and with so many different makes and models — I thought it would be helpful to create a graph categorizing some of the best known/loved/feared movie robots. And with the impending arrival of Avengers: Age of Ultron, you really need to know what you’re getting into. This guy Ultron is bad news (see #20).
The ‘bots are arranged on a quadrant graph from nice to nefarious, and from super smart (fully independent) to not-so super smart (only do what they’re told). See if you can guess them all, then scroll down to where they are listed chronologically by their first film appearance.
Without further introduction… these are the droids you’re looking for.
1. Maria from Metropolis (1927)
The mother of all movie robots, the sinister and seductive Maria inspired the design of 1/2 of #5 on this list (and subsequently #9), and the deceptive cunning of #s 10, 14, and 20.
2. Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
You don’t want to get into a staring contest with this stiff sentinel. Feeding on the still fresh fears of the Cold War, Gort stands silently through much of the film, then blasts everything to bits with his laser eyes. Gort was given a few upgrades in the 2008 remake, but his lack of humanity makes him the creepiest robot in any decade.
3. Robby from Forbidden Planet (1956)
The most iconic of 1950s robots, Robby went on to both inspire the design of the Lost in Space robot, and then battle him in a couple of episodes. Robby became a staple of pop culture, with appearances on The Twilight Zone, Wonder Woman, Mork & Mindy and The Simpsons.
4. Mechagodzilla from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Godzilla’s metallic, laser-spitting nemesis serves to remind us that the flesh and blood, gigantic, fire-breathing lizard monster is indeed the good guy.
5. R2-D2 & C-3PO from Star Wars (1977)
Arguably the most famous robots in the galaxy, Artoo and Threepio have been immortalized as birthday cakes and LEGO sculptures and even airplanes. But the thing that keeps us coming back for more (6 films, with more on the horizon) is their bickering as well as their loyalty, and their knack for getting into trouble as well as their quick wit for getting out of it. In other words, their humanity.
6. Maximilian from The Black Hole (1979)
Before Disney bought Star Wars, they attempted to ride its coattails with this dark, sci-fi thriller. Maximilian is the floating, red guard dog aboard a space station on the verge of a black hole. Yet the closer the station and its human inhabitants get to oblivion, the more Max takes matters — and lives — into his own blade-tipped hands.
7. Bubo from Clash of the Titans (1981)
With only a fleeting appearance in the 2010 remake, everyone’s favorite mechanical owl pulls triple duty as messenger, sidekick, and comic relief in the 1981 film about the trials of Perseus, starring Harry Hamlin.
8. Johnny 5 from Short Circuit (1986)
Like others on this list, Number 5 was originally intended for use as a weapon. However, due to a freak lightning storm, he learns how to live, love, laugh…and ogle a bathing Ally Sheedy. Johnny 5’s wide-eyed wonder (and overall design) inspired robot descendant Wall-E, and the film itself inspired a sequel, a theme song by El DeBarge, and several other filmmakers to hire Steve Guttenberg.
9. Dot Matrix from Spaceballs (1987)
Joan Rivers lent her sassy personality and raspy voice to what amounted to C3-PO’s Jewish mother in Spaceballs. Her sole function? Protect Princess Vespa’s virginity. Mel Brooks at his mechanical, maniacal best.
10. Robot Bill & Ted from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Also known as “Evil Us-es,” these droid duplicates were actually smarter than the human versions, in that they succeed in killing the real Bill & Ted. So much for “Be excellent to each other.”
11. Data from Star Trek: Generations (1994)
As the Enterprise’s Chief Operations Officer for seven TV seasons and four films, Data was the child-like conscious of humanity as it trekked through space. Always curious and kindhearted, his stint as a Borg in Star Trek: First Contact showed he was also susceptible to peer pressure (of sorts), a distinctly human shortcoming.
12. The Iron Giant from The Iron Giant (1999)
Another allegorical Cold War tale, this time set not in the future, but in the past of the 1950s. With nods to Transformers and E.T., The Iron Giant is one of the biggest, most-powerful machines in movie history; and the one with the biggest heart.
13. Teddy from A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
There were several other robot stars of this epically odd Kubrick/Spielberg mashup, yet none were as adorably off-putting as Teddy, the stuffed bear. His functions are to offer comfort and counseling to Haley Joel Osment’s robot boy David, yet he refuses to believe he himself is not a toy. Doctor, cuddle thyself.
14. Sonny from I, Robot (2004)
Initially suspect, eventually heroic, Sonny is all about changing minds (his) and hearts (Will Smith’s) about the capacity for robots to feel.
15. Omnidroids from The Incredibles (2004)
The invention of whiny villain Syndrome, the Omnidroids were created to destroy all Supers, learning from its mistakes with each iteration. Omnidroid v.10 faces off against our family of heroes, but is ultimately defeated when commanded to claw out its own brainpan.
16. Optimus Prime from Transformers (2007)
Very likely dreamed up by a 5-year-old hopped up on Froot Loops, Optimus Prime is the leader of the Autobots — a group of alien robots that house every weapon known to man… and then transform into trucks. Though a little preachy at times, you have to give Optimus props for being able to work with Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox and not hurling them into space.
17. Eve from Wall-E (2008)
Sorry, Wall-E fans — I chose to feature Eve due to the dearth of female robots* in movies. While initially not as charming as the film’s leading ‘bot, she eventually holsters her plasma cannon and lets love soften her synthetic heart.
18. The Destroyer from Thor (2011)
While The Destroyer didn’t make his first film appearance until 2011, it first showed up in Thor comic books in 1963. Made of indestructible, Asgardian metal and powered by magic, The Destroyer emits a Gort-like blast from his face. Though a little more nimble than its eye-beamed predecessor, The Destroyer is equally as automated, controlled by the god-like minds of Odin, and then Loki.
19. Baymax from Big Hero 6 (2014)
Cuddlier than A.I.‘s Teddy, more protective than The Iron Giant, Baymax is the ultimate robot for kids. Created by a young scientist to protect his little brother, Baymax becomes the non-human heart and soul of a team of heroic nerds. More than super strength, flight, and intuitive healing programming, Baymax’s fist bump is by far his most-loved ability.
20. Ultron from Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
This guy is the worst kind of robot imaginable — off-the-charts evil combined with off-the-charts self-sufficiency. Throw in a whole bucket of crazy, a hankering for genocide, and the voice of James Spader, and you’ve got the scariest ‘bot to ever grace the big screen. I CAN’T WAIT.
I know I’ve left out some of your favorites (I’m not a robot, folks!), so be sure and mention them in the comments, and where you think they’d fall on the graph.
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[Disclaimer: As part of the Fandango Family Digital Network, I have accepted free promotional codes and other compensation from Fandango in exchange for this post. However, all opinions are my own.]
Zoom over to SuperLunchNotes on Instagram, where it’s Robot Week! Then jet on to the Designer Daddy Facebook page, where there’s always lots of other fun stuff going on. And not near as many evil robots.
*This list includes only family-friendly films, hence the absence of favorites such as Terminator, Bishop, and the Fembots.