An 1896 French film titled L'Eve Futur (aka The Eve Of The Future) was the first movie to feature a robot. It took more than a decade for America to follow up with its first film to contain robots, The Mechanical Statue And The Ingenious Servant (1907). Robots were somewhat slow to catch on in the world of cinema, but as the decades wore on, more and more mechanical characters made it to the silver screen. Every serious film fan can name their favorite robotic characters from film history. Here are my top picks, listed in order of film release.
1. Maria - Metropolis (1927)
The 20s and 30s saw an uptick in robots on film. Fritz Lang’s brilliant, groundbreaking film featured the mechanical Maria, who would later be the visual inspiration for George Lucas’s C-3PO.
2. Gort - The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
“Klaatu barada nikto!” Robert Wise’s classic film features Gort, one of the most recognizable robots in science fiction cinema. Gort was played by 7 feet, 7 inches tall Lock Martin, who hosted a local Los Angeles children’s television show after making this film.
3. Gunslinger - Westworld (1973)
Played by Yul Brynner (The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven), the glitchy Gunslinger turns a trip to a futuristic amusement park into a terrifying fight for survival. Westworld was the feature film directorial debut of Michael Crichton - who would recycle the plot of this film for his 1990 novel “Jurassic Park”.
4. C-3PO and R2-D2 - Star Wars (1977)
I’ll list these two as a pair because that’s how most film fans think of them. Part Laurel and Hardy, part bickering married couple, their immense popularity motivated Disney to include the perky robot V.I.N.CENT in The Black Hole (1979) and MGM to feature Bubo, the robot owl in Clash Of The Titans (1981).
5. Ash - Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece features science officer Ash, who risks the crew of the Nostromo to deliver an alien to Earth. Ash, played by Ian Holm (The Fifth Element, The Lord Of The Rings) turns out to be a robot. This sci-fi fan-fave robot almost never existed… Ash did not appear in the original Dan O'Bannon script.
6. Maximilian - The Black Hole (1979)
This menacing red robot is the scary sidekick of Dr. Hans Reinhardt, played by Maximilian Schell. In the script, Reinhardt's robot was already named Maximilian before Maximilian Schell was cast as Reinhardt. To make things really weird, Maximilian Schell and the robot Maximilian merge together at the end of the film.
7. The Terminator - The Terminator (1984)
In James Cameron’s classic sci-fi action film, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a robotic assassin sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic future. During the casting process, O.J. Simpson was considered for The Terminator role. Movie poster mock-ups were even designed with O.J. on the front as the titular cyborg.
8. Bishop - Aliens (1986)
Here’s another James Cameron classic – this one featuring Lance Henriksen as Bishop, an “artificial person” (as he prefers to be called). Interestingly, Henriksen was also up for the part of The Terminator in Cameron’s The Terminator.
9. ED-209 - Robocop (1987)
The Enforcement Droid Series 209, or ED-209, blends extreme destructive power with robotic ineptitude, providing both high tension and dark humor. ED-209 is a stop-motion character, masterfully animated by Oscar-winner Phil Tippett (The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers).
10. GERTY - Moon (2009)
Voiced by Kevin Spacey, GERTY is the robotic (and only) companion to Sam Bell, the sole employee on a lunar station. Kevin Spacey would not agree to voice the artificial intelligence character until the film was shot and edited - so that he could make his decision based on how the film turned out.