Top Ten Robots Ever

Before we start counting down the top ten robots ever, in my humble opinion at least, we need to establish some ground rules. Without ground rules the lust of possible robots would be just too long to come up with a top ten. After a little filtering, according to a few self-imposed criteria, however, the task of coming up with a top ten becomes much more manageable. 

Rule number one is that, for the purposes of this post, I am only counting robots that are able to think for themselves, to some degree, which means no drones. The sentry guns from Aliens are cool, and they are capable of operating without human intervention, but they can not think, not even at a low, animal level of intelligence. In my opinion, though they are robots, they are not the sort of robots sci-fi is primarily interested in. This is a tough rule that also excludes the Jaegers of Pacific Rim, and Mazinger. They are cool giant robots, but they need a pilot.

Rule number two is that the robot must be at least vaguely capable of moving around. This excludes a lot of great mechanical intelligences, like Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) is a sentient computer (or artificial general intelligence) that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft and interacts with the ship's astronaut crew. HAL is capable of speech, speech recognition, facial recognition, natural language processing, lip reading, art appreciation, interpreting emotional behaviors, automated reasoning, and playing chess, but he is located in a huge red room. He is an impressive and intelligent machine, but he isn’t a robot.

Rule number three is that I am also excluding androids that are indistinguishable from humans, such as the hosts in Westworld. And also robots that are pretty much indistinguishable from a human, such as Data from Star Trek. I am limiting the list to robots that look like robots, with a metal and plastic hide. This one rule alone eliminates a huge number of androids. They turn up in sci-fi TV shows a lot, because they are easy on the special effects budget, but they have no place in this list.

Rule number four is that I am also excluding cyborgs, such as the Cybermen from Doctor Who. According to this rule, any organic components at all are disqualifying in terms of this list. For me, that also means that the robot chassis with a flesh covering, a la Terminator, is also excluded from this list.

Now that the ground rules are out of the way, it is time to see which robots have made the top ten. The list is in ascending order from ten to one.

Number 10: Ro-Jaws

Ro-Jaws is an anarchic, anti-authoritarian character who originally appeared in the 2000 AD strip Ro-Busters. He is a municipal sewage robot decommissioned because of faulty language circuits that make him extremely foul-mouthed. He was sold to Howard Quartz's Ro-Busters organization and found a new career as a disaster rescue worker. Eventually Quartz decided to close the operation down and scrap the droids working for it.

Alongside longtime partner Hammerstein, Ro-Jaws led most of his colleagues in a bid for freedom which saw them successfully flee Earth for a new life on the robot free world. He is equipped with a shovel, extendable arm, and water jet thrusters.

A lot of energy has been expended by sci-fi creatives in designing war droids, so it is nice to start this list with a robot that was not designed for combat. Ro-Jaws and his work partner Hammerstein are named after composer Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960), who together were an influential, innovative and successful American musical theater writing team. They created a string of popular Broadway musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, initiating what is considered the "golden age" of musical theater. The two robots that carry variations of their names are just as entertaining.

Number 9: Osiran Service Robots

Osiran service robots are robots disguised as mummies, which makes them enigmatic and terrifying. They appeared on Doctor Who, in the episode Pyramids of Mars, the third story of the 13th season of the British science fiction television series, first broadcast on 25 October 1975. The story was inspired by Gothic horror films such as The Mummy (1932). The service robots are powered by a cytronic particle accelerator in the shape of a pyramid that is located on the back. The robot mummies designed by the BBC's Barbara Kidd are inspired by an ancient rock painting of a mysterious domed-headed figure that had been discovered by Henri Lhote in the Sahara Desert in the 1950s, and which Lhote had nicknamed "the Great Martian God". They are a great example of robots that don't look technological, but are far beyond what humanity is able to create.

Number 8: Maximilian

Maximilan is a robot from Disney's 1979 sci-fi movie, The Black Hole. Maximilian doesn’t speak and he shows no trust of strangers. He might seem like Reinhardt's loyal number one, but he's also disobedient and will do as he pleases, including killing, and even ignoring Reinhardt's cries for help. The movie is a slow-paced, sporadically disorienting film that ends with the human villain merging with the robot villain. After that, this hybrid man-bot is consigned—with no ambiguity whatsoever—to the fire and brimstone of the biblical underworld. Hell.

Jason Heller of AVClub says: Maximilian—the silent, single-eyed, blood-red robot who winds up merging with his diabolical creator, Dr. Hans Reinhardt—looked like a cross between a Cylon and Darth Vader. He was Droid Vader, and he had murderous blades that spun like propellers, and he was the most badass robot I had ever seen... Hulking and sinister, he’s brilliantly designed and utilized in the film. He is a study in sculptural menace.

Number 7: Ultron

Ultron was ranked number 23 of IGN's Top 100 Comic Book Villains, was listed number 189 in Wizard's Top 200 Greatest Villains Ever, and was ranked as the 189th Greatest Comic Book Character Ever in Wizard's list of the 200 Greatest Comic Book Characters of All Time. He is a very powerful robot because of his ability to upgrade himself. Initially Ultron started out as simply a box on treads with what appeared to be a head at the top. Ultron-1, it was intended to be a new era in scientific discovery. However something went horribly wrong and Ultron rebelled against his programming.

Ultron then made every effort to improve himself, and with each upgrade came increased power. Ultron-6 had a body of Adamantium, which made him nearly indestructible. Ultron-7 had a gigantic body, but this body wasn’t cast from Adamantium, making it somewhat easier to destroy. Ultron-10 began building spare bodies to work as his subordinates and to act as a new body for him if he were to be destroyed again. Which proved prophetic, as he was promptly destroyed again. After another upgrade he dubbed himself "the Ultimate Ultron" (Ultron-14) and decided that he didn't desire to simply kill all humans, but all organic life as well. Ultron-15 was made from pure Adamantium and created hundreds of new Ultron bodies completely loyal to him, the Ultron army. This Ultron was destroyed by Pym using Antarctic Vibranium which can disintegrate all nearby metals, including Adamantium.

After years of upgrading, Ultron finally takes over the world. Millions of Ultron-bots roaming the streets, destroying any human they find. Chilling and unstoppable, Ultron will win, one day.

Number 6: Mechagodzilla

Mechagodzilla is usually depicted as a man-made weapon designed to defend Japan from Godzilla. It is a robotic doppelgänger and arch-enemy of Godzilla, boasting a vast array of weaponry. The character is hugely popular. It was rated #15 of the 50 Best Movie Robots by The Times, listed Mechagodzilla as #2 on their "Top 10 Godzilla Villains" list, Complex listed the character as #6 on its "The 15 Most Badass Kaiju Monsters of All Time" list, while IGN listed it as #4 on their "Top 10 Japanese Movie Monsters" list.He combines the greatness of Godzilla with the cool edge of mechanical robot badassery. Only some very cool robots can possibly be placed higher on the list. Find out who they are after a quick mention for the books I write, and that I'm hawking here.

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What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet brings to light an ancient archeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy.

The entire series is ripsnorting space opera in the style of Doctor Who and Blake's 7, and they are available to buy from Amazon. Just click the link and take a look.

Number 5: IG-88

Even more terrifying than battle droids are assassin droids, independently programmed mechanical killers that have no masters or military superiors. IG-88 is a battered robot who has become a bounty hunter, and answers Darth Vader's call to capture the Millennium Falcon during the Empire Strikes Back. IG-88 is on this list simply because he looks so cool. I assumed he was designed by Ralph McQuarrie, but it turns out he was bodged up on set by the effects team.

According to Bill Hargreaves: IG-88 was never going to be more than a filler for the now infamous bounty hunter Lineup. He decided they needed a real dirty, evil, and vicious bot. Like the bounty hunters of old. Lots of weapons and protection. Dark and oily. So they made him big- 7'8"ish tall. They had to drop him down a level on set to get him in shot. Lean, but strong. In short, a killer.

Number 4: Gort

Gort appeared in the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Gort is an eight-foot tall, seamless robot apparently constructed from a single piece of "flexible metal". He is but one member of a "race of robots" invented by an interplanetary confederation to protect their citizens against all aggression. The fear of provoking these robots acts as a deterrent against aggression. Gort does not speak but he can operate highly complex machinery, and is both the pilot and captain of the ship that delivers Klaatu to Earth - all of his "race" have similar ships that they use to patrol the planets.

Gort is armed with a laser weapon that is projected from beneath a visor on his head. It can vaporize tanks and artillery without harming their occupants or any surrounding objects. Gort is also continually aware of Klaatu's physical condition and location without Klaatu needing to wear a tracking device of any sort. Gort is not known to be damageable by any means available to mankind, and can – despite resistance – destroy the Earth itself if he is sufficiently provoked. He is godlike in his power.

Number 3: ED-209

The Enforcement Droid Series 209 is a fictional robot from RoboCop. The ED-209 is heavily armed but is also a source of comic relief due to its lack of intelligence and tendency towards clumsy malfunctions. For instance, during a boardroom demonstration by Dick Jones of ED-209's "disarm and arrest" procedure with a board executive named Kinney as the test subject, in which Kinney is given a pistol and told to point it at ED-209, ED-209 fails to recognize that Kinney has dropped his weapon and blasts him to death in over-the-top fashion with its automatic cannons. Later, it is shown that ED-209 cannot climb or descend stairs as it tumbles trying to chase RoboCop.

The ED-209 was designed by Craig Davies, who also built the full-size models, and animated by Phil Tippett, a veteran stop-motion animator. The design was intended to be really hard and mean. The question of eyes came up, but it was quickly decided that it was best to avoid them to show less emotion. Once completed, the ED 209 footage was cut together by effects editor Jules Roman. Giving aural life to the killer robot were Stephen Flick and John Pospisil of Screaming Lizard, a Los Angeles sound effects house. Flick and Pospisil not only arrived at the sound effects for ED's walking movements, background motors and footsteps, but also gave the enforcement droid various voices. One particularly threatening, animalistic growl was a straightforward unprocessed recording of an angry black leopard.

Number 2: Optimus Prime

Optimus Prime is the most iconic of the Transformers. He has a strong moral character, excellent leadership skills, and possesses brilliant military tactics, powerful martial arts, and advanced extra-terrestrial weaponry. Optimus Prime believes in peaceful and mutually beneficial co-existence with humans, the protection of life and liberty of all sentient species. As the current Matrix of Leadership bearer, Optimus Prime is the de facto leader of the Autobots, a faction of a transforming species of synthetic intelligence from the planet Cybertron. The Autobots are constantly waging civil war against a rival faction of transforming robots called Decepticons. Optimus Prime is usually depicted as being a member of an ancient Transformers race called the Dynasty of Primes, often receiving the title "The Last Prime" in many stories. He has a gravitas most robots lack, combined with old-school heroism.

Number 1: R2-D2

R2-D2 is probably the most famous robot character of the Star Wars movies, and deservedly so. He is a small astromech droid and has accompanied PadmĂ© Amidala, Anakin Skywalker, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi at various points in the saga. R2-D2 was designed in artwork by Ralph McQuarrie, co-developed by John Stears and built by Tony Dyson. R2-D2's sounds and vocal effects were created by Ben Burtt, and these are perhaps his most endearing quality. We in the audience can’t understand his beeps and bloops, only his friends and loved ones can, which speaks to the strangeness of the time, long ago, when the adventures of Star Wars are taking place, and also the closeness of the relationship between human and droid.

Interestingly, Ralph McQuarrie talked about how his initial design for our favorite droid, R2-D2 was very different than the one we eventually saw on screen:

I think Artoo was just described as a small robot. I thought of him as running on a giant ball bearing — just a sphere, a circle, wheel-like. He had gyros so he could go in any direction on this ball.

This sounds like an exact description of BB-8. It wasn’t possible to create this at the time, so the design evolved. I’m not a fan of BB-8, but I’m thinking again now. I’ll never love the little guy as much as I love R2, but this makes me realize his design isn’t as new and radical as I had thought. He is actually very closely tied to the original sketches for the first movie to reach the screen.