Robots shuffled and beeped across movie screens long before "Real Steel" and will keep captivating moviegoers (and perhaps robots) in the future. Which movie robots deserve an Oscar, and which should be junked?
"Metropolis" (Germany, 1926)
Director: Fritz Lang; Starring: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel
The iconic Machine Man from "Metropolis," played by Brigitte Helm, was one of the first movie robots. While Helm acted in the robot suit for only part of the film (playing the rest as an android, in makeup), Machine Man's golden art deco form remains ingrained in pop culture.
"Silent Running" (USA, 1971)
Director: Douglas Trumbull; Starring: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts
Huey, Dewey, and Louie, played by multiple amputees Mark Persons, Cheryl Sparks, Steve Brown, and Larry Whisenhunt, are silent but filled with personality. They are the only companions of protagonist Freeman Lowell (Dern) after he violates orders to destroy the last known plant life.
"Star Wars" (USA, 1977)
Director: George Lucas; Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Throughout the first trilogy, C-3PO and R2-D2 provide comic relief and help move the plot forward. As the stuffy, shiny protocol robot C-3PO, Anthony Daniels created a reluctant hero. With the help of sound effects artists, who produced R2-D2's lights and electronic noises, Kenny Baker created the unforgettably bold robot. In close-ups, Baker moved R2's head and eyes and jiggled R2 to show excitement. Wider scenes featured a remote-controlled R2.
"The Black Hole" (USA, 1979)
Director: Gary Nelson; Starring: Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins
V.I.N.CENT and Old B.O.B. were clunky, floating machines that came alive thanks to extraordinary voice work by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens, who for some reason was uncredited. Although "The Black Hole" suffered from comparisons to "Star Wars," the robots remain viewer favorites.
"Short Circuit" (USA, 1986)
Director: John Badham; Starring: Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg
Johnny 5, voiced by puppeteer Tim Blaney, is a spirited runaway who aspires to be human. Thanks to Blaney, he accomplishes his goal, causing viewers to join him in exclaiming "Number 5 is alive!"
"WALL-E" (USA, 2008)
Director: Andrew Stanton; Starring: Ben Burtt (voice), Elissa Knight (voice)
It shouldn't be a surprise that the most beloved recent robot is voiced by Ben Burtt, the same sound technician who recorded his own voice and put it through a synthesizer for R2-D2. In this computer-animated film, Burt's WALL-E is a lonely, poetic soul. When shiny new robot EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight) arrives, he knows they are destined to be together. Together, Burtt and Knight made us love the idea of robot love.
Worst Movie Robots
"Robot Monster" (USA, 1953)
Director: Phil Tucker; Starring: George Nader, Claudia Barrett
It's hard to get more laughable than a gorilla suit with a space helmet, but that's how George Barrows was forced to play the evil robot Ro-Man. Sent to capture humans, the Ro-Man becomes confused once he meets some. The viewers are confused about whoever thought a space gorilla would be scary.
"Bicentennial Man" (USA, 1999)
Director: Chris Columbus; Starring: Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz
It should have been a good film: based on an Isaac Asimov story; helmed by the director of the "Home Alone" movies; and starring multifaceted, fearless comedian and actor Robin Williams. Well, how about hiding Williams' expressive face behind a mask and having him wear a robot body suit for the first half of the film? The movie, at its best, is a saccharine love story, and the robot didn't help.
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (USA, 2009)
Director: Michael Bay; Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox
Say what you will about the rest of the Autobots. Optimus Prime, for example, has a certain gravity to his character. But many will agree that Skids and Mudflap, while occasionally funny, are racial stereotypes that would be best written out of any future "Transformers" movies.
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- Brigitte Helm