Everyone loves lists and movies. I love mechanical life forms too. So I’ve rolled all three into one with a little engineering spin. This list is by no means comprehensive – it’s simply thirteen of my favourite androids, cyborgs and robots.
13. Blinky – BlinkyTM (2011)
BlinkyTM is a short film about a boy, Alex (Max Records), and his robot. Blinky doesn’t go on adventures, he’s just a toy meant to placate Alex while his parents fight. Blinky isn’t what most people would call an interesting character, but what he illustrates in this short film is enough to make feuding parents think twice about how they treat their kids. Alex ultimately resents his robot companion since he doesn’t solve the underlying unhappiness he feels as a result of his parents decaying relationship. Alex and his parents pay for their mistakes when a combination of robot abuse and a short circuit turn Blinky into… well… you’ll just have to watch the film.
12. Johnny Five – Short Circuit (1986)
Short Circuit comes out of the 1980′s golden era of off-the-wall yet watchable science fiction comedies. The technology is laughably campy by today’s standards; Johnny Five’s clumsy arms and binocular eyes remind of us of a time when CDs were a hip new thing and Chrysler’s K Cars were an acceptable form of transportation. From a robotics-engineering standpoint he’s about 30 years too early to even exist. Only now are robots smart enough to avoid trampling small children.
Johnny Five strives for acceptance and acknowledgement. He is largely misunderstood and unable to properly communicate. If not for his funky engineering design and oddball personality, he might have been just another Hollywood character trying to fit in.
11. Bishop – Aliens (1986)
Bishop (Lance Henriksen) isn’t the first android in the Alien franchise, but he’s far and away the best. His large contributions to the film as the level-headed Bishop go a long way towards teaching Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) that not all androids are the same, righting the wrongs of android Science Officer Ash from the first film. No film in the franchise adequately explains how the androids function, but moviegoers are treated to a hybrid of machine and organic guts whenever they are inevitably maimed or impaled by an alien.
10. Gerty – Moon (2009)
Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) is the robotic companion to Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) on the Moon. Gerty assists Sam with his daily duties in harvesting and shipping Helium-3 fuel to Earth. His oft-used emoticons provide the faux emotion one would expect from a robot. We have no idea how he works, but it is assumed Gerty’s bulky physique and ability to carryout orders without supervision is simply a result of advanced computing similar to present day technology. He’s not brimming with personality but by the end of the film he’s more than just a robot, he’s a friend who helps end injustice.
9. Roy Batty – Blade Runner (1982)
Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is the leader of the rogue Nexus-6 replicants hunted by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in the 1982 classic Blade Runner. Androids in the film straddle the fuzzy line between artificial life form and engineered clone. Roy is highly intelligent, physically superior and sufficiently ticked off to do anything to get what he wants: life.
Roy is emotionally stunted and all too aware his biological clock is ticking much faster than that of a real human. As for the engineering behind replicants in the film, it is assumed there is some behind the scenes genetic engineering going on but audiences have no idea what. He’s yet another early example of androids calling into question the aspects of life humans take for granted every day. Roy just wants to live and he’ll kill in order to do so. He is a darker take on the subject compared to most other androids on this list, going as far to cast a focused light on mortality and the morality of doing anything to stay alive.
8. Briareos Hecatonchires – Appleseed (2004)
Briareos (pronounced Bree-ar-eeos) is a cyborg member of a special-forces unit in Appleseed, an anime film adapted from a Japanese manga comic. Essentially, he’s Robocop with more expressive emotions. It is clear from his first scenes in Appleseed that he is much more than a rough and tough cybernetic soldier constructed to kill anything that moves – this is an entity struggling with the past, and his emotions. Regarding the engineering aspect, it’s never made clear just how his body works, but it is revealed that he was once human. Briareos may be a scientific impossibility, but anime fans will accept the premise for the sake of entertainment… along with his bunny ears.
7. Data – the Star Trek franchise
No list of favourite androids would be complete without Data (Brent Spinner). Star Trek’s writers give tech savvy audiences a rough idea of how an android such as he might function without necessarily proving the engineering and science behind it. Throughout the many films in which he appears Data changes the Star Trek universe – his struggle to “be human” forces Trek fans to question the nature of what this actually means.
6. Huey, Dewey and Louie – Silent Running (1972)
Huey, Dewey and Louie are three maintenance drones aboard American Airlines space freighter Valley Forge in the sci-fi classic Silent Running. The three little drones are unfortunate victims of the arrogance of the lone remaining human crew member, Lowell (Bruce Dern). They have no choice but to obey the orders of their commander despite his long, deadly journey to philosophical clarity. The drones begin the film as very simple robots going about their daily routine performing engineering grunt work, but in the end one little robot absorbs enough knowledge from his human masters to continue a never ending task to save the last remnants of Earth.
5. The Fix-its – Batteries Not Included (1987)
1980s movie clichés aside, Batteries Not Included is arguably one of the more positive introductions young moviegoers could have into the world of robotics. The film manages to cater to both young and old audiences by way of tiny alien robots who just want to help down-on-their-luck humans. In terms of engineering interest, the Fix-its are tiny little engineers at heart – they love to tinker and fix everything they come across. Oh, 1980s optimism, I miss you so.
4. Marvin – The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Marvin the Paranoid Android (voiced by Alan Rickman) is the mechanical crew member aboard the starship Heart of Gold in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. True to his name, Marvin is convinced everyone hates him and the universe is a terrible place. He is both an engineering and general curiosity as moviegoers wonder why anyone would program an artificial life form with such a counter-productive personality. Why should a robot ever be depressed? The answer is bound to darken Marvin’s mood.
3. Luke Skywalker – The Star Wars Saga
Everyone forgets that Luke Skywalker has a robotic hand like his father, Darth Vader (left off this list because he’s too obvious). Organic material + machine = cyborg. A brief scene exposes the inner workings of Luke’s hand which adds believability to the cybernetic limb. Star Wars’ greatest hero has been discussed to death on the internet so let’s end this here and save ourselves the trouble.
2. R2-D2 – The Star Wars Saga
In the world of science fiction all robots stand in the shadow of the great Astromech droid R2-D2 (except #1, below). He is a brave, feisty smartass mechanic who changed the role of robots in film for decades after his cinematic debut. Aside from being an engineered product himself, R2 seems to take joy in tinkering and repairing. If he’s not getting friendly with the Death Star’s computer, he’s probably patching together Luke’s X-Wing. Originating on a Naboo Cruiser, R2 goes on to be one of the single greatest and most memorable characters of the Star Wars films and expanded universe. Audiences are able to translate his “beeps” and “boops” based solely on his co-stars responses making R2′s scenes some of the most entertaining of the saga.
1. Wall-E – Wall-E (2008)
Wall-E is an engineer if I ever saw one. He’s a happy hermit content to live about his days working and obsessing over hobbies in his free time. Wall-E can barely communicate, especially around a pretty girl named Eve. For me, it’s like looking in a mirror. Mechanically, Wall-E is somewhat believable given that he is essentially a more dexterous version of Johnny Five. Wall-E captures our attention without dialogue for the first 20 minutes of the film, proving the rich value of his character and the remarkable work done by Pixar.
About the Author
Ernest Buehman is a full-time mechanical engineer and part-time snarky blogger from Cleveland, OH in the USA. He aspires to promote interest and understanding of science, engineering and geek culture through the continued development of his writings. Ernest is a movie buff with a dedication to science fiction books, films and television shows. His geek-centric blog and outlets of nerd rage can be found at themadmechie.wordpress.com.