From helpful companions to murderous automatons, these are the best movie robots in sci-fi.
Robots are everywhere these days. Most people will find them in Boston Dynamics YouTube videos, on the road as self-driving cars or even in homes as tiny autonomous vacuum cleaners. And of course, you can find plenty of robots on the big screen too.
Even before writer Karel Capek introduced the term 'robot' in his 1920 science-fiction play R.U.R., androids and automatons featured in films as early as 1907. The popularity of robots only increased throughout the years and they had many design iterations through the decades. We went from seeing big, clunky robots in 1950 B-movies to more sleek, humanoid robots mostly found in today's features.
Asides from looks, however, robots behave differently in different films too. Most of the time they're presented as evil machines on a mission to eradicate humans, but there are an odd few that do helpfully contribute to humanity. Since these automatons are by our design, robots offer a reflection of the human condition - our pursuit of creating something better and blurring the line between scientist and god.
A classic movie robot stands the test of time by it's design, purpose, and effect on fellow human characters. With those in mind, we have assembled the definitive ranking of the best movie robots. If you're looking for more robot companions you'll be sure to find some in our guide to the best Star Wars Lego sets, and you might even find some recognizable automatons from this list in our best space movies feature.
10: TARS - Interstellar
Our humor setting is down at 0% when we say that TARS is the standout character from Interstellar. Christopher Nolan's space epic delivered action, emotion and a brilliantly designed robot.
Unlike most on screen automatons, TARS forgoes the humanoid design in favor of function over style. In true Nolan style this robot is all about realism, from its simplistic design to its role as a crew mate. TARS saves the day on more than one occasion, not for any ulterior motive but simply because it's TARS' job to do so. To help gel with the human crew, TARS has different humor levels which gives it some hilarious lines. TARS dismisses the evil robot trope with its practicality and its heart (CPU?) of gold.
9: Robby the Robot - Forbidden Planet
The Day The Earth Stood Still, Robot Monster, Target Earth. The 1950's were filled with classic robot flicks but none would be as timeless as Forbidden Planet. This B-movie was a strange adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest that starred a young Leslie Nelson but the real star was Robby the Robot.
Robby's barrel-shaped torso and cylindrical limbs gives it a certain rose-tinted charm, and although the film's poster suggests otherwise, Robby is an intelligent machine with wit. Robby's star power is undeniable, having starred in its own feature film and later had cameos in Gremlins, Looney Tunes: Back in Action and more.
8: Maria/Maschinenmensch - Metropolis
It may be debatable whether the Maschinenmensch from Fritz Lang's Metropolis is indeed a robot, but one thing we can all agree on is the cultural impact of its design. The 1927 classic sees the young revolutionary Maria kidnapped by an inventor and turned into the Maschinenmensch - which literally translates as 'machine-human' in German.
It wasn't just an early example of a robot with a humanoid design, but one of the early instigators of having genderless robots in a feminine form. This wasn't necessarily a good thing - there are still harmful gender stereotypes that sexualise robots who look feminine - but it nonetheless created a trope. Even today a lot of real-life robots and A.I. assistants have feminine attributes, and poor Maria definitely had an effect on that trend.
7: Roy Batty - Blade Runner
The killer replicant from cult classic Blade Runner, Roy Batty is most famous for his bittersweet final monologue - but the character deserves more praise than that. Played exceptionally by Rutger Hauer, this artificial human is a lot more complex than just a robot delivering a great speech.
Roy initially seems like a shallow antagonist - an android running amok killing humans - but his tragic backstory elevates him into a classic character. Roy was essentially created as a slave to fight in off-world conflicts. Although he killed a few people on his journey to meet his creator, Roy seems to meaningfully reflect on his short life as he powers down. His legacy will not be lost in time, like tears in rain.
6: Ava - Ex Machina
Alex Garland's intelligent sci-fi thriller Ex Machina presented us with an equally intelligent gyroid. Built by a narcissistic inventor, Ava is put to the Turing Test by a programmer and passes with flying colors - whilst also leaving a lasting impression.
It's Ava's mysterious motives that makes her so compelling. Is she simply a murderous robot with sinister intentions, or an abused prisoner doing what she can to survive? Never mind the characters, we the audience can never tell if she's being genuine about something or is being emotionally manipulative. One thing we do know is that Ava has cemented herself as a modern icon.
5: Bishop - Aliens
The Alien franchise has led to the creation of some fantastic androids. Both Ash and David are wickedly deceitful robots made famous thanks to brilliant performances from Ian Holm and Michael Fassbender. Bishop, however, makes the cut in our list for subverting the evil robot trope and having a heartfelt personality.
Unlike the other androids in the series, Bishop is programmed to protect human life even when tasked with studying the Xenomorphs. On the surface Bishop is a no-nonsense machine with super intelligence, but little hints of emotion suggest he has more humanity than we think. From making subtle jokes to playing tricks with knives and building trust with Ripley, Bishop has more warmth to his character than the entire crew.
4: The Iron Giant - The Iron Giant
Is it any wonder that the titular protagonist makes everyone uncontrollably weep towards the end of the film? Over 90 short minutes, we learn that the Giant is a childlike robot who is more noble than any human could ever be.
Although his stature and 50's design makes the Giant an imposing presence, the friendship he strikes up with young Hogarth is nothing short of heart-warming. As Hogarth teaches the Giant about choice and doing the right thing, the Giant in turn teaches us “You are who you choose to be” through his actions. Created as a weapon of mass destruction, the Giant chooses to be a gentle soul - a soul who makes the ultimate sacrifice for his dear friend.
3: WALL-E - WALL-E
This little trash collector captured our hearts with his goofy, loveable personality. WALL-E often gets caught in hilarious situations as he cleans up an abandoned Earth, hangs out with his cockroach friend and admires the little trinkets he collects.
For a robot who barely speaks two words, WALL-E exudes so much emotion. His big eyes, full of wonder, and little whirs and screeches made us fall in love with him even before EVE makes her entrance. It's unsurprising that the stern EVE falls for WALL-E in the end, especially after he shows his romantic side dancing with her in space.
2: T-800 - The Terminator
There are more advanced and dangerous Terminators out there, but none are more iconic than the original. Compared to the rest of the robots on this list, it really is the actor's performance that elevates the T-800 into the robotic hall of fame.
Schwarzenegger is terrifying as the unstoppable killing machine who won't stop until its objective has been completed. He may have the muscles but it's his physical performance that makes the T-800 so formidable - rarely blinking, never reacting, only pursuing its target. Making good on its word, the T-800 does indeed come back to show how daunting and powerful it is.
1: R2-D2 & C-3PO - Star Wars
It's impossible to choose between the two most iconic robots in history, so we're cheating slightly and including them both at the top of this list. R2-D2 and C-3PO are loveable individuals in their own right, but their relationship is pivotal to a galaxy far, far away as well as to themselves.
Most people generally favor R2-D2 and it's easy to see why. He's an adorable little astromech droid with a sassy attitude, but also a loyal friend who comes packed with an array of useful tools. No wonder R2-D2 has been immortalized as a highly-detailed Lego set. C-3PO is certainly the most underrated out of the two but he absolutely deserves more praise.
His panicky outbursts are hilarious, he can see straight through R2-D2's attitude, and C-3PO even saves the day more than once. But most striking is Anthony Daniels' performance that gives the droid an endearing personality. Together or individually, these are the best movie robots of all time.