Editor's note: With the animated film Robots opening this Friday, we asked one of our critics, a self-professed robot nerd, to compile this list of the best robots in film history.

I have a weird fascination with robots. Part of it is that I am a boy. Another part is that I like science fiction. But I think there's more to it than that: I feel a weird tension about robots that hints at something deeper.

On one hand, I think robots are darn cool. When I doodle, I doodle pictures of robots. And for the magazine I edit, Campus Life, we even built our own robot (I love my job) out of a water heater and duct work. And when I look at my movie collection, well, I see lots of robots.

But there's another side of my robo-fascination: they scare the crud out of me. I have dreams about fighting armies of cyborgs. I get chills when I read about new developments in robotics. Even the invention of the robot vacuum made me think, "Yup, this is how the rise of the machines begins!"

I'm not alone in feeling this almost intrinsic love/hate tension with technology. Science fictions films have tapped this theme for decades. On one hand you have the friendly, helper robots that in the 1950s we believed would come along any day to change our lives. And on the other hand, you have the terrifying killer robots who can't be stopped even though we created them. I think these two kinds of film robots show that while we embrace the good technology can provide, we are frightened of the bad. We like the convenience but fear the loss of humanity or the threat of rebellion.

But robot movies are not always about machine vs. human. They're also a staple of sci-fi, a genre that often probes the human condition. Because robots seem so close to being human—but yet aren't—they're the perfect means by which to explore "human themes" like the search for identity, what love is, how we connect with one another, and so much more. There are also religious themes like notions of free will and the created overtaking the creator. And then there are robotic Christ figures, often depicted as searching for what it means to be alive, and thus seeing life as extremely valuable. Hence, the 'bot knows the value of upholding life—and giving up its own.

Because of these deeper themes—and not simply envisioning the future—I think robot movies will stay relevant for a long time. When you look at the history of significant robot movies (most notably the '50s, the mid-'70s, and the '90s), they all seem to hit at times when technology is at a new peak or society is beginning to tackle major issues of what it means to be human.

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With all this in mind, I wanted to identify the ten best robots in movie history: robots who were revolutionary, who carried thematic weight, who were lovable (or frightening), or who were just ultra-cool. For the purposes of this list, I defined "robot" as any manufactured entity primarily of mechanical parts that emulates human behaviors like walking, talking, working on moisture farms or hunting for Sarah Connor.

The Ten Best Movie Robots


10. MechaGodzilla

Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)

He's 50 tons of space titanium in the shape of Godzilla! Need I say more? This monstrosity is the most weapon-equipped robot of all time with torpedo fingers, eye beams, a crazy 360-degree rotating head that creates a force field, and multiple guns in his toes, knees, shoulders and chest. And yet, Godzilla is somehow able to beat him by inexplicitly becoming a magnet (?!) Geek factor: The best part of the film comes when a Japanese scientist finds an odd metal found in a cave and says, "This material can only be space titanium." Of course! Best standard feature: Did I mention the 50 tons of space titanium?


9. Robot Gunslinger

Westworld (1973)

In the future, two men visit an amusement park that allows them to actually live out their Wild West fantasy—and the period parts are played by robots. This means that vacationers can fight them, shoot them, and even kill them as part of "the experience." But then, the robots go mad (for no discernable reason) and begin killing the guests (hey, I want a rebate!). The most frightening of the rampaging robots is The Gunslinger, played coldly and forcibly by Yul Brynner, in a performance that set the groundwork for Arnold's terminator. Geek factor: It's Yul Brynner! Even better, it's Brynner spoofing his own character from The Magnificent Seven. Best standard feature:  The slow saunter … that haunts you … with every step.


8. Data

Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Originating on TV's The Next Generation, android Data mixed Spock-like logic with childlike innocence and intense curiosity about humanity. A Lieutenant Commander aboard Picard's Enterprise, Data made his movie mark with a dramatic character arc about what it means to be human in the last three Star Trek films. In the films, Data installs an emotions chip that allows him to feel (Generations), resists the temptation to become more human in exchange for selling out his crew (First Contact), and makes the ultimate sacrifice by giving his life for others (Nemesis). Geek factor: You gotta love any robot who has a pet cat. Best standard feature: Umm, maybe his jaundiced skin?

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7. Johnny-5

Short Circuit (1986)

Killer robots are nothing new. Robots who like The Three Stooges? Now that's special. Robot Number Five is one of several advanced Nova Robotics military robots created to be the perfect soldiers. But when lightning hits him, he begins to ask questions, reject commands, and think abstractly. Number Five is alive! Calling himself Johnny-5, the robot learns what it really means to be human: to love and to be loved, to learn the wonder of life (like dancing) and the horror of death. Amazing that a robot that looks completely machine-like could, by film's end, feel so human. Geek factor: Why would Nova Robotics create a military weapon that looks so darn cute till it's time to kill (when its big black eyebrows cock at an angle like an angry grandpa). Best standard feature: That rockin' shoulder laser.


6. Gort

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Seven feet tall and solid metal, Gort is the ultimate imposing robot thug. He arrives via UFO with galactic spaceman Klaatu, who has come to warn Earthlings to quell the violence that results from all their irrational fears. But before he can deliver the message, the Earthlings freak out and start shooting at him—which only proves his point. With that, Gort lays down the law and starts melting stuff with his eye laser. That said, it's not surprising why the rest of the galaxy lives in peace: Gort and friends. Klaatu explains: "For our policemen, we created a race of robots to patrol the planets in spaceships. At the first sign of violence, they react automatically against the aggressor." Gort is one bad dude. Menacing, featureless, and silent, he is the ultimate frightening, unstoppable robot. Geek factor: "Klaatu barada nikto." Best standard feature: The eye beam … but really, the dude is so tough he doesn't even need it.


5. Robby

Forbidden Planet (1956)

The perfect manifestation of the 1950s dream of what robots could be, Robby is a cook, chauffeur, translator, fork lift, security guard—and loyal friend. He's a polite, fully functional home machine—with a bulky form built completely out of '50s technology and electronics. Because of that, he feels like he could be a reality—an illusion helped by his visible circuitry and mechanical features that make it seem like he's literally working in front of you. Plus he tells jokes. Robby ultimately shows us that technology can equally aid good—or evil. Geek factor: When asked to commit violence, Roby's circuits overheat, which is depicted by his head just turning pink. Best standard feature: He can replicate any product, such as the 60 gallons of bourbon he makes for one Earth solider.

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4. The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant (1999)

Easily the greatest animated robot, The Iron Giant is a space visitor who befriends a young boy, Hogarth, in the 1950s. But even though Giant is extremely human (his stomach even growls when hungry), he turns into a deadly weapon when threatened—a trait the film handles almost like a sinful urge the robot fights to suppress. When Hogarth shows the robot comic books, they agree that Giant can be Superman and not Atomo, a killer machine. Says Hogarth, "It's bad to kill. Guns kill. You don't have to be a gun. You are what you choose." In the end, Giant chooses to be Superman and sacrifices himself for others. This scene will make you tear up, but the final scene—which furthers the Giant's comparison to Christ—will make you bawl. Geek factor: In one of the best voice-casting selections ever, Vin Diesel plays the Iron Giant. Best standard feature: The Giant's kick-butt, full-out battle mode, complete with giant energy cannon, War of the Worlds-like serpent heads, and at least 5 more imaginative weapons.



3. The Terminators

The Terminator (1984), T2 (1991)

The Arnold Schwarzenegger terminator (a T-800) is one of the most cold, calculating and unstoppable machines ever—at least until the creepily persistent liquid-metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) shows up in T2. And so with the creation of a more terrifying terminator, what happens to Arnold's T-800? He becomes the hero—and one whose ultimate sacrifice makes grown men weep (okay, maybe just me). On a thematic level, the terminators use violence to preach against violence and ultimately show that even a creation made to do evil can be redeemed, taught to love, and realize the value of human life. Geek factor: The T-800 (Cyberdyne systems model no. 101) is living tissue over a super sweet hyper-alloy combat chassis. (Yes, I need to leave the house.) Best standard feature: The ability to find really cool leather clothes again and again.


2. Der Maschinian-Mensch

Metropolis (1927)

The first major movie robot, German director Fritz Lang's Machine-Human was way before her time. While many film robots—from as recent as the '80s—now look silly and dated, the grandma of all film cyborgs still seems futuristic. In fact, her look isn't far from that of Star Wars' C-3PO—who didn't show up for 50 years! Her story is pure sci-fi geekiness: A mad scientist built her to stand in for his long-lost love and in an attempt for revenge, he uses a Frankenstein-like experiment to make the droid look like the local hero Maria. Lang's Machine-Human represents the power of technology to seduce and corrupt. In fact, the hazards of technology are compared to the building of the Tower of Babel: Both being attempts to reach God that result in more distance from him because of sinful human desires. Geek factor: Actress Brigitte Helm's portrayal of the fake Maria is geek bliss because it's just jerky movements and big eyes. Best standard feature: The ability to look like anyone "in less than 24 hours!"

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1. R2-D2 and C-3P0

Star Wars (1977)

For decades, most movie robots were just that: robotic—cold, speech-stilted, and subservient. But George Lucas (with much debt to the past) gave two odd, loyal, bickering droids actual personalities and created not only the world's most recognizable robots, but one of the most beloved duos in film. In fact, they are integral characters who not only add to, but push along, the plot; we see the Star Wars universe through their eyes. And more than any metal character before them, you care about them. I still remember my mental torture in The Empire Strikes Back (okay, I was 3) when C-3PO was blasted and R2-D2 was swallowed! That emotional connection is a surprising feat, considering one character emoted solely through shaking and beeping. But still, these inseparable droids are two of the most three-dimensional and defined characters in the Star Wars canon. Geek factor: Okay, Episode III had better explain why C-3PO doesn't realize he was built by Darth Vader! Best standard features: R2's little saw and C-3PO's ability to calculate the odds of anyone's demise.


Other cool robots of note:

Pris and Roy Batty (Blade Runner, 1982), the genetically-engineered NEXUS-6 replicants on a quest to find their creator, discover humanity, and beat death.

Ash (Ian Holm, Alien, 1979) and Bishop (Lance Henricksen, Aliens, 1986), portrayed as human for most of each film; Ash is frighteningly revealed to be evil and Bishop proves androids can be honorable.

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Robocop (Robocop, 1987), a hybrid of man and machine (part of the film's thematic tension) with his catch phrases and take-no-prisoners attitude, he's the epitome of '80s cool (now seen as '80s kitsch).

Gigolo Joe and Teddy (Artificial Intelligence, 2001), a smooth male prostitute bot and a Teddy Ruxpin with an ultra-cool deep voice, respectively.

Robot Joanna (The Stepford Wives, 1975), one of many robot replicas of the town's wives—with improved domestic skills, increased sexual drive, and enhanced … well, enhancements.

Optimus Prime (The Transformers: The Movie, 1984), Autobot leader and semi-truck who established himself as the ultimate valiant robot warrior with honor, strength, leadership and self-sacrifice.

Robot (Lost in Space, 1998) and Sonny (I, Robot, 2004), get nods for being great modern updates in robot design—sleek, new millennium, Mac-like looks that set the standard for a new century of bots.

Box (Logan's Run, 1976), an almost immobile, shiny cardboard box and one of the worst robots ever, who still thinks highly of himself: "Overwhelming, am I not?"

Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo (Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Movie, 1996) are certainly the best bots to comment on movies—especially for being made out of a bowling pin and lacrosse equipment!