Let's face it: Is there anything cooler than robots? I vote no. As old and wise as I get, there is still a part of me that will never cease to be floored by the concept of robots, like all little boys invariably are. Hell, I wanted to actually build one as a kid--had the blueprints drawn up and everything.
And if there is one thing cooler than a robot, it would be a killer robot. You can keep all your Datas, Number Fives and Small Wonders--give me a robot on a rampage every time (I'll make an exception for Paulie's robot from Rocky IV, she can stick around.) The idea of a mechanical creation wreaking havoc, turning on its creators--or on other living things--and using its cold, amoral intellect and steely musculature to maim, crush and pulverize is both terrifying and fascinating. And in the world we live in today, more close to reality than ever. I mean, have you seen those creepy Japanese android things?
So on that note, I've brought back the Tuesday Top 10 (alright, I know it's technically Wednesday, calm down) to catalog my all-time favorite mechanical monsters. Domo origato, Mr. Roboto...
10. The Gunslinger
Some vacationing softies get more than they bargained for at a futuristic theme park in Michael Crichton's Westworld, in the form of a cybernetic Yul Brynner dressed as a cowboy. And unlike in The King and I, here Brynner is far less interested in "Getting to Know You" than he is in "Getting to Kill You". I don't know when the follically challenged Russian was more bad-ass, as a robot cowboy here, or a real one in The Magnificent Seven.
9. The Sentinels
From the world of Marvel Comics come everyone's favorite mutant-hunting giant machines. Programmed with one mission and one mission alone--to hunt down and destroy all specimens of homo sapiens superior--the sentinels are cold, calculating and horrifying, and do it all while painted pink and burgundy. You have to give them points for that. They desperately need a big-screen appearance--and no, I don't count that throwaway cameo in X-Men 3.
She doesn't actually cause any of the damage directly, but this iconic robot from Fritz Lang's Metropolis is the veritable hand that rocks the cradle, using the womanly wiles instilled in her by sorcerer/scientist Rotwang to incite hapless men to absolute riot. Played by the sublime Brigitte Helm, Maria's design also inspired a far-less threatening, and nearly as feminine movie robot, C-3PO.
It may not have been the state of the art in urban pacification, but old Ed sure was one hell of a killing machine, wasn't he? Rumor has it that that sicko Paul Verhoeven had to significantly cut out portions of the already dizzyingly gruesome boardroom scene in order to avoid the once-dreaded X rating. This stop-motion menace is one of the highlights of Robocop, even if Officer Murphy dispatches the big guy without much effort.
Apparently, you just need to say the words "klaatu barada nikto" to keep this towering silver behemoth at bay in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Unfortunately, matters aren't always as simple as that (as Ash discovers in Army of Darkness, incidentally). Although technically a force for good, Gort is just intimidating enough to warrant inclusion here, even if he does look like a professional wrestler wrapped in tin foil.
Speaking of Ash, I simply couldn't forget Ian Holm as the milk-blooded homicidal android who shares a name with Bruce Campbell's signature character. Holm's performance as Ash might be the very best one in Alien, a film that includes one of the finest dramatic ensembles ever assembled for a genre film. Plus, his head appears to be filled with condoms, which one would think must come in handy, even for a robot.
I'm firmly convinced that I was the only little boy in Brooklyn in 1980 in possession of a Maximilian model kit. Needless to say, The Black Hole--Disney's often-misunderstood response to Star Wars--had a strong effect on me, in large part due to Max Schell's crimson, faceless, floating Cuisinart. This robot is the most memorable thing in the picture, and for a film featuring Tony Perkins, Robert Forster and a flying garbage can voiced by Slim Pickens, that's saying a lot.
The revamped Sci-Fi Channel version may have been far superior as drama, but give me the Darth Vader-esque centurions of the kitschy 1970s original any day over the completely non-robotic toasters of the new show--or even over the CGI centurions who serve as nothing more than lackeys. And this choice has nothing at all to do with the 12-inch posable Cylon action figure with moving red eyelight which I owned during the Carter administration.
Call me biased, but who isn't floored by the notion of a 300-foot-tall robot Godzilla? Best of all, in his original appearance, in Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster, Mechagodzilla first shows up as a perfect replica of Big G, only to have his prickly green hide shorn away to reveal the metallic hull underneath. Bristling with weaponry and awesomeness, Mechagodzilla is easily the finest Godzilla foe of the 1970s.
1. The Terminator
And speaking of shearing away skin, what better example of the cinematic killer robot than the Terminator, a humanoid machine constructed for the sole purpose of murdering human beings? Arnold Schwarzenegger brings Termy to life--at least as much as someone with the acting ability of a dining room chair can be expected to do. The beauty of it is that this was one of the few roles in which Arnold's lack of convincing emotional range was actually an advantage--another one being the governor of California.
*Honorable Mention* The Daleks
I had to be a stickler here, since these unforgettable Dr. Who baddies are technically not robots but living organisms residing within a mechanical shell. But really, who cares? These malicious, single-minded, computerized tyrants inspired true terror, even as they glided around like floor buffers with plunger attachments. "Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!!"
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