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The Best Robot Movies Of All Time

We owe a round of applause to the famous magician Harry Houdini for introducing the idea of robots in film, thanks to his 1919 movie The Master Mystery. Even though the character Q was officially called an "automaton" and the word "robot" wasn't used to refer to mechanical men until 1920, he still set cinema on a sci-fi adventure that continues to this day. And over the decades, robots have come a long way, representing all sorts of meanings on the silver screen.

From evil machines out to annihilate the human race to benevolent creatures here to help people succeed, robot stories run the entire spectrum of human emotion. They embody everything from love and comedy to the darkest horrors of technology. Robots often reflect humanity's best and worst natures in telling ways, making social commentary a huge part of robot films that make them eternally relevant. But which stories truly stand out from the rest? Well, charge your batteries and bring yourself back online because these are the best robot movies of all time. (Warning — there are major spoilers below.)

Ash brings a chilling robo-presence to Alien

There's much to shock audiences in Ridley Scott's seminal 1979 sci-fi horror film, Alien, from the creepy facehugging creature that impregnates humans through their mouths to the streamlined, H.R. Giger-inspired killing machine with acid for blood. But Alien also features a horrifying reveal where we as the audience — alongside the crew of the Nostromo — find out that their chief science officer, Ash, is actually a robot. And worse, he's been given the order to bring back the Xenomorph creature intact ... and the crew is totally expendable. 

When our intrepid final girl, Ripley, finds out about Ash, he tries to murder her by suffocation before having an android meltdown that results in his decapitation. However, he does come back online long enough for one final smirk. Ash represents the terrible intersection of technology and humanity, where his core code forces him into terrible acts of violence, as well as the start of the Alien franchise's sweeping robot narrative arcs that continue to layer social commentary along with the never-ending battle against the deadly Xenomorph.

Metropolis gave us one of Hollywood's earliest robots

Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece Metropolis has enjoyed a long and rust-free prominence among film scholars and fans alike, as it's one of the oldest and best robot movies of all time. This story about workers seizing the means of production from capitalist exploiters in an urban setting was far ahead of its time. And as for the sci-fi element, it has at its center a female-presenting robot who's then made to look like a human anti-capitalist organizer in order to ruin her reputation and maintain the status quo for the ruling class. 

Yes, Metropolis might require more suspension of disbelief than other robot films in this list. But still, to consider the fact that this movie was conceived of and made in 1927 is pretty impressive. Plus, it not only features technology that simply didn't exist at the time, but it also has a very obvious anti-capitalist message that remains wildly relevant even today, whether you agree with the criticism or not.

Pixar made a robot masterpiece with Wall-E

Set in the 29th century, WALL-E finds a world that's been devastated by human carelessness and global warming. As a result, people now live on a faraway spaceship planet as they wait for the Earth to heal. But the humans on these massive starliners continue to be a lazy and destructive bunch as they zip around on a variety of technology, relying on machines like floating seats instead of their own bodies.

As for our titular hero, WALL-E is one of the last cleanup robots left on Earth, and he has a simple and joyful life of collecting random objects and puttering around the desolation until he meets a beautiful and streamlined EVE robot, sent to try identify signs of life on the planet. WALL-E and EVE's relationship is tender and sweet as they fall in love and eventually find the basis for humans to finally return to rebuild Earth. Amazingly, many of the robots in WALL-E, including our hero and EVE, display far more empathy, compassion, and humanity than most of the humans in the film, making this unique animated gem one of the best robot movie of all time.

Amazing machines battle it out in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Yes, James Cameron's The Terminator was a groundbreaking robot movie when it came out in 1984, especially considering its remarkable practical effects and some of the most realistic robots put to screen at the time. But then Cameron's own sequel in 1991 blew the original out of the water. 

Where The Terminator features one incredible robot assassin played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator 2: Judgment Day features not only a revamped version of that original character but another killer robot, the T-1000, who remains one of the most amazing robot creations ever put to screen. This shapeshifting robot has a base form of liquid metal, which is thrilling to watch in whatever iteration we find T-1000 actor Robert Patrick. 

Even decades later, the combination of practical and digital effects in Terminator 2: Judgement Day are crisper now thanks to HD TVs, and the showdowns between the two opposing robot forces are just as epic. It's rare territory indeed when a sequel surpasses the original, and in the case of Terminator 2's robot creations and taut story about the impending apocalypse, Terminator 2 accomplished this feat handily.

Ex Machina is a complex tale of artificial intelligence

In Alex Garland's disturbing Ex Machina, we meet Caleb, a programmer who just won a weeklong trip to the remote estate of his company's CEO, Nathan Bateman. More importantly, he's won the unique opportunity to see what new projects Nathan is developing before anyone else does. At first, the working holiday doesn't disappoint. Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava, a robot he designed that he would like Caleb to engage with to see if she's actually achieved her own consciousness. 

While Ava only has a human face, feet, and hands — the rest of her body maintains a machine form — her personality is so charming that Caleb finds himself falling in love with her, even as Nathan warns Ava is manipulating him. But as Caleb finds out more and more about brash and erratic Nathan and begins to distrust him, we learn that Ava has plans of her own that don't include either man. The special effects are spectacular in Ex Machina, and the performances are remarkable. Even though the plot is one of the more common robot themes of an artificial intelligence gaining actual human consciousness, Ex Machina is a compelling addition to the AI canon.

RoboCop is part man, part machine

Paul Verhoeven's dystopian 1987 action thriller, RoboCop, is set in a Detroit on the verge of total collapse. After a shootout leaves Officer Alex Murphy dead, his body is subsumed into a pilot program that would allow a cyborg policeman to patrol the more dangerous parts of the city. But the longer that Alex Murphy is in RoboCop's body, the more he begins having memories of Alex's own life, as well as his brutal murder at the hands of a drug-dealing syndicate. And when RoboCop realizes that his own boss was ultimately responsible for Alex's death, he goes on a wild rampage for justice. 

In RoboCop, we see the tension between the physical human body and its robotic counterpart when the two are brought together. And by the end, our hero must find new ways to integrate both halves of himself. RoboCop suggests that human and machine can coexist in one body, making it a singular installment in the sci-fi catalog.

Blade Runner is incredibly sympathetic to its robotic characters

Based on Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott's 1982 cyberpunk masterpiece, Blade Runner, is a narrative feast. Featuring sweeping scenes of an imaginary 2019, the film introduces us to a group of human-passing robots known as Replicants. These robots are essentially slaves, having been designed to work for humans. Worse still, they only last four years, and with their shelf life soon expiring, a group of Replicants decide to do something about it.

Harrison Ford plays Decker, a human cop set out to catch a group of escaped Replicants and destroy them. But along the way, he begins to wonder how human these beings really are, and depending on which version of Blade Runner you've seen, his own reality comes into question. The robots in Blade Runner all appear as living organisms, unlike many other robot stories where their inhumanity and physical difference is highlighted, making this magnificent opus one of the best robot movies of all time and also one of the most singular. Plus, Roy Batty's moving "tears in rain" speech at the film's end elevates Blade Runner to easily one of the greatest films of all time, not just with regards to robots.

In The Matrix, malicious robots run the world

Thomas Anderson is a low-level information tech clerk who enjoys going down the rabbit holes of code in his free time as a hacker named Neo. When he receives an enigmatic message from a radical named Trinity that the infamous Morpheus can tell him everything he wants to know about the entity known as "the Matrix," Neo jumps at his chance to find out the truth. But not before government thugs lead by the insidious Agent Smith attempt to silence Neo and keep him from his destiny. 

As for machines, the Wachowskis' The Matrix features some of the more monstrous robots in sci-fi history. These beings have harvested humans as a renewable energy source, and to keep them from fighting back or even realizing their lot, the robots have created an elaborate computer program that convinces people they're actually in the real world and not plugged into a vampiric system that keeps the robot overlords running. The Matrix stands out among the best robot movies since it doesn't even bother giving the artificial intelligence humanoid faces. The robots are jellyfish-like creatures with many eyes and tentacles, about as far from human as a robot can look.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a thoughtful tearjerker

Steven Spielberg's dramatic and epic universe building gets a futuristic makeover in his robot opus A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Set in the 22nd century — where a devastated world is marked by extreme economic disparity – robots known as Mecha have been created to serve all functions, from janitor to sexbot. They even show up as surrogate children for those who can't have their own kids.

David is one such childbot gifted to Monica Swinton after her terminally ill son was forced into hibernation until a cure is available. While David does know he's a robot, once he imprints on Monica as her son, he becomes completely attached to his new "mom." But tragically, when Monica's son wakens from his slumber and returns home, David is summarily flung into the wild world outside the Swinton home, a world where Mecha are hunted, tortured, and destroyed. 

With its beautiful narrative hook to Pinocchio as David searches for the Blue Fairy who can turn him into a real boy, A.I. is a poignant and heartbreaking treatise on what it means to be human, as told through the eyes of a robot child.

Pacific Rim pits giant robots against giant monsters

Horror auteur Guillermo del Toro took a huge leap from his usual fare with the epic robot battle extravaganza Pacific Rim. In 2013, a deep underwater rift opens up on Earth and releases a set of monsters known as the Kaiju who terrorize the planet. In retaliation, humans create equally monstrous robots manned by several pilots in order to combat the growing Kaiju threat. Where Pacific Rim differs from other mecha-movies is that its robots are manually and psychically controlled by humans, as opposed to having consciousness (or something similar to it) of their own.

The robots in Pacific Rim are straightforward human weapons, and the tension in the film results from human pilots Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori needing to face their own traumatic histories in order to properly lead their surrogate robots — and the human race — to victory against the Kaiju threat. The special effects are wild, and the action never stops, even as the more emotional aspects of Pacific Rim are the true drivers of the story, easily making it one of the best robot movies of all time.

The Stepford Wives still terrifies today

Based on Ira Levin's novel of the same name, 1975's The Stepford Wives remains one of the most chilling robot movies of all time, as well as being one of the best. The movie follows would-be Manhattan photographer Joanna Eberhart and her husband, Walter, after they move to a small Connecticut town called Stepford. However, Joanna finds herself stifled by the community even though it's beautifully idyllic. Joanna finds the other women in town horribly boring, what with their extended conversations about cleaning products, and she's disturbed by the local Men's Association headed by its creepy president, Dale Coba. 

Thankfully, Joanna meets a kindred in Bobbie, a vocal feminist who would also love to dismantle the strange patriarchy they've found themselves in. That is, until one day Bobbie starts acting just like all the other Stepford wives, leading Joanna to discover the men in town have been replacing the women with robots. Yes, this film dates back to 1975, yet it has aged particularly well, especially with regards to its commentary about gender, marriage, and social control.

Batteries Not Included is a sweet film with unlikely protagonists

When a greedy Manhattan property developer named Lacey tries to take over a rent-controlled apartment building managed by Frank and Faye Riley, the Rileys and their tenants resist for as long as they can, even as Lacey's goons encourage their relocation through violence. But one night, a flying robotic creature appears to Faye, and it's some time before her husband believes the so-called "Fix-Its" are actually real, thanks to her ever encroaching dementia. Named for their habit of fixing all measure of things that are broken, the Fix-Its repair all the damage Lacey's thugs caused, as well as other structural problems in the building, even as the evil developer's plans for the structure move forward.

In a fascinating turn for a robot movie, Mama and Papa Fix-It actually have a set of babies — one of whom even dies before Frank is able to revive it using parts from his own television. And by the end of the movie, there's a rather large community of Fix-It robots residing in New York. Batteries Not Included is also a unique robot movie for featuring an elderly couple at its center, making it a singular installment in the robot genre.

Real Steel delivers the robot action

Set in a 2020 where robot-fighting has replaced boxing, Charlie Kenton is a former career pugilist whose pivot to robot boxing has been a rocky road. With his brash personality, Charlie finds himself deeper in debt and with no robot to bet on. Well, that is until he finds out his ex-girlfriend died, and his son, Max, is now in a custody dispute involving his Aunt Debra and her wealthy husband, Marvin. 

Seeing an opportunity, Charlie extorts Marvin for $50,000 so he can buy a classic boxing robot, but he also gets saddled with Max for the summer. Cut from much of the same cloth as his estranged father, Max is way into robot boxing and turns out to be a huge help to Charlie, especially after he discovers a junkyard robot named Atom who's much more than the sparring machine he appears to be on the surface. 

The movie features incredible fight scenes with an army of actual boxing robots created with Jurassic Park and Avatar technology, as well as the absolutely charming moments where Max and Atom dance together. As a result, Real Steel is one of the best robot movies of all time that also comes wrapped in a heartwarming story about the intense bonds between a father and his son.

The Iron Giant is a kind-hearted sci-fi tale

Set during the height of American tensions with Russia in 1957, The Iron Giant starts off with a mysterious object crashing into the water near the small and quaint town of Rockwell, Maine. The next day, a young local named Hogarth discovers that the object is in fact an enormous extraterrestrial robot who's both friendly and curious about the planet he's ended up on. However, due to the political tensions of that Cold War era, a xenophobic US agent is convinced that something far more sinister is taking place in Rockwell than a robot who's ended up on the wrong planet. 

Over the course of the film, Hogarth and the Giant's friendship grows stronger, but their relationship is eventually challenged by the American government. And it's here that the Giant has the opportunity to prove he was never a threat to humans and, in fact, that people are their own worst enemies, especially during times of war. With lush colors and a powerful storyline that ends with some much-needed hope, The Iron Giant is one of the most beautiful robot tales ever told.