Top 10 Most Helpful Movie Robots

by Warren Cantrell on June 28, 2011

in Top 10s

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To prove that we are indeed without hope for any salvation in this dismal, cinematic-black hole of a year, we find ourselves looking down the barrel of yet another “Transformers” offering. Yes, despite a spate of films over the last century that have warned against bestowing too much power on synthetic lifeforms, robots keep popping up in films in ways that don’t exactly warn against their continued development. Usually portraying a future where the metallic beasts have evolved into some varying degree of slave/servant, films that properly portray robots either do so in ways that warn of their dangers or tout the supposed pleasantries involved with their presence.

As for the former category, I couldn’t be more supportive. Whether it’s their inability to experience emotions (hence feel regret for my murder) or their strange aversion to lobsters, the metallic automatons have never sat well with me. Thus, I bestow a lot of respect upon any filmmaker that can portray robots in their film in ways that allow their audience to temporarily forget that the tricky bastards are as thick as thieves, almost certainly waiting for the perfect moment to strike in unison a la “Maximum Overdrive!”

So a moment should be taken to note those movies which somehow demonstrated that robots can be of some use, their soul-less forms capable of more than just human usurpation. Again, however, some limits and restrictions must be set to give the list some balance. No cyborgs (sorry “RoboCop”), for if something is part-human in some way, however small, it is not a true robot by this list’s definition. For no particular reason other than because I hate them, no “Transformers” and no goddamned Robin Williams, the latter of the two in permanent time-out until further notice due to the abomination that was “Patch Adams.” Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” didn’t make it simply because I wasn’t able to get a handle on just what in the hell it was, the same going for the creature in “Metropolis,” although both are in Eric’s Top 10 Coolest Movie Robots list. And since they stated clearly in the original “Terminator” that Arnie was a machine, and not a robot, the T-1000 from T2 & T3 must sadly be excluded. That said…

10. Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit” (1986) and “Short Circuit 2″ (1988)

Johnny 5 just barely made it in, for the plot dictated that a surge of lightening transformed the mess of wires and metal into an actual, living creature, seemingly eliminating him from contention. Mystical bullshit aside, however, Johnny was a robot through-and-through, full of all kinds of wiring, circuitry, and polish –  despite ruminations concerning his soul. He was also a nuclear device of sorts, as his intended military use had him delivering weapons of mass destruction whilst simultaneously acting as one. Not only was he rocking multiple weapons systems, he was absolutely fearless when it came to taking on human aggressors. For evidence, look simply to Stephanie’s boyfriend and the U.S. Army in #1, and the Los Lobos street gang and bank-robbing assholes in #2. In sum, Johnny could not only read and collect data at an alarming rate, he was a one-man sweat shop and security system that could battle all takers with ease. Admittedly, his design left a lot to be desired, what with the clunky, 1980s frame and tread-system keeping him in fairly stationary positions. It is for this reason and the questionable humanity that he did not get over on …

9. Gigolo Joe from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001)

While not a fan of this movie due in large part to Spielberg’s seeming inability to give his audience an unhappy ending in the 21st century, props should go to Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) for putting in some fine work as a robot assistant. Though obviously busy scaring up some needy ass, Law’s robot took the time to help out a lost, soul-less boy for no other real reason except that as it concerned the plot, he was needed as a force of good. And that’s fine: it’s not Joe’s fault that the script, mangled and in pieces due to Stanley Kubrick’s passing, had no idea how to plausibly connect him to the protagonist’s problems. Though not human and hence incapable of actual emotions, Joe still took it upon himself to see the film’s hero get through all manner of terrible traumas, including a scene involving a Thunderdome-style robot-slaughter party that did not go on nearly long enough. Directing the robot boy to a glorified search engine, Joe did regrettably little in the long-term for the mechanical orphan. It was his persistence and unshakable commitment to helping out a lost stranger that got him a slot on the list, however, for at no point did the synthetic creature turn or otherwise attempt human usurpation as cause for his good deeds (something I think we all thought was coming). As far as helping out, there’s definitely room to rank the next entrant above Joe, his brand of assistance nothing if not exceptional…

8. Wall-E from “Wall-E” (2008)

Like Johnny- 5, I hesitated adding this robot due to the film’s insistence that through hundreds of years of survival, that the little prick suddenly just grew emotions and sentience. That excluded (because if it’s true we’re all screwed), Wall-E showcased some great abilities that pushed him beyond some of his other peers. This little wide-eyed bastard demonstrated that he could independently fix himself with left-over parts, run on solar power, keep his woman intact, save the last plant on Earth, and shoot a laser from between his eyes. I’d expect no less from Earth’s sole survivor, for any creature, robot or otherwise, that can emerge victorious at the end of a seven hundred year cycle of Hobbesian carnage is one to be respected. Sure, the audience never caught a glimpse of the mayhem that almost certainly ensued following humanity’s cowardly exodus, but I’d like to think that Wall-E came out of the apocalyptic wilderness with more than a couple scalps on his belt. Surely, that gentle creature evolved only after a shattering four hundred or so years of continuous mortal combat against all manner of creatures: the Zen-like peace of his truck-utopia the reward of so brutal a life. Indeed, though his actions once in space were fairly heroic, what we didn’t see is what got him a spot here. You go, Wall-E: survivors laugh the loudest.

7. Lab Robot from “Iron Man” (2008)

Don’t count this little guy out just because he didn’t have any dramatic space rescue scenes, or Mohawk-heavy montages. Tony Stark’s robotic lab assistant was perhaps the most crucial component in Iron Man’s eventual victory over Obadiah Stane. Though much maligned and disrespected, this one-armed work-horse was instrumental in getting Tony and his suit ready in time to save the world. Whether it was close-quarters electrical engineering or fire safety, this little guy was always available, always ready, and best of all, eager to please. Yes, the thing was a bit too eager at times, needlessly blasting its boss with a fire extinguisher a few times, but would a human have done any better? Really, what’s a person got on this thing except skinnier fingers? The thing didn’t get hungry, didn’t complain, worked for nothing, and seemed to love abuse: talk about perfect! The thing even came through at the end of the day despite the abuse, and assured that Tony got his back-up chest-piece so freedom, justice, and sweet-ass parties survived along with the vigilante billionaire. Though it was nothing compared to the next entrant as it concerned technological bad-assery, considering what it had to work with, Stark’s lab-bot was alright.

6. Roy Batty from “Blade Runner” (1982)

This was something of a sleeper pick, what with Batty operating as the antagonist throughout most of the film. Yet by the end of the movie, it’s hard not to get on this replicant’s side — any creature that saves Indiana Jones from certain death is totally cool in my book. Created to work the shittiest, most dangerous jobs, and given an abbreviated shelf-life to assure the sneaky fucks were kept totally under control, these robots busted loose and tried to get a little R&R in before the batteries ran down. Though he wasn’t very nice, Roy certainly did his best to look after his crew: Leon, Zhora, and Pris all in Batty’s debt for seeing them back to Earth and into the sweetest parts of town (one got to a strip club – awesome priorities!). Chasing Deckard after the Blade Runner had finished smoking the last of Batty’s crew, the replicant didn’t kill the fleeing human, something the film demonstrated was a definite possibility. No. Instead, Roy saved the guy that had been trying to “retire” him, and gave the future-pseudo-cop something to chew on (the fragility of existence and the inconsequential nature of experience). Because he not only saved Deckard in body but also quite possibly in mind, the tricky bastard got a pass.

5. Zoltar from “Big” (1988)

This Zoltar thing was pretty damn old school, but that doesn’t mean one should disregard the awesomeness of its robot prowess. Young Josh Baskin had been shafted just minutes before by some good-for-nothing carnie, and was told in front of his beloved that he was too little to ride some worthless New Jersey death-trap. Rather than get down on his hands and knees and thank the gypsy Gods and fortune-teller robots for this fortuitous act of kindness, Baskin started looking gift horses in the mouth. True to the awesome benevolence that was Zoltar, however, the turban-wearing demon broke off a hefty piece of awesome for young Josh, and showed the little urchin how lucky he really was. Going above and beyond the call of duty, making Josh not only bigger, but immediately a man with a full complement of insta-grown, operational plumbing, Zoltar really came through for the kid. Hitting the fast-forward button on adolescence, Zoltar did what most of us only dreamed about: he helped the main character skip childhood. The film’s insistence on this as folly aside, I say look at what happened as a result! Quickly out of New Jersey and in New York City, Josh almost immediately hooked up a sweet job, apartment, girlfriend, and tuxedo, only to then ascend the higher-ranks of upper-management without the pangs of middle school, high school or even college. Now THAT’S a helpful robot! Any humanoid-device that can help a person leap-frog over a decade of pain and humiliation to emerge a success on the other side is alright by this author’s standards.

4. Data from “Star Trek The Next Generation” franchise

Jesus, Data’s cool. I challenge anybody out there to give me a good reason why you wouldn’t want this guy on your side going into a fight. He’s not only a goddamned walking calculator and encyclopedia, capable of collating terabytes of data in a split second, but he’s stronger than shit! Essentially impervious to anything conceivably dangerous to humans, Data could not only withstand the rigors of any physical encounter, but he could do so without ever getting rattled! In all, Data was stronger, smarter, and faster than any other sentient organism in existence, and was unshakably in control at all times: hard-wired to his core to do nothing that might endanger the mission at hand or the fellow crew members around him. No wonder the Borg wanted a piece of this guy during “First Contact.” All these qualities magnified by something like a thousand when you consider that Data was one of a kind, his savagely efficient powers unmatched in any universe, even by other robots. Though his track-record does not indicate any savage killings in the name of the Federation (come on, Data!), the PG-13 hindrance kept the action and back-story from really taking off. And while his warranty-card was full of all manner of colossally awesome features, his lack of truly epic saves kept him from beating out a clutch little guy named….

3. R2D2 from Star Wars (1977)

Talk about Johnny-on-the-spot; while I’m sure there’s an exact figure, I can’t seem to place just how many times R2 saved Luke, Han, Leia, or C3PO’s lives (it was a lot). Whether it was his fast hack of the Death Star’s server to save the crew from trash-compacting misery, or making sure Luke was light-saber heavy for his Jabba the Hut escape/rescue, R2D2 proved himself to be absolutely indispensible time and again. He not only covered Obi-Wan’s ass during the prequels on a number of occasions, but quietly suffered the indignity of the senile old man failing to recognize the little bugger when Luke first came calling in Episode IV. Serendipitously functional after the Queen’s Naboo escape in Episode I, R2 began a long Lucasian life hereafter as a trusty script bridge for plot points far too implausible to be shorn up through any other English-speaking character. True, he was hampered somewhat by his inability to construct sentences with anything but electric pops and squeals, yet this vocal hindrance allowed R2 more conversational credibility than any other Star Wars character, as Lucas could do little to ruin dialogue that didn’t actually exist. Thus, when it comes to the preeminent battle-ready robot, that most indispensible of artificial space companions, R2D2 was a hard choice to beat. That is until you consider…

2. Bishop from “Aliens” (1986)

While you could make the argument that Data demonstrated more diverse robot applications, when it comes to on-screen ass-kicking, Bishop (Lance Henriksen) cannot be fucked with. By all accounts, Bishop had all the technical knowhow and abilities as Data, yet how many times did Data swoop in and land on a goddamned platform about to explode in a nuclear shockwave? How many times did Data get his torso split in two, persevering nonetheless, saving a little girl from certain demise while in pieces? Most importantly, how many times did Data pull out a knife and scare the piss out of Bill Paxton? Yeah, look back and count: NO times. While I’m certainly not bad-mouthing the meanest, most grizzled robot in Star Fleet, it seems that between the two very similar candidates, Bishop takes the edge because of his more hardened, gruesome accomplishments and because he seems more damage-friendly. In Bishop, you not only had a robot without any troublesome emotion-chips, but a synthetic life form that seemed ready for repair and re-use under any circumstance. While Data seemed to glitch out or malfunction at the slightest rustle or knock, they were slapping Bishop together and talking to him after getting the majority of his guts spilled all over the cargo deck. Hell, in Alien 3, Ripley had the milky bastard wired up for a questioning in no time, and that’s after a crash and the aforementioned disemboweling. Now that’s convenience! I want a robot with great reflexes, unmatched strength, and terrifying intelligence, but also one I can patch back together quickly in case I drop him in the toilet.

1. Cherry 2000 from “Cherry 2000″ (1987)

Two words: perfect woman. I mean, come on! She was a fucking robot! She existed to meet your every need: programmed to worship and serve you unconditionally. Not only was she down to cook, clean, and get her beast on in a suds-covered kitchen, but look at what happened after she shorted out! The husband, David Andrews’ Sam Treadwell, had the option of popping his lady’s personality chip into a whole other model, essentially getting the gift of giving his wife a hand-picked body-reboot. Still, though he could have changed body type, facial features, voice, or even ankle girth, he stuck with his Cherry (Pamela Gidley), going on a cross-country desert wasteland adventure to get his prized pussy back. Now that’s what I call a helpful robot! A sex-crazy machine that’s hot, submissive, totally committed, and vicious enough in the sack that she necessitated a life-altering rescue-op: that’s one worth keeping around. Sure, she didn’t display crucial life-saving acts, feats of amazing strength, or world-changing actions: but to demand this kind of devotion, and know how to keep a man satisfied: really, does it get any better? Could I go on longer about why Cherry kicked the rest of the robots asses? Sure? Would it make any difference if this hasn’t already sold you? Not likely. Get the movie, compare your significant other to Cherry, THEN get back to me and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.


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