We love robots. Whether they are quirky or resourceful, cute or heroic, metal men have been a fixture in Hollywood, for decades.
The new film “Real Steel,” in theaters Oct. 7, is set in the near future, where robot boxing is as big as pro football. Hugh Jackman shares screen time with a 2,000-pound robot named Atom. Jackman plays a washed-up boxer who re-connects with his son while their scrap-iron scrapper becomes a robot boxing sensation.
It’s too early to know if Atom or “Real Steel” will leave a lasting impression. What we do know is, the best movie robots made a dent in pop culture not because of their cool circuitry or abilities. They wowed us because they seemed practically human.
Wall-E endeared himself to us almost from the first moment he shows up in Pixar’s 2008 masterpiece. The last sentient being on a decimated Earth, Wall-E takes it upon himself to save what bits of society he can find. He gathers trinkets and other artifacts, like a VHS copy of “Hello, Dolly.” He’s part archeologist, part fanboy.
Best feature: Wall-E is a hopeless romantic. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more tender movie moment in the last decade — with or without robots — than Wall-E and girlfriend Eve’s space dance.
Luke Skywalker gets the Jedi glory and Han Solo gets the girl, but for our money, the MVP of the “Star Wars” saga is R2-D2. Artoo has been the hero at least once in every one of the “Star Wars” movies, saving the humans from trash compactors, droid armies, even Darth Vader. He’s also done it with style and a sense of humor, usually at the expense of poor, stressed-out C-3PO.
Best feature: Can you imagine what the galaxy would look like if we had to rely on Threepio to make life-or-death decisions? R2 epitomizes grace under pressure.
The leader of the good guy robots in the “Transformers” franchise, Optimus has a lot going for him. He can transform into a super-cool truck, has an energy sword, and a stylish color scheme. And while he is righteous and honorable to a fault, Optimus also has a mean streak. Ask Megatron and Sentinel Prime about that.
Best feature: If he ever gets tired of telling the Autobots to "Roll Out," Optimus has a future as a motivational speaker.
Portraying the T-800 in 1984’s “The Terminator” made Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career. The original model soon became outdated. Schwarzenegger spent much of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” getting his butt kicked by the new kids on the block, the T-1000 and the T-X. He also grew soft in his old age, protecting humans instead of relentlessly hunting them down. Which proves even cyborgs can change.
Best feature: “Hasta La Vista, baby.” No robot has ever delivered better one-liners than the T-800.
Talk about real steel. “Robocop” was the story of a cyborg cop cleaning up the streets of Detroit. Loaded with handy weapons like an assault cannon, rocket launcher and a jet pack, Robocop quickly put a major dent in crime. No wonder the citizens of Detroit want to build him a statue.
Best feature: Most would say the jet pack or Robocop’s primary weapon, the Auto-9, but we prefer the Data Spike. Located in Robocop’s right fist, it’s his own personal hacking device to download information. Remember, the movie came out in 1987. It shows how far ahead of his time the Motor City Machine was. And really, isn’t that what we want from our robots?
Michael Avila is a writer based in New York. Follow his pop culture musings on Twitter.
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