Since the industrial revolution, humankind has been both fascinated and frightened by what the hands of women and men can create. From the very beginning of the machine era, the notion of automatons that could act as humans has been the stuff of pulp novels and animation, with the truth lurking behind each work of fiction: The robots are coming. Well, in this time of raspberry Pi, where anyone and everyone can own a BB-8 droid, hold conversations with their smartphone, and find a horrifying and possessed Furby, the robotic age is just beginning.
While many are rightfully frightened of losing their jobs to robots, and others dream of one day owning one for any number of mundane, or salacious activities, we choose to celebrate the rise of our mechanical overlords, with the hope that they’ll spare us when Skynet goes online. Join us and be saved by looking at the 20 most famous robots of today and yesteryear.
A Note On Robots
Before we jump into this list, we’re going to point out that we consider Hal-9000, Kitt, and GlaDOS to be computers (or A.I. – as is Cortana), not robots, which is why they aren’t on here. We made allowances for androids, droids, “cybernetic organisms,” and Replicants in some cases, but we couldn’t allow Robo-Cop, Major Motoko Kusanagi, or Daleks in because they’re cyborgs, and therefore driven by life, rather than fully artificial constructs.
Anything we missed, or any issues we didn’t address? That’s what comment sections are for.
Optimus Prime – Transformers
The big rig turned savior of humanity, Optimus Prime was famous long before Michael Bay ever put a hand to him. The leader of the Autobots against the Decepticons, he’s more human than many, and more machine than all.
R2-D2 – Star Wars
If you haven’t been through a lot with this little droid, then you’re no longer welcome on Earth. Companion to many a Jedi, and a sassy little whirligig, R2 is the buddy you want when going up against a Death Star.
C-3PO – Star Wars
Famously irritating, C-3PO rides R2’s coattails onto this list; but Goldenrod is great to keep around when you need a robot to be hacked to pieces or have its eyes pulled out. Mostly, he’d be fine if he’d stop telling us the odds.
B-9 – Lost in Space
A dying joke that should never be forgotten, this useless scrap heap is famous mostly for yelling “Danger Will Robinson” in Lost in Space (decidedly NOT the Matt LeBlanc movie), and looking utterly preposterous.
Robby the Robot – Forbidden Planet
Making his debut in the 50’s film “Forbidden Planet” Robby was one of the first robots to arrive that wasn’t clearly a man in a suit. He later made guest appearances on The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone, cementing his place in pop-culture history. He also introduced Asimov’s laws of robotics to the mainstream.
Gort – The Day the Earth Stood Still
A deadly peacekeeper, Gort is thought to be the second robot of cinema, though he did little more than guard a flying saucer. Often imitated but never replicated, Gort is the granddaddy of every modern famous slaughter-happy bot.
The Stepford Wives
Not so much famous for their own sake, but for creating a whole pop-culture reference that has outlived the popularity of either movie. To this day a Stepford person is anyone who seems so good, they just have to be a robot.
The little trash compactor that found love turned out to be the E.T. of the post-modern age. His gentle sweetness, loneliness, and isolation on a world turned to garbage was powerfully human in a way that few people are.
The Iron Giant
Another in the line of machines with more heart than people, The Iron Giant is a noble figure bearing a powerful message of nature vs. nurture. Philosophical and heart-rending, many would say it’s the only good thing Vin Diesel has ever done (except the genius of The Pacifier).
Marvin the Paranoid Android – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Voiced by the late, great Alan Rickman in the latest movie adaptation of the book series by Douglas Adams, Marvin is the most brilliant robot of all time; but that genius comes at a price. Riddled with a whole multitude of personality disorders, including profound, hilarious depression, Marvin is satire given form.
Roy Batty/Baty – Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Roy Baty was one of the robotic Replicant villains in the Philip K. Dick novel, and was played disturbingly by Rutger Hauer when that novel became the Harrison Ford vehicle Blade Runner. He just wants to live, but somehow that turns him to violence and an understandably anti-human sentiment.
Maria/Futura – Metropolis
Before there was Gort, there was Maria/Futura. The first robot of the cinema world, Maria was meant to drive workers to rise up and start a war so that the wealthy of Metropolis could slaughter them. Every sexy piece of metal put to film has Maria as a progenitor.
Tom Servo / Crow T. Robot – Mystery Science Theater 3000
The wisecracking duo who are forced to watch terrible movies with their pal Mike Nelson, these two don’t need to do much more than run their robotic mouths to be beloved by millions. Voiced by Kevin Murphy (Servo) and Trace Beaulieu (Crow) they make the unbearable hilarious.
The Sentinels – X-Men
Made by anti-mutant monstrosity Bolivar Trask, The Sentinels have gone through several iterations in the comics, the animated series, and the movies, but their purpose has always been the same: Destroy mutants at all costs.
T-800 – Terminator
The role that made Schwarzenegger a household name, the T-800 was the first iteration of the horrifying machines unleashed onto the world to eliminate mankind. Sent back through time to kill (and later protect) John Connor, the one thing we can’t figure out is why a robot needs muscles…
Ultron – The Avengers
Though he’s best known for his role as the titular character in the Joss Whedon flick “Avengers: Age of Ultron” Ultron was a Big Bad in the comic world for a long time. Devised to be a force for good by either Hank Pym or Tony Stark (depending on who you ask), Ultron ultimately turns his genius and violence against the world “to save it.”
Rosie – The Jetsons
Deadpan and easily the smartest person in the madcap Jetson’s household, she seems to be the only character who does any work on the show.
Lt. Cmdr Data – Star Trek
Data captures the human condition perfectly: To always want to be more than we are. Though he is largely better than any person at all things, he longs to instead be fallible and utterly mortal.
Number 6 – Battlestar Galactica
We aren’t sure if we adore Number 6, or just love Tricia Helfer’s talented depiction of the cylon. Either way she’s far more than just a pretty face and deadly persona.
Johnny 5 – Short Circuit 1 & 2
The robot who proved that life isn’t about where you come from, but what choices you make, Johnny 5 was wacky, heroic, and inarguably alive despite being made of metal and wire.