Fritz Lang’s dystopian film has inspired countless filmmakers over the years and the importance of this film in the annals of science fiction cannot be overstated. You could say this film contains the first Terminator as the robot double of Maria worked very much like the T-800 infiltration unit from Cameron’s film, only instead of killing her job was to sow descent and wreak havoc in the city. Her beautiful design and elegant look, as well as for being one of the first robots, earns her a spot on this list.
Yul Brynner’s robot gunslinger in Michael Crichton’s Westworld is Arnie’s closest relative. The movie takes place in a theme park where guests get to live out their fantasies in a replica of Ancient Rome, Medieval England, and the Wild West but all in safety as the robots that populate these attractions are programmed to safely interact with the human guests. Needless to say things go vastly wrong and soon most the guests are killed by the robots while one Western Gunslinger relentlessly tracks down its prey, “He’ll find you that’s what he does, that’s all he does!” Brynner’s cold emotionless robot has become so iconic one cannot help but to believe Cameron and Schwarzenegger where both greatly inspired by it.
Ridley Scott blended horror and science fiction so well he created one of the most terrifying films ever and though most would say the xenomorph that hunted down the crew of the Nostromo was the villain I’d have to disagree and single out Ash (Ian Holm) the ship’s science officer who shocks the crew as well as the audience by turning out to be a “A Goddamn robot!” The alien is only doing what it does to survive while Ash is doing the bidding of an evil corporation that put’s the safety of its people way, way down on the list of priorities. He worked constantly against the crew in their attempts to defeat the alien, in one breath he “Admires its purity” and in the other telling the crew “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.” Watching Ian Holm’s performance on further viewings is a delight as his eyes and expressions totally give away that he’s not really on the same page as everyone else.
Arnold Schwarzenegger to stardom and it’s his cool calculated performance as this cyborg from the future that has to be one of biggest reasons this film became a sleeper hit and then launched a franchise. This also has the rare instance of the villain of a film returning for the sequel as a good guy. Arnie’s guardian of John Connor T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day was even more fun to watch, and his battle with the liquid metal T-1000 is a high mark in action movies. Not to forget to mention how terrifying the bare endoskeleton looks, basically it’s a metal Grim Reaper.
Patricia Neal utters them we are almost disappointed as a rampaging Gort would certainly be a sight to see. The 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still from legendary director Robert Wise brought Earth into the Cold War of space as Klaatu (Michael Rennie) warns us that if we don’t knock off this atomic war crap intergalactic enforcer robots like Gort will destroy us. Beside his simple design and kick-ass eye laser beam what makes Gort stand out is that he is a being created to enforce the peace, with extreme prejudice, even against those that created it. He was complete autonomy in meting out sentences. How scary is that? Less said the better of the 2008 version.
Andrew Stanton took a big risk with WALL-E as it’s hard to believe a love story between two tiny robots could work so well when neither of them were particularly loquacious. Hell, there is no dialog between characters for the first 22 minutes of the movie. That’s ballsy for a film marketed for kids. The scene with WALL-E holding the inert EVE’s hand through all kinds of weather still breaks my heart. His design is economical and practical but with expressive eyes that give us a character we can’t help but fall in love with.
Vin Diesel has starred in many excellent action films in his career so far but for me his vocal performance as The Iron Giant is still my favorite. This story of a boy and his robot is just perfect; funny, dramatic, exciting, basically it has everything, but mostly it’s full of heart. All the characters in the film are great from the sci-fi loving boy to the beatnik artist, the long suffering mom, and nasty government agent Kent Mansley. It’s the core message that makes this film stand above many others as something that was designed for wholesale destruction decides, “You are who you choose to be” and becomes a true hero. If you don’t get choked up when the Iron Giant flies to meet the nuclear missile and simple says, “Superman” there is a good chance you aren’t human but a cold uncaring robot yourself.
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