Robots, cyborgs, androids, skin jobs …. Whether they’re the cold, calculating killers portrayed in the Terminator franchise or the complex augmented humans and sentient AIs of Japanese anime, cinema has had a long love-affair with the ‘metal man’. As RoboCop is released on 9th June, FilmJuice takes a look at some of cinema’s most memorable ‘bots, ‘borgs and ‘droids.
Evil Maria – Metropolis (1927)
It was in 1921 that the Czech author Karel Capek introduced the term ‘robot’ in his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Just six years later, Fritz Lang became arguably the first director to use a robot as a protagonist in his silent sci-fi classic, Metropolis. In Metropolis the inventor, Rotwang, creates a robot in the likeness of the popular worker’s revolutionary, Maria (played by Brigitte Helm) in an attempt to ruin her reputation. Evil Maria has since become the archetypal robot – and was the inspiration for C3PO in Star Wars.
R2-D2/C-3PO – the Star Wars series (1977-on)
Not only are these two of the most beloved robots in cinematic history, but one of the most famous fictional filmic double acts. R2-D2 (played by Kenny Baker) is an astromech droid – a type of automated mechanic. The uptight C-3PO (played by Anthony Daniels) is a protocol droid – basically a metal major-domo. They are two of the four characters who have appeared in all six films – and are set to make a come back in JJ Abrams’ 2015 reboot.
Ash – Alien (1979)
British classical actor Ian Holm plays Ash, a science officer aboard the commercial space tow ship Nostromo. After the Nostromo is diverted to answer what appears to be a distress call, it’s Ash who breaks quarantine by allowing Kane (John Hurt) back on board despite being infected by an alien life form. A big twist of the film sees it revealed that Ash is in fact not a human, but an android whose sole mission is to bring back the alien life form at the expense of the Nostromo’s crew.
Tik Tok – Return To Oz (1985)
Based on Frank Baum’s novels The Marvellous Land Of Oz and Ozma Of Oz, this much-loved classic introduced a new batch of Oz characters to cinema audiences, including the mechanical man, Tik-Tok. This round-bodied clockwork character is often considered to be one of literature’s first ‘robots’ although he appeared 14 years before the term was coined. On screen, it took two actors to bring this beautifully comic creation to life. Sean Barrett provided him with his voice, while the acrobat Michael Sundin controlled his legs from inside the costume.
Johnny 5 – Short Circuit (1986)
This eighties cult movie follows an experimental military robot who gains a humanlike intelligence when struck by lightning. Tim Blaney provided the voice for the memorable character who – after soaking up a wide range of real-world “input” – develops a whimsical and curious personality. They simply don’t make family films like this any more.
T-1000 – Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1994)
There’s no doubt that it’s the T-1000 – a shape-shifting assassin formed from liquid metal (nanomorphic mimetic poly-alloy) – who steals the film from its star, Arnold Swartzenegger. Played with subtle menace by Robert Patrick, this newer, slicker Terminator was so popular that Patrick was invited back to appear in T5, before the project ultimately ran out of funding and folded.
Gigolo Joe – A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Jude Law stars in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi drama as Gigolo Joe, a male prostitute Mecha (a new class of advanced humanoids capable of emulating certain emotions). Joe has been programmed with the ability to mimic love. He is on the run after being framed for murder. Law spoke about researching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in preparation for this role.
Vanessa Kensington – Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (2002)
Despite initially being a human character – female lead and love interest – in International Man Of Mystery (1997), the opening of this comedy sequel sees Austin happily married to Vanessa. It’s only when he realises that his remote control is actually controlling Vanessa that he realises Dr. Evil has turned her into a Fembot (the female assassins fit with ‘machine-gun jubblies’ introduced in the first film).
The Iron Giant – The Iron Giant (1999)
Brad Bird’s fifties-set animated gem follows a lonely young boy named Hogarth who discovers an iron giant who has fallen from the sky. With the help of a Beatnik named Dean (Harry Connick, Jr.), they must prevent the U.S. Military from finding him. Vin Diesel plays the fifty-foot, metal-eating robot whose true origins remain a mystery.
Alex Murphy – RoboCop (2014)
Based on Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film, Joel Kinnaman plays the cop Alex Murphy who is killed in the line of duty, only to be brought back to life by OmniCorp and transformed into a cyborg entity known as RoboCop. As the film continues, the human side of Murphy must battle with his ‘programming’ as he attempts to bring down the corrupt corporation that created him.
RoboCop is released on Limited Edition Blu-ray Steelbook, Blu-ray and DVD on June 9th 2014 from STUDIOCANAL.