Top 10 Robots in Film

Robots…man’s best friend or worst enemy? Here I take a look at some of the most memorable robots to grace the cinema screen from sadistic Ash in Alien to friendly nice-guy R2-D2.

Robots are a curious character. If film is anything to go by, it is clear we are fascinated by them. They’ve frequented films from around the world and played a vital role in the make-up of many science-fiction, horror and fantasy movies. We’ve seen good ones, we’ve seen bad ones, we’ve seen ones that want to help mankind, we’ve seen some that want to destroy it. We’ve even seen some that think they’re human!

The best, and most memorable robots, have not only appeared in films with lasting appeal, but have played a front and centre role, driving or determining the direction of the story. Here are my ten favourites.

More on Top 10 Films you might like: Top 10 Robots | Top 10 Robots Who Think They’re Human | Top 10 Scariest Robots, Cyborgs and Artificial Intelligence

10. Huey, Dewey and Louie (Silent Running, Trumbull, 1972)

Three of the most undemanding robots you could ever wish to know. These three service machines stand by the side of botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) through thick and thin as the crewman tries to save the last remaining ecological keepsake – a giant, greenhouse orbiting Saturn – preserved from a futuristic earth where all plant life has become extinct.

9. The Iron Giant (The Iron Giant, Bird, 1999)

Based on the 1968 novel The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes, this part-traditional, part-computer animated feature film sees a young boy befriend a robot alien who crash lands on earth.

8. Ed 209 (RoboCop, Verhoeven, 1987)

Ed 209’s introduction is one of the most devastatingly effective in modern science-fiction. This prone-to-malfunction prototype aspires to bring law and order to the streets of a crime-ridden metropolis but only seems to create further destruction.

7. Hector (Saturn 3, Donen, 1980)

Due to overcrowding on earth, scientists carry out research on distant planets across the solar system to maintain the planet’s survival. When Harvey Keitel’s Captain Benson arrives with a robot to replace one of the scientists at a research station on Saturn’s third moon, Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett’s sedate existence is turned upside down.

6. Evil Maria (Metropolis, Lang, 1927)

Undeniably iconic, robot Maria’s appearance is one of classic cinema’s most indelible images. Her ability to inspire lust in the men she comes into contact with sets in motion the events that bring the city to its knees.

5. RoboCop (RoboCop, Verhoeven, 1987)

Part-man, part-machine RoboCop is the guy you’d want as your partner on a tough nightshift in a near-future crime-ridden Detroit. Murdered while on duty, a courageous police officer returns to life as a robot (although he doesn’t realise this at first). Once his memories return, vengeance is on his mind. Having an almost indestructible body, hugely increased strength and firepower to rival a small army unit, he’s not someone you want to mess with.

4. The Terminator (The Terminator, Cameron, 1981)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s limited range as an actor was perfect for his career-defining role as the Terminator, a robot sent from the future to kill in the past to protect the “computer’s” rule following the destruction of mankind. His significant stature and unbreakable desire to kill makes the character a frightening proposition.

3. Robby The Robot (Forbidden Planet, Wilcox, 1956)

Robby the Robot’s intellect and wit make him instantly lovable despite his physical limitations.

2. Ash (Alien, Scott, 1979)

One of cinema’s most frightening robots appears in the form of scientist Ash in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Programmed to bring a dangerous species back to earth for the bio-weapons division of a futuristic corporation, his orders, which must be carried out at all cost, make the human crew expendable. The cold lack of value for human life makes Ash a memorably unnerving cinematic robot.

1. R2-D2 (Star Wars, Lucas, 1977)

Surely the most iconic of all robots, R2-D2 is also one of the simplest creations. He never speaks but George Lucas’ ability to make him so affectionately likable through his squeaks and mechanical beeps is telling of a character that has become such a lovable part of the Star Wars films and cinema itself.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Heaton Reply

    Nice list. There are a lot of good possibilities for this list, including Bishop from Aliens and Data from the Star Trek TNG movies. Don’t forget the robot from Rocky IV! Just kidding on that one. I haven’t seen Silent Running and Saturn 3, but I can’t argue with any of the others.

  2. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Wait, what about T-1000??? That robot was far more memorable than Terminator himself! 😀

  3. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    Another fine list gentlemen. As a die-hard Star Wars fan I have to side with you on R2-D2 at number one. I’m happy with Ash, Robocop, and Terminator making it as well. I laughed when I saw ED-209. I always loved the weirdo noises they had that thing make in the Robocop movies. Like when it got flipped on its back and couldn’t move it sounded like a child throwing a tantrum.

  4. Avatar
    Fogs Reply

    LOL. What? You’ll put two from Robocop, but diss C-3PO? 😀

    My word!

    Can’t believe no one has mentioned EVE or Wall E yet!

  5. Avatar
    Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, Daniel and company:

    Good list!

    Always like Huey, Dewey and Louie from ‘Silent Running’. Also the multi-waldoed, mobile robot in ‘Gog’.

    ED-209 always seems to get short shrift.

  6. Avatar
    Mark Reply

    Others …

    Yul Brynner in Westworld

    Robert Downey Jnr’s lab help in the first Iron Man

    The gorilla suit/deep sea diving helmet combo in Robot Monster

  7. Avatar
    Pete Reply

    The Terminator and the T-1000 get my vote! Shame the T-X or whatever the lady one was called didn’t work so well. Actually think T-1000 was even more effective than Terminator in some ways.

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    Jaina Reply

    Hey hey hey! Where’s Johnny 5 from Short Circuit? Or Wall-E and Eve?

  9. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    It took me a while to read this list but I’m glad I finally did. I too think C3P0 should be up there. Your list is good of course, but I also think Bishop from Aliens is a better choice than Ash, just my opinion. And not to nitpick, but Terminator was 1984. 🙂

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    Rodney Reply

    I ditto the lack of Johnny Five from Short Circuit. Always my favorite robot.

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    ruth Reply

    Nice list! But I’d also include the Robot in Robot & Frank, a delightful but underrated film.

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    Josh Reply

    Interesting list. Gotta admit there’s a couple on here I don’t know.

    I gotta agree with Fogs above, though. Kinda whocked that two from Robocop would be included but not both C3PO and R2D2.

    Also gotta agree with the Johnny 5 votes. And Wall-E as well.

    And where’s Rosey from The Jetsons :p Or Hal, Optimus Prime, Gort, Agent Smith, or even Sonny from I, Robot.

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    niels Reply

    Nice list! There was simply no other choice for #1 than R2-D2 even when I don’t understand why C3PO wasn’t included too.
    I may have also included Haley Joel Osment’s David in the underrated A.I. and the adorable Wall-E.

    My #2 would have definitely been another snub: HAL-9000 from 2001: Space Odyssey. One of the most memorable characters of all of Kubrick’s filmography.

  14. Avatar
    Mark Reply

    Not convinced the Kubrick omission was a snub – I thought HAL was more computer than robot …..

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