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Top 10 most memorable films and TV shows with robots in them

You probably know the winner without looking – I’ve chosen The Terminator, the 1984 movie when Arnold Schwarzenegger was in his prime and when films still required good stories and plot twists and could not rely entirely on special effects to wow audiences. 

There are probably others on the list you can guess, but that is the nature of such collections – most of us can agree on them.

There are probably no surprises, but then surprises are probably overrated, especially in a world where the word “surprise” is often deliberately or unwittingly substituted for “trauma” or “shock” and expected to be laughed off by people who may or may not know the difference. 

The surprises are probably the omissions, but then it’s only a top 10 and not a top 100 or something.

One thing’s for sure: the state of the world today is increasingly reflecting the nightmare, dystopian vision presented in many science-fiction films of the past and present – and possibly the future.

With that said, science fiction does give audiences some relief from the drudgery of existence and can even sometimes enlighten and inspire us about the future.

So, anyway… he said he’d be back, and sure enough, he is.

the terminator

1. The Terminator

The Terminator series of films has given us several fantastic cyborgs from the future, but most people probably still think of the original 1984 model, the T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger whenever they think of robots taking over the world and killing all humans.

I’m not exactly sure why that would be, considering the sophistication of subsequent terminator robots – the T-1000 in the second film, with its liquid metal, shapeshifting spookiness was particularly memorable.

But for most of us who saw the original, it’s difficult to forget how such an alien concept as a machine specifically programmed to kill could be so hell-bent on fulfilling its mission, even when half its body had been severed and all it could do was crawl along the ground.

Terrifying as hell. A glimpse of hell. What the hell.


2. RoboCop 

The 1987 original version of RoboCop probably caught a lot of people by surprise in that it was a much better film than it was expected to be. Which is probably why it spawned a series of films.

Science-fiction films are generally seen as B-movies, and the whole genre is probably not of as much interest to critics as, say, drama, or something. To be fair, most films in all genres are B-movies at best.

But sometimes the acting in science fiction films is worthy of the complex dilemmas inherent in sci-fi storylines, and Peter Weller did an excellent job of depicting how one might feel one’s body is all but destroyed and is replaced by mechatronic systems.

There are other memorable aspects of the movie – the killer robot that malfunctions in the boardroom, and the petrol station hold-up – but a weird fascination with the RoboCop machine is probably what carries the film.

the stepford-wives small

3. The Stepford Wives 

There are two versions of The Stepford Wives, which is great if you enjoyed either version and didn’t know about the other. They’re both well worth watching.

The one I saw first was the one with Nicole Kidman in it. An accomplished actress, starring alongside an equally skilled cast, the film was compelling.

When the hall of rogues introduced themselves straight to the camera, the underlying creepiness of the movie turned into something unsettling enough to induce vomit.

It’s a great film, and just the type and style beloved by critics. But for some reason, it didn’t win as many awards than maybe it would have if science fiction were not in its heart.

The 1975 film is equally good, though may seem a little dated for obvious reasons. Both of them probably seem dated now. The original book is probably worth reading too.


4. Morgan

I thought Morgan was a much better film than it was given credit for. My only criticism would be the title – not to put too fine a point on it, it’s rubbish.  

It’s such a dull name and in this day and age of internet search, such a common word makes the film difficult to find online.

Which is a shame because the film itself is not only good, it discusses what I think is the very important issue of bio-engineered humans.

The technology to artificially manufacture humans has been around for decades. Giving life to them may be another issue, but it’s unlikely that any technology challenge – or anything else – will stand in the way of science.

Science always seems to go the Nth degree, to the logical conclusion, and it’s up to the rest of us to decide whether that is a good thing and whether to accept it or not, and what to do about it either way.

5. Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell is a pretty good adaptation of the original Japanese manga animated adventure.

Starring Scarlett Johansson, it features plenty of choreographed fight scenes to keep viewers entertained, but also offers some food for thought to keep the grey cells engaged.

It shares some technical similarity with RoboCop, in that the central character suffers a near-fatal injury and is only saved through mechatronic augmentation.

But it’s a very new film so benefits from the enormous advanced made in special effects since way back in the late-1980s when RoboCop was made.

Another interesting aspect of the film is how Japanese and Western film styles and sensibilities are blended together, perhaps awkwardly from some people’s points of view. I thought it worked well.


6. Transformers

The 2007 original Transformers made household names of its stars Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox, who were then hounded by the media for years and years and look like they would disintegrate from the pressure at any moment.

Along with the many things the media is capable of finding to degrade someone for, some of the criticism related to the film, which I don’t think is fair.

Transformers was a good cartoon but transferring it to the big screen is always tricky. For whatever reason, the movie worked, was enjoyable to watch, and many subsequent Transformer films followed.

Whether you want to credit the actors, the special effects designers, the direction or whatever… it worked… so I’m not really sure what the problem was.

blade runner 2049

7. Blade Runner

If I had to choose between the original and 2049, I would probably choose the latter because it’s more fun to watch – more action scenes, more actors and dialogue, just more of everything really.

But then I think of how thought-provoking the original was and it becomes a difficult choice.

Luckily, I don’t have to choose – they are both the same film in more ways than one.

I don’t have any criticisms of the new film, but I must say I would have like to have seen them be a bit more adventurous.

Seems to me like that they played it safe by basically staying within the narrative confines of the original, with just a few hints of contemporary issues.

Maybe they’re saving all that for the next installment.

star trek voyager

8. Star Trek

There are so many robot characters in the Star Trek movies and television shows that it is difficult to choose which of them to highlight.

But the Borg probably should have a spin-off film and TV series of their own, if only for commercial reasons.

When the Borg character Seven of Nine was introduced to the Star Trek: Voyager series, audience figures went into orbit. It’s puzzling, therefore, that a film hasn’t been built around the character and her Borg companions.

Not only was Jeri Ryan perfect in the role, the character itself had a lot of interesting background stories.

Then, of course, you have the android Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, who proved be hugely popular in that show.

That’s the weird thing about robots and androids – they’re often the most popular characters in the piece.

In the very first series, however, artificial intelligence remained inside a computer and only communicated through a disembodied voice.

star wars

9. Star Wars

Such was the extraordinary quality and originality of the first Star Wars films, the cult that has grown around the story is still very strong today, despite the deterioration of the films themselves.

I find the new films a somewhat contrived and didactic, which is off-putting. But then I realise that the originals had similar qualities.

Maybe I didn’t notice it when I was younger or I don’t like the message anymore. I actually don’t know what the message is.

But the originals were much more fun than the new ones, which seem more concerned with imparting some pseudo-religious guidance or something.

And it’s quite telling that there haven’t been any robots that have outshined the ones we saw in the very early films, R2D2 and C3PO.

i robot

10. I, Robot 

As popular as Will Smith was and still is, he doesn’t do dark. Meaning, his films are usually more easy to watch because his persona is jovial and light-hearted. Even when he’s being hunted like in Enemy of the State, it doesn’t seem to unsettle audiences as much it perhaps should.

I, Robot does have dark underlying themes and Smith certainly delves into them, especially the issues relating to the conflict between humans and robots.

But the potential to depict a bleak future in the face of exponentially increasing computing power and highly advanced robotics is just avoided really.

In a way, that’s a shame because I, Robot is inspired by the Isaac Asimov collection of stories of the same name, and at a guess, Asimov’s worldview was a lot darker and much bleaker than that of this film.

But it’s certainly a good film and a lot of fun to watch.