Thursday, March 26, 2015

Guest Blogger Maria Ramos: Best Robot Movies of All Time

Please welcome Maria Ramos back to Musings on Fantasia. Last month she did a delightful post for us about Paper Towns and John Green. Today she's back to talk about The Best Robot Films of all time!

The Best Robot Movies of All Time

Do you remember where you saw your first robot? Was it the kind and helpful droids, C3P0 and R2D2, searching for Obi Wan Kenobi, or was it the T-1000 Terminator chasing Sarah Connors? Robots have a long history in the annals of science-fiction films and literature, and they always seem to elicit some sort of primal reaction from viewers. Could it be that these films reflect the rising fear that humanity is no longer completely in control of its destiny, but is becoming subservient to a computer controlled over-mind? To help understand this trend we will be looking at some of the most influential robot themed films of the past.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

For many people this was their first exposure to robots. Gort, the silent giant sidekick of the alien visitor, Klaatu, makes his first appearance by destroying the weapons of the military forces that have surrounded their flying saucer. He may have only been protecting his master, but to the audience Gort was the embodiment of overwhelming technology. He and Klaatu brought the entire world to a standstill and there was nothing that we puny humans could do about it. But the best part of the film (and we won’t spoil anything here) is the moment when Klaatu and Gort reveal their actual intentions for coming to earth. It’s a wonderful Cold War allegory, which promotes peace and civility. Some scholars have even inferred a Christian subtext. What’s great about Robots in classic science-fiction films is that they are commonly used as foils to examine how hysterical and paranoid the general public can be.

Robocop (1987)

When Officer Murphy (Peter Weller) is shot and murdered while on duty, he becomes a prototype for his precinct— a cybernetic/bulletproof police officer who has been programmed to uphold the law. Unfortunately, our robocop has been programmed so that he can’t arrest board members of the evil corporation that engineered him. Slowly throughout the course of the film, Robocop recovers some of his memories from his previous life, and makes it his personal agenda to track down the crooks who killed him, and to dismantle the tech developing crooks who built Robocop to fulfill their own diabolical ends. We live in an age of fully automated home security, so the clunky hardware and devices depicted in RoboCop might feel a little dated to modern viewers. What won’t feel dated, however, is the film’s satirical commentary about the dangers of a world where technology has been engineered to oppress the masses and protect corporate villains.

WALL-E (2008)

Even mainstream cartoons have explored grim dystopian fantasies. Disney/Pixar made the unique choice of having artificial beings be both the hero and the villain of the film. Wall-E is a trash collecting robot who has been stranded alone on earth for some time. All traces of humanity have vanished, and the world has become a giant garbage heap. Wall-E eventually befriends another robot, named Eve. Through happenstance, Eve and Wall-E end up on board a gigantic spaceship, that functions as a space colony for humans who have long since left earth. Auto, the spacecraft’s autopilot, is sort of like Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, in that he can be rather cold and calculating. Ultimately, it becomes a battle between sentient machines, one with a conscience, and the other with an appetite for destruction. It’s also a wonderful cautionary tale that humans should not: a.) become overly dependent on machines, and b.) deplete natural resources and pollute.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

It’s sort of like a sci-fi Pinocchio. None of the characters in the film are presented as “good guys” or “bad guys” in any black and white sort of way. As the 22nd century approaches, sharp population decreases have occurred thanks to climate change. Sentient robots have been engineered to repopulate the earth. David (Haley Joel Osment) is a special prototype. He’s been programmed to feel what a “normal” human child does. Viewers must wrestle with the uncomfortable issues surrounding what it means to be alive instead. Are programmed emotion simulations the same as the emotions in a flesh and blood human? Is it fair to erase the memory storage of an artifact and replace it, or is it murder? How will the robots react when they are damaged and discarded by their makers? This is a good film, but all it does is raise questions that we, as people, would rather not face when it comes to our relationship to our own creations.

Television science fiction has had its fair share of robots and machine intelligences over the years. With the recent passing of the great Leonard Nimoy a lot of focus has fallen on how he, and the whole Star Trek franchise has shaped our world. The crew of the Enterprise often had to deal with technology that had gone out of control. In one particular episode of the original series, “The Return of the Archons,” Kirk and Spock must lead the crew to save the population of a world that has been enslaved by a computer of their own design. They gave up their free will and the future progress of their race in the search for peace. It is this theme of "are we better or inferior to the machines?" that keeps bringing people back. We have an innate fascination with technology and are constantly seeking to find out if we will rule it or if it will rule us.

Robots and technology are a fact of life in today’s world. That has not stopped the film industry from using the feelings of trepidation that many of us feel about it to invoke strong emotions in their films. The misgivings that we have about the rise of more humanlike and intelligent machines is not likely to fade anytime soon. Neither are the movies that pit us against them.

Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.

What do you think of Maria's post? Agree/disagree? Other thoughts?


  1. Robocop is still awesome and the ED209 is still terrifying. It's my favorite from this list although the others are good too. One that came out a long time ago was "Heartbeeps" starring Andy Kaufman. It probably isn't as good as I remember but I still loved it.

    1. Haven't heard of Heartbeeps. I'll have to check it out. What did you think of the recent Robocop remake?