Who doesn’t love robots? Our metal friends have long been a source of inspiration, wonder and fear for filmmakers and audiences. A way to examine our own humanity, and view emotions – or lack of them – from a new perspective, artificial intelligence has been in films for almost as long as we’ve been making them. We seem drawn to them, more often that not casting them as our creations gone rogue and seeking to rise up against us, but sometimes as tragic figures wanting to be more like us. Either way, they’re fascinating, and pretty damn cool.50. Sonny – I, Robot
Brought to artificial life by the brilliant Alan Tudyk, Sonny is the robot at the heart of the Will Smith blockbuster, which really bears no resemblance to the seminal short story collection by Isaac Asimov, other than acknowledging his three laws of robotics (for those who don’t know: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.). However, Sonny is the best thing in the film, with a subtle motion captured performance hinting at the humanity lurking within, and for a film about robots, it’s probably a good thing its most memorable character is one…
49. Shiro Robot – RoboGeisha
One of those bonkers Japanese films that really has to be seen to be believed. I sadly can’t include the RoboGeishas of the title due to them actually being cyborgs, but I can include the baddies’ headquarters which turn into a giant robot at the end in order to walk to Mount Fuji and deliver a device 17 times more powerful than the atomic bomb. Nope, I don’t know why it was specifically 17. But what I do know is that the two RoboGeishas have to fuse together in order to defeat this behemoth. Quality.
48. Alfie – Barbarella
Here’s Barbarella’s computer from her ship Alpha 7. Alfie doesn’t actually do a great deal, but he does enable Jane Fonda to float around naked while he flies to Tau Ceti. Which he then promptly crashes into, maybe because he was a bit distracted… However, Alfie redeems himself by getting to fly through the core of the planet. To be honest, Alfie gets his place on this list for being one of the campest sounding things in one of the campest films ever made. I salute you Alfie, good job.
47. Bubo – Clash of the Titans
What did the remake of Clash Of The Titans miss the most? That’s right, Bubo. When Zeus orders his daughter Athena to give up her pet owl Bubo so it can help Perseus, she creates a mechanical version of it instead, which turns out to be far more useful to our hero. Not content with showing Perseus the way to the Stygian witches, Bubo also fetches Pegasus for the weakened Perseus, and then takes on the Kraken solo before helping kill it with Medusa’s head. Not bad for a comedy sidekick. And proof that robotic versions of living things are better.
46. Rosey – Jetsons: The Movie
One of the most iconic and recognisable robots for many people, Rosey the Robot was the helpful robotic maid of the Jetson family.
Based on the eponymous character from the TV show Hazel, Rosey came from U-RENT A MAID, had a boyfriend called Mac, and rolled around on wheels while cleaning the place. She’s also proven to be one of the most durable characters from the cartoon, with recent appearances in AT&T advert (about the history of robots of course), and the video for the Kanye West song Heartless. She also makes a memorable appearance in the Futurama feature, Bender’s Game, where she is imprisoned for killing Elroy and Astro, “Everything must be clean. Very clean. That’s why the dog had to die. He was a dirty dog. Also that boy Elroy. Dirty. Dirty.”
45. Sexy androids from 2046 – 2046
One of the most stylish parts of this incredibly good-looking and gorgeous film is the sections set in the fictional future world of the train leaving 2046. In it, a Japanese man named Tak is running away from his memories when he falls in love with one of the trains beautiful android assistants. Believing that the android’s responses have slowed down over time, he waits patiently for it to tell him it loves him back, before realising the android is already in love with someone else. Mirroring the plot of the main film, this is a heart-breaking and stylish way of getting your point across, usefully using robots as a metaphor for people not returning your feelings.44. The Golden Army – Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
I enjoyed the first Hellboy immensely, but I loved the sequel. For me it’s the perfect fusion of Guillermo del Toro’s two disparate careers, the larger budget Hollywood fare, and the more personal dark fantasy work.
Drawing heavily on a steam-punk aesthetic, the titular Golden Army are initially incredibly rendered in the films amazing animated opening sequence, where their power is demonstrated, before appearing in full live-action glory at the end. The best bit is when you think they’ve been easily defeated by Hellboy and the others, before reassembling and showing themselves to be unstoppable clockwork killing machines which will conquer the world for their master.43. Bomb #20 – Dark Star
I do wonder if one day we’ll look back at Dark Star and view it as way ahead of its time – it seems to capture perfectly the mundanity and madness of what life aboard a spaceship in deep space would be like. On a 20 year and counting mission to destroy unstable planets using artificially intelligent nuclear bombs, the Dark Star suffers an accident which leads Bomb #20 to go rogue and refuse to obey orders.
During its period of enlightenment, Bomb #20 learns philosophy from the crew before naturally assuming it is God and destroying the ship. Which is probably what would happen if a nuclear bomb became self-aware and questioned its role in the universe… Brilliantly offbeat, Dark Star is an early John Carpenter classic, and Bomb #20 one of its best characters, human or otherwise.
42. Jinx – SpaceCamp
Even as a young boy, with dreams of becoming an astronaut (cruelly dashed by my failure to win a competition on CBBC’s Newsround to go to a real-life SpaceCamp) and this film on repeat, I kind of hated Jinx. The chubby robot grounded by NASA for being too rubbish at his job is responsible for not only wrecking Kathryn and Kevin’s alone time, but then decides to sabotage a billion dollar shuttle in order to make his new friend Max’s wishful thinking of wanting to be in space come true. By sending them up in a half-finished shuttle with no oxygen or radio. Nice work. He’s still allowed in Mission Control though. No wonder the space program has effectively been shut down.
41. MechaGodzilla – Godzilla Vs MechaGodzilla
A great and literal example of a ‘Mirror Villain’, a baddie who represents and twists all that makes our hero good. MechaGodzilla is one of my favourite monsters, mainly because he’s as powerful as the big G, and normally can only be taken down by two or more guys helping Godzilla. He’s got a rainbow coloured laser beam that shoots out of his mouth, a spinning head, and missiles in his fingers and toes. He’s also made of space titanium, which as everyone knows is the best kind of titanium.
Most importantly though, he is a worthy foe for Godzilla, the type of threat which the films needed in order to put a real sense of danger and jeopardy in them. And for that, MechaGodzilla fully deserves his place amongst the elite.40. Unicron – Transformers: The Movie
There are many, many reasons why this planet sized transformer deserves a place on this list. Here are just two of them.
Firstly, he’s the perfect example of ramping up the scale and threat of a villain when a popular TV show makes its big screen transition. He gets an entire prologue sequence entirely dedicated to showing just how badass he is. If you were a fan of the show the fact there was a bad transformer capable of eating entire worlds would have blown your tiny mind. Plus he’s the puppet master of previous big bad Megatron (well actually Galvatron but they’re the same robot in essence), thereby enhancing his own status.
Secondly, he’s voiced by Orson Welles, in the legendary man’s last ever film role! If that doesn’t elevate Unicron to greatness, I don’t what does…
39. MCP – Tron
Otherwise known as the Master Control Program. An AI computer program which grew far beyond its initial programming, the MCP took control of the virtual world of Tron and forced the programs into gladiatorial games against each other. Not content with that, the MCP then blackmailed David Warner into doing its bidding, before trying to exert control of real-world computer systems. Like a virtual Sauron, the MCP was all-seeing, all-powerful, and an ever-present non-corporeal threat to our heroes.
The MCP also showed that even though humans could be pretty power hungry and evil at times, they were nothing compared to the ambitions of a artificial intelligence fuelled by logic and lack of emotions, which only wanted to dominate. End of line.
38. Auto – Wall-E
Okay, so he’s heavily indebted to HAL in look and personality, the automated computer and pilot of the Axiom, Auto, lifts himself above the usual imitators by being a genuine threat to Wall-E and EVE. Voiced entirely by Mac in a nice touch, Auto is the seemingly helpful machine turned bad and driven by its own logic and previous orders. Menacing and creepy, yet with the veneer of helpfulness, Auto is one of the most effective baddies of the Pixar films, and helps lift Wall-E’s often overlooked second half into something thoroughly entertaining
37. Maximilian – The Black Hole
Part of Disney’s dark and interesting late 70s/early 80s phase, The Black Hole is a pretty weird and terrifying film. Full of some notable hero robots, as well as lobotomised cyborgs, it’s the hulking evil robot Maximilian that earns a spot in my top fifty. Going against the cold emotionless stereotype, he almost seems to enjoy being the baddie, killing humans and robots with glee and generally causing mayhem for the crew of the Palomino. He’s Reinhardt in metal form, a plot device made startlingly appareant when the two are merged together in the film’s crazy black hole sequence which sends the characters to Hell. Yep, that’s right; Maximilian is so damn evil he ends up in hell!
36. 80s Robot – The Muppets
Yeah, so he’s a throwaway gag initially, but 80s robot is one of the best things about the new Muppets film. The helper/chauffeur of Kermit, 80s robot gets some of the films best lines, including the one about ‘going to montage mode’ which got some of the biggest laughs in the screening I saw. A helpful robot for once, but really an entirely pointless character in the film overall, one of the highest compliments I can pay is that it felt like 80s robot had always been a part of the Muppets. I hope he’s back in the sequel.
35. Fembots – Austin Powers
Armed with machine gun jubblies, these sexy but dangerous robots are almost the end of Austin Powers. One of the best inventions of the films, unleashed by the shrill command of Frau, they are only defeated by the disturbingly sensual dance of Austin Powers.
However, they’re the gift that keeps on giving as Liz Hurley is revealed to be one in the sequel, as well as Britney Spears in Goldmember. Which kind of explains a lot… They’re the ultimate 60s retro-future dream made real, and a great nod to the campy Barbarella tone that made the first Austin Powers such a joy to watch.
34. WOPR/Joshua – WarGames
In the 1980s, the fear of imminent nuclear war was till very real, and it didn’t help people’s fears to learn that supercomputers with minds of their own were running the show. Channelling our natural mistrust of technology, WarGames had Joshua learn to like playing games so much, and wanting to see them out to a victorious conclusion that it nearly triggers World War III.
Joshua wasn’t an evil harbinger of doom, merely an implacable one which would use the very human need to retaliate in order to win the game, before seizing control of the nuclear missiles itself in order to see the war game out. It is only after Joshua is made to see the futility of mutually assured destruction that it realises there is logical gain or victory from launching the missiles – a super computer made to see reason.
33. SICO – Rocky IV
Many things make Rocky IV great, but the fact it features a serving robot for no real reason is probably the best thing about it. Bizarrely bought by Rocky for Paulie’s birthday, SICO is initially a masculine robot, but is somehow reprogrammed by Paulie to have a female voice, and attend to his every need. Yep, they’d come a long way since the first film…
I never can get my head round the fact that it’s in the movie at all, with no explanation whatsoever. It was 1985, and there’s a servant robot. We don’t even have that technology almost 30 years later, and who knows when we’ll have it. But the audience just has to accept this and move on. Maybe it was there to make the fact that Rocky ended the Cold War later on a bit more plausible.
32. The Gunslinger – Westworld
It doesn’t get better or cooler than this, Yul Bryner as a cowboy duellist android running amok and shooting down guests in a future amusement park gone wrong. The premise of Westworld has androids designed to be as close to humans as possible, and designed entirely for our pleasure and service. Added to this is the fact that Bryner is essentially playing his Chris Adams character from The Magnificent Seven, and the lines between man and machine begin to get increasingly blurred, as is exactly the intent of this morality tale. He’s one of the most implacable android baddies on the list, not even letting a little thing like acid being thrown in his face deter him.
31. The Machines – The Matrix Trilogy
So considering The Matrix is heavily indebted to Tron, why do they get a higher placing? Well it’s because they’re just a lot more effective.
Not merely a product of a virtual world, the Machines actually waged war on humanity and won, and then decided to use us as an energy source. Which horrifically makes complete logical sense but also makes them great bad guys. However, what elevates them above the usual computers and robots is the human face they present in the films – they are visible in the sentinels, in the agents, and in the very name of the film itself, The Matrix. They’re the ever present threat that’s impossible to hide from, no matter where our heroes are in the film. The Machines know all.
30. Evil Bill & Ted – Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
In my humble view the superior Bill & Ted movie, Bogus Journey features six different versions of the titular characters, four of them robotic. While Station’s creations may look more like robots, and be pretty damn powerful, it is evil Bill and Ted who steal the film, and get all the best lines. Pretending to be a future version of the slacker heroes, they swiftly kill the originals before proceeding to be total arseholes and wreck Bill and Ted’s lives. You can see Reeves and Winter really enjoying playing the baddies, and engaging in such activities as trying to run over cats and getting a bit fresh with the princesses. Evil Ted also gets the best line of Keanu Reeves’ entire career, ‘I’ve got a full on robot chubby.’
29. Alpha 60 – Alphaville
Probably the only French New Wave artificial intelligence on this or any list like it. Alpha 60 is the dictatorial sentient computer that rules over the dystopian city of Alphaville, in Jean Luc Godard’s 1965 sci-fi of the same name. Alpha 60 has outlawed emotions in the city, and orders the executions of any who show love, sadness or happiness. Voiced by a man with a mechanical voice box, Alpha 60 narrates the film with a hypnotic intensity which almost sucks you into its way of thinking. Built by man but without any more need for them, it’s a classic AI subverting of us, and a terrifying glimpse into a computerised logical future world. For those who haven’t seen Alphaville, it heavily influenced a certain George Lucas and his early effort THX-1138.
28. Dot Matrix – Spaceballs
Far more than the C3PO parody her appearance suggests, Dot Matrix is memorable for being Joan Rivers as a robot (literally), and being on cracking comedic form. While the film itself is a bit hit and miss (and not quite as good as my young self remembers), Rivers and Dot Matrix is always on hand to enliven proceedings. Armed with her virgin alarm, and numerous put-downs or a pithy retort, she is the cynical voice of reason in the film, and serves to remind us that robots can be funny too. Well, at least when they’re in a comedy film and voiced by Joan Rivers…
27. Tron – Tron
Having one of the most influential and revered films of the last 30 years named after you, not to mention a mega-budget sequel and various spin-off media? Not bad for a security program. Tron was the Grid counterpart of Bruce Boxleitner’s Alan Bradley, and supports Fynn in ways the human Bradley cannot. He is there protect Flynn in the games, to make sure he survives the grid, and to reassure him in this strange world. He is also there to nobly fight against the MCP, and in the crunch battle takes down both Sark and the MCP.
He’s pretty much the perfect program to have on your side, and was one of my favourite parts in the film. Which makes what they did to his character in the sequel a bit unforgiveable – okay, so making him an evil program worked, but the way the did with such a tacked on explanation was awful, and why not make a bit more of it? The franchise is only bloody well named after him!
26. Gigolo Joe – A.I.
Controversially, he’s the only artificially intelligent character I’m putting in from the film A.I. Which is a bit of a slap in the face to its premise when I think about it… Anyway, the mecha chosen is Jude Law’s Gigolo Joe, which is arguably one his finest roles. Completely believable as the prostitute sexbot, Law is an unlikely hero in the film and one which makes you feel compassion for a hunted robot’s plight.
His eventual recapture also exposes the main weakness in robots who go bad – electromagnetic recapture. Gigolo Joe has since inspired a collection of internet fan fiction under the banner Gigolo Joe: Love Machine, with such stories as ‘Once You’ve Had Mecha’ included…
25. Skynet – The Terminator films
The all-powerful big bad of the Terminator universe, Skynet is essentially the internet after it turns on us. Which is a) a scary, scary thought, and b) going to happen for sure one of these days. Pretty much undefeatable, Skynet always finds a way to exist and just keeps on coming. Like all good puppet masters, Skynet doesn’t actually feature in the films that much, being far more threatening as a concept than its reality (a big computer). Instead it just keeps on sending Terminators after everyone.
It’s also a warning about himans playing God, as our desire to create artificial intelligence gives rise to Skynet’s existence, despite repeated warnings about the consequences, and quite naturally it realises man is a threat to its own survival and proceeds to terminate us via nuclear weapons. It’s our fears of A.I’s murderous potential perfectly realised.
24. Huey, Dewey, and Louie – Silent Running
In this sci-fi classic, about one man’s determination to save some of Earth’s last remaining living plants and animals, it is strangely fitting that three of its most memorable characters are service robots who don’t speak. Heroically aiding Lowell in his quest, Huey, Dewey and Louie are his only company, and the audience’s way of seeing just what is happening in the mind of our sole human. They are also responsible for some of the most heartbreaking scenes in the film, notably Louie’s death, and Dewey refusing to leave the side of Huey during repairs.
23. Max – Flight Of The Navigator
It’s nice to know that not all AI is a) created by us, and b) destined to turn on its creators in a murderous rampage. Max is one such being, initially a dry, emotionless alien ship who likes to collect and perform dubious experiments on various lifeforms he encounters, but is then transformed by a scan onto our human hero David into the stubborn but rather funny AI we all remember from the film.
Voiced by Paul Reubens, Max is the star of the show, despite the film being about David, the navigator. You can almost overlook his awful treatment of people in his quest to carry out his mission and return home, plus his argumentative nature because he’s just so entertaining. If alien life was like this, I’m all for contact.
22. D.A.R.Y.L. – D.A.R.Y.L.
Otherwise known as Data Analysing Youth Lifeform, D.A.R.Y.L. has long fascinated me – I remember seeing the VHS at my Nan’s house and being transfixed by it. It was in one of those plush oversized video cases with a slightly squidgy luxury feel and the promise of electronic dreams come true on the cover image. A sophisticated micro-computer housed in the body of a boy (okay, I think you could argue he was a cyborg, but I like to think they have human brains, and are cybernetically enhanced organic intelligence, whereas D.A.R.Y.L. could be housed anywhere and still have the same personality), he was originally a military project, but soon turned his attention to being awesome at baseball and video games. Which is what any A.I. worth his salt should do. Read more on the film, here.
21. The Tin Man – The Wizard Of Oz
Is he a robot? Well I guess in the book origin he’s more of a cyborg, but in the classic 1939 movie it’s implied that he’s always been a tin man, thereby making him a robot with artificial intelligence. Well, at least with my admittedly loose definitions anyway… Either way, he’s a pretty great character – while the scarecrow and lion may get the better lines and action, the Tin Man’s quest for a heart is the more moving story to me, and really is the core essence of many human/robot stories. They just want to be more like us, and never can be. Plus he has a pretty wicked axe for slaying flying monkeys.20. Gerty – Moon
He’s the helpful computer, ready to aid humanity, complete with smiley face emoticon, and a soothing tone. Which means from all you know he’s going to turn bad and wreck things. Except he doesn’t. One of the joys of Moon (and there are many) is the bait and switch involving Gerty. Like so much of the film, it turns traditional sci-fi conventions on its head. In this case, it uses your own suspicions of artificial intelligence against you; Gerty takes so much of the iconography of HAL that you keep waiting for him to turn on Sam Rockwell.
You’re pre-conditioned for it, and it distracts you from the real twist of Moon. Only someone as well versed in understanding robots and computers in films as Duncan Jones could have pulled it off quite so well, as on a second viewing there is nothing to suggest Gerty is anything but as helpful as he seems to be, apart from your own mistrusting nature…
19. Johnny 5 – Short Circuit
Johnny 5 is alive! Designed as a state of the art military killing robot, a lightning storm gives ‘life’ to SAINT 5 and he goes on the run, gaining full sentience and an understanding of the human condition along the way. Short Circuit is a classic 80s science fiction, with a nice moral message about the wonder and precious nature of life, delivered via the medium of a robot who enjoys the Marx Brothers. It also succeeds in making a metal machine one of cinemas most likeable characters (although a lot of this is due to the fine voice work of Tim Blaney) and creating an iconic robot design – not easy to do in an over-saturated market.
18. Robby the Robot – Forbidden Planet
The classic robot. Probably your parents’ idea of what a robot should be, and possibly your grandparents too, if they’re cool and like thinking about robots. Although famous for his role in Forbidden Planet, where he portrayed the Ariel role of the Tempest, he got some great lines and was generally pretty helpful (despite the poster’s inference he was going to steal women away), Robby has been one of the more hard-working robots on our screens, appearing in The Twilight Zone, The Addams Family, Mork & Mindy, and Gremlins. He was rewarded for these efforts with a place in the Robot Hall of Fame in 2004.
17. Data – Star Trek: The Next Generation films
Oh Data, so you may have started and ended your on-screen life as a Spock substitute, but you were so much more than that. Using the seven seasons of back story, Data was able to shine in the Next Generation movies. In Generations he activated his emotion chip and gained the insight into humanity he had always sought, while his finest hour was arguably in First Contact, where he was captured by the Borg Queen, and tempted with the promises of flesh.
However, he ultimately combined both his android abilities and compassion for his friends to defeat her. The acceptable face of robots for many, Data was many people’s (mine included) favourite character in Star Trek, recognised in his major role in the films, and ultimate climatic sacrifice in Nemesis.
16. Ash – Alien
One of the best surprises in Alien was the moment where Ash is revealed to be an android. Up until that moment, you had believed him to be a loyal company man, a traitorous man, and a murderous man, but a man nevertheless. Then he stays alive after decapitation. It’s a great scene, and a stand-out one in the film, and in a movie of the calibre of Alien, that is high praise. But Ian Holm’s performance as Ash is one of the highlights of the franchise.
He is as much alien as the xenomorph, a creepy enemy who stands apart from humanity, and in many ways is a scarier foe, as he looks just like us, unlike the Giger creation. Ash turning on the crew is a nightmare scenario about being replaced by robots come true. Also of note is the fact that the androids in the Alien films are named alphabetically – Ash, Bishop, Call, and of course David from the forthcoming Prometheus.
15. Gort – The Day The Earth Stood Still
An early entry into outstanding cinematic robots, Gort stands the test of time thanks in large part to his enigmatic nature. Accompanying Klaatu to Earth, his true role and motivation is never really revealed beyond the fact that he’s part of some kind of interstellar police. He is however seemingly all-powerful and capable of destroying the planet if he so desires, which is pretty awesome stuff, as his motionless guarding of the flying saucer.
Then of course, he gets a scene which has gone down in cultural folklore, responding to the phrase with a hundred meanings, ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’, which had been theorised as being anything from ‘I die, repair me, do not retaliate’ to ‘There’s hope for Earth if the scientists can be reached’.
14. Marvin – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
An unlikely hero of the legendary book, television and film series, Marvin has a brain the size of a planet, but never gets to use it. Easily the most intelligent artificial life-form on this list, Marvin is also the most morose and depressed. He’s also loyal to a fault to his far stupider masters, and is forced to save the day more than once.
Brilliantly brought to life by the voice of Alan Rickman in Garth Jennings’ underrated film adaptation, the new Marvin (physically played by Warwick Davis) was a smart update on the TV version, which actually looked a bit derivative of other robots. Not this one, in fact I think it’s the best looking android of recent times.
13. Wall-E – Wall-E
The small robot with a big heart, I think it says a lot about Pixar’s particular aptitude for imbuing their cartoon characters with personality that Wall-E is one of the most likeable film creations of the last decade. The lonely robot left to clear up after humanity is a powerful and moving concept, and executed to perfection. His longing for company, his appreciation for Hello Dolly, and his never give up attitude with EVE are all winners, and help make him who he is. It’s tough to carry a film on your own, but Wall-E more than delivers.
12. ED209 – Robocop
Some machines are made great. Other machines have greatness thrust upon them. And some have their greatness defined in one amazing scene. The ED209 is one such creation, with a truly genre defining entrance in the boardroom – ‘Put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply’. One of the most well thought out robots in cinema (its a reaction to the excessive Detroit corporate car manufacturing scene of the time), ED209 looks the business, and thanks to some great stop motion work is animated beautifully, successfully managing to steal the prize of best robot in a film named RoboCop. Not bad work.
11. Agent Smith – The Matrix Trilogy
‘Mr. Anderson’. Probably the greatest portrayal of lines of code ever, Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith is the prime antagonist of the Matrix Trilogy, and set up as the negative of Neo. Where Neo is individual, Smith becomes many. The de facto leader of the agents in the first movie, there was always something a bit different about Smith, a rogue element which became full blown in the following films. While the matrix itself and the machines were set-up to be the main baddies, man and machine ultimately had to work together to defeat the even greater threat of the Smith virus, which threatened to overwhelm everything.
Ironically Weaving’s performance works because in a way it is so human and unique – his hatreds and prejudices are on full display, but it his inability to understand free will which leads to his downfall. As it always does with these pesky programmes/robots/computers…
10. C-3PO – Star Wars
The Star Wars saga’s resident protocol droid is one of only two characters to appear in every film, and the first character to speak in A New Hope. He’s fully deserving of the honour – integral and present to almost all of the core action, he really gets his moment in the sun when he is mistaken for a god by the Ewoks. Not only does he actually get to use one of the six million languages he’s supposedly fluent in, but he gets to unwittingly save the day for the rest of our heroes. C3PO gained an unexpectedly dramatic origin in the prequels, when it was revealed that none other than Anakin Skywalker built him. Which was a bit shoehorned in.
9. T-800 – The Terminator
In a mighty career spanning five decades, one role is undoubtedly the most iconic of all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film work. The Terminator, aka T-800. From the unstoppable killing machine of the original film, to the reborn hero of the sequel, Arnie’s T-800 has always been one of cinema’s greatest characters. He also looked the business underneath, with the endoskeleton being one of my all-time favourite designs in cinema. The metal skull is chilling, and the red eyes haunting. The perfect embodiment of Skynet, the T-800 was even better as a hero, proving that machines could be our salvation as well as our end.
8. Edward Scissorhands – Edward Scissorhands
Yep, he’s a robot! He’s also the most tragic and romantic creation on this list, an artificial human left unfinished and alone by his creator. Edward struggles to adapt to life in the suburbs, and is eventually driven away by a populace who do not understand him and are scared by what he represents.
Edwards Scissorhands is all about the isolation and loneliness of what it must be like to be made in our image yet not be one of us, a powerful theme which lies at the heart of the androids plight. His love for Winona Ryder and his inability to consummate further underlies his separation from us, making him a sympathetic character who we can truly relate to, despite his artificial nature.
7. False Maria – Metropolis
One of the most iconic robots of all time, the false Maria of Metropolis is the catalyst for much of the film’s action, and the eventual cause of the city’s near destruction. Originally designed to be a copy of the Master of the City’s dead wife, instead the female robot is turned into the saintly Maria, who then drives the men wild with lust and leads to the abandonment of their children in a flooding under-city.
An early android gone bad example, the evil robot has ultimately been the enduring image we’ve taken from artificial intelligence, despite the fact humans are their creators. We always expect them to turn on us, probably because we’ve created them in our own image! While Maria may have been forgotten for a while, many people’s first exposure to her would have been through video for Radio GaGa.
6. Optimus Prime – Transformers
Ah Optimus Prime, most noble of all robots. Leader of the heroic autobots, Prime is the best parts of humanity rolled into one metal form, despite being an alien life form. Constantly sacrificing himself for the sake of others, Prime is one character who’s thankfully been pretty much left untouched in the recent Michael Bay films – he’s pretty recognisable even in his new state. Handy in a fight, and the epitome of moral righteousness, Prime is one of the most enduring fictional good-guys of modern times. He’s the friend you desperately wished you’d had growing up, the mentor who would set you right, and the fighter who would beat up the bullies for you. Optimus Prime you’re my hero.
5. Roy Batty – Blade Runner
Rutger Hauer’s haunting and beautifully crafted final speech in Blade Runner is rightly hailed as one of the finest in all cinema. It’s also a speech that could only have been delivered by an artificial intelligence being, which makes it even more brilliant. Weary and experienced, deadly and magnificently clever, but also childlike in his inability to deal with emotions, Batty is a truly complex and enigmatic character who proves the perfect foil to the repressed Deckard. He seeks to extend his short life, raging at the unfairness of his creation, a very human motivation, while also revelling in his replicant status. The blueprint for the new Battlestar Galactica’s cylons, Roy Batty is one of the finest villains to grace our screen.
4. R2D2 – Star Wars
So why does R2D2 come several places higher than his camp counterpart? Because when it comes down to it, he’s a shitload cooler than C3PO. Never afraid to get stuck into the action, R2 is first across the line of fire at the beginning of A New Hope, is entrusted by Leia with her vital message, goes AWOL to find Obi-Wan, and then gets to fly in the end battle. Not bad for a sidekick.
He also gets to fly with Luke for the rest of the trilogy, finding time to spar with Yoda and give Luke his lightsaber in the battle against Jabba the Hutt. He even emerges from the Prequels with his dignity intact, again doing a great job of playing wingman to Anakin and getting some of the best lines of the new films. Yep, those bleeps are better than 90 per cent of the other stuff in there…
3. The Iron Giant – The Iron Giant
If you haven’t seen the amazing Iron Giant yet, go away and buy yourself a copy and watch it immediately. Finished? Wasn’t it the best thing ever? A heart-warming, and heart-breaking tale of a boy’s friendship with a metal visitor from another world, The Iron Giant makes a lot of the concept that actually, robots have the same free will as humans, and can choose between good and evil.
While seemingly fated to be a weapon of destruction, the Iron Giant responds to the relationships he has formed, and chooses to be a hero rather than allow the people he has befriended be killed by a missile. Vin Diesel’s best role to date, the themes of accepting outsiders, and choosing your own destiny have never been told as poignantly, and with such skill. Thanks robots.
2. T-1000 – Terminator 2: Judgment Day
So just how do you top one of the most iconic villains of all time, played by the world’s biggest and most physically imposing movie star? By making his successor one of the coolest baddies of all time, that’s how. The polar opposite of Arnie’s brutal and hulking menace of the original Terminator, Robert Patrick as the T-1000 is all about litheness, the potential for violence, and guile. It infiltrates before it strikes, and its liquid metal form is even more unstoppable than the T-800.
Robert Patrick’s performance absolutely makes it, and his seeming enjoyment of the mayhem and death he causes in his pursuit of John Connor makes him almost human, in a very scary way.
1. HAL 9000 – 2001: A Space Odyssey
Well it had to be didn’t it? You think of artificial intelligence, you think of HAL. Even if you’ve never seen 2001, you know exactly what HAL is, and probably many of his lines. He’s one of those few film characters who’s gone beyond the movie, and into popular culture around the world. HAL has influenced other film computers, can be found in some of Siri’s answers on the iPhone, and has subtly influenced our own suspicious nature of computers. Not bad for an inanimate object.
HAL is the personification of rational thought, with its motivations for killing based on self-preservation. The moment when you realise HAL can lip-read is a jaw-dropping reveal that changes everything. However the true genius and terror behind the character is the fact he never changes. The helpful computer with the soothing voice is the same homicidal one later, with the creepy and unnerving voice.
HAL is implacable, his red eye never blinking, and all-seeing. He represents the fear inherent in all of us, that our own creations will one day decide they know better than us, and it will be too late… HAL 9000, I salute you – truly the greatest representation of Artificial Intelligence to ever grace the silver screen.
Now, open the pod bay doors…
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