Robots are at an all time high in popularity across the world. Not since the eighties has there been such a surge of robotic characters in pop culture, what with the smashing success of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies, the battling bots in “Real Steel,” the upcoming “Battleship,” and the enigmatic David in Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated “Prometheus,” robots are as richly tapped in modern pop culture as ever before. In celebration of the newest trend of robots in modern cinema and media, we compiled ten of our favorite robots of pop culture, ranging from film, TV, comics, and literature. Grease up your rivets, and dive in.
As a kid who grew up during the video age, I spent many a days discovering hidden gems on VHS, and one of the best of them all that still makes me goose pimply is 1986’s “The Transformers Movie.” Born from the eighties boom of toy franchising, the animated movie is generally well liked among Transformers and eighties enthusiasts and it has a bonafide audience built-in. From the romping score to the mesmerizing animation, there’s not a lot to hate about the movie. My favorite aspect of it of course is Hot Rod! Voiced by the one and only Judd Nelson, Hot Rod is an often liked but rarely discussed protagonist of the animated movie who shines among the other autobots and decepticons as a hero you can root for and feel good about cheering for.
Nelson’s enthusiastic voice performance fuels a generally excellent character whose own design is dazzling. And once he transforms in to the Orange and Red hot rod, he roars down the road prepared to defend his human counterparts and fight for the autobots. It’s a shame Hot Rod never had much of a life outside of the movie and expanded mythos. The Michael Bay monstrosity generally compensated by injecting Bumblebee as the robotic protagonist to the humans; and while we do find Bumblebee charming in his own right, there’s no beating Hot Rod. He’s the reason why we fell for the animated movie in the first place, and he’s the reason why we keep going back to it again and again. And again. You got the touch!
It’s a shame that ” The Zeta Project” never really worked out. Because as a series it had major possibilities to be a science fiction animated epic about a robot looking for a soul and a purpose. True, the premise is a bit old hat, but I was such a big fan of Zeta, that I just didn’t care. The DVD set for the short lived series is available, and it’s a good thing because the show deserved a massive audience. Zeta was born from the seeds of the hit show “Batman Beyond.” Originally a villain, he was discovered by Batman Terry McGinnis as a teacher who had a knack for camouflaging as people after studying their habits and using their images to blend in to the general public.
After a battle with Zeta, he’s found to be a generally misunderstood sentient robot who doesn’t want to be a weapon. The episode where Zeta is introduced is an unofficial pilot where Zeta lives to see another day and moves on to another city. “The Zeta Project” follows the charming robot Zeta in to a new city where he uses image projectors to camouflage as other people, while trying to escape the evil corporation that created him. Zeta is a generally likable robotic hero with a great personality and some wicked weaponry that he uses to help instead of hurt. We think he deserves a reboot from DC/Warner in comic form, because the character has true heroic possibilities to become a DC heavyweight.
Astroboy is one of the first cases of anime that I was ever exposed to. My cousin used to own old episodes of the classic black and white cartoon, and over the years I was exposed to Astroboy in small increments through the classic series and the comic books. The origin of Astroboy is a great mixture of Frankenstein and Pinocchio where a grief stricken scientist mourning the death of his son creates a robot named Astro to take his place. When Astro displays no emotions or conscience, the scientist rejects him and abandons him leaving him to the cruelty of the world.
Eventually, Astro discovers the power within himself to do good and embraced by the scientist who originally abandoned him, becomes a fighter for good and mankind. The Astroboy mythos varies in depth and complexity, with most of the mythos watered down for American audiences and basically filtered to avoid adult themes, but in its original form, it’s a gripping and wonderful piece of science fiction. We have a soft spot for Astroboy. Yes, we even enjoyed the 2009 animated film. I hope Astroboy continues well in to the twenty first century, because he’s a great variation of Pinocchio that speaks to its audiences of all kinds.
We’ve always disregarded Red Tornado as a third tier DC superhero for many years, but thanks to the advent of the animated series and animated movies in general, the DC character has earned a place among royalty. Red Tornado is a robotic warrior with many origins. Thanks to the constant Crises and DC reboots, Red Tornado is one of the many superheroes in DC Comics with a convoluted and confusing back story. Generally he’s depicted as an android with the power to control wind and tornadoes of all kinds. This allows him the upper hand in combat, and thanks to his cold and often menacing demeanor, he’s a true combatant on the field worthy of being feared by.
He’s been thankfully revived in the hit animated series “Young Justice” as a mentor entity for the young heroes, and has appeared randomly on the old Bruce Timm “Justice League” series and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” We’re glad DC has found ways to implement him and transform him in to a character we can really root for, because in this day and age it’s rough trying to modernize Silver Age superheroes for modern audiences. DC so far has gotten it right and we love Red Tornado’s presence in the mythos of the DC Animated Universe.
“Gort…Klaatu barada nikto.” As a film, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is one of the finest pieces of science fiction cinema ever conceived by Hollywood. It’s a masterful statement about the war and our ability for hatred and senseless violence, and how it’s become such stain on humanity that it’s taken extra terrestrials to come down to our planet and warn us to back off. “There’s no limit to what he can do. He could destroy the Earth… If anything should happen to me you must go to Gort, you must say these words, ‘Klaatu barada nikto’, please repeat that.”
As a character, Gort is probably one of the most menacing on-screen presences of all time, a seamless robotic weapon who stands tall and docile until provoked by the weapons of man. What we think is a mere robotic servant is in fact the actual master in the end as Klaatu is but a handler to his master Gort, a small part of galactic police units trained to maintain the peace with their incredibly destructive weaponry (including his deadly unibeam) and near invincible armor. No one is ever sure what Klaatu Barad Nikto translates in to, but we know by the end of Robert Wise’s film that it is all that stands between Gort single-handedly destroying the Earth and every bit of life around him. Truly, Gort is an unstoppable force of mechanical nature not to be reckoned with.
It’s no secret that “The Iron Giant” is our favorite animated film of all time. It works so beautifully as a story, a character piece, a film for all audiences, and a science fiction lite adventure. It’s a film about friendship and learning how to sacrifice yourself for your loved ones. The Iron Giant (as voiced by Vin Diesel) is a character that audiences will fall for instantly, because he is not only a new being learning how to live, but he’s the sign of things to come. We learn later on in the film that …SPOILER ALERT… he is a gargantuan, ruthless, near invincible killing machine sent by an unnamed and utterly unknown alien force to destroy Earth.
By some sort of blessing, he crashes to Earth, and his head injury renders him an virtual amnesiac who has to rebuild his entire moral structure the minute he meets young Hogarth Hughes. Through Hogarth Hughes he learns about life, death, love, friendship, hatred, violence, free will, and self-sacrifice. And with a subtle hint of atheistic themes, he learns that no one from above controls him or decides his fate. Ultimately he decides for himself who he is and what he can be, and in the end he decides that he is not a weapon or a tool, but a hero who has to destroy himself in order to save millions of innocent people about to die from baseless hatred by a war monger. He chooses to worship Superman and through this is given the strength and inspiration to fight for what’s right and know that being a true hero is giving of yourself. Man, it still makes us teary eyed to this day. God love you, Iron Giant.
In the mutant liberation front in the Marvel Universe, the Sentinels are unstoppable, merciless, powerful, and numerous robotic foot soldiers of the government that are used not only to monitor and capture mutants of all kinds, but also to basically destroy any and all individuals found with an X-Gene. The sentinels are some of the most harrowing and threatening super beings of the Marvel universe who possess zero soul and conscience and are more than capable of bringing down even the most powerful beings like Magneto or Wolverine.
As foes, they’re an intimidating and daunting presence who can be activated at any moment, and no matter how large the team, they can outnumber and outmatch even the most powerful mutant. With droning voices, and dead eyes, they would go on to be the bane of the X-Men’s existence, constantly engaging them in battle, and eventually evolving to become nearly unstoppable foes in the future of mutant existence. The Sentinels are that villainous presence in the comic books you just love to hate, because you know they’ll stop at literally nothing to take down their target. No matter what the costs. Now if we can only see them in the flesh in an “X-Men” movie.
As a kid I grew up around many comic book geeks, one of which is my uncle Freddy who is a major Marvel fan and Silver Age lover. Whenever we’d get to discussing comic books we’d always go back to the Avengers and eventually begin going on about Vision. Vision is the Spock of the Marvel universe, the villain turned superhero who learns that he has the ability to decide for himself what he wants to be. Especially when he falls in love with ex-villainess/Avenger Scarlet Witch. Vision was originally created by the super villain Ultron, another robotic villain who invented Vision to infiltrate and take down the Avengers and his master Ant-Man. Unfortunately the overwhelming good of the Avengers changes the mind of Vision who decides that he’d much rather be a hero than a villain, and turns against Ultron.
Over the decades, he’s had many incarnations and variations, but the one core character aspect remained true. Deep down he’s just a robotic humanoid, but he’s one with such sentience that he makes the decision that doing good is much better than doing harm to others. Vision has been a consistent voice for good in the Marvel verse and one of the iconic members of the Avengers as his passionate love for Scarlet Witch and his respect for his compatriots have been fodder for many comic books. Allegedly Marvel Studios has a film option for Vision in development. We hope he gets developed and introduced over the course of the Marvel films as he’s a character worthy of being a cinematic hero.
TOM SERVO, CROW
Tom Servo and Crooooooooooooow (!) are two robots you can call your friends. They give their human counterpart a hard time, they constantly keep him on his toes, and they’re there every single time to hunker down in an empty theater and watch some of the worst movies ever made by human hands. Voiced by Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu, buddies Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot are two guys with opposite personalities who possess quick wits and zany personalities, and they managed to keep a firm audience of rabid fans for almost twelve years on the long running cult series “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
It’s no secret we’re humongous fans of the show, and we adore how the two robotic nut jobs who were created out of everyday items that gave them that low tech but eye catching appeal to all who watched the show. Truth be told we’re never sure what their purpose is on the Satellite of Love. The Gambots were generally repair bots, and Gypsy was more like a watch dog who gave alerts whenever the ship was in peril, so Tom and Crow never really had a job to do. Oh right, we’re forgetting the motto of the series: “Just repeat to yourself: it’s just a show, you should really just relax.”
No matter how old we get there’s just no denying that Mega Man and the entire Mega Man franchise is just so darn cool and exciting. The possibilities are endless for this franchise and creative property in both robotic enemies and Mega Man versions. From the eye catching blue color scheme, to his ability to adopt his villains powers for his own use, Mega Man is a video game icon that rivals Mario. And we stick by that statement. Megaman is just such an excellent game series with numerous titles about the blue bomber who uses his abilities to fight against corrupted robotic foes who are being led by the evil Dr. Light. And if you’ve ever played the games in their raw form, you’ll know that it’s not an easy task defeating evil.
And who can forget the wonderful “Megaman X” where the blue bomber not only gets a gritty make over but fights a slew of dazzling super villains! From the animated series in the nineties (we grew up with this version), to the fan film by Eddie Lebron, to the recent short film by Olan Rogers, Megaman is a game series that just will not fade away in to obscurity, and for good reason. The Megaman mythos is thick with themes of morality, law enforcement, artificial intelligence, and the corruption of technology and Megaman possesses that sleek design of a futuristic avenger paired with the enthusiasm and innocence of a young child. Some studio needs to scoop up this property and give Megaman the full feature length film computer animated treatment, and fast. We’re convinced Megaman would make for an amazing science fiction actioner for all audiences.