Top 6: Robot Movies

Posted in Top 6 at 4:59 am by Sam

Robots have existed in science fiction for the better part of a century, and more and more the fiction is turning into reality. What is it that makes the idea of robots so interesting? Perhaps because it opens up so many other interesting questions. What kind of robots will we have? How will they be used? How will they change society? Those questions are enough, but the line of reasoning quickly escalates into ruminations about what makes us human, and what qualities of humanity robots can replicate and — more to the point — replace.

Robots are fascinating and frightening at the same time, and that’s probably why there are several good movies about robots out there. Here are ours, from Episode 33’s Top 6 segment. What are your favorites?

As always, we recommend listening to the episode before reading further.

  1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  2. Metropolis (1927)
  3. Blade Runner (1982)
  4. The Second Renaissance, Part I and Part II, part of The Animatrix (2003)
  5. Westworld (1973)
  6. The first third of A.I. (2001)
  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  3. The Iron Giant (1999)
  4. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  5. Westworld (1973)
  6. Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983)


  1. Sam (405) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 5:00 am

    Not long ago, a wonderful article came out in The Guardian on this very subject — movie robots gradually becoming a reality today. Check it out.

  2. Stephen (221) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 5:01 am

    I still can’t believe I forgot The Iron Giant.

  3. wintermute (157) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Stephen: You have, indeed, picked Blade Runner more than any other movie, a total of four times. As well as this episode, you picked it for Sympathetic Villains, Computer Movies and Movies Where The Cut You See is Important.

    On the other hand, Sam has never picked it once.

  4. wintermute (157) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 10:13 am

    To put this into context, Stephen has picked Blade Runner as often as Primer and Citizen Kane combined.

  5. Ric (21) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 10:43 am

    Man, I gotta put I, Robot on the list, not because it was great, but because of how great the ROBOTS were in it. They were scary in their ruthlessness and collective indestructibility.

    I certainly agree with Stephen: “First Third of AI” is a good way to call it.

    Also, Robocop has to be on my list too. Not because of the Peter Weller character, but because of ED-2000.

  6. Jeffrey (84) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Short Circuit - Number Five
    Laputa: Castle in the Sky
    RoboCop (technically he’s a cyborg)
    Alien/Aliens - Ash and Bishop
    Forbidden Planet - Robby the robot
    I, Robot - Sonny
    The Stepford Wives (not the remake)
    Screamers (B-movie classic!)
    D.A.R.Y.L. (whatever happened to Barrett Oliver?)
    The Wizard of Oz (does the Tin Man count?)

  7. Parker (16) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 10:52 am

    I would like to add my appreciation for Bicentennial Man, since it hasn’t been mentioned here yet.

  8. joem18b (231) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Marvin, my favorite robot (Alan Rickman does the voice)

    Kronos - As a kid, I couldn’t decide if this was a cool movie or not. Giant metal thing moves about the Earth using legs that just go up and down (?), sucking up all the energy, for export to another planet.

    Star Trek - Lt. Commander Data (3 movies)

    Hardware Wars

    Incredibles - The robot who keeps getting smarter.

    Sleeper - Rags

    Robocop - Even if you don’t count Robocop himself, there is the other cop robot that runs amok. I saw this same type robot in a movie recently but can’t remember what the movie was.

    Metropolis - Just watched this and was interested to see that at the end, the fire burns away the robot’s disguise, as in Terminator I. So I assume that, although it isn’t shown, she then steps down out of the fire and raises hell with the populace. Worth a sequel, as her creator is dead and can’t turn her off.

    Terminator II - Just to make sure Robert Patrick gets his props

    Blade Runner - I never knew, or if I knew I had forgotten, that Harrison Ford is himself a replicant (I haven’t heard the earlier AMT episodes that may discuss this)


    Thumb Wars - Prissypeo

    Die Another Day - Bond needs an emergency operation and a robotic device is used. The device is played by the Da Vinci product from Intuitive Surgical. The folks over there were excited about their pride and joy appearing in the movie; it is actually used for prostate operations.

  9. WarpNacelle (48) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I have to throw in some defense for “Bicentennial Man”. I’ve read “The Robot Anthologies” and “The Positronic Man” (off of which Bicentennial Man based) and where “I, Robot” was just Hollywood fluff with pretty much no substance, “Bicentennial Man” took the time to explore, develop and create a fascinating character & life. Even more so then the short story. Flame me if you want, but I think it was a mis-marketed and overlooked Sci-Fi gem. No guilty anything here. :)

  10. Grishny (156) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    I’ll chip in with WarpNacelle on the Bicentennial Man defense team. The Positronic Man was, if I remember right, the first Asimov I ever read, and I was very much moved by it. I later read the short story version and enjoyed it as well. As WN says, the movie was much more true to the spirit of the original story than I, Robot, although I will say that I disagree about Robot being “Hollywood fluff.” I enjoyed it as a decent movie in its own right– I just tried to pretend that it wasn’t even supposed to be based on anything Asimovian.

    If I have a criticism of Bicentennial Man the movie, it’s aimed at where they did veer off course from the original story and the whole seemingly obligatory introduction of a love interest. Asimov’s story was powerful enough without having the robot fall in love with a human.

    Sometimes I also wonder if the movie would have been better if they’d cast someone besides Robin Williams in the role of Andrew. He certainly did a very good job, but he brought to the movie a much more goofy tone than I really liked.

  11. Stephen (221) said,

    May 15, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Every movie that features Robin Williams would be better if the producers had cast somebody besides Robin Williams.

    I actually think that I, Robot is a pretty decent flick, and not that totally off the Asimov mark. The conclusion the computer comes to is pretty similar to the zeroth law of robotics, that robots cannot allow harm to come to humanity.

  12. Grishny (156) said,

    May 16, 2007 at 7:15 am

    I dunno, Stephen. I finally saw Insomnia recently, and I thought he did an incredible job in that.

    Also, wasn’t the “zeroth” law of robotics a much later invention of Asimov that he came up with for his merger of the Robots and Foundation series? I was under the impression that you were one of the “purists” who think that merging those two series together was a big mistake.

  13. Stephen (221) said,

    May 16, 2007 at 9:05 am

    An early version of the zeroth law is in The Evitable Conflict, first published in 1950 and part of I, Robot (it’s the last story in that collection). That’s the one where the robots basically take control of the world, in order to minimize harm to humanity.

  14. Sam (405) said,

    May 16, 2007 at 9:45 am

    Yeah, I totally disagree with Stephen’s prejudice against Robin Williams. I like him a lot, and I don’t necessarily think he was miscast in Bicentennial Man, either — the character is uninteresting, but I don’t think that’s his fault. The movie has far greater problems. I haven’t read the story it’s based on, so I can see that maybe if you bring that memory to the movie, you can like it because your mind is already filled with the critical pieces the movie is missing. It already knows where the movie is coming from, so it doesn’t have to be taken there.

    But my take on the movie, as it stands on its own, is that it’s total garbage. It’s actually quite astonishing how staid and lumbering and clumsy it is. There’s so much slack in the narrative — it’s aimless and unconfident, as if the director didn’t quite know what the heart of the story was, and so he didn’t dare tighten it up.

    The main problem is not something you can recover from. The movie is never ever ever convincing about the robot being anything other than a mindless machine that can behave like a human but not have any consciousness or emotion. Contrast this with A.I., a movie that I do think is deeply flawed, but which did, at the very least, convince me that the boy was sufficiently human to warrant empathy. Ditto the Iron Giant and C3PO and many others.

    The robot in Bicentennial Man is just a robot, and that makes virtually the entire film an exhaustingly annoying waste of time. Imagine, if you would, all that political campaigning and woebegone moping about equal rights for a giant sewing machine, and all the characters with actual sense painted as the badguys, and you’d have…well, pretty much the same movie.

    But ok, let’s assume it’s just me, and everybody else can empathize with this dumb hunk of tin. Let’s pretend that the Robin Williams character really is human, and the story is the same story except instead of being about man-vs-machine, it’s about something else that sets him apart in a way that incurs a social stigma. I submit that the character would not be any more interesting. He’s insufferably boring. I can possibly see the first half of the film working with some less confused directing, but the second half would still need to be incinerated and remade from scratch.

    For all the innovation the science fiction genre is reputed for, for all the latitude its writers are free to explore, the film of Bicentennial Man spirals into this shamelessly manipulative, extremely superficial Lifetime movie. There is no complexity on either side of the political debate, no intelligence, just a pile of platitudes on one hand and snarly bigotry on the other. The movie doesn’t trust its audience to think about its subject, so rather than being insightful and exploring its subject, it skips straight to — I’ll borrow a phrase from the Roger Ebert review — “greeting card sentiment.”

    Hey, greeting cards are nice things. But they’re utterly meaningless outside the context of an established relationship. For all the books and movies out there that actually explore the complex issues at stake with intelligence and insight and flair, Bicentennial Man looks dumb, naive, and clumsy by comparison.

  15. joem18b (231) said,

    May 16, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control (1997)

    Bosco’s Mechanical Man (1933 - Looney Toons)

    Mickey’s Mechanical Man (1933 - Mickey Mouse)

    I was thinking about The Turk - the chess-playing automaton that toured Europe beating human rivals for $$$. Seems like there must be a movie or two featuring The Turk or some variaion on the theme, but I can’t think of one. Category: Faux Robots.

  16. joem18b (231) said,

    May 16, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    btw, I’m glad you mentioned Robby because he was The Man (The Robot?) throughout the 50s, pace Gort. Travelled the world meeting folks. There are still fan sites for him, plus a page for the guy who owns his rights:



  17. Ferrick (140) said,

    May 17, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Here are the movies I thought of that I figured would be on your lists:

    The Day the Earth Stood Still*
    Blade Runner
    Star Wars
    Terminator 1 or 2

    Movies I thought of that I wasn’t sure would make your list:

    Bicentennial Man
    The Iron Giant*

    * Movies I have not seen yet.

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