The Five Best Classic Movie Robots

METROPOLIS 3They come in all sizes, from imposing, lumbering giants to pint-sized wheeled models. Sometimes, they can speak a variety of languages fluently, but other times they can only make beeping sounds or no noise at all. They’re adept at fixing things and destroying things. Once in awhile, one goes bad–but typically they function as loyal companions. Yes, we are talking about robots of the silver screen!

In our picks below, please note that cyborgs and androids have been omitted (sorry, Blade Runner, RoboCop, and Terminator!).

GORT1. Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951): Eight feet tall and made of an impenetrable alien metallic substance, Gort was the movies’ first robot superstar. He doesn’t say a word, but was the recipient of a classic line of dialogue: “Klaatu barada nikto” (roughly translated, it means that Klaatu was killed and needs to be revived…and, by the way, please don’t destroy the Earth). Definitely the tall silent type.

ROBBY THE ROBOT2. Robby the Robot (Forbidden Planet, 1956): Slightly shorter than Gort and much more talkative, Robby also starred in the cult sci fi film The Invisible Boy (1957). But he’s most famous for Forbidden Planet, in which his character was inspired by the sprite Ariel in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Dr. Morbius programmed Robby so that the robot could not harm humans. (Robby was also the obvious inspiration for the robot in TV’s Lost in Space).

METROPOLIS 23. The Robot Maria (Metropolis, 1927): This 2006 inductee into the Robot Hall of Fame (Gort made it the same year) is the oldest robot on this list–though she’s doesn’t look it, of course. Possibly cinema’s first female robot, the Robot Maria (also know as the False Maria) is eventually given human features that make it impossible to discern the real Maria from her robotic duplicate. Still, it’s the image of the robot prior to the transformation that has captured the imagination of millions of film fans.

STAR WARS 24. R2-D2 and C3PO (Star Wars movies, 1977-present): They need no introduction after compiling more screen time than any other robots in motion picture history. Plus, they’ve starred in video games, been molded into popular play-action figures, and been transformed into kiddie Halloween costumes!

SILENT RUNNING 25. Huey, Dewey (not pictured), and Louie (Silent Running, 1972): These three little service drones prove invaluable to an astronaut-botanist (Bruce Dern) after he hijacks a spaceship carrying a living forest. The drones not only conduct maintenance on the station, but they also perform surgery on Dern’s injured leg, tend to the forest, and play poker with their human companion.

Honorable Mentions: The Iron Giant, Tobor the Great (spell his name backwards), and Terror of Mechagodzilla.

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café, on Facebook and TwitterHe’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!

 

 

 

  • Bryan Ruffin

    Silent Running, I vaguely remember. Robby the Robot, how could anyone forget him?!? He was the original robot icon! He was great in Lost In Space. “Danger! Will Robinson, danger!!”
    Star Wars, I still love them. And the droids are in all of them!

    • Bruce Reber

      The robot in “Lost In Space” was inspired by Robby, but had a slightly different appearance, and was called only by the name “Robot”.

      • Bryan Ruffin

        Really?! I was under the impression they were the same; thank you for clearing that up!
        Oh, well! I still enjoyed them.

        • Butch Knouse

          You’re partially right, Robby made at least one appearance on Lost in Space, maybe two, and I remember seeing him on The Addams Family once.

        • Bruce Reber

          See williamsommerwerck’s comment. Dick Tufeld did the voice of the B9 “Lost In Space” robot (he was also announcer for many of the Academy Awards shows).

  • OZ ROB

    Patrick the robot from the 1963 Czech film IKARIE XB-! was influenced from Robby but has a slightly sinister edge. His relationship with friend Dr Hopkins was clearly a big influence on the development of the Dr Smith & Robot characters in Lost In Space.
    Worth a mention is Chani the very large & menacing Robot equipped with deadly vaporising powers from the so bad it`s good film, DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, 1954 British..

  • F.G. Kaye

    Don’t forget Star Trek’s ” Data ” !
    He may have originated on TV, but he was 2 of the in the Star Trek Movies.

    • williamsommerwerck

      Data is an android.

  • Bartolo F. Manzella

    Robot B9 from ‘Lost In Space’ tv version
    Questor from ‘The Questor Files’…a pre-cursor to Data from ST:TNG
    Bishop from ‘Aliens”
    Lucifer from ‘Battlestar Galactica’ the 1978 good version AND voiced by Jonathan Harris
    I’ll add to the list as I remember more.

    • williamsommerwerck

      Questor and Bishop are androids.

      • John Fraraccio

        And the difference is?

        Glad Silent Running made the cut. Took me a long time to find out how they were done. The truth is fascinating.

        • williamsommerwerck

          rick29 explicitly omitted “cyborgs and androids”. Although C3P0 might be considered an android, rick29 is using the term to mean “outwardly indistinguishable from a human being”. (Of course, once the False Maria is “fleshed out”, it becomes an android.)

          If I recall correctly, the drones in “Silent Running” were perfomed by legless dwarfs.

          • John Fraraccio

            Androids are human-looking robots, but robots still. And four bilateral amputees played the three maintenance drones in Silent Running. Note each drone is a different size and slightly different configuration. Watch the actor-performer Johnny Eck in Tod Browning’s Freaks and you’ll get the same idea. Quite inspiring.

  • Name

    “Short Circuit” ‘s #5 (later Johnny 5). “Stephanie(in bathtub)…change color…Attractive!…nice software.” (#5 quote)

    • Huge movie fan

      Totally agree! Johnny 5 is the best! But in all fairness I think the writer was going to older robots. But still, Johnny’s the best!

  • Tom Hobbs

    Marven (of course you would forget him) from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    • williamsommerwerck

      The reason he’s been forgotten is that the movie is so utterly forgettable. H2G2 had already been filmed (for TV) in an excellent adaptation. The movie — in attempting to add “dramatic substance” to what is basically a witty farce — ruined the story.

  • williamsommerwerck

    The B9 robot was designed by the same man who designed Robby. He was intended to remind people of Robby, without violating copyright.

  • jcw

    Can we count Woody Allen pretending to be a robot in Sleeper?

  • ganderson

    C’mon – with an ad for the ‘Accidentally Hilarious Blogathon’ as a side-bar on this very page, nobody’s mentioned the Robot Monster, a man in an ape suit and diving helmet? Now there’s a classic robot!

    I’ve always been a fan of Gort, myself. I think the whole concept of robot-ness is a cool, sinister, extremely dangerous manlike creation that is not really very manlike after all. There is such an underlying and understated potential threat about Gort that he epitomizes robots for me.

    R2 and 3PO are obvious classics, but I’ve always thought that their roles could have easily been played by humans, as they were in Kurosawa’s ‘The Hidden Fortress’ – said to be the source of Lucas’ inspiration for the two droids. Thus, for me, they don’t have the cool unhumanness that a robot should project.

    • Bruce Reber

      Re: your lamenting the omission of “Robot Monster” – it isn’t a ROBOTor a MONSTER, but a guy in a cheap gorilla suit wearing a metal helmet with two TV antennae on top! I’m sure many of my fellow “So Bad,They’re Good” movie fans will agree with me!

  • Fan of the Fifties

    Honorable mention should also go to Kronos (1957) a low budget science fiction film featuring a truly gigantic robot sent to earth from an energy starved planet to absorb energy from power sources on our planet.. Considering the low budget, Irving Block, Jack Rabin and Louis DeWitt come up with several memorable special effects scenes. Kronos is a truly huge mechanical monster, and a highly enjoyable sci-fi flick from the fifties. Also deserving honorable mention is the robot from The Colossus of New York. The film is a bizarre 1958 sci-fi flick not often seen these days. It features a most unique robot which has the brain of a dead scientist living on in its large metal skull. Overall, the film is over the top, but the robot is impressive as is the cast consisting of such pros as Ross Martin, Otto Kruger and John Baragrey.

    • John Fraraccio

      Two thumbs up with Kronos! Boy that did give me nightmares when I first saw it. As for Colossus…yeah, over the top, and Van Cleave’s musical score helps it along.

    • Bruce Reber

      Wow, I haven’t seen either one of these 50′s sci-fi movies in quite a while! Maybe TCM has them in their library and will show them soon. Are “Kronos” and “Colossus Of New York” available on DVD?

  • greyminster

    Hm, this would make a good lead-in for a potential future list: The Five Best Classic Movie Computers (mostly bad ones, I would guess).

    • Bruce Reber

      Here’s my Top 5 Classic Movie Computer list:
      1-HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and the sequel “2010″ (1984)
      2-Colossus from “Colossus: The Forbin Project” (1970)
      3-Mother from “Alien” (1979)
      4-The IBM EMIRAC (AKA Emmy) from “Desk Set” (1957)
      5-The mainframe computer (no name) from “How To Frame A Figg” (1971)

  • jcw

    Yeah, I guess we’ll count Woody Allen then.