Transformers: Dark of the Moon unleashed onto expectant theater goers earlier this week, we thought the timing was right to explore the complex interactions between humans and their robotic equivalents as told in cinematic forms. Spanning over the decades and ranging from zombie-like housewives, existentialist computers, diminutive droids, and pacifist war machines to robotic cowboys, we have lined up all of our most instantly recognizable, human-friendly or evil, mechanical devices in the following list.
The Stepford Wives in The Stepford Wives (1975) -- MRQE Metric: 60
After moving with her family from New York City to the Connecticut suburb of Stepford, photographer Joanna Eberhart quickly realizes that the other women in town behave like perfect 1950's housewife, obsessing over cleaning chores and shopping for groceries. After her husband’s behavior drastically changes, Joanna starts to suspect that the wives of Stepford are actually gynoids, manufactured at the local Men's Association. A true representation of the 1970’s evolving gender identities as well as a powerful social and political comment that is still valid today, The Stepford Wives explores what it truly means to be a woman in dehumanized communities. Also watch out for the grim, hopeless ending set at the local supermarket (grocery shopping will never be the same again!).
The Iron Giant in The Iron Giant (1999) -- MRQE Metric: 82
When nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes discovers a robotic iron giant from outer space stranded on planet Earth, the young boy decides to protect his new friend at all costs against paranoid U.S. government agent Kent Mansley. With its mix of computer and hand-drawn animation and a beautiful color scheme that successfully evokes the 1950s, The Iron Giant is a poignant, bittersweet movie that will you have you tearing up way before the emotionally charged ending. Director Brad Bird (of The Incredibles and Ratatouille fame) avoid veering into schmaltzy territory by portraying the eponymous robot’s conflict between his intended nature as a war weapon and his real self as discovered through his friendship with young Hogarth.
WALL·E & EVE in WALL·E (2008) -- MRQE Metric: 88
With an energetic pet cockroach for sole company, WALL·E, a lonely robot, spends his days collecting garbage on a lifeless planet Earth evacuated by mankind after it became covered with waste. One day, during a cleaning mission WALL·E saves EVE, a reconnaissance robot, from a dust storm: it is love at first sight for our diminutive hero and he vows to protect his new found flame at all costs. Director Andrew Stanton’s follow up to Finding Nemo, WALL·E depicts a genuinely warm-hearted love story between two non-human protagonists and makes a strong case against our culture of consumerism with an emphasis on ecological and environmental themes.
HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) -- MRQE Metric: 91
“I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.” Wow, that’s some pretty deep thinking for a robot, in this case HAL 9000 the sentient on-board computer of the Discovery One spacecraft. Although vehemently denied by writer Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick, the name HAL has been strongly rumored to be a based on one-letter shift code from the name IBM. I thought all you conspiracy theorist out there would appreciate this side anecdote… In any case, although ranking at number seven in our list, HAL 9000 is better known for his clipped, monotonous speaking voice than for his appearance, a simplistic red television camera "eye."
The Gunslinger in Westworld (1973) -- MRQE Metric: n/a
“Have we got a vacation for you!” Truer words were never spoken in Michael Crichton 1973's classic technology run amok Sci-Fi flick. When a computer virus infects the robots of the adult theme-park Delos, Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin) must avoid the unwanted attention of the homicidal androids, notably the Gunslinger, a robot programmed to engage in pistol duels. A Poker-faced Yul Brynner gives a deliberately emotionless performance, making his impassible character the original prototype of the silent and deadly killer robot as he relentlessly turns up all over the amusement park to hunt down Martin.
Futura in Metropolis (1927) -- MRQE Metric: 93
The year is 2026 and above ground Metropolis is a paradisaical city inhabited by the capitalist elite, which hovers over below the ground Metropolis a dystopian city, where the masses live in squalid conditions amongst gigantic machine parts. When Freder, the son of city leader Joh Fredersen, falls in love with peaceful working class preacher Maria, his father sees the opportunity to sow discord among the workers of Metropolis by kidnapping Maria and ordering mad scientist C. A. Rotwang to produce her mechanical counterpart. The earliest robotic incarnation in our list, Futura is instantly recognizable with her sleek Art Deco design, which lends her a suitably creepy and sinister look as she is unleashed onto Metropolis to instigate a violent revolution.
Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet (1956) -- MRQE Metric: 74
Set in the 23rd century, Forbidden Planet follows the adventures of crew members aboard the United Planets Cruiser C57-D on an intergalactic mission to discover the fate of an expedition sent to the planet Altair IV twenty years earlier. Upon landing, Commander John J. Adams (a young Leslie Nielsen, miles away from his Naked Gun character!) meets Robby the Robot and his master, the mysterious Dr. Edward Morbius. Even nowadays, Robby remains instantly recognizable with his transparent head dome and bubble-like mechanical legs and is allegedly the inspiration behind the Protectron series of robots in the 2008 action RPG video game Fallout 3.
RoboCop in RoboCop (1987) -- MRQE Metric: 74
Set in the near future (2011, by any chance?) in a crime-ridden Detroit on the verge of financial collapse, RoboCop explore the themes of media omnipotence and human nature by following the tragic story of James Murphy a police officer who is reconstructed as a cyborg after being brutally murdered by a gang. Director Paul Verhoeven admitted to portraying RoboCop as a Christ-like figure, as symbolized by Murphy's early demise and his “resurrection” as RoboCop. Moreover, even after his body parts have been replaced by artificial substitutes, our hero is haunted by memories of his past and starts to remember fragments of his previous with his wife and son. In addition to two inferior sequels, RoboCop went on to spawn two animated TV series, comic books adaptations, and video games.
The Terminator in The Terminator (1984) -- MRQE Metric: 82
“I’ll be back.” A few seconds later, The Terminator smashes through the front door of a police station in a patrol car and proceeds to shoot down everyone in the building without even batting an eyelid. Yikes… A cyborg assassin sent from the future to hunt down Sarah Connor in order to prevent the birth of her son John Connor, the future leader of the world's survivors against Skynet, an artificially intelligent system which revolts against his human creators. His famous catchphrase apart, Schwarzenegger's character embodies the perfect killing-machine, especially towards the end of the movie where it sheds its “human” flesh to reveal his frightening robotic skeleton.
R2-D2 & C-3PO in Star Wars (1977) -- MRQE Metric: 91
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, appeared the most unlikely of comedic duo... Loosely based on Tahei and Matakishi, two characters from Akira Kurozawa's 1958 feature film The Hidden Fortress, R2-D2 & C-3PO are probably the funniest and cutest odd couple in cinema history. A resourceful and quirky droid, R2-D2 provides the perfect counterpart to the uptight and fussy C-3PO, an interpreter boasting that that he is fluent "in over six million forms of communication." Amongst other adventures, the two sidekicks projected holograms of Princess Leia, repaired starships, extinguished fires and generally saved their master, Luke Skywalker, from various levels of impending doom.