A few days ago, I came upon someone’s list of the Best robots. Aside from the fact that the majority of them didn’t conform to the standard definition of a robot – “a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks” – many were “uninspiring” choices. This, of course, got me thinking about the simulated and artificial life forms that I’ve loved watching on celluloid. (A lot of my choices are not just “robots.”)
The number ranking isn’t necessarily in order of “love.”
1) Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) in Blade Runner (1982) – This Nexus-6 Replicant leader of five Off-World escapees has a very New Wave look with short, almost white hair; ice blue eyes, and a black, leather trenchcoat. A sensitive soul, he quotes William Blake and mourns the death of his friends. All he desires is more “life, Father.” Hauer overshadows Harrison Ford in every scene. The ending is pure poetry. This film kicked off my life-long crush of Hauer, one of cinema’s most underrated actors. Ridley Scott, one of the most inventive directors alive, helms.
2) David (Michael Fassbender) in Prometheus (2012) – The Lawrence of Arabia loving, Aryan-looking “son” of billionaire Peter Weyland. Although he predates Ash from Alien (1979), he seems to be an infinitely superior model. In fact, he seems more akin to the replicants in Blade Runner than he does the robots in the Alien franchise. Free from the restrictions of ethics and emotion, he is capable of pursuing intellectual curiosity to its full extent. There is nothing that Fassbender can’t do. He is endlessly fascinating. I adore him. And now I am obsessed with David. Scott does it again.
3) David (Haley Joel Osment) in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001) – This “mecha” is adopted by a family to replace their injured son, but when that child recovers, David is abandoned in the forest. Believing that he can become a “real boy,” he embarks on a journey to find the Blue Fairy. David is sweet, innocent, and longs for a family. He’s sort of a futuristic Pinocchio. He broke my heart. Osment was truly one of the most gifted chidren actors on this planet. Steven Spielberg does Stanley Kubrick proud.
4) Murphy (Peter Weller) in Robocop (1987) – A cop in crime-riddled Detroit, Murphy is gunned down by a gang of thugs and then rebuilt by OCP into an unstoppable half man/half machine. Kind of like the $6 million man but way, WAY cooler. One of my favorite, and frequently quoted, lines comes from Murphy: “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.” (“Your move, creep,” is almost as good.) In addition to being pretty hilarious, Robocop also has a “soft” side. After all, there is still a man inside of that metal body. They are remaking this sci-fi classic, which saddens me, because Weller is so phenomenal. That said, Joel Kinnaman of AMC’s The Killing is strapping on the suit, so I’ll give it a watch. Kudos to director Paul Verhoeven.
5) Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) in Terminator: Salvation (2009) – Making his big Hollywood debut, Worthington starred as a criminal on death row who is given a “second chance” … only much later does he discover that it’s as a machine. This film is far from perfect, but I was impressed by Worthington’s performance. He and his character overshadows everyone in the film. Sadly, even Christian Bale.
6) Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) in A.I. Artificial Intelligence – A charismatic love mecha, Gigolo Joe accompanies David on his journey to become a real boy. As if you haven’t guessed, A.I. is one of my favorite films. Not only is it intellectually stimulating but it also has a lot of heart, is visually stunning, and has a lot of great characters. Law is outstanding in just about everything he does, but this was a career highlight. He’s funny, sexy, sweet, and compassionate.
7) Data (Brent Spiner) in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) – With gold eyes and skin, this sentient android was kind of a precursor to The Big Bang’s Sheldon Cooper – highly intelligent but socially awkward. He loved cats – had his own named Spot – and Sherlock Holmes, and he tried desperately to understand human emotion. Some of my favorite episodes were Data-focused ones, particularly “The Offspring,” during which he constructed a daughter; “The Measure of a Man,” and “In Theory.” I had a huge crush on Data. He and Jean-Luc Picard are still my favorite Star Trek characters.
8) Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) in Prometheus (2012)- Officially, she isn’t a robot or android, but I have a very strong suspicion that she is David’s “older sister.” Physically, she looks like David, and she is very logical and unemotional. Who else came out of a two-plus-year hyper sleep, took a shower and started doing push-ups? Um, no one. I guess all will be revealed on the DVD extras, but even if they say she’s human, I won’t believe it. She’s my role model.
9) Ulysses (John Malkovich) in Making Mr. Right (1987) – Created by a reclusive scientist with a horrible bedside manner (Malkovich), Ulysses is about to go into space for a long, solo mission. Unfortunately, this android is everything the scientist is not – charming, child-like, sweet, and, well, human. Played by Malkovich before he became kind of crusty and malevolent, Ulysses is goofy and adorable. Kind of puppy like. That blonde hair, though, was a mistake.
10) Leoben Conroy (Callum Keith Rennie) in Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) – I know that every fanboy would choose Number Six (Tricia Helfer) as their favorite “toaster”/Cylon but I’m not a horny teen-aged guy. I actually loved Conroy, who, for whatever reason, was oddly fixated on Starbuck (Katee Sackoff). Yes, he was stalker-y and creepy, but deep down inside, what girl can resist a guy like that if he’s played by Rennie? Not this one.
11) Muffy the Daggit in Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) – I loved Battlestar Galactica so much when I was a child that when we had recess, I would recreate episodes on the school playground. (I was always Lt. Starbuck, nevermind he was a dude.) Muffy the Daggit is this dog-like robot – I think it was played by a chimp in a costume – that I coveted. COVETED. A few years ago, I went to Seattle’s EMP museum and SAW the actual costume for this creature. I almost wept with joy. If they make these things available in the future, I will be first in line to buy one.
12) C.H.O.M.P.S in C.H.O.M.P.S (1979)- OK we are going WAY back here! I think that this was Hanna-Barbera’s way to capitalize on the successes of Benji, Wesley “Land of the Lost” Eure, and Valerie “One Day at a Time” Bertinelli, and, for me, it worked. I will probably not watch this film as an adult, because it will, no doubt, suck, but when I was a child, it was a favorite. It’s essentially about a young (cute) scientist (Eure) who invents a robotic “security system,” which is actually a shaggy, very adorable, dog with x-ray vision, bionic limbs, and a strong drive to take down the criminals.
13) Teddybear 3000 (voiced by Jack Angel) in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) – This “living” doll accompanies David and Gigolo Joe on their journey. The minute I saw him in the film, I wanted my own. It was like I was a 10 year old all over again. He can speak, play games, and “using his smart tracking system will always find his way home.” One of Stan Winston Studios greatest creations.
14) Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) in I, Robot (2004) – It takes a lot to make me watch, let alone like, a Will Smith film, and despite the fact that Smith is super annoying in this sci-fi flick that borrows from Isaac Asimov’s concept of robotic laws, I liked it … But only because of Sonny, who is a robot that was being taught to have emotions/to be human. Tudyk’s voice and the special effects team are the standouts.
15) Astro Boy (voiced by Freddie Highmore) in Astro Boy (2009) – When a scientist, Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) loses his son, Toby, he creates an exact robot replica of him. Only this version has rockets for hands, can fly, has super strength, and x-ray vision. In this animated film, Astro Boy meets a huge robot called Z.O.G. and has his own trash can dog. The best part, though, is the Robot Games, during which you encounter all kinds of fighting robots. A lot of critics hated this film, but that’s their problem. I have a particular soft spot in my heart for Astro Boy. Created by Osamu Tezuka in the 1960s, this beloved Japanese animated robot can be seen flying outside of the Kyoto train station. Several years ago, I went through the Tezuka “museum” at the same train station. Very cool.
16) Bumblebee in Transformers (2007) – I loathe the Transformers movies. They are too long, star that moron Shia LaBeouf, and are poorly written. And yet, I can’t help myself. Whenever another dumb, overly loud, IQ lowering POS comes out, I go and see it. Why? The Autobots and Decepticons. Once they get busy transforming and fighting, my heart leaps for joy. Like a 10-year-old boy, I have a favorite, and his name is Bumblebee, the yellow Chevy Camaro. He’s almost like a loyal dog that becomes a super fast car! What more could you want? I mean, really?
17) Alphonse Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist (2003-2004) – After trying to resurrect their mother through alchemy, the Elric brothers suffer horrible fates. The older, Edward, loses his arm; the younger loses himself entirely. The only way “he” could survive such an ordeal was to have his soul fused with a giant, metal robot. Fullmetal Alchemist is a highly addictive anime series, and when I was watching it through Netflix, I would binge on one disc after another. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking … I know I shed a few tears while watching this program.
18) Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell (1995) – Created by Mamoru Oshii, this intellectually stimulated anime film was highly influential upon the Wachowski brothers, and if you watch The Matrix (1999), you will see why and how. The lead character is a female cyborg police office who is trying to track down a powerful hacker known as The Puppet Master.
19) Naomi Armitage in Armitage: Dual Matrix (2002)- Voiced by Juliette Lewis, this character lives in a world that wants to destroy all “thirds,” robots that are indistinguishable from humans. This is kind of like Blade Runner, because agents hunt down and kill these other robots. Armitage herself is an illegal third. Probably not my favorite anime, but it raises some interesting questions.
20) C-3PO & R2D2 in Star Wars (1977) – I know that these guys should have found themselves closer to the top of the list, and if I had compiled it when I was a child, they might have been No. 1 and No. 2. But over time – meaning I grew up – I have come to realize that C-3PO is really annoying. I can barely stand him, and that’s sad, because when I was a child, I had a crush on Anthony Daniels. All of this aside, these robotic guys are the perfect comic duo, and are as iconic as Bert & Ernie, Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear, etc. Thanks Akira Kurosawa for giving George Lucas the inspiration!
Runner up: GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) in Moon (2009) – The only “companion” that astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has during his three-year stint on the Moon is a computer that shows its emotions/reactions through an ever-changing smiley face. A really phenomenal sci-fi film and an amazing first-time effort by Duncan Jones, who, not surprisingly is a Blade Runner fan.
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