Robots have long been a staple of science fiction storytelling. In the real world, we have yet to make the sort of breakthroughs in artificial intelligence regularly seen in film. In fiction they are sometimes the object of our downfall, sometimes the object of our salvation but most of the time part of our everyday lives like our cars, or our pets. Here is a list of the ten most iconic robots and androids ever to grace the big screen.
1. The T1000 (Terminator)
Though the first Terminator hit our screens in 1984, the iconic role played by Arnold Schwarzenegger was not actually a robot – he was a cyborg which meant that he was composed of living tissue and mechanical parts. It would be 1991’s sequel Terminator 2 where we would see the first actual android and that came in the form of Robert Patrick’s liquid metal T1000. He could change his form to mimic any living thing. He has come back through time to kill the young John Connor before he is able to lead humanity against its Terminator oppressors.
2. R2D2 (Star Wars)
Perhaps the most famous and iconic robot of them all, R2D2 and his whiny companion C3P0 have delighted the generations since George Lucas took us to ‘A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away’¦’ R2D2 is undoubtedly everybody’s favourite with his pluckiness and feisty attitude. He and C3P0 found their way into Luke Skywalker’s hands after the rebel ship on which they were travelling was attacked by Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer. R2D2 had been carrying the secret blueprint of ‘The Death Star’ superweapon.
3. Optimus Prime (Transformers)
Iconic of comic books and a TV show throughout the 1980s, The Transformers made their way to the big screen for the first time in 2007. They are a group of robots from the planet Cybertron who are able to change their form to adapt to the technology of a host planet. The ‘good guys’ (Autobots) decide to take the form of cars and trucks and other road vehicles. The ‘villains’ (Decepticons) prefer to take the form of aircraft. Optimus Prime is the noble leader of the Autobots and he takes the form of a juggernaut.
4. Sonny (I, Robot)
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Will Smith investigates the death of an old friend at a technology company. But there is only one problem ‘ the only suspect is a robot and everybody knows that it is impossible (in this story) for robots to harm humans due to the three rules:
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 Law.
It seems though that Sonny is breaking his programming and becoming self-aware.
5. Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still)
There have been two versions of this film. In both versions, a seemingly human-looking alien is bringing a warning for humanity to stop its destructive behaviour. In the original, this was a warning against nuclear war. In the remake, this was climate change. Klaatu is the messenger; it is the robot GORT that is the destructive power behind him. In the original he is eight feet tall but in the recent version, he is closer to thirty feet.
6. Bishop (Aliens and Alien3)
Lance Henrikson’s ‘artificial person’ was a stark contrast for Ripley who in the original Alien film was almost killed by Ash who was possibly on company orders to preserve the Xenomorph. It takes her a long time to begin to trust another android yet time and time again she has to put her life in the hands of this synthetic being. The Xenomorphs have over-run the colony on LV426 and it is up to Ripley and a group of Colonial Marines to rescue the survivors. In the final scenes, Ripley has overcome her distrust.
7. ED209 (Robocop)
OCP is in the weapons business in a world where lawlessness is on the increase. Before John Murphy was left for dead and they could create their Robocop programme, they built a tall and menacing walking robot. ED209 was supposed to be the answer to Detroit’s crime problems but it goes horribly wrong and ends up killing one of the Board of Staff when it fails to recognise that he has dropped the weapon he was pointing at it. In the finale, Robocop goes head to head with ED209.
8. Wall-E (Wall-E)
On an Earth where humans have fled to the stars because the planet has been damaged, one robot remains. He is a cleaning robot and his job is never ending due to the mess. When military robot Eve arrives to check the viability of humans returning, not only does he fall madly in love with her, he also sets of a chain reaction that would see humanity coming home to Earth ‘ only Eve has gone silent and he cannot understand why.
9. Number 5 (Short Circuit)
Another robot intended for military use, Number 5 is struck by lightning one day and immediately becomes self-aware. He escapes the robotic lab and goes on the journey of a lifetime realising that he would be reprogrammed if ever he was caught. His adventure takes him to meet a young woman who protects him. In the meantime, Number 5 tries to organise her love life and convince his creator that he shouldn’t be reprogrammed.
10. Marvin (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)
Though he originally appeared in a book and then a TV series, Marvin was voiced perfectly by Alan Rickman in a big screen adaptations. Marvin was the first robot to have a ‘genuine people personality’ in order to make humans feel comfortable. Unfortunately, his makers soon regretted this because he spent most of his time in a glum state, bored, sometimes depressed and incredibly cynical.
There are many more examples of robots in film and many examples of cyborgs (part living flesh, part robot) that the technology has become a staple of science fiction literature. What concepts in robotics will future films bring to the genre?
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