Summer at the cinema is very nearly here, which means I’ve been thinking about robots.  This one, for instance:

Did you catch that cool Weyland Corp. fingerprint?  Did you see how he cries without scrunching his eyes, the most pitiful cry of all, and then admits his inability to feel sorrow?!  He smells flowers, wears soft shoes, sits straight-backed, hands on knees, like that neurotic child you knew in kindergarten who meticulously peeled the papers off of all the crayons and made an origami caterpillar that stretched all the way out the door to the tetherball pole. (Psst, that was me!)  So Prometheus’ debut of David prompted me to think up a list of ten great movie robots.  And they are ….


Rachael from Blade Runner.  So many replicants to choose from in Blade Runner.  While I’m partial to Rutger Hauer here (as I am in most cases, truth be told), I also love Sean Young’s performance as the emotionally-advanced Tyrell Corp prototype who keeps a noir Harrison Ford transfixed.

David from Prometheus.  Hey, if the makers of the “Happy Birthday David” promo can declare it a “viral video” as it was uploading, I can put David on my top ten movie robots list before the film even makes its debut.  Yeah, yeah, I remember Ash from Alien, but Ridley Scott plus Michael Fassbender equals hyperventilating into a paper bag and a bee-line to this here spot.

Yul Brynner’s gunslinger from Westworld.  Roughly ten years before The Terminator unleashed the relentless, virtually unstoppable cyborg hell-bent on annihilating its target, Westworld’s robot gunslinger-gone-rogue terrorized the vacationers at Delos with his rigid quick-walk and death glare and itchy trigger finger.

R2-D2 from Star Wars.  I’m sorry, people who think omitting C-3P0 is blasphemous, but if I’m only picking one per franchise I have to go with the little guy because C-3P0 whines more than a four-year-old out of tokens at a rigged Chuck E. Cheese crane game.  He whines more than Luke himself.  “What have you done? I’m backwards!”  Wah!  R2-D2, on the other hand, makes for a supercool record player.

The fembots from Austin Powers.  Three words: machine gun jubblies.

Officer Alex from RoboCop.  In the era of The Terminator (they’d used the Terminator theme in the original trailer for RoboCop, in fact), RoboCop, i.e. the future of law enforcement, presented an interesting twist on the unstoppable killing machine trope.  He’s on our side, saving the ladies from thugs in dark alleys and fighting corporate corruption all at the same time.

The giant from The Iron Giant.  Voiced by Vin Diesel, The Iron Giant is one of those under-the-radar kid movies that few people out there realize is actually terrific.  War is bad!  Artists are good!  Mom is alive and well!  And the retro styling of the robot is a nice nod to its 1957 setting.

Data from Star Trek: Generations.   I can’t really say that I don’t like Data.  That’d be like saying I don’t like double rainbows or the IHOP Rooty Tooty platter.  I mean, he’s likeable … but insufferable at the same time – taking things so literally, being so rule-oriented, blinking so earnestly.  I love/hate Data.  Yes.  There you have it.   And whatever you think of Star Trek in any incarnation you have to admit that Data’s child-like little wound-tight self was masterfully, and memorably, realized by actor Brent Spiner.

Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I had a neighbor once who tried to make a sculpture of a knight out of mufflers and baking sheets, and the knight pretty much looked just like Gort looming outside my bedroom window.  That’s the beauty of Gort.  He’s visually simple.  Clean lines, hulking and shiny, laser-beam eyes.  So simple you can build your own (and I know you want to).

The T-800 from The Terminator.  The old story goes that James Cameron based the Terminator story on a dream he’d had.  I don’t know what he’d eaten for dinner that night, pizza and beer and peyote buttons or what, but I wish we could somehow recreate the circumstances that had once allowed Cameron to dream up something like the T-800 as opposed to, say, I don’t know, giant blue people.


Honorable mention:  the Rocky IV robot.  Come on!  You know you love it when the walking trashcan gives Paulie his birthday cake to the tinny slur of ‘80s synthesizers.

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TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

22 responses to “Top Ten Movie Robots”

  1. Quenby Moone says:

    I’m so happy to see Yul make an appearance, if only because then I can mention the time I dressed Lars up as Yul Brynner’s marauding robot for Halloween one year, complete with exposed computer chips blinking on the side of his head.

    We still live on the fat of that coup. Best. Costume. Ever.

    And what: NO WALL-E?

    Or Short Circuit? (Kidding about the Short Circuit.)

  2. pixy says:

    the word you’re looking for for data is “loate”. you loate data. 🙂

    and i love this list.

  3. Matt says:

    Ah, Gort. The cleanest, sleekest, planet-killing automaton ever created. His design is humanoid in shape but utterly lacking an aspect of humanity, without even so much as a kabuki mask of a face to project emotions on. This, coupled with his sheer raw power, makes him far more terrifying than any Decepticon.

    How awesome is that “David” promotional ad? While I’m doing my damnedest to avoid any Prometheus-related buzz (I want to walk into the theater with as blank a slate as possible) I couldn’t pass up that video.

    Got to admit I’m a little sad Bishop from Aliens didn’t get a shout-out, though. Treated alternately as a pariah, an amusing toy, or a disposable piece of equipment the whole movie, he gets torn in half by the alien queen and still manages to save Newt from being sucked into the black vacuum of space. That’s robot moxie!

    • Movie robots have gotten so visually complex and fussy since Gort (and CGI, etc.). (I didn’t like the Gort of the remake, btw.) Filmmakers should bring it back to Gort’s blank slate.

      I actually wasn’t that excited about Prometheus until I saw the David promo. Then I gave the trailer a fresh look. I’m really leery of reboots & revisits & prequels, but it is Scott himself in his element and it does look pretty freakin’ grand. Count me in.

  4. R2-D2 is the greatest robot of all time. He basically runs the show. If it wasn’t for the courage coursing through his circuits he never would have got the plans off the ship, Luke would never have found him, Obi Wan would never get the message, they’d never meet Han and Chewwy, never save the Princess, and therefore never blow up the Death Star.

    The first time I saw Star Trek TNG it was in Generations, in which Data is incredibly annoying. He’s awesome in First Contact though.

    I’m with Matt on Bishop though. I’d like to hang out with Bishop.

    • Right?! He’s so important. And so much character conveyed in just a few little bleeps.

    • Oh! Also, I wanted to say STG was selected only b/c it was the first of the films with the Next Generation cast — not that it’s the best of that set or even the best Data. First Contact, the Borg, yes yes yes.

      • R2 has always been my favourite character in Star Wars. All he does is make noises, but you can sort of understand what he’s saying. He’s a rebel, and quite funny.

        My friend made me watch First Contact. He’s slowly been converting me into a Star Trek fan. I watched the first episode of TNG and couldn’t beleive it took a full 20 minutes for Patrick Stewart to quote Shakespeare.

        I still can’t believe it took several viewings before I noticed Farmer Hogget was in First Contact. The same year as Babe. Terrifying in LA Confidential…

  5. Gloria says:

    Oh! I am so pleased to see The Iron Giant on here. One of my favorite movies of all time – and the best movies Jennifer Aniston and Vinn Diesel ever performed in!

  6. R2-D2 owes his existence to Drones 1,2 and 3 – Dewey, Huey and Louie (in that order) from Silent Running, and C-3PO is the GBF of Maria from Metropolis.

    In the The Day The Earth Stood Still remake, a super clever science guy says that Gort is made of silicone. My mind boggles at the idea that nobody on the set said “Dude, it’s silicon, not siliconE.” Props people must have winced; maybe they were afraid of getting fired. MAYBE – and I’m being very generous – it was meant as a jokey reference to the obvious rubber suit nature of the original Gort. Probably not, and that would have been vinyl anyway.

    Pedantry – is Officer Murphy a robot? Isn’t he a bloke with some unusually extensive prosthetics? ED209, now there’s a robot. YOU HAVE TWENTY SECONDS TO COMPLY.

    Some dodgy films with quality robots – Judge Dredd and Hardware.

    The much-maligned AI: Artificial Intelligence has more robots than you can shake a stick at. I especially liked Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), who’s a greasily smooth dandy (Jude Law) within sleazy Rouge City, but utterly out of his depth out in the country. If anyone wants to discuss THAT ending, I’m game.

    Of the other Star Wars droids I’ve always liked the utterly reprehensible bounty hunter IG-88, and those little car batteries that scuttle about in the Death Star. And the Imperial probe droid from Empire was pleasingly sinister and, I suspect, was an influence on the Matrix designs.

    Speaking of which, I thought the scene with the baby fields and the huge floating harvester machines was a real jaw-dropper.

    And finally, if we’re including artificially-made biological humans (Rachael), can I have one of the Boomers from the Battlestar Galactica reboot? There are loads of ’em, they won’t miss one.

    What I’ve just done here, is that called “geeking out”?

    Fingers crossed for HTML success…

    • Geeking out of the very best kind! Yeah, I knew I was stretching it w/ Rachael. I really wanted her on here though. She’s more of a stretch I think than RoboCop because he’s pretty much all machine. Even his brain is controlled by a computer something or other. The ED209 mowing down the boardroom is tops, though! I almost put the Matrix sentinels on here as well.

      Did you like AI? I take it you did. I did love Gigolo Joe. Didn’t like David so much, though. I found him really difficult to sympathize with, which is what I think we were supposed to do, and if you can’t sympathize with a character you have to at least be intrigued by him or her. There was nothing intriguing about David once he left the family. Some day I may need to give it a second chance, though. I’ve only seen it once, and that was when it first came out.

      You may geek out on my posts any time, Steve!


        Like most people, I didn’t like AI much – it was uneven, especially the “Flesh Fair” section – but unlike most people, I rather liked the ending, although I only “got” it (or arrived at my interpretation of it) some time after seeing the film.

        It is too long though, on top of an already long film. Still.

        Obviously I was amused that the super-evolved robots (come on, they’re not aliens) were English, and I liked their floating-rectangle-based technology. They need physical contact to exchange data, though? No bluetooth?

        The main criticism is that it’s a tacked-on, sentimental ending. I disagree; in fact, I think it’s cold, cynical and snide, and as such, rather satisfying. Put simply: Fake Boy spends the entire film trying to find love, and the way he finally gets it is by the creation of a one-day-only Fake Mom. Ouch.

    • Froog says:

      I’m glad to see Steve pointed out some of the most egregious omissions here – Huey, Dewey, and Louie from Silent Running, and Maria from Metropolis.

      But hello – no Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet (and its brother in Lost in Space)?!

      The robot cops in THX 1138 were pretty memorable too.

      And speaking of great robots in so-so movies, the robot in Zathura is awesome – unreasonably scary for a kid’s film.

      • I love Silent Running so much, I could crap on about it at length – in fact I have, right here on TNB, but I can’t remember where.

        I watched THX 1138 recently, for the first time in decades. Digital clean-up: Great. Digital “enhancements”: GOD DAMN IT, LUCAS, CAN’T YOU JUST LEAVE THINGS ALONE?

        Anyway, it’s an extremely sinister film. The level of dystopic de-humanisation is incredible (and there’s a wanking machine!) and it has one of the best final shots ever. I didn’t find the chrome-faced cops particularly threatening, they were just doing their jobs

        I just looked up the Zathura robot. It’s good, isn’t it? Real classic tin toy look, but, as you say, scary!

  7. J.M. Blaine says:

    You’ll think I am
    trying to be cutesy
    here but no kidding
    we watched an episode
    of Dukes of Hazzard
    last weekend where Roscoe
    was replaced by a robot
    & — oh wait, you said

    Yesterday (no joke)
    I was reading that Chuck Klosterman
    book where he says R2D2 was basically
    a dwarf holding a Simon.

    • Ah, the old “replaced by a robot” schtick! If I was better versed in television, I’d come up with a list of great TV robots — because I think there has to be soooo many more of them from TV. Like Battlestar Galactica and Lost in Space etc. etc. I think there was even a robot on Gilligan’s Island once ….