As the Transformers crash back into town we recall some less impressive robots
Sci-fi begins with robots, appearing as early as Fritz Lang’s visionary Metropolis (1927) and its sashaying metal vixen. For the most part, movie robots are pretty intelligent: steering ships, translating alien dialects and making actors like Mark Hamill look decent. Still, some of them should be sent back to the lab for reprogramming or at least an oil change. Don’t be fooled by the blinking lights, complicated knobs and killer break dance moves: Some robots make better scrap parts. Transformers: Age of Extinction is out in cinemas on July 24.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) The robot: HAL 9000, Stanley Kubrick’s iconic red-eyed supercomputer, runs the ship. He’ll outplay you at chess, read your lips and – as vividly voiced by Douglas Rain – evince more personality than a meat puppet like Keir Dullea.
The major malfunction: Famously, he goes a little nuts. But if killing off the crew is your big plan, HAL, why not simply drain the ship of oxygen? Think this one through, brainiac.
2. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) The robots: Evil robot Bill and Ted, who are basically just as dumb as the original Bill and Ted. They’re sent back from the future to spoil the meteoric rise of the hard-rocking Wyld Stallyons.
The major malfunction: If these ’bots can be short-circuited at a pivotal Battle of the Bands by a second set of mechanical stand-ins (assembled from parts from the local hardware store), they weren’t so excellent to begin with.
3. RoboCop (1987) The robot: ED-209, a menacing patroller of future Detroit’s crime-ridden streets – or at least that’s the plan, if he ever gets out of protocol.
The major malfunction: A boardroom presentation goes horrifically wrong, and ED blows away a corporate lackey by accident. (‘I’m very disappointed,’ an exec sighs.) Later, it’s revealed that this high-tech war machine can’t even manage a set of stairs without tumbling down and squealing like a baby.
4. Star Wars (1977) The robot: C3PO, a dithering sidekick fluent in ‘over six million forms of communication’ but mainly proof that all that glitters is not gold.
The major malfunction: He’s often outsmarted by R2-D2, constantly whines and very nearly causes our heroes’ deaths in the trash compactor. You’ll spend more time fuming at this droid’s ineptitude than enjoying Anthony Daniels’ refined diction.
5. Blade Runner (1982) The robot: Leon’s a replicant, if you want to get technical, and ‘more human than human.’ As portrayed by the memorably bug-eyed Brion James, though, it’s hard to see much of an advance.
The major malfunction: Leon loses his cool over some questions about a tortoise (‘Know what a turtle is? Same thing.’) and gets into hot water with his criminal boss, played by Rutger Hauer. Crucially, though, he falls for the oldest bad-guy hang-up in the book, speechifying when he should be killing.
6. Saturn 3 (1980) The robot: Hector, the lumbering, steel-ribbed creation of scientist Harvey Keitel, a secretly deranged new arrival on one of Saturn’s moons.
The major malfunction: Hector is huge, but take a look at that tiny head, the size of an old-school video camera, and you’ll know this machine is doomed. He falls for Farah Fawcett, despite an inability to, um, buy her flowers. In short: big, dumb, destined to be outwitted by Kirk Douglas.
7. The Black Hole (1979) The robot: B.O.B. (part of a Bio-sanitation Battalion) is a lovably dented veteran of the USS Palomino. The crew is on its way home from deep space when they encounter the ship of mad scientist Maximillian Schell, who hopes to fling himself into a swirling black hole.
The major malfunction: Riding desperately on the coattails of money-minting Star Wars, Disney can’t be faulted for creating robots that could easily become toys. But bumbling ones with the twangy voice of Slim Pickens? Is that what kids really want?
8. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) The robots: Herky-jerky battle droids assemble on peaceful Naboo, marching in military rows. The old-school storm troopers were a lot more impressive.
The major malfunction: One shot from a blaster, and they explode, their aim is terrible, and their voices sound like Daft Punk outtakes. You’re not talking about a fearsome fighting force when Jar Jar Binks manages to get by unscathed.