The Best Movie Ever: Robots

The Best Robot Movie Ever

Be honest: you're probably going to watch giant robots beat the hell from each other in Transformers: Age of Extinction this weekend. And while we expect you'll have some manner of fun we highly don't you're going to be watching the best movie ever made about robots. Which begs the question… what IS the best robot movie ever made?

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We challenged CraveOnline's film critics William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Fred Topel and Brian Formo to decide once and for all which film qualifies as the best movie about robots. No quibbling, no lists, they simply have to make their choice. That's what we do about Best Movie Ever. Find out what they chose and scroll down to the bottom of the page to vote for your own personal favorites.

Witney Seibold:

Metropolis

There are so many great movies to feature robots… and so many bad ones. Robots are bizarre and diverse symbols for humans, tapped again and again ever since their inception in that one play from so many years ago (the word "robot" was first said in "R.U.R.", a 1920 Czech play penned by Karel Čapek). Robots often represent more rudimentary versions of human, each one enslaved by their programming to various degrees. And it's easy to see the theology in the robot; what is a robot but a being constructed in the image of a Creator? Robots are also cheap, schlocky monsters with pincers and laser eyes that can beat up Godzilla. They're so diverse!

The best robot movie ever is still, however, Fritz Lang's immortal 1927 classic Metropolis. A damning examination of class, Metropolis presents up with a future world wherein the wealthy live in glittering towers, while the workers slave away in underground caves in order to keep those towers functioning. The workers are being slowly unionized by a benevolent savior named Maria (Brigitte Helm), which is a threat to the rich. An aristocrat replaces Maria with a robot clone who proceeds to lead the workers in an uprising – an uprising that will give the rich an excuse to retaliate, and will ultimately destroy them both. This is a film about class struggle, yes, and a damnation of wealth run rampant, but the use of a robot also brings to mind questions of free will, of manipulation, and of the nature of politics in general; how much of your politics are shaped by the "inspiring" words of a knowledgeable over-figure? And if that figure is replaced? Would you fight for your politics? And if you would fight, is that a good thing?

Metropolis is perhaps one of the best sci-fi films ever made, making use of its robot as a symbol for many things. Plus she's creepy, appealing, and looks really awesome in robot form.

William Bibbiani:

Blade Runner

Any great movie about artificial beings must in some way delve into what it truly to be "real." Hath not a robot eyes? Hath not a robot hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If we program them to, they do, and then really… are they no different than us? What right to do we have to take ownership over any object that is indistinguishable from ourselves? 

So as much as it pains me not to pick Real Steel (which is totally awesome, I promise), I find myself deciding that the best robot movie ever must be Blade Runner, specifically Blade Runner: The Final Cut, which injects ambiguity back into a story made simplistic and finite by a paranoid studio upon its re-edited, overly narrated, happy ending release in 1982. The story plays just fine as a sci-fi film noir without placing too much emphasis on philosophy: in the future, the Tyrell Corporation invented "Replicants" to perform dangerous physical labor, made them sentient beings capable of learning, and then made them die after only four years to keep them in line. A group of Replicants escapes and comes back to Earth with the simple, understandable goal of finding a way to survive their internal clock, and a detective played by Harrison Ford is charged with finding them and preventing them from completing their task. 

Much has been made of Blade Runner's cyberpunk aesthetic, which still influences the way many films depict the future, but if Blade Runner were simply an exercise in style it wouldn't still thrive in the cinematic consciousness today. What makes this movie about artificial beings live is the humanity inherent in its robot characters, particularly Rutger Hauer as their violent but surprisingly poetic leader Roy Batty (get it? it sounds like "robot"). "I want more life" is a human desire, but one we denied our creations in an arbitrary power trip. The only thing that makes the Replicants different from their creators is a petty whim, and in the "final cut" (of many) Ridley Scott blurs the line between human and automaton by heavily suggesting – but never outright saying – that Ford's character Rick Deckard may be a Replicant as well. Or maybe he's not. The whole point is that it doesn't – or at least shouldn't – matter. And yet for some reason it seems to.

Brian Formo:

Robocop

Paul Verhoeven put a cop's brain into a robot in RoboCop. But the reason why it's the Best Robot Movie Ever is because he puts the audience inside the robot, too. 

The inventive Dutch extremist went with hyper-violence for his second American feature. So much so that it originally received an X-rating. The amount of rounds that are shot after a fatality goes far past the programmed acceptable point. For a robot, it's a programming malfunction when it doesn't stop firing. But the audience should be repulsed. 

27 years later and RoboCop still repulses. This is Verhoeven's Funny Games. The violence is the "game," a comment on our own weird wiring that makes it so people barely register deaths in movies. But Verhoeven definitely keeps the film even-keeled by adding the "funny." There's the made-up commercial (for an SUV called the "6000 SUX" that proudly proclaims that it gets 8.2 miles to the gallon) and the popular television program (a filthy man with a receding hairline puts his arms around two babes and proclaims, "I'd buy that for a dollar!") that shrewdly satirize our cultural bravado of bigger being better and self-worth coming from purchasing power. There's the sterile, robotic way that humans can deal with victims as people that should be shuffled elsewhere (RoboCop is programmed to tell a traumatized woman where the nearest rape counseling center is). But also, there's Verhoeven's fantastic use of RoboCam: what RoboCop sees when he's booted up (a scientist, who instead of being proud of his creation, is happy that he's going to be rich) and just before his power is cut (champagne popping and a rowdy celebration that looked like it'd continue to the extremes of Das Boot). 

Verhoeven was hired to do the same job that RoboCop was created for: use big guns to get the bad guy. The extra touches he added countered boilerplate action programming. Now, I'd buy that for a dollar!

Fred Topel:

Robocop ED-209

Boy, here’s a category with a lot to choose from. I’m telling you, as soon as someone gives the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots their own movie, they win hands down. I’m pulling for Red myself. Until then, I could still narrow down the Best Robot Movie ever to my two favorites. Then I realized, the reason I love The Terminator is for its time travel story, not entirely the robot, so I’ll save that for another article.

Robocop is the best robot movie ever, though I guess it’s really a cyborg movie. The human vs. machine theme is what makes Robocop so powerful. Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is a cop killed in the line of duty. The corporation that owns the police force turn him into their latest cyborg project, Robocop. They own Robocop. It’s their billion dollar technology that even allowed Robocop to exist. But he remembers being Alex Murphy and they can’t own Alex Murphy. 

Of course, if you’re going to get on my case about the cyborg technicality, Robocop still has the best movie robot ever. ED-209 is such a sad little biped. It’s not his fault he can’t see when you throw the gun down or walk down stairs. He was designed by corporate idiots and he’s just trying to follow his programming. Though when the little girl in Robocop 3 programmed him to be loyal as a puppy, that’s going too far. 

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