The Worst Robots in Movie History
Maria in ‘Metropolis.’ The Iron Giant. Wall-E. Gort in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’ R2-D2 in ‘Star Wars.’ The Terminator. Movie history is filled with incredible and iconic artificial beings, robots who have both chilled our bones and warmed our hearts. But let’s face the facts — for every great robot, there’s a dozen forgettable scrap heaps. And for every forgettable robot, there’s a robot so bad that it’s worth making a list poking fun at them.
With ‘Pacific Rim‘ introducing the world to a new and epic army of giant robot warriors, let’s take a look back at the not-so-epic bots who clunked around on the big screen. These robots aren’t just bad, they’re memorably bad. They’re exquisitely bad. They’re the 10 worst robots in movie history.
Johnny Five, ‘Short Circuit 2′
There’s a fine line between adorable and obnoxious and Johnny Five finds that line and tramples all over it. Rather than win your heart through being an interesting character with a emotional journey, the robotic star of the ‘Short Circuit’ films demands your love and affection from frame one, acting more like a focus-tested creation for the kids than an actual character.
This isn’t a huge problem in the first film, where the military robot Number Five is struck by lightning, gains a soul and proceeds to win the hearts of Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg. However, it becomes a massive problem in the deplorable ‘Short Circuit 2,’ where he stops being an enthusiastic annoyance and becomes one of the most annoying characters in all of ’80s cinema. With his principle story arc already completed, all Johnny Five is left to do is wisecrack (and the wisecracks aren’t even so-bad-they’re-good) and bumble around helping Fisher Stevens’ stereotypical character find love. Hollywood keeps threatening to being Johnny Five back to life, and we really, really wish they’d leave him in the big cinematic junkyard in the sky.
Val Com 17485, ‘Heartbeeps’
The 1981 sci-fi rom com ‘Heartbeeps’ opened to such poor box office and critical revulsion that star Andy Kaufman actually apologized for the film on ‘Late Night with David Letterman’ and promised refunds to anyone who saw it. (We don’t imagine many people took him up on his offer.) Kaufman stars as a valet robot who falls in love with another robot while awaiting repairs. Rather than return to their menial jobs, they run off together, building a child out of their spare parts while evading the law. Yes, this is a motion picture that was actually produced.
Already a goofy set-up, the film is made worse by the make-up effects, which transform Kaufman and co-star Bernadette Peters into something out of a horror movie. Making a robot cute is easy when it doesn’t have a real face (see Wall-E or R2-D2). But a human face made up to look like a lovable robot? And Andy Kaufman’s face to boot? Nightmare city.
Every Robot in ‘Robots’
You remember ‘Robots,’ right? The 2005 animated movie that came and went in the blink of an eye, leaving in its wake baffled and annoyed audiences all over the world? Of course you don’t.
Much like Pixar’s ‘Cars,’ ‘Robots’ takes place in a world entirely free of people, which brings up all kinds of disturbing questions about the fate of the human race. This subtly post-apocalyptic world is home to robots and only robots…robots who yell catchphrases and burp and fart and generally go out of their way to forcibly endear themselves to you. As irritating as these robots are, their greatest sin is that they seemingly killed off humanity and conquered the entire world for themselves. Bad robots.
Ro-Man, ‘Robot Monster’
One of the great bad robots of all time, Ro-Man is the rare evil robot whose machinations are actually fairly successful. Sent by his masters to wipe out mankind with his Calcinator Death Ray, Ro-Man succeeds in committing mass genocide, killing all but a handful of humans. While Ro-Man was quite capable of decimating an entire population, he isn’t quite as good at taking out the stragglers, who spend the entire film fighting back.
Although ‘Robot Monster’ is easily one of the worst films ever made, Ro-Man himself is a shockingly competent villain. What secures him a place on this list is his hilariously awful appearance — he’s pretty much a guy wearing a gorilla suit and a diving helmet.
Box, ‘Logan’s Run’
‘Logan’s Run’ is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. It’s a smart, exciting and thoughtful adventure that has aged with surprising grace…except for one scene. After escaping their totalitarian home that executes every citizen once they turn 30, our heroes make their way through a series of underground tunnels, eventually encountering a robot named Box. And oh boy, is he one terrible robot.
Speaking with an inexplicable and impenetrable accent, Box is little more than a hollow metal frame on wheels, a nightmare of poor costume design. Box is only around for a few minutes (he’s quickly dispatched after he tries to kill our plucky heroes), but he certainly leaves an impression.
Torg, ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’
Every single frame of ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ shows off the film’s low budget and general lack of talent in front of and behind the camera, but it reaches its nadir with the introduction of the robot named Torg.
The chief weapon of ruthless Martian forces, the robot henchmen leads the strike on the North Pole, where the alien invaders plan to abduct Santa Claus and bring him back to Mars. In addition to being little more than a man in an awful costume, Torg is defeated effortlessly. After Santa examines him and declares that he is little more than a large toy, Torg suffers an existential crisis and commits suicide. Really. Even Marvin the Paranoid Android never stooped that low, and that dude is seriously whiny.
Mudflap and Skids, ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’
None of the Transformers fare very well in Michael Bay’s films (remember Devastator’s visible robot testicles?), but Mudflap and Skids — aka, “The Racist Twins” — are perhaps two of the most ill-conceived characters in movie history.
Their stereotypical “jive”-talking dialogue and embarrassingly “urban” look (one actually has a gold tooth), caused an uproar and led to Mudflap and Skids being dubbed the Jar Jar Binks of the ‘Transformers’ franchise.
Andrew Martin, ‘Bicentennial Man’
Leave it to Robin Williams and director Christopher Columbus to transform a story by the great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov into Hallmark card junk. On the surface, Andrew Martin is a terrific character, a robot servant who slowly discovers his humanity and spends his 200 year existence fighting to be recognized as a person.
But as played by Williams at the height of his post-‘Patch Adams’ do-gooder phase, the character is cloying and irritating, rotating between mawkish sentiment and the funnyman’s usual, tired schtick. Williams can be a tremendous actor in the right role, but this is an asinine and insulting performance in an equally asinine and insulting movie. Science fiction and cloying, sticky sentiment never go together.
The T-X, ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’
There is a certain level of skill that is required to play a character without emotions effectively. Just look at Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto, who manage to bring surprising layers to the completely logical Spock. More importantly, look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, who managed to imbue the original ‘Terminator’ robot with so much menace that it launched his film career. When he took the character in a heroic direction for ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day,’ Robert Patrick stepped up to the plate in a major way, delivering another iconic and emotionless performance. We have to bring up Schwarzenegger and Patrick because their work exposes everything wrong with Kristanna Loken’s T-X in ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.’
In Loken’s hands, a cold killing machine is just a blank slate, a boring vessel that simply exists to stand in the way of the good guys. It doesn’t help that the robotic design (which inexplicably attempts to combine the original Terminator model with Patrick’s T-1000 model) is less-than-inspired and brings absolutely nothing new to the table.
The Battle Droids, ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace’
The ‘Star Wars’ prequels have their fair share of well-documented problems, but few make us roll our eyes as hard as the Battle Droids. Like the Storm Troopers in the original trilogy, these droids exist solely to give the heroes something to kill as they dash between plot points. Unlike the Storm Troopers, they tend to open their mouths to say inane things that we’re pretty sure George Lucas intended to be funny. While the humor in the original films came from the naturally charismatic actors, the forced comedy of the prequels derails the plot at every possible opportunity and the Battle Droids are just as guilty of hurting the ‘Star Wars’ franchise as Jar Jar Binks is.