Fritz Lang’s unusually prescient and influential science-fiction epic, which took more than a year to film, introduced the cinema’s first robot, or Maschinenmensch (German for “machine human”): Maria, a cyborg designed by a mad scientist to resemble a woman beloved by the rebellious working class, intended to be used to manipulate and appease them.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)
When the alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) lands on our planet with an important message, he brings along Gort, a silent but imposing eight-foot tall robot, to watch his back. A 2008 remake starringKeanu Reeves pleased no one.
FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)
The iconic Robby the Robot, who first appeared in this sci-fi reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the mechanical servant of the ruler of a distant planet, went on to show up in various TV shows and movies over the next six decades, most recently making a cameo in an episode of The Big Bang Theory last year.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
Although it lacked a body or face — it was just a red, unblinking eye-light and a calm, soothing voice — the guidance computer system HAL 9000 controlling a spaceship bound for Jupiter in Stanley Kubrick’s seminal classic is one of the most famous robotic antagonists in movie history.
Bestselling novelist Michael Crichton wrote and directed this thriller about amusement park robots who go on a murderous rampage after a power surge, none more fearsome than The Gunslinger (played by Yul Brynner). A sequel, Futureworld, followed in 1976, but it just wasn’t the same
Everyone remembers the creepy, slithering monster from director Ridley Scott’s terrorizing horror show in outer space. But Ian Holm’s treacherous android Ash and its gooey, icky milk-blood proved just as problematic for the heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Various permutations of the robot — some good, some bad — followed in the sequels, most recently Michael Fassbender’s mechanical scientist David in 2012’s Prometheus.
BLADE RUNNER (1982)
While not exactly robots, replicants — genetically-engineered workhorses that were almost indistinguishable from people — weren’t human, either. They caused major headaches for the eponymous special-forces policeman (Harrison Ford) assigned to track down five wayward units. None was more imposing than Rutger Hauer’s violent yet soulful Roy Batty, who only wanted to live past his built-in expiration date.
THE TERMINATOR (1984)
Director James Cameron sent Arnold Schwarzenegger’s starpower soaring after he cast him as the unstoppable machine sent from the future to assassinate a waitress named Sarah Con-ah. Various permutations followed in several sequels and TV spin-offs; Schwarzenegger reprises his most famous role in this summer’s Terminator Genisys.
SHORT CIRCUIT (1986)
A nuts-and-bolts riff on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, this story about a robot named Number 5 who becomes sentient after being struck by a bolt of lightning isn’t very good. Just don’t say that to anyone who grew up in the 1980s.
A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)
After the unexpected death of Stanley Kubrick, his friend Steven Spielberg took over the creative reins on one of the legendary director’s long-in-the-works pet projects: The story of a robot boy, David (Haley Joel Osment), and his quest to become human so his adoptive mother will love him.
Out of all the shape-shifting Autobots and Decepticons in Michael Bay’s teeth-rattling, money-minting series of nonsensical action pictures, the only memorable one is the amiable, yellow-plated Bumblebee. Maybe it’s because he can’t speak, so he’s spared any of the series’ turgid dialogue.
Others may have been chattier or more eloquent, but few movie robots are as beloved as the lovestruck workdrone left behind on an abandoned Earth to clean up mankind’s mess in the animated Pixar classic.
STAR WARS (1977-????)
Jedi knights and Sith warriors may come and go, but the immortal duo of C-3PO and R2-D2 — the bickering, beloved BFF boltbuckets from a galaxy far, far away — may be the most iconic symbols of the entire Star Wars saga, now and forever.