Having just come from a screening of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” I can safely say that the giant talking robots on display in the movie are so extremely badass from every standpoint—including sheer volume—that they have to be near the top of any list of the Top 10 Coolest Movie Robots. Here’s a look back at some of the other more memorable robots in cinematic history.
10. Mechagodzilla from “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” (1974)
The simian-like aliens of the Third Planet from the Black Hole (that’s a mouthful) created Mechagodzilla to kill the real Godzilla, but the giant robot’s identity wasn’t revealed until later in the film when its “skin” is burned off in battle. (Strangely, it somehow lost a lot of mobility right around that same time—go figure!) Originally released in the U.S. as “Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster” in 1977, its name was soon changed again to “Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster” to avoid similarities with U.S. TV shows “The Bionic Woman” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Eventually, however, Mechagodzilla got its due and became a part of the title (around the time that I used to run home from grade school to catch the movie on TV during “Monster Week”). He was rebuilt for “Terror of Mechagodzilla” a year later and would reappear several times in different incarnations in other Japanese kaiju flicks and videogames.
9. David from “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” (2001)
I’m still a big proponent of this misunderstood Spielberg-by-way-of-Kubrick sci-fi film set in a future full of “mechas,” and Haley Joel Osment’s portrayal of the creepy/sad robot boy David is one of the reasons I like it so much. Osment is devastating as the little android that just wants to love and be loved and injects the movie with so much pathos that it’s impossible not to feel sorry for the little guy. More robots: Jude Law is also devilishly fun as a pleasurebot gigolo for the ladies, and Teddy is an animatronic/CGI concoction of a little boy’s talking teddy bear. Still, for actual painfully uncomfortable moments, no one can beat David and his innocent, unblinking, empty gaze. The image of him sitting at the bottom of the ocean for millennia still haunts me to this day.
8. Robby the Robot from “Forbidden Planet” (1956)
I finally got around to seeing this sci-fi classic recently and I have to say: I was mighty impressed. The enduring iconic image from the film is certainly Robby the Robot, who has the unusual distinction of having crossed over into large numbers of TV shows and other movies such as “Lost in Space”, “The Twilight Zone”, “The Addams Family”, “The Love Boat”, “Columbo”, and “Mork and Mindy.” At 6 ft. 11 inches, Robby was tall, but it was obviously a guy in a suit with the mobility of a tree trunk. Although the name Robby (spelled “Robbie”) was taken from the Isaac Asimov book “I, Robot,” in the 2004 Will Smith movie, the robot’s name was changed to Sonny.
7. The Giant from “The Iron Giant” (1999)
Vin Diesel’s best role ever was as the voice of this 50-foot, metal-eating robot that’s befriended by a 9-year-old kid in 1957. It’s the Cold War and the military is on the hunt for the crash-landed robot, but the boy hides the giant and is somehow able to curb the robot’s destructive tendencies. Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” Ratatouille”) adapted and directed this 2D animated film just as computer animation was beginning to dominate the market, so it’s a film that seems like more of a relic than it really is. The storytelling is as top-notch as anything Pixar has produced and it deserves your attention immediately if you haven’t seen it.
6. Wall-E from “Wall-E” (2008) and Johnny Five from “Short Circuit” (1986)
Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m cheating by including these both in the same entry. But look at the photo—Wall-E is so familiar a face these days that you probably thought that might have been him there on the right. Nope. Sorry, it’s Johnny Number 5 from the cheesy Ally Sheedy comedy “Short Circuit.” Like “The Iron Giant,” herky-jerky Johnny eventually learns what it means to be human. Wall-E, on the other hand, is a wonder of technical achievement for all its animators, as photorealistic as animation gets these days. He doesn’t have to grapple with a desire to be human because he’s already in love (with Eve, an exquisitely designed robot who looks like a sort of glowing, oblong iPod. The geniuses at Pixar imbue Wall-E with so many human-like traits, it’s hard to remember he’s a machine in the first place.
5. Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951)
Gort could destroy Earth if he wanted to. The 8ft. tall robot stands motionless in front of his flying saucer, but shows his power when he disintegrates the U.S. military’s weapons with la laser beam from his visor on the lawn in President’s Park. His space buddy Klaatu explains kindly that mankind’s penchant for violence might get the entire Earth “eliminated” if they’re not careful. Gort stands there for the entire film, serving as a grim reminder that we’re not the bad-asses we think we are and he could drop us at any second. We don’t talk about the confused 2008 remake.
4. T-800 from “The Terminator” (1984)
This was a tough one because as good as Arnold Schwarzenegger is as the T-800 Terminator in James Cameron’s low-budget sci-fi/horror flick, Robert Patrick’s steely shape-shifting T-1000 from the 1991 sequel was pretty amazing as well. I’m sticking with Arnie though, because this role may have suited his acting skills better than any other part he’s had. Nobody had ever done an unfeeling, unstoppable killing machine quite like this before, and frankly, his tenacity was chilling. Things softened up a bit for the T-800 when he came back as a good guy (boo!), but few villains are as menacing as this muscle-bound cyborg with an Austrian accent.
3. The Maschinenmensch from Metropolis (1927)
Fritz Lang’s hugely influential dystopian-future silent film cost something like 7 million marks, which would be about $200 million today. The curvaceous metallic maschinenmensch is an iconic and somewhat controversial figure, having been made in the image of a woman to tempt men to their doom. Eventually, the robot gets the face of young Maria (Brigitte Helm) and it goads the mistreated underground workers into rebellion before they turn on her and burn her at the stake. “Metropolis” is a visually stunning film from a special effects and art design perspective (beautiful Art Deco buildings everywhere), yet the female robot remains its most identifiable image.
2. Robocop from “Robocop” (1987)
Paul Verhoeven’s dark, funny, and violent send-up of American greed and the media features Paul Weller as a do-gooder family-man cop who is tortured and killed by street thugs in Detroit. That is, until an evil corporation rebuilds the man as mostly machine, complete with infrared vision and a holster within his leg. Then something unexpected happens: Robocop starts having flashbacks to his human life and starts remembering who he was. Just as machines were replacing jobs in the Motor City, along came this scary film—an unexpected R-rated hit—which has an acid tongue and a hardcore emotional pull as well. He also kicked the crap out of the monstrous ED209, which was really, really cool. “The Wrestler” director Darren Aronofsky is currently working on a remake and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt because he must know something about the new project that we don’t…
1. R2-D2/C-3PO from “Star Wars” trilogy (1977-1983)
I’m so alienated from this franchise right now (thanks to the last three films) that I almost didn’t put 3PO and R2 on this list. But when it comes right down to it, the Abbott and Costello of robot sidekicks are as American as Mom’s homemade apple pie (despite Anthony Daniels’ fey British accent). How could I avoid it? When I was a kid, I remember eating C-3PO cereal, for chrissakes. C-3PO is a protocol droid and is fluent in “over six million forms of communication,” which means that he’s a handy device to have around for any screenwriter stuck in a tough spot. He also makes for a welcome respite from too much dead-serious Jedi-speak. And honestly, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is a better defined character—with all his whirs and bleeps serving as dialogue—than half of the people I’ve seen in this year’s summer movies.