Best sci-fi movie robots
From useful companions to murderous automatons, these are the best movie robots in science fiction.
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 self-contained vacuums. And of course, you can also find a lot of robots on the big screen.
Even before writer Karel Capek introduced the term “robot” in his 1920 sci-fi play RUR, androids and automatons were featured in movies as early as 1907. The popularity of robots has only increased over the years and they have gone through many design iterations over the decades. We’ve gone from seeing big, clunky robots in the 1950 B-movies to more sleek humanoid robots that are mostly found in features today.
Aside from appearance, robots also behave differently in different movies. Most of the time they are presented as evil machines on a mission to eradicate humans, but there are a few that usefully contribute to humanity. Since these automata are our design, robots provide a reflection of the human condition – our quest to create something better and to blur the line between scientist and God.
A classic movie robot stands the test of time in design, purpose, and effects on other human characters. With that in mind, we’ve put together the definitive ranking of the best movie robots. If you are looking for more companion robots, you will certainly find some in our guide to best Star Wars Lego sets, and you might even find recognizable automata from this list in our best space movies characteristic.
10: TARS – Interstellar
Our humor level drops to 0% when we say TARS is the standout character of Interstellar. Christopher Nolan’s space epic delivered action, emotion and a brilliantly designed robot.
Unlike most on-screen automata, 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 teammate. TARS saves the day on more than one occasion, not for ulterior motives, but simply because it’s TARS job to do so. To help blend in with the human crew, TARS has varying levels of humor, which gives it hilarious lines. TARS rejects 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 1950s were filled with classic robot movies, but none would be as timeless as Forbidden Planet. This B-movie was an odd adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest starring a young Leslie Nelson, but the real star was Robby the Robot.
Robby’s barrel-shaped torso and cylindrical limbs give him a certain pink-tinged charm, and although the movie poster suggests otherwise, Robby is a smart machine with a wit. Robby’s star power is undeniable, having starred in his own feature film and later making cameos in Gremlins, Looney Tunes: Back in Action and more.
8: Maria / Maschinenmensch – Metropolis
It’s debatable whether Fritz Lang’s Metropolis Maschinenmensch is indeed a robot, but one thing we all agree on is the cultural impact of its design. The 1927 classic sees the young revolutionary Maria kidnapped by an inventor and transformed into a Maschinenmensch – which literally translates to “human-machine” in German.
This was not only one of the earliest examples of a robot with a humanoid design, but one of the earliest instigators of having genderless robots in female form. It wasn’t necessarily a good thing – there are still harmful gender stereotypes that sexualize robots that look feminine – but it created a trope nonetheless. Even today, a lot of real robots and AI assistants have feminine attributes, and poor Maria certainly had an effect on that trend.
7: Roy Batty – Blade Runner
The killer replicant of the cult classic Blade Runner, Roy Batty is best known for his bittersweet final monologue – but the character deserves more praise than that. Performed exceptionally by Rutger Hauer, this artificial human is much more complex than a simple robot giving a big speech.
Roy initially appears to be a superficial antagonist – an android who goes on a rampage killing humans – but his tragic backstory elevates him to a classic character. Roy was essentially created as a slave to fight in conflicts outside the world. Although he killed a few people on his trip to meet his creator, Roy seems to reflect in significant ways on his short life as he passes away. His legacy will not be lost in time, like tears in the rain.
6: Ava – Ex Machina
Alex Garland’s clever sci-fi thriller Ex Machina introduced us to an equally clever gyroid. Built by a narcissistic inventor, Ava goes through the Turing Test by a programmer and passes with flying colors – all while leaving a lasting impression.
It’s Ava’s mysterious motives that make her so compelling. Is she simply a murderous robot with sinister intentions, or an abused prisoner doing what she can to survive? No matter the characters, we, the audience, can never tell if she’s being sincere about something or if she is emotionally manipulative. One thing we do know is that Ava has established herself as a modern icon.
5: Bishop – Extraterrestrials
The Alien franchise has led to the creation of fantastic androids. Ash and David are both wickedly deceptive robots made famous thanks to the brilliant performances of Ian Holm and Michael Fassbender. Bishop, however, is on our list for overturning the evil robot trope and having a sincere personality.
Unlike the other androids in the series, Bishop is programmed to protect human life even when tasked with studying Xenomorphs. At first glance, Bishop is a sane machine with a super intelligence, but small traces of emotion suggest he has more humanity than we think. Whether it’s making subtle jokes, playing tricks with knives, and building trust with Ripley, Bishop has more warmth towards his character than the entire team.
4: The Iron Giant – The Iron Giant
Is it any wonder that the titular protagonist makes everyone cry uncontrollably towards the end of the film? In 90 minutes, we learn that the Giant is a childlike robot nobler than any human could ever be.
While his stature and 1950s design make the Giant an imposing presence, the friendship he forges with young Hogarth is nothing short of heartwarming. While Hogarth teaches the giant about choice and the right deed, 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 garbage collector has captured our hearts with his wacky and adorable personality. WALL-E often finds himself caught in hilarious situations as he clears up an abandoned Earth, hangs out with his cockroach friend, and admires the little trinkets he collects.
For a robot that barely speaks two words, WALL-E exudes so much emotion. His big eyes full of wonder and his little whirrs and cries made us fall in love with him even before EVE made her entrance. It’s no surprise that stern EVE ultimately falls in love with WALL-E, especially after showing off her romantic side by dancing with her in space.
2: T-800 – The Terminator
There are more advanced and dangerous Terminators, but none are more iconic than the original. Compared to the rest of the bots on this list, it’s really the actor’s performance that elevates the T-800 in the Robot Hall of Fame.
Schwarzenegger is terrifying as an unstoppable killing machine who won’t stop until his goal is achieved. He might have the muscles, but it’s his physical performance that makes the T-800 so formidable – rarely blinks, never reacts, only chasing its target. Living up to its word, the T-800 indeed returns to show just how intimidating and powerful it is.
1: R2-D2 & C-3PO – Star Wars
It’s impossible to choose between the two most iconic bots in history, so we’re cheating slightly and including them both at the top of this list. R2-D2 and C-3PO are lovely individuals in their own right, but their relationship is crucial to a galaxy far, far away as well as to themselves.
Most people generally prefer R2-D2 and it’s easy to see why. He’s an adorable little astromech droid with a sassy demeanor, but also a staunch friend who comes with an array of useful tools. No wonder R2-D2 was immortalized as highly detailed Lego set. C-3PO is certainly the more underrated of the two but it absolutely deserves more praise.
His panic attacks are hilarious, he can see right through R2-D2’s attitude and C-3PO even saves the day more than once. But most striking is Anthony Daniels’ performance which gives the droid an endearing personality. Together or individually, these are the best movie robots of all time.