Robot movies have been around since nearly the beginning of filmmaking. It all started with famous magician Harry Houdini’s 1919 serial The Master Mystery, which features the very first glimpse at a robot in film history. In the more than 100 years since Houdini’s series, robots now appear in just about any genre: sci-fi, action, animated, even a family movie. But which robot movies are the best overall? Let’s take a look at the very best robot movies in film history.

10. Ex Machina (2014)

Ex Machina is a robot movie from 2014 that is on a much smaller scale than many of the other films on this list but all the tenser because of it. Claustrophobic in its setting, barely ever leaving the secluded house of a tech billionaire, Ex Machina follows a man who is invited to the home of his employer’s CEO to perform tests on an android he’s brought to life. It might not be the scariest thing on the list, but it’s undoubtedly very anxiety-inducing — especially as it moves toward its thrilling end.

9. Pacific Rim (2013)

It just wouldn’t be a list of the best robot movies without Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 film Pacific Rim. Telling the exciting, action-packed story of giant robots versus giant sea monsters, Pacific Rim is like a fantastic Gundam anime brought to the live-action sphere. Del Toro has a fantastic eye for fantasy, as proven by his films Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Shape of Water (2017), but Pacific Rim proves that the award-winning filmmaker’s talents are not restricted to just that one genre alone.   

8. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

For years, Stanley Kubrick’s passion project was a film called A.I. Artificial Intelligence. In development from the 1970s until the mid-90s, Kubrick tried and failed, again and again, to make the film work but never felt confident enough in the computer animation technology of the time to actually make it happen. Right before his death, he handed it over to Steven Spielberg who finally made it happen in 2001. Thank goodness Spielberg was successful in bringing it to the screen because Kubrick’s original idea about a boyish android with the ability to love made for one of the best movies about robots ever made.

7. The Iron Giant (1999)

The only animated family film on the list, 1999’s The Iron Giant can still very much be enjoyed by adult audiences. That’s because of the serious emotions and the enormous heart of The Iron Giant. Based on the 1968 novel of the same name by Ted Hughes, the film follows the story of a young boy who discovers an enormous robot in the midst of the Cold War in 1957. While praised by critics as one of the best robot movies ever made and a real contender for the most touching animated family film of the year, the film didn’t perform well at the box office and didn’t receive its due until it hit home video.

6. Robocop (1987)                                                          

Paul Verhoeven’s movies are known best for their sense of humor and their great special effects — his 1987 film Robocop has both, as well as one of the most inventive depictions of a robot in film to date. His film tackles similar themes to THX 1138 with its exploration of a robotic police force, but it goes about it in an entirely different and entirely more violent and action-packed way. While it resulted in a series of sequels in the years that followed, none compare to the genius and the originality of this very first entry.

5. The Terminator (1984)

Before James Cameron was making two of the highest-grossing movies of all time — Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009) — he was directing one of the most action-packed robot movies ever made: 1984’s The Terminator. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the titular Terminator (easily one of the best overall performances in a robot movie), Cameron’s film brings the action and the excitement that critics unfairly expected from movies like Blade Runner. Spawning several sequels in the decades since, The Terminator is not only one of the best movies about robots but also one of the best action movies ever.

4. Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner (and its sequel Blade Runner 2049 [2017], directed by Denis Villeneuve) shines a new light on the idea of a human-robot. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner’s robots are almost indistinguishable from humans. This raises several questions about life and existence that the film grapples with very intelligently. It’s a common theme at this point, but Blade Runner was criticized by both critics and audiences alike at the time for its slow pace and its very few action scenes before eventually evolving into a cult classic for those very same reasons.  

3. THX 1138 (1971)

Before he was making Star Wars (1977), George Lucas was making his 1971 directorial debut THX 1138. Set in a dystopia where the population is ruled by a bot police force that came about after a robot uprising, all people are required to take drugs that suppress their emotions or face dire consequences. Years before creating C-3PO, Lucas was testing the waters with these robot police officers. There’s no doubt that his testing was successful: the robot police force of THX 1138 is one of the scariest robot uprisings in film history and one of the best overall movies about robots.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Like Metropolis, Stanley Kubrick’s now-iconic 1968 sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey was initially met with some unfair criticism at the time. Based on author Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” and combining elements from several other Clarke short stories, as well, Kubrick’s 2001 features an artificially intelligent supercomputer by the name of HAL. For the majority of HAL’s screentime, the audience only sees one of the computer’s many lenses throughout the ship. HAL’s not a human-robot or the head of a robot uprising, but he’s no doubt one of the scariest to ever grace the screen — Kubrick manages to make a lens with a red dot at the center of one of the most menacing robots in movie history.

1. Metropolis (1927)

In 1927, legendary director Fritz Lang released his seminal sci-fi film Metropolis. It was not only one of the first feature-length sci-fi movies but also one of the first to prominently feature a robot. Known as Maschinenmensch in the film, the plot involves an eccentric inventor creating a human-robot to replace his lost love. While initially met with negative reviews at the time, the film has since become an important pillar in early sci-fi and robot movie history. Of all the movies about robots, Metropolis is easily one of the best overall. (Not to mention, the design of Maschinenmensch was clearly very influential on other hybrid human-robots like C-3PO.)

The 10 Best Movies About Robots FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the best robot movie of all time?

Given the film’s cult classic status, its lasting legacy, its deep and philosophical questions, and its exceptional production design, cinematography, and performances from its central characters, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) is considered by many to be the best robot movie of all time.

When was the first robot movie made?

The first robot movie was made in 1919 with the release of Harry Houdini’s The Master Mystery, a long-running serial that was the very first to portray a robot in film history.

Why are robot movies so popular?

From animated family movies to the scariest sci-fi thrillers, robots have been and will likely always continue to be a popular theme to explore on-screen. One reason robot movies are so popular is because of their ability to make the audience think about their relationship to technology in new ways. Because robots exist in the real world, it’s exciting and thought-provoking to think about the good and the bad of this technology and the ways in which it can lead to positive and negative developments as the technology continues to advance.

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