In honor of the closing chapter (for now) of Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy, we present 20 of our favorite movie robots of all time.
Whether it is an android or autonomous robot, the only rules for this list are that they can speak and they have a dedicated physical form (i.e. they are not a computer program like HAL 9000, KITT or S1m0ne). With those two guidelines in place, we present our list of robots below, ordered alphabetically.
Keep in mind this is only a list of the movie robots we love, and not a definitive “Top 20 Robots of All Time.” It is interesting to note how similar many of these robots are when you look at them closely. There are a handful that experience what I like to call the Pinocchio Effect, in which a robot designed to be human-like wants to actually become a human (or as close as it can manage). Of course, Pinocchio was likely a great inspiration for many of these characters. On the other hand, there are many robots with destructive capabilities that use brute strength to get their way. The only question is whose side they are on.
Note that there are some SPOILERS in the following explanations of each character. The list is in alphabetical order, so if you would like to list any more or rank them, feel free to do so in the comments section below. Enjoy our list and please add your own favorites afterwards.
Ash – Alien
“Bring back alien life form. Crew expendable.” Those are the eerie orders for Ash, the android who tricked the crew of the Nostromo into thinking he was human. Thanks to his sinister intention to capture a live specimen of the alien species, all hell breaks loose on board the vessel and we get one of the greatest science fiction/horror movies of all time. In addition, how many robots can say they’ve shoved a rolled-up porn magazine down Sigourney Weaver’s throat?
Ash also holds one of the best movie deaths for an alien of all time. First he is decapitated, then electrocuted and finally burnt to a crisp. Actor Ian Holm brought an extra dose of creepiness to the character that made him all the more memorable in the grand scheme of the Alien franchise. Ash is yet another reason to be wary of any future real-world attempts to create human-like robots.
Robot Bill & Ted – Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Not all robots on this list have to be good. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey features a murderous robot clone of each titular character. The interaction between human Bill and Ted and Evil Bill and Ted is pretty hilarious, and makes the characters that much more memorable. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a robot say he has a “full-on robot chubby,” which pretty much solidified their place on this list.
The evil robots even get an opportunity to kill the real Bill & Ted and don’t mess it up, proving they are truly enhanced versions of their human counterparts. Plus, in a robot-on-robot fight that would make Michael Bay vomit, the admirable Station creates good robot clones of Bill & Ted to take down the Evil Bill & Ted in a bogus fight of excellent proportions.
C-3PO & R2-D2 – Star Wars
(We understand that R2-D2 is not an android, but for the sake of organization, he has been paired up with C-3PO in this category.)
The most famous droids in the universe are an obvious combo pick for this list. While they argue like a married couple, they have one of cinema’s most legendary friendships. They are the yin and the yang. R2-D2 can do it all and save the day, while C-3PO can… well, he can probably do your taxes. The two bring an essential comedic relief to the otherwise serious (apart from a few Han Solo jokes) Star Wars saga and bring an extra dose of camp to the franchise. It’s amazing their spin-off TV show Droids did not work out, as their relationship is surely more entertaining than some of the shows on television today.
R2-D2’s uncanny ability to get his friends out of even the hairiest of situations puts him right near the top of the Most Talented Movie Robot list. If there is a gadget, you can bet R2-D2 has it in that mechanical frame. He can even fly if the situation calls for it. In the end, with today’s CGI characters, it will always amaze me that there was actually a person (Kenny Baker) inside of R2 during some scenes. Anthony Daniels’ presence as C-3PO fast became legend and put him on par with the great performances of the saga.
Daryl – D.A.R.Y.L.
The Data-Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform is yet another Pinocchio-style scientific experiment brought to the big screen. This android was designed to become a super-soldier with an advanced ability to hack computer systems and enhanced physical functions. When a scientist grows a conscience and lets Daryl go, the “boy” finds a loving family in The Richardsons and the classic tale unfolds. The final act of D.A.R.Y.L. is pretty intense even for a mid-80s science fiction movie, as Daryl steals a Blackbird in hopes of returning to the Richardsons’ home.
Barret Oliver’s career didn’t amount to much after D.A.R.Y.L. (other than Cocoon), but his performance is just as strong as any other involving a boy robot trying to find his humanity. It drives the film and makes you feel compassion for the android. It’s a testament to the nostalgic feeling of the film and its coming-of-age structure that really goes beyond just the story’s fictional events.
Data – Star Trek
Some would consider Spock to have a near-robotic personality, but he’s practically human when compared to Data. Then again, Data would give anything just to be one of the humans. Much like the other Pinocchio-style characters on our list, he just wants to be like everybody else. Yet his ridiculously unlimited memory bank and stiff persona might make him an outsider even as a human.
The Lieutenant Commander once said, “I choose to believe that I was a person, that I had the potential to become more than a collection of circuits and subprocessors.” Data has a great yearning to be one of us and his compassion onscreen makes you want to do something about it. He added a great level of “human” drama to the Star Trek franchise.
David – A.I. Artificial Intelligence
One of Steven Spielberg’s underrated films also explores the Pinocchio-style tale of an artificial boy that wants to be human. A.I. may share the most in common with its wooden toy counterpart, but its overall tone is much darker. David is an attempted replacement for the Swintons’ comatose son and is initially disliked by the mother. Once he becomes a staple in the family, the once-comatose Martin returns home and begins a rigorous bullying of David. This sets off an adventure that will turn an innocent robotic boy into a mysterious stranger in the underworld of future America.
It is David’s innocence and loving nature that brings him to this list. He is one of the most kind-hearted boys onscreen, but it also comes across as creepy at times. He is so loving that he acts like a dog at times, even sneaking into his mother’s bathroom as she bathes. It’s definitely an odd way of saying hello, but he means well. His loyalty is tough to beat, but that is a feature we’ve come to expect from robots designed to interact with people.
FemBots – Austin Powers
The Austin Powers franchise has never been shy about using common euphemisms as puns for characters and their attributes. Frau Farbissina’s “ultimate weapon to defeat Austin Powers” are girls of the right caliber (as Dr. Evil puts it). They combine unrivaled sexiness with deadly cannons for … well you know what happens. If you are a swinging spy from the sixties like Austin Powers, they are one of the deadliest foes imaginable.
If we can stay on their good side, the FemBots may just be the best robots on this list. They sure seem like fun and can add a little spice to the bedroom scene as long as you stay out of the line of fire. In Goldmember, Britney Spears even appears as a FemBot, but is quickly disposed of, thankfully.
GERTY – Moon
A more recent movie robot on this list is featured in the low budget sci-fi movie, Moon. the character-driven debut by Source Code director Duncan Jones stars Sam Rockwell and only Sam Rockwell. But he does have a robotic counterpart voiced by Kevin Spacey. GERTY is Sam’s assistant on the lunar mining facility in which he is alone for a three-year term. GERTY basically helps maintain quality control where human error can become an issue, but his role is a little more complicated as the movie reveals.
GERTY also maintains a constant line of communication with the company on Earth that runs the station. Meanwhile, Sam is tricked into thinking all communication has been temporarily disabled. It gives GERTY a sinister exterior, but his intentions are entirely friendly. When the master plan breaks down due to a vehicular accident, GERTY helps Sam and his clone on their desperate attempt to understand their place. He even breaks his own protocol to protect Sam, which is technically his main function. GERTY is one of the most loyal robots on this list – and he has a great smile :-D.
Gort – The Day The Earth Stood Still
As we’ve mentioned before, some robots on this list are nice and some are not. Gort is not nice. He can destroy entire planets and uses his Cyclops-like laser beam to vaporize anything standing in his way. In the original 1951 film, he is depicted as an interstellar police office, designed to keep peace in the universe. Of all his mystifying features, the one that has us perplexed the most is his demeanor. Gort stands motionless for much of the movie, giving the “million mile stare” a new meaning.
The 2008 version of Gort is even more dangerous. He is comprised of millions of nano bugs that disperse and vaporize anything in sight. Even worse, he can transform into an enormous cloud of destruction. Of course he still has the trademark laser beam and uses it relentlessly against humans. If there is one robot on this list you do not want to meet, it is Gort. But that doesn’t make him any less awesome.
Gunslinger – Westworld
“Have we got a vacation for you!”, reads the slogan on an advertisement for Delos – an amusement park set in the future where guests can pay $1,000 a day to experience the pleasures of a female sex android in RomanWorld, have a sword fight with a black knight android in MedievalWorld or have a thrilling old west shootout with a lead slinging android in WesternWorld. Everything is fine and dandy until a glitch causes the androids to go haywire, ignore their programming, and begin to kill the guests.
Gunslinger, played by Yul Brynner (The Magnificent Seven, The King and I), malfunctions and kills one of the guests then unmercifully hunts down another across the entire park. He is relentless – never stopping to eat or sleep and seems to be unstoppable in his quest to complete the fake showdown with the unfortunate guest. Even after having acid thrown in his face and being set on fire, Gunslinger marches on determined to win the shootout. He isn’t very helpful around the house and is only programmed for one thing – KILLING – he was “the terminator” long before Ahnuld ever stepped into the role.
Iron Giant – Iron Giant
The political message of Iron Giant is clear even through some dialogue. While the movie hit screens in 1999, it takes place during the height of the Cold War and explores some significant issues including the danger of weapons and the worldwide fear of war. The story unfolds like a rough combination of Superman meets Transformers – an alien robot crash lands on Earth and a boy who uncovers the secret machine holds a secret friendship with it. As if 50 feet of metal isn’t enough, it is even voiced by the great Vin Diesel.
It’s rare that you find such a massive movie character with such a big heart. King Kong is the next largest thing that befriends a human that I can think of. Usually, massive robots or aliens are reserved for villains and rarely carry such a personal relationship with a human being, but Iron Giant also has a giant heart.
Johnny 5 – Short Circuit
One of our favorite robots is also one of the most memorable of its kind. As is the case with many onscreen robots, this one was designed for use during the Cold War, but turned out to be a little more human than expected. When a lightning storm throws Number 5’s circuits into a frenzy and he loses his way from the military’s supervision, the movie unfolds as a curious comedy about a one-of-a-kind robot.
While he was designed for military intelligence, Johnny 5’s functionality is relatively limited. His tank-like track legs present a concern with some physical obstacles, but overall he finds a way to get his tasks done – let’s just call him a problem solver. The coolest feature of Johnny 5 is his reading ability. I’ve always dreamed of flying through a thick textbook and learning everything in a matter of seconds. When Johnny 5 needs to learn something, that’s all he does, and it’s entertaining to watch. But overall, we love Johnny because he is a fun robot to be around and his goofy sense of humor is a much-needed relief from many of the intense robots in movies.
Maria – Metropolis
One of the original movie robots has been remastered quite a few times on both DVD and Blu-ray. Even today, she still looks just as good as ever. Some of the robots on our list have had a revelatory moment, where their exterior human appearance is revealed to be a disguise for the robot underneath.
Like Maria’s design, everything about Metropolis is ahead of its time. It is one of the original sci-fi movies and yet, even today, the concept of a robot-in-disguise is all too common in contemporary cinema. Her pre-reveal personality shares the compassion and humanity that many of the heroes on our list share.
Optimus Prime – Transformers
Bumblebee may be the friendliest Autobot, but Optimus Prime is THE Autobot. He runs the show and he kicks some serious ass. Sure, Megatron and other foes have knocked him down a few times, but with a helpful human hand he continues to rise to the challenge and save the day. His strength and leadership are Prime’s most prevalent features – but when the battle ensues, his weapons are second-to-none. Get too close and he’ll slice you in half with his retractable sword, of which we hope to see even more of in Dark of the Moon.
Between television, movies and the toy line, Optimus has been everywhere. He is the face of the Transformers franchise and has been voiced by icons like Peter Cullen. Better yet is his propensity for memorable and inspiring quotes. Coupled with a perfect voice, his one-liners have carried his legacy across Transformers lore just as much as his battle-tested fighting skills.
Pris – Blade Runner
There are many great characters in Blade Runner. Roy Batty nearly made this list, but Pris tops him thanks to her unbridled sexuality. Many even consider Deckard to be a replicant (the movie’s terminology for androids), including director Ridley Scott, but the general uncertainty keeps him off the final list – feel free to debate this in the comments section. For now, the assassin Pris makes our list. She is wild and out-of-control, yet somehow seems like a beast that can be tamed. Her aggressive nature steals the scene every time she appears on screen – Daryl Hannah’s performance is mesmerizing.
While the FemBots may take the cake on pure sexuality, Pris is a femme fatale in every sense of the word. Her bizarre look is likely considered beautiful in the gritty world she lives in, but her attitude is still just as wild. Between her gymnast moves and primal mannerisms, few women onscreen are more intriguing than Pris. Fascination alone put her right in the heart of our list.
Robby The Robot – Forbidden Planet
Forbidden Planet had a lot of great things going for it when it hit theaters. State-of-the-art special effects, a cerebral storyline based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the very first electronic soundtrack and Leslie Nielsen – all these helped make it a science fiction classic. But mostly what folks remember is Robby the Robot, who stole the scene every time he showed up on the silver screen.
Designed by MGM’s master production artist Robert Kinoshita (who also created the robot for Lost in Space), Robby was seven feet tall, nearly indestructible and generally well-intentioned – if a bit clueless. He became a pop culture icon after Forbidden Planet, making cameo appearances in dozens of movies and TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Wonder Woman. Robby’s distinctive appearance influenced fictional robot designs for decades.
Sonny – I, Robot
The intentions of robots have long been misunderstood in movies. Some humans see them as sinister and malevolent creations, while others try to instill some form of humanity in their actions. The story is overused in movies – a special robot is created with advanced human-like functionality and thus becomes a threat to humans even though it means well. Sonny is no different. But the world in which Sonny exists is a much more threatening one than most of these stories produce.
In a world driven by robotic advancements, there are set rules to the way robots can interact, in order to limit their humanity. Will Smith’s Del Spooner is one of the biggest supporter of the Three Laws of Robotics. His past is marred with a deadly interaction in which a robot uses statistics instead of heart when it chose to save him instead of a drowning child. But once his angst wears off (during an investigation in which Sonny reveals the hidden agenda of a major corporation), Spooner becomes fond of the robot and we find Sonny to be an endearing and caring individual simply made of alloy instead of skin.
Terminator – The Terminator
Bipolar disorder would be a good description of the attitude adjustments associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-101. In one movie he is a killing machine and in another he is a friendly protector. Fans of the franchise understand that the android (well, technically he’s a cyborg) is significantly different in the first and second movies, but the overall scope of his actions can make for one confusing experience to newbies. Re-programmed from his original intentions to kill John Connor, it is Connor himself who sends the T-101 back in time to protect himself from an even more deadly time traveler, the T-1000.
While the T-1000 is awesome in his own right and arguably deserves to be on this list, we will stay loyal to one of the most iconic metal men of all time, The Terminator. He defines the term relentless and adds an entirely differently level of tenacity to Schwarzenegger’s already lengthy resume of tough characters. But it is in his relationship with young John Connor that reminds us of The Terminator’s most endearing quality – his devotion.
V.I.N.CENT – The Black Hole
The Black Hole was supposed to be Disney’s answer to Star Wars – though it ultimately failed to achieve the same amount of critical acclaim or box office success. They gave the movie an unprecedented $20 million dollar budget, threw in some mild cursing and a death scene to give it a PG rating, and even tried unsuccessfully to hire Industrial Light and Magic to create the visual look. Just like Star Wars, The Black Hole had plenty of robots, but none as memorable as the small free-floating robot V.I.N.CENT (Vital Information Necessary CENTralized).
Voiced by the late veteran actor Roddy McDowell (Fright Night, Planet of the Apes), V.I.N.CENT shared a lot of personality traits with Stars Wars’ C3PO – he was a smart-aleck, preferred the company of his human companions to that of other robots and was really good at his job. He also sported two arm lasers and was a top-notch shot defeating S.T.A.R. in a target match. His arch-nemesis in the film is a large intimidating evil red robot named Maximilian who he defeats with his sharp wit and even sharper drill. If we travel into space and manage to get sucked into a black hole then we would want V.I.N.CENT there to keep us company.
Wall-E – Wall-E
One of the cutest creations on this list is Wall-E. His emotional range is unparalleled in the robot universe and his mannerisms are just fun to watch. Alone on Earth cleaning up our mess, Wall-E shares a relationship with his personal effects. There are no humans for him to learn the way of life from. There is only a friendly cockroach that gets on his nerves from time to time and old movies to watch. Wall-E is filled with personality and his clear connection both emotionally and physically to Johnny 5 brings back fond memories of the other kind-hearted robot on our list.
Wall-E’s greatest strength is his courage. Although he is thrust into a bizarre off-planet experience, he becomes the unforgettable hero that brings humans back to Earth after decades of abandonment in space. His efforts, albeit mostly accidental, were all the more heroic for their honest nature. All he wanted to do was impress the female bot that approached him on Earth. It’s not often you see a robot who just wants somebody to love.
So there you have it. Our 20 favorite movie robots of all time. Many of them just want to be more like their human counterparts, but it just doesn’t seem to work out that way in the end. One of the important lessons to learn from all of these movies is how we can build better robots in our own reality. As long as scientists remember to stay away from those autonomous servant robots, we should be okay.
Share your thoughts on our list or add your own that weren’t listed above in the comments section below.