As sci-fi tropes go, cyborgs are a lot more plausible then interstellar travel or genocidal robots. After all, there are already real-life cyborgs walking among us: from prosthesis-wearing athletes to people with pacemakers. Despite that – or maybe because of it – popular culture has always found the melding of a man and a machine somewhat unnerving.
Recently however, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice offered us a glimpse of DC superhero Cyborg (played in the movie by Ray Fisher). The upcoming Captain America: Civil War will prominently feature Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), former assassin equipped with a cybernetic arm and a friend of Captain America (Chris Evans). It is therefore perfect time for our list of the 12 Best Movie Cyborgs Of All Time.
12. Inspector Gadget
When villainous Sanford Scolex (Rupert Everett) attacks a robotics factory to steal its cybernetic designs, he easily defeats humble security guard John Brown (Matthew Broderick). Dr. Brenda Bradford (Joely Fisher) saves John’s life by turning him into a cyborg. A veritable Swiss Army knife of cybernetic gadgets, John joins the police force and becomes Inspector Gadget. But Scolex is still out there and soon, Gadget will have to protect both Dr. Bradford and his niece Penny (Michelle Trachtenberg) from his revenge.
Inspector Gadget began in 1983 as a cartoon series about a bumbling yet well-meaning police cyborg, loosely inspired by Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau. Inspector Gadget was fairly popular and ran in syndication for two seasons. In 1999, Buena Vista Pictures produced live-action version of the cartoon directed by David Kellogg. Both audiences and the critics were distinctly underwhelmed by Kellogg’s cinematic effort, but Inspector Gadget remains one of the rare positive depictions of cyborgs in popular media.
11. The Six Million Dollar Man
“We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better…stronger…faster.”
Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors) was an astronaut until he suffered a nearly-fatal accident in an experimental aircraft. Austin’s right arm, both legs and the left eye had to be surgically replaced with the expensive, state-of-the-art bionic implants that turned him into The Six Million Dollar Man.
Based on a best-selling novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin, The Six Million Dollar Man was originally a made-for-TV movie that aired on ABC in 1973. Cybernetic superhero Steve Austin proved so popular with the viewers that the first film was followed by five other TV films, a long-running The Six Million Dollar Man TV show and a spinoff series Bionic Woman, starring Lindsay Wagner. All in all, Colonel Steve Austin jumped, ran, kicked and punched his way through five seasons of The Six Million Dollar Man.
10. The Winter Soldier in Captain America: the Winter Soldier
First seen in 2011 Captain America: The First Avenger, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is a childhood friend and protector of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). But after a top-secret experimental treatment turns Steve into super-powered Captain America, Bucky is relegated to a sidekick. Bucky seemingly dies by the end of the film, but as we learn in 2014 Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he actually gets cryogenically frozen, equipped with a formidable cybernetic arm and brainwashed into becoming a legendary assassin known as The Winter Soldier.
This is an interesting twist on an old comic book character who began his life in World War II as Captain America’s sidekick. It was only in 2004 that writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting resurrected Bucky Barnes as The Winter Soldier and gave him a cool Cold War-themed origin story. In the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, it’s The Winter Soldier who will spark the conflict among the Avengers when Captain America tries to protect him from authorities.
9. Frankenstein in Death Race 2000
Death Race 2000 takes place in a future where the most popular entertainment is a trans-continental car race in which drivers compete by running down pedestrians. The crowd’s favorite is a two-time race winner known only as Frankenstein (David Carradine), due to numerous surgeries he underwent after car crashes. Cybernetically enhanced, Frankenstein hides his true appearance underneath a black latex costume. This year, Frankenstein will compete against his greatest rival “Machine-Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone) for the honor of meeting the President (Sandy McCallum).
A cult classic produced by the legendary Roger Corman, Death Race 2000 was based on a short story The Racer by the writer and film director Ib Melchior. This dystopian satire plays out as a cross between WrestleMania and a live-action Road Runner cartoon. Carradine’s cyborg character proves surprisingly heroic as he and his car navigator Annie (Simone Griffeth) plot the President’s downfall even while fighting other drivers.
8. Dr. Julius No in Dr. No
Released in 1962, Dr. No was the first cinematic adventure of the suave super spy James Bond. Agent 007 was played by young Sean Connery, who was immediately launched into stardom. Featuring breath-taking locations and an equally breath-taking Ursula Andress, Dr. No set standards for all Bond movies to follow. But a James Bond adventure is only as great as its villain. Canadian Actor Joseph Wiseman provided a fine one with his portrayal of Dr. Julius No.
An illegitimate son of a German missionary and a prominent Chinese lady, Dr. No began his career as a treasurer for Chinese criminal organization. Later, while experimenting with radioactive materials, he lost both of his hands. Although Dr. No did replace them with immensely powerful bionic hands, this kind of carelessness just doesn’t recommend one to legal employers. Eventually, Dr. No started working for criminal organization SPECTRE, combining his passions – mad science and crime. Bond eventually kills Dr. No by dumping him in a boiling radioactive coolant. Knowing 007, he probably said something awfully witty while doing that.
7. Doctor Octopus
As portrayed in Sam Raimi’s 2004 movie Spider-Man 2, Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) is more of a tragic antagonist than a true villain. Otto Octavius is a brilliant scientist who develops a harness of cybernetic tentacle arms to help him handle equipment in his experiments with fusion power. After a demonstration of his fusion reactor goes horribly wrong, Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) shuts it down before it explodes, but not before Octavius’ wife dies. Octavius goes mad with grief and becomes obsessed with repeating his dangerous experiment and stopping Spider-Man for good.
Otto Octavius, also known as Doctor Octopus or Doc Ock, was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko in 1963. Doc Ock soon became one of the most popular and most persistent Spider-Man villains. While Sam Raimi’s 2002 film Spider-Man mostly focused on Spider-Man’s origin story and his fights with Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), it was in the 2004 sequel that Doctor Octopus made his dramatic and memorable appearance.
6. Dr. Arliss Loveless in Wild Wild West
Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) may have lost his lung, spleen, bladder, legs, thirty-five feet of small intestine and his ability to reproduce while fighting for the Confederacy, but even that didn’t stop him. Four years after the American Civil War, he stills chugs along in his steam-powered wheel-chair and plots world-domination. Overcompensating for the loss of his lower body, Dr. Loveless has surrounded himself with gorgeous female sidekicks, invented a whole bunch of steam-powered vehicles and developed a peculiar obsession with spiders.
Dr. Arliss Loveless is a rare redeeming feature of Barry Sonnenfeld’s painfully unfunny Wild Wild West. Starring Will Smith, Salma Hayek and Kevin Kline, this 1999 movie was based on the 1960s CBS TV series The Wild Wild West starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Almost two decades after its release, production design of Wild Wild West still looks amazing, but neither that nor Branagh’s gleefully insane villain can save this box-office bomb.
5. Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell
A sole female cyborg on this list, Major Motoko Kusanagi is the pragmatic cyborg leader of a special counter-terrorist police unit in Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell. The story takes place in mid-21st century where the lines between artificial and human have grown increasingly thin. As Kusanagi (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka in original and Mimi Woods in the English dub) and her troops hunt a mysterious hacker called Puppet Master, they get embroiled in intrigue and violence.
Ghost in the Shell was based on a highly popular and critically acclaimed manga written and drawn in 1989 by Masamune Shirow. Through a series of stories following Major Kusanagi and her troops on various missions, Shirow offered thought-provoking discussion about a true definition of humanity and soul in a world where increasing cyberization has led not only to people with artificial bodies, but also to people who had their brains replaced with cybernetic parts. An animated adapation of Shirow’s manga proved equally popular and led to two anime movie sequels, two anime TV shows and at least four video games.
In the near future, Detroit is a cyberpunk dystopia on a verge of financial collapse. Plagued by crime, the city allows mega corporation OCP to establish and maintain order in exchange for being turned into a gentrified Delta City that will exist outside of US laws. Ambitious OCP executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) initiates the project of a creating a cyborg police officer. After a dutiful policeman named Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) gets brutally murdered by a gang led by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), he’s soon revived in a new, cybernetic body of RoboCop.
Dutch director Paul Verhoeven certainly made an impression with his first American movie. His cyberpunk action satire RoboCop was filmed for mere $13 million and earned more than $50 million at the box office. RoboCop was quickly turned into a franchise and was followed by two sequels in the early 1990s, as well as by two TV shows and a 2014 remake.
3. Dr. Strangelove
Besides the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, Dr. Strangelove may just be the most famous role of the British comedian Peter Sellers. Twitchy and sniggering, Dr. Strangelove is an ex-Nazi heading US weapons research in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Wheelchair-bound, Strangelove has a prosthetic right hand with a mind of its own. As War World III looms ever closer, Strangelove’s arm begins to spontaneously rise into a Nazi salute, causing embarrassment to the mad scientist who is forced to fight off the fascist tendencies of his own body.
Stanley Kubrick based his 1964 satirical masterpiece Dr. Strangelove on the novel Red Alert by Peter George. While the novel itself was a straightforward political thriller, Kubrick’s adaptation turned it into a farcical black comedy about the biggest fear of the Cold War era – nuclear annihilation. Besides the movie’s titular character, Peter Sellers also plays milquetoast US President Merkin Muffley and RAF officer Captain Lionel Mandrake. But it was the strength of his mostly-improvised performance as Strangelove that made Sellers an Oscar nominee for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
2. The Borg in Star Trek
Resistance is futile. Forget barbaric Klingons or perfidious Romulans – the Borg are by far finest villains ever featured in the Star Trek universe. Their Collective consists out of numerous races assimilated with a help of nanobots that turn individuals into cyborgs against their will. But then again, with the Borg there is no such thing as free will or, indeed, an individual: there’s only the hive mind, always striving towards perfection by assimilating others or adding yet another piece of equipment to their bodies.
From the outset, the writers of the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation worked on the idea of the Borg. Although there were hints of them in earlier episodes, the Borg were finally introduced late in the second season of the series. Even Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), commander of the USS Enterprise, ended up assimilated for a while into the Borg Collective. The Borg proved popular with the viewers and featured prominently in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact as well as in the series Star Trek: Voyager.
1. Darth Vader
One of the most iconic movie villains in history, Darth Vader first appeared in the original Star Wars movie way back in 1978. Thanks to his impeccable fashion style that combined a Nazi-esque helmet, a gas mask and a black cape, Lord Vader has successfully conquered global pop culture. Vader even managed to survive through his less-than-stellar origin story told in the Star Wars prequels, which is an ordeal far more deadly than his fall into a lava that turned handsome Anakin Sykwalker (Hayden Christensen) into a monstrosity forever imprisoned inside the black cybernetic armor.
As befits such a legendary villain, Darth Vader was portrayed by a whole series of actors in the original trilogy. Bodybuilder David Prowse wore his armor while James Earl Jones provided his voice. During the light saber fights, Vader was portrayed by stuntman Bob Anderson. Finally, when old Darth Vader removes his mask in the finale of Return of the Jedi, he’s played by the British actor and writer Sebastian Shaw.
So, what are your favorite cinematic cyborgs? Share them with us in your comments!