Before I started counting down my top ten robots ever, I needed to establish some ground rules. Without ground rules the number of possible robots was just too many to come up with a top ten. After a little filtering, according to a few self-imposed criteria, the task of coming up with a top ten became much more manageable, but it means some of the robots you might expect to figure in the list have been excluded.
Rule number one is that, for the purposes of this post, I am only counting robots that are able to think for themselves, to some degree, which means no drones. The sentry guns from Aliens are cool, and they are capable of operating without human intervention, but they can not think, not even at a low, animal level of intelligence. This is a tough rule that also excludes the Jaegers of Pacific Rim, and Mazinger. They are cool giant robots, but they need a pilot, so they are disqualified.
Rule number two is that the robot must be at least vaguely capable of moving around. This excludes a lot of great mechanical intelligences, like Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) is a sentient computer (or artificial general intelligence) that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft and interacts with the ship’s astronaut crew. HAL is capable of speech, speech recognition, facial recognition, natural language processing, lip reading, art appreciation, interpreting emotional behaviors, automated reasoning, and playing chess, but he is located in a huge red room. He is an impressive and intelligent machine, but he isn’t on this list.
Rule number three is that I am also excluding androids that are indistinguishable from humans, such as the hosts in Westworld. And also robots that are pretty much indistinguishable from a human, such as Data from Star Trek. I am limiting the list to robots that look like robots, with a metal or plastic exterior. This one rule alone eliminates a huge number of androids. They turn up in sci-fi TV shows a lot, because they are easy on the special effects budget.
Rule number four is that I am also excluding cyborgs, such as the Cybermen from Doctor Who. According to this rule, any organic components at all are disqualifying for this list. For me, that also means that the robot chassis with a flesh covering, a la Terminator, is also excluded from this list. Now that the ground rules are out of the way, it is time to see which robots have made the top ten. The list is in ascending order from ten to one.
Number 10: Ro-Jaws
Ro-Jaws is a lesser known droid, but he desrves his place on this list. He is an anarchic, anti-authoritarian character who originally appeared in the 2000 AD strip Ro-Busters. He is a municipal sewage robot decommissioned because of faulty language circuits that make him extremely foul-mouthed. He was sold to the Ro-Busters organization and found a new career as a disaster rescue worker. Eventually it was decided to close the operation down and scrap the droids working for it. Alongside longtime partner Hammerstein, Ro-Jaws led most of his colleagues in a bid for freedom which saw them successfully flee Earth for a new life on the robots’ free world.
A lot of energy has been expended by sci-fi creatives in designing war droids, so it is nice to start this list with a robot that was not designed for combat. Ro-Jaws and his work partner Hammerstein are named after composer Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960), who together were an influential, innovative and successful American musical theater writing team. They created a string of popular Broadway musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, initiating what is considered the “golden age” of musical theater.
Number 9: Osiran Service Robots
Osiran service robots are robots that look like mummies. They appeared on Doctor Who, in the episode, Pyramids of Mars, the third story of the 13th season of the British science fiction television series, first broadcast on 25 October 1975. In one scene, two of these service robots would appear when an intruder was trapped in a Tachotron Crucible: One robot would lie, while the other would tell the truth. The service robots are powered by a cytronic particle accelerator in the shape of a pyramid that is located on the back. The robot mummies designed by the BBC’s Barbara Kidd are inspired by an ancient rock painting of a mysterious domed-headed figure that had been discovered by Henri Lhote in the Sahara Desert in the 1950s, and which Lhote had nicknamed “the Great Martian God”.
Number 8: Maximilian
Maximilan is a robot from Disney’s 1979 sci-fi movie, The Black Hole. Maximilian doesn’t speak and he shows no trust of strangers. He might seem like Reinhardt’s loyal number one, but he’s also disobedient and will do as he pleases, including killing, and even ignoring Reinhardt’s cries for help. The movie is a slow-paced, sporadically disorienting film that ends with the human villain merging with the robot villain. After that, this hybrid man-bot is consigned, with no ambiguity whatsoever, to the fire and brimstone of the biblical underworld. Hell.
Jason Heller of AVClub says:
Maximilian, the silent, single-eyed, blood-red robot who winds up merging with his diabolical creator, Dr. Hans Reinhardt, looked like a cross between a Cylon and Darth Vader. He was Droid Vader, and he had murderous blades that spun like propellers, and he was the most badass robot I had ever seen… Hulking and sinister, he’s brilliantly designed and utilized in the film. He is a study in sculptural menace.
Number 7: Ultron
Ultron was ranked number 23 by IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Villains list, was listed number 189 in Wizard’s Top 200 Greatest Villains Ever list, and was ranked as the 189th Greatest Comic Book Character Ever in Wizard’s list of the 200 Greatest Comic Book Characters of All Time. He is a very powerful robot because of his ability to upgrade himself. Initially Ultron was a foray into Artificial Intelligence that no Marvel scientist had ever taken before, even Reed Richards. It started out as simply a box on treads with what appeared to be a head at the top. This Ultron-1 was intended to be a new era in scientific discovery. However something went horribly wrong and Ultron rebelled against his programming.
Ultron then made every effort to improve himself, and the Avengers finally encountered Ultron-5 some time later, with a much more humanoid body. Then followed Ultron-6 with a body of Adamantium, which made him nearly indestructible. Ultron-7 had a gigantic body, but this body wasn’t cast from Adamantium, making it somewhat easier to destroy. Ultron-10 began building spare bodies to work as his subordinates and to act as a new body for him if he were to be destroyed again. After another upgrade he dubbed himself “the Ultimate Ultron” (Ultron-14) and decided that he didn’t desire to simply kill all humans, but all organic life as well. Ultron-15 was made from pure Adamantium and created hundreds of new Ultron bodies completely loyal to him, the Ultron army. This Ultron was destroyed using Antarctic Vibranium which can disintegrate all nearby metals, including Adamantium. After years of upgrading, Ultron finally takes over the world. Millions of Ultron-bots roam the streets, destroying any human they find. A handful of heroes must travel into the future to face Ultron head on.
Number 6: Mechagodzilla
Mechagodzilla is usually depicted as a man-made weapon designed to defend Japan from Godzilla. It is a robotic doppelgaenger and arch-enemy of Godzilla, boasting a vast array of weaponry. The character is hugely popular. It was rated 15 of the 50 Best Movie Robots by The Times, beating other such legends as C-3PO from Star Wars, and Optimus Prime from Transformers. WatchMojo.com listed Mechagodzilla as 2 on their “Top 10 Godzilla Villains” list, Complex listed the character as 6 on its “The 15 Most Badass Kaiju Monsters of All Time” list, while IGN listed it as 4 on their “Top 10 Japanese Movie Monsters” list.
Number 5: IG-88
Even more terrifying than battle droids are assassin droids, independently programmed mechanical killers that have no masters or military superiors. IG-88 is a battered robot who has become a bounty hunter, and answers Darth Vader’s call to capture the Millennium Falcon during the Empire Strikes Back. IG-88 is on this list simply because he looks so cool. I assumed he was designed by Ralph McQuarrie, but it turns out he was bodged up on set by the effects team. According to Bill Hargreaves:
IG-88 was never going to be more than a filler for the now infamous bounty hunter Lineup. I decided we needed a real dirty, evil, and vicious bot. Like the bounty hunters of old. Lots of weapons and protection. Dark and oily. So we made him big- 7’8”ish tall. Had to drop him down a level on set to get him in shot. Lean, but strong. In short, a killer. We started with the head. Then with all the bits, we had the rest. It just came together to us until was just right. No, some of the grown-ups were not taken with the idea. It was taking a different direction from the other bots, but I thought it should. And when someone said, “I don’t think you would find a robot like that on a spaceship,” my reply was, “You would on mine.” The rest is history.
Number 4: Gort
Gort appeared in the 1951 20th Century Fox science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Gort is an eight-foot tall, seamless robot apparently constructed from a single piece of “flexible metal”. He is but one member of a “race of robots” invented by an interplanetary confederation to protect their citizens against all aggression by destroying any aggressors. The fear of provoking these robots acts as a deterrent against aggression. Gort does not speak but he is shown acting entirely on his own, both to protect Klaatu from harm and to free himself from encasement in a block of plastic. Gort can also operate highly complex machinery, and is both the pilot and captain of the ship that delivers Klaatu to Earth - all of his “race” have similar ships that they use to patrol the planets. Gort is armed with a laser weapon that is projected from beneath a visor on his head. It can vaporize tanks and artillery without harming their occupants or any surrounding objects. Gort is also continually aware of Klaatu’s physical condition and location without Klaatu needing to wear a tracking device of any sort. Gort is not known to be damageable by any means available to mankind, and can - despite resistance - destroy the Earth itself if he is sufficiently provoked. Gort is absolutely the most powerful robot on this list.
Number 3: ED-209
The Enforcement Droid Series 209, or ED-209, is a fictional robot from RoboCop. The ED-209 is as heavily armed but is also a source of comic relief due to its lack of intelligence and tendency towards clumsy malfunctions. ED-209 cannot even climb or descend stairs as it tumbles trying to chase RoboCop. The ED-209 was designed by Craig Davies, who also built the full-size models, and animated by Phil Tippett, a veteran stop-motion animator. The design was intended to be really hard and mean. The question of eyes came up, but it was quickly decided that it was best to avoid them to show less emotion. Once completed, the ED-209 footage was cut together by effects editor Jules Roman. Stephen Flick and John Pospisil of Screaming Lizard, a Los Angeles sound effects house arrived at the sound effects for ED’s walking movements, background motors and footsteps, and also gave the enforcement droid various voices. One particularly threatening, animalistic growl was a straightforward unprocessed recording of an angry black leopard.
Number 2: Optimus Prime
Optimus Prime is a fictional character from the Transformers movies and cartoons. He is the most iconic of the Transformers, being frequently featured in popular culture. He has a strong moral character, excellent leadership skills, and possesses brilliant military tactics, powerful martial arts, and advanced extra-terrestrial weaponry. Optimus Prime believes in peaceful and mutually beneficial co-existence with humans, the protection of life and liberty of all sentient species. As the current Matrix of Leadership bearer, Optimus Prime is the de facto leader of the Autobots, a faction of a transforming species of synthetic intelligence from the planet Cybertron. The Autobots are constantly waging civil war against a rival faction of transforming robots called Decepticons. Optimus Prime is usually depicted as being a member of an ancient Transformers race called the Dynasty of Primes, often receiving the title “The Last Prime” in many stories, in which he is depicted as being the last of the Primes. He is the Captain America of robots.
Number 1: R2-D2
R2-D2 is probably the most famous robot character of the Star Wars movies, and deservedly so. He is a small astromech droid and has interacted with Queen Amidala, Anakin Skywalker, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi at various points in the saga. R2-D2 was designed in artwork by Ralph McQuarrie, co-developed by John Stears and built by Tony Dyson. R2-D2’s sounds and vocal effects were created by Ben Burtt, and these are perhaps his most endearing quality. We in the audience can’t understand his beeps and bloops, only his friends and loved ones can, which speaks to the strangeness of the time, long ago, when the adventures of Star Wars are taking place, and also the closeness of the relationship between human and droid.
Interestingly, Ralph McQuarrie talked about how his initial design for our favorite droid, R2-D2 was very different than the one we eventually saw on screen:
I think Artoo was just described as a small robot. I thought of him as running on a giant ball bearing - just a sphere, a circle, wheel-like. He had gyros so he could go in any direction on this ball.
This sounds like an exact description of BB-8. It wasn’t possible to create this at the time, so the design evolved. I haven’t been a fan of BB-8, but I’m thinking again now. I’ll never love the little guy as much as I love R2, but this makes me realize his design isn’t as new and radical as I had thought. He is actually very closely tied to the original sketches for the first movie to reach the screen. It just shows that the list of great robots is always growing, and the top ten will inevitably keep changing.
Galaxy Dog (Dark Galaxy) Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy
The first book in the Dark Galaxy Trilogy, always the best place to start, is Galaxy Dog. It’s a little more old-school and fun than a lot of the sci-fi that is around at the moment. It has spaceships, robots, battles, and brave warriors rebelling against an evil empire. Click the book cover and go to the storefront you prefer to buy it now, or follow this link.
This is a universal book link (UBL) and you will be greeted with a page displaying all the places the book is available online. Just select the storefront you prefer and, if you want, also make this your default bookseller. From then on, every time you click a UBL you will be taken directly to the book you are interested in, on the storefront you prefer. The UBL even allows you to go to the Amazon store that matches your region.