1. The Maschinenmensch, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”
Although she first hit the silver screen a whopping 85 years ago, the Maschinenmensch, as portrayed by 18-year-old actress Brigitte Helm, remains one of sci-fi’s most influential androids. Cited as the first legitimate “robot” depicted on film, the Maschinenmensch costume was actually created from a moldable wood putty, which was crafted around a cast of Helm’s body, spray painted, and then polished off with a glinting bronze powder. It’s a stark contrast to modern day—if we want a robotic leading lady in 2012, we just call up January Jones.
2. Tik-Tok, Frank L. Baum’s “Oz” Series
One of the earliest recorded robots in fiction, Baum’s mechanical man was a “proto-robot” in every sense of the phrase. Dorothy Gale’s clockwork companion was an unfeeling automaton with an unwavering devotion to the young girl’s cause, but, in a turn that’s eerily prescient of most modern day technology, was always breaking down when you really needed him. Fun fact: Tik-tok was reimagined as a psychotic robo-killer in a same-named late-90s novel. Another fun fact: none of the above has anything to do with that Ke$ha song.
3. Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka’s “Astro Boy”
Legendary manga artist Osamu Tezuka made a name with his trailblazing storytelling techniques and timeless characters, but few have resonated more than nuclear powered tot Astro Boy. Tezuka’s most famous creation, Astro Boy brought a sense of playfulness and innocence to the robotic archetype—a welcome reprieve from the Frankensteinian murder-bots that were so popular with B-grade sci-fi schlock. Interestingly, Astro was preceded by another of Tezuka’s robotic creations: a humanoid named Michi, who was inspired by a promotional still of the Maschinenmensch from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. ROBOCEPTION.
4. Robby The Robot, Various
Though he’s best known amongst contemporary crowds for camping near the entrance of Forbidden Planet comic book shops, this 7-foot ‘bot originally appeared in the 1956 sci-fi film of the same name. He’d return the following year for a role in the not-as-successful-or-really-worth-watching The Invisible Boy, but would soon become a household name through his myriad television appearances, ranging from Lost in Space to The Addams Family. This Robot Hall of Fame-er is still revered as a genuine sci-fi icon, but, sadly, still hasn’t gotten his much-deserved Oscar-baiting biopic.
5. Gort, “The Day The Earth Stood Still”
There’s something awfully frightening about a speechless 8-foot robot that can blast deadly insta-vaporize beams from its face. The original “robo-cop,” Gort was a member of a robotic interstellar police force that could’ve single-handedly destroyed Earth if it felt so inclined. Gort was rendered as considerably taller and more malevolent in the 2008 remake, where he acted alongside another famous Hollywood automaton: Keanu Reeves.
6. Gigantor, Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s “Tetsujin 28-Go”
Widely regarded as the progenitor of the entire “giant robot” genre, towering titan Gigantor (known as Tetsujin 28 in his native Japan) remains one of the most prolific ‘bots in popular culture. In its original incarnation, Gigantor was constructed as a tide-turning weapon by the Japanese Empire’s Dr. Kaneda during the final days of World War II…that was finished just a few days past deadline. Instead of disassembling and selling it for scrap, Gigantor was willed to the good (??) doctor’s ten-year-old son, who would go on many-an-adventure with the, you know, would-be-World War II weapon.
7. R2-D2 & C3P0, “Star Wars” Franchise
Arguably the most well-known ‘droids in the galaxy, there isn’t too much that we can say about this pair of famous robo-bros (or “ro-bros,” if you will) that hasn’t been covered ad nauseum by film fans the world over. Both Artoo and Threepio have appeared in all six of the core Star Wars films—including the prequels, where critics and fans agreed that they were, ironically, the most human elements.
8. Marvin The Paranoid Android, Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”
Cursed with an inimitable intellect and no worthwhile outlet for it, Marvin’s gloomy demeanor has been well-represented across the multimedia spectrum. This forlorn android has played key roles in the radio, television, and film productions of Douglas Adam’s mega-popular sci-fi satire, but has consistently hated his life in every incarnation.
9. Data, Star Trek: The Next Generation
Probably the most recognized television robot this side of Bender Bending Rodriguez, Data’s weekly struggle to understand and appreciate humanity was one of the major reasons that audiences tuned in to The Next Generation. Actor Brent Spiner used the aforementioned Robby the Robot as inspiration for Data’s on-screen behaviors and quirks—but, unlike Robby, Data never won a cameo on The Love Boat.
10. Wall-E, Pixar’s “Wall-E”
Despite his unlikely credentials, Pixar’s saucer-eyed trash compactor made for one of the studio’s most endearing leads to date. It’s a testament to the filmmakers that this offbeat little ‘bot has resonated with audiences as strongly has he has—and it’s a testament to all things good and holy that Larry the Cable Guy wasn’t allowed anywhere near him.