Robots are back at the box office! Since “Real Steel” is making the box office rounds, let’s take a small retrospective into the subgenre of sci-fi that always popular with audiences, robot movies. These movies aren’t in any particular order; the only requirement is that they have a robot in them.
“I, Robot”: The 2004 Will Smith film probably upset some Isaac Asimov fans, but the film was a fun romp, if you will, into the world of the future where robots are now the norm for humanity, but they are also the bane of the humans who fear the imminent uprising of sentient robots. The main robot character, Sonny (Alan Tudyk) is a compassionate being the audience can sympathize with, and his journey to find himself–as well as the journey Smith’s character, Del Spooner, takes to come to terms with technology–is entertaining, even if it’s not entirely accurate to the Asimov story.
“The Iron Giant”: The 1999 animated film based on the Ted Hughes book and directed by Brad Bird was given the short end of the stick by the marketing department, as the film was robbed the gross it should have received if it had much better teaser trailers. However, the film itself is a modern classic about a boy and his robot, a being from another planet that was originally meant to be a weapon. The film is all about honest storytelling, and voicing the robot is possibly the best role Vin Diesel has played yet.
“Metropolis”: The 1927 film is possibly the best example of early sci-fi works in cinema. An epic of its time, “Metropolis” features not only a sprawling futuristic city divided between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, but also one of the best designs of a robot in cinema, in my opinion–an art deco androgynous being that looks as mysterious as it does scary and intimidating. In fact, the The Machine Man does do some bad things by impersonating the heroine, Maria. Even if silent films aren’t your cup of tea, the visuals alone will keep you enthralled.
“Blade Runner”: “Blade Runner”, based on the book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, is a film that has now reached cult status even though it was derided when it first premiered in 1982. Similar to “I, Robot,” the androids (or, as they are called in this film, “replicants”) in this futuristic Los Angeles used to be used for everyday chores, but eventually became intelligent beyond the scope of their programming and are now outlawed from Earth. There are several androids in the film, but out of all of the most popular androids–Daryl Hannah as Pris and Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty–the star is Sean Young as Rachael, the replicant with the 1940s Victory Rolls hairstyle. Again, the same type of epic scope is used here just as it was used in “Metropolis,” so you feel entrenched in the world even when you see the first shot.
“A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”: I think 2001’s “A.I.” was a weird film for several people, but the big draw about this film about androids was the Stanley Kubrick-esque style of storytelling and visuals brought to screen by Steven Spielberg. In fact, this was Kubrick’s pet project before the project fell to Spielberg after the visionary director’s death. Some others might have gotten miffed if they read the short story the film is based on, “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss, but overall, the film is one that is an intriguing watch.
“Bicentennial Man”: Personally, I found “Bicentennial Man” to be weird. Maybe it was because it was a Robin Williams film where he was playing the role straight instead of being funny. But still, the 1999 film based on Isaac Asimov’s novella is an interesting film to watch because of Williams’ character Andrew Martin slowly acquiring emotions in order to become human.
“Terminator” series: These films have made legions of people afraid for what might happen if and when androids (which are being developed now) develop the ability to think. Another element of these films involve time travel, something we haven’t developed yet, despite the various string theory ideas surround such travel. But aside from the science part, the draw to the film is Arnold Schwarzenegger being the big action hero and saying the iconic line, “I’ll be back”.
“Robots”: The 2005 CGI film about a world of robots isn’t anything dealing with the end of humanity; it’s dealing with happiness (or, at the very least, the end of humanity has been over for eons in order to make way for some happiness). The film is simple–a small-town robot (Ewan McGregor) wants to go to the big city in order to become an inventor. One link this film has with “Bicentennial Man” is that Robin Williams is playing another robot. Like with “Cars,” inevitable plot-hole questions come up, like how do the robots have children or grow up, but if you don’t think too much, the movie is fine. Also, it has great visuals, great character design by the children’s storybook author/illustrator William Joyce (who’s also behind children’s shows “Rolie Polie Olie” and “George Shrinks” and the Disney film “Meet the Robinsons”), and fun action scenes.
“Star Wars” films: I don’t think there’s much I have to say about this entry. Everyone knows a lot about this series even if you haven’t seen the films, but these films are on the list because they have two of the most famous robots, C-3PO and R2-D2.
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” films: Again, the television show is so ingrained in the collective consciousness that I don’t have to say much about the show or the films, but both the show and film versions contain one of the most famous androids, Data, the android who, like The Bicentennial Man, wants to become human. His character received a few dents in the films, but he’s still one of the most beloved characters ever created in “Star Trek” history, I think.
There are tons more robot films that didn’t make the list (“Ghost in the Shell,” for instance), but what robot films are your favorites? Which ones would you list? Give us your opinions in the comments section below.