Top Ten Movies About Robots

Robot Pride Day is a technology watchdog and annual celebration stemming from the culture of Blue Dog Pict Fans of humanity, heterogeneity and creativity.

10. Ex Machina

A startlingly fresh review of the AI thriller wherein the line between sentience and code becomes impossibly blurred. It is also a story about how our hubris will, in spite of all precautions, ultimately open Pandora’s Box. Finally, it explores a method via which we will be unpredictably tricked and outplayed by our “artificially intelligent” golems.

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9. Wall*E

A heart-wrenching and sentimental, mostly silent film ruminating on the existential isolation and disconnect of being a robot, yet one that can develop emergent emotional properties. It is also a heavy-handed but whimsical social critique of opulence and techno-glut. Also the relationship between the dilapidated, yesterday’s model that is the film’s namesake protagonist and the shiny new power-luxe that is Eve, his crush, speaks to our propensity for disposability rather than honoring provenance and pedigree and all that we stand to lose in the relentless pursuit/addiction for a new quick buzz or the latest model.

Wall*E

Wall*E

8. Robot and Frank

A delicate but wry thought piece starring Frank Langella and Liv Tyler on how our cautious, suspicious relationship with robots might eventually turn and take hold of us emotionally, changing into something we could never have predicted in the manufacturing plant.

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Robot & Frank

7. The Black Hole

Disney’s truly dreamlike anomaly the Black Hole starring Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins (yes, that Psycho) and perhaps most memorably Ernest Borgnine presents a bold vision of a future where a mad genius is poised to move his massive greenhouse-like spaceship through a black hole at just the perfect angle so as to emerge through to the other side. But something is rotten in the state of Spacemark – the countless onboard droids have a sinister aura about them. Besides the R2D2-level appeal of the friendly bots Vincent and Bob, the twists and turns of the plot examine how master can become slave.

The Black Hole screencap

The Black Hole screencap

6. Real Steel

This is the blue-collar worker’s story about bringing home the bacon with your robot creation, of David vs Goliath, or everyman facing off against Corporate power and greed, but most importantly, it is a story about fathers and sons connecting through the proxy of invention, perseverance and hope. Like puppets, robots serve as a bridge between our impossibly complex nature and the material realm, and they are a looking glass–a distillation of our core functions, that allow us to consider ourselves in a more fundamental manner. Dad relationships are hard for everyone–when we have them, we want their approval and respect and attention, seemingly above all else, and what better way to achieve that than through the process of nurturing a common pseudo-sentient being made out of car parts?

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5. AI: Artificial Intelligence

As a film, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s unmade screenplay adaptation of author Brian Aldiss’ short story “Super Toys Last All Summer,” is overly sentimental, has too many endings and is just too long–but the vignettes it strings together therein are indelible. Whether it is the abuses of the “Flesh Fair”–a reality show-like barbaric cavalcade that hides its bloodthirst behind the pretense buffer of “they’re just Mechas,” (and underlines how depersonalization or dehumanization can somehow draw out in us or justify unthinkable abuses) or the emotional torment and ethical gray area of abandoning an emotion-ready android child alone in the forest, to the spine-tingling prophecy that Manhattan, Amsterdam and Venice will soon be underwater due to climate change, this turns out to be an incredibly complex and layered film that position robots in stark bas-relief so that we can consider ourselves and the implications of our decisions and why we make them.

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The Flesh Fair from Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence

Oh and finally – the movie poster is bloody brilliant and totally aligned with the catalytic flashpoint of RPD’s origin myth.

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4. Star Wars

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away “droids” are as common as squirrels or house flies but have the power to change the fate of empires. Lucas’ world-weary-styled galaxies moves robots from the pristine to the banal in a way we had not seen before.

The many photobombs of BB-8 - via http://comicvine.gamespot.com/

The many photobombs of BB-8 – via http://comicvine.gamespot.com/

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey

The masterpiece high-level cautionary tale about Artificial Intelligence gone awry. Who can forget HAL’s eerie melting appropriation of “Daisy, Daisy…give me your answer do…I’m just crazy…all for the love of you…” let alone the knowing defiance of human directive. Shudder to think…

2. Metropolis

Fritz Lang’s totally prescient and anachronistic German expressionistic masterpiece centers around a futuristic society separated by a massive economic divide – that of the opulent industrialist overland rulers and the poor working class literally toiling underground to keep the machine running. In a plot too convoluted to summarize here, the robot created by an inventor named Rotwang to resurrect a lost love is eventually refashioned to resemble a revolutionary named Maria and then redirected to wreak havoc on a culturejam that would threaten to unite the wealthy and the poor.

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Mary, the Robot – from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

The use of a robotic facsimile of a spiritual hero to manipulate the uprising is already beginning to show its manifestation in our present reality, 2016, as droids are used to take out suspects or to attack named terrorist cells. Moreover, digital actors or manipulations thereof are becoming increasingly difficult to discern from their real counterparts, as the game of truth is puppeteered on the world stage like a summer pageant with profound socio-political implications.

1. Blade Runner

One of the most important ontological films ever made, Blade Runner asks what it is about being human that makes us more special or entitled than any other thing, living, dead or “artificial.” What is the line between creation and creator? “All these moments, will be lost in time, like…tears in rain.”

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Honorable Mentions:

Pacific Rim

Guillermo del Toro’s Japanese monsters popcorn flick makes the grade not only because it smacks of the same over-the-top tongue-in-cheekness of Paul Verhoeven’s critique of the industrial-military complex Starship Troopers fused with authentic childlike enthusiasm, but also incredible pacing, playing with scale and poise. Del Toro uses masterful techniques to convey weight and heft and gravity – a standout moment is the seagull on the dock. Ting!

Chappie

Neill Blomkamp makes Sci-Fi feel likes the streets of New York (or S Africa) circa 1979 – gritty, real, dangerous and stuffed to the brim with cultcha. This one has Die Antwoord plugged in a take on robotics that make Short Circuit look like grammar school.

Chappie - fist pump

The Iron Giant

Only reason this heartwarming and timeless modern classic isn’t on the list proper is that it is told in many ways through the ages, not necessarily having to do with robots. But this idea of the noble savage–“a representative of primitive humankind as idealized in Romantic literature, symbolizing the innate goodness of humanity when free from the corrupting influence of civilization”– is near-perfectly realized via the metaphor of a giant robot befriending a boy in this animated film from Brad Bird.

Hardware

The near occult-take on robot skulls that form the basis of this thriller resemble Kurzweil’s notion of spiritual machines.

The Stepford Wives

Your brain on FB is the new suburbs.