To coincide with the release of the third installment of Michael Bay’s robots-hitting-each-other franchise, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” I have compiled a list of the best robotic characters ever to clink and clang on the silver screen. Some we care for, some we love, some we wish would glitch and malfunction, and some we enjoy watching bash each other to scraps, but the electrically-charged hunks of metal listed below have all developed into iconic pieces of moviedom over the years. Without further ado, here are my top ten robots from the world of cinema. Oh, and no, I’m not going to include Johnny fucking Five in this list; Christ, that pile of scraps is annoying.
10. WALL-E from “WALL-E” (2008)
First up is the oh-so-cute eponymous enviro-bot WALL-E from Pixar Animation Studio’s 2008 Oscar-winner. The small and adorable WALL-E (or “Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth class,” if you wanna be fancy) spends his days cleaning up the wasteland that Earth has become, our planet having been abandoned by us humans after we made such a mess of the place (nudge nudge, environmental message, nudge nudge). WALL-E also has a cockroach companion, keeps a collection of interesting items he finds in the trash he tidies, and loves to watch his VHS copy of Gene Kelly’s 1969 musical “Hello, Dolly!” And did I mention he’s cute? ‘Cause he is. Very cute. I want one.
9. Roy Batty from “Blade Runner” (1982)
One robot that most definitely is not cute is Roy Batty, the chief villain from Ridley Scott’s mesmerising sci-fi noir “Blade Runner,” played by Rutger Hauer. Roy is a “replicant” on the run in 2019 Los Angeles with fellow automatons Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), Pris (Daryl Hannah) and Leon (Brion James). Hunting them down is human blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford), with whom Roy comes face-to-face in the electrifying climax. Hauer is effectively creepy as humanoid Roy, a murderous robot determined to expand his limited life span by any means necessary. And Roy is a brilliant name for a villain, isn’t it? Quite, err, intimidating.
8. Bishop from “Aliens” (1986)
This battery-powered individual is neither a film’s hero nor a villain, but one of many supporting characters in the suspenseful outer-space actioner “Aliens.” Played by Lance Henriksen, Bishop is a member of the crew that goes to the planet LV-426 to battle the vicious xenomorphs in James Cameron’s action-packed sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror hit “Alien.” Our action-chick hero Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is more than a little wary of Bishop’s presence amongst the gun-toting team, as she has had some bad experiences with mechanical men in the past (see honourable mentions below). Still, it turns out he’s a nice guy. And he also gets one of the best scenes in the film, in which he plays a little game of “nearly chop off all your friend’s fingers with a kitchen knife.” It’s a great party game, though you may need to clean up a bit afterwards. It can get messy.
7. The Iron Giant from “The Iron Giant” (1999)
Before Brad Bird was directing Pixar’s “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” he helmed this criminally underrated animated gem for Warner Bros. in 1999. And the film’s main attraction? Well, it’s of course the towering man of glistening metal who falls down to Earth from the stars (voiced by Vin Diesel), discovered one late night by sparky nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal). The two form an unlikely friendship, Hogarth teaching the innocent metallic hulk about our ways of life and finding him food (cars are a delicacy to giant robots, apparently) while hiding him from prying eyes. That is, until the big dumb-dumb poo-poo head government gets involved and screws everything up like they *always* do. Stupid government. They just don’t understand, goddamn it!
6. Optimus Prime from the “Transformers” franchise (2007-present)
And now we have the protagonist of the series that influenced this list, Optimus Prime, voiced by Peter Cullen. Wait, Optimus isn’t the protagonist? Oh, that’s right, that Shia LaBeouf kid is the main character. Anyway, he’s the leader of the good-guy robots that the audience really cares about. Yes, Optimus Prime is the head of the Autobots, a gang of heroic walking, talking, no-nonsense machines who protect the universe from the evil Decepticons, commanded by the wicked Megatron. All of these transformers have their own vehicle they can morph into, and the brave and noble Optimus can turn into a truck. And it’s a fast truck. With orange flames painted on. And flames are cool.
5. Edward from “Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
“Edward Scissorhands” sees A-list actor Johnny Depp in one of his earlier roles, which has also become one of his most iconic. In Tim Burton’s gothic fairytale, Depp plays a shy, pale-faced robot who has stayed in the attic of a gloomy castle ever since his inventor (the magnificent Vincent Price) died before completing him (as a result, Edward has razor-sharp scissors in place of where his fingers should be). A friendly Avon lady (Dianne Wiest) discovers the timid chap and takes him to her home in the ludicrously idyllic and colourful suburbs, which inevitably stirs up some trouble amongst the nosy neighbours. You don’t get any points for saying it’s because he’s a robot with sharp, pointy objects protruding from his wrists; it’s rather obvious.
4. C-3PO and R2-D2 from the “Star Wars” saga (1977-2005)
Look, I can’t choose between these two, and I guess they’re a double act anyway, right? Wherever C-3PO stumbles about, R2-D2 is guaranteed to be bleeping and blooping away in close vicinity. So, I’m putting them here together, as they always have been in George Lucas’ legendary sci-fi series. They’re a couple of droids who tag along with heroes Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original trilogy, and with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in the face-punchingly dreary prequel trilogy. C-3PO (performed and voiced by Anthony Daniels) is a gold-plated, intellectual translator who is fluent in over six million forms of communication, while R2-D2 (controlled by dwarf Kenny Barker) is a mobile trashcan who communicates through the aforementioned bleeps and bloops, and can tap into computer systems. They serve as a bit of comic relief in the epic franchise, but they’re the good kind of comic relief, i.e. they’re awesome.
3. HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)
HAL 9000 states at one point in “2001: A Space Odyssey” that he is “foolproof and incapable of error.” Yeah, right, because going completely psycho and trying to kill everyone around you is no sign of any fault or error in your system, eh, you paranoid kill-bot? Hal is a computer program that joins scientist Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) on a mission to Jupiter in the Discovery One spacecraft. Slowly but surely, Hal starts to show some subtle signs of errors, resulting in David and fellow scientist Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) deciding in secret to shut Hal down. However, Hal manages to read their lips, and takes it upon himself to try and kill everyone on the ship as they apparently pose a risk to the mission. Voiced by Canadian actor Douglas Rain, Hal is a marvellous antagonist in Stanley Kubrick’s ambitious mind-bender of a movie, managing to be sinister through only a soft monotone voice and a bright red dot on a black rectangle.
2. The T-1000 from “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991)
Another villainous robot here, though this one is much more portable than Hal. The T-1000 is an android made up of liquid metal, which allows it to instantly heal from wounds and shape shift into any form it so pleases, its main form in “Judgement Day” played by Robert Patrick. Sent back into the past to terminate 10-year-old John Connor, it blends in by impersonating a police officer (which is, like, illegal) and crosses paths with Connor’s newly assigned protector, a terminator portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. With the T-1000, writer-director James Cameron created one of the most memorable movie villains of all time, Patrick suitably menacing in the antagonistic role as a seemingly unstoppable robot assassin who has travelled from the future. And just look at those eyes. And those ears. Jesus, if ears could kill…
1. The Terminator from the “Terminator” franchise (1984-present)
Yes, it’s another robot from the “Terminator” series, and this one is number one of all time. If you were to call The Terminator a robot, he’d most likely inform you that he is in fact a cybernetic organism and living tissue over a metal endoskeleton. But I guess that’s still a robot, yeah? The Terminator is played by action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger, and is, like the T-1000, a robot (sorry, cybernetic organism) sent back in time on an important mission from an apocalyptic future. In the first film, he is an assassin sent back to 1984 to terminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she gives birth to the boy who would become the leader of the resistance against the machines that take over the world. In the first two sequels, however, he is the hero, reprogrammed to protect Sarah and her son John from other terminators, though each film sees a different model time-travelling to kick butt and spout iconic catchphrases (“I’ll be back,” “Hasta la vista, baby,” etc.). The character of The Terminator has become a staple of popular culture for Schwarzenegger’s stone-faced performance, and is arguably the best role the Austrian actor has ever played. Yes, even better than “Kindergarten Cop.
Honourable mentions: Gigolo Joe from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001); Sonny from “I, Robot” (2004); Ash from “Alien” (1979); Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951); GERTY from “Moon” (2009); The Maschinenmensch from “Metropolis” (1927); Robocop from “Robocop” (1987), though he’s sort of a human that’s made into a robot. Still, he’s got “robo” in his name; that’s enough for me.
By Stephen Watson