If Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie will do anything, it’ll most likely make you nostalgic for the days when robots showed up in movies for one reason only: to try and kill the human good guys (and maybe some human bad guys while they were at it). Yes, instead of heartwarming stories of droids evolving past their original programming and becoming kind, enlightened beings, there was a time when cinematic robots knew what was good for them and the audience: wholesale slaughter. With that in mind, here’s a chance to relive some wonderful, murderous memories with 10 of the best killer robots in movie history.
From: Westworld (1973)
For all that Michael Crichton is remembered for giving the world Jurassic Park and ER, his greatest gift was writing and directing this early vacation horror story in which an entire theme park’s animatronics decide that it’s time to kill all the guests for mysterious reasons. Ensuring that the movie was disturbing beyond that simple idea, bringing on Yul Brynner to play the silent and deadly western gunslinger, who stops at nothing in his mission to kill all humans. Hold onto that idea: it’ll come back fairly often in the rest of this list.
THE WIVES OF STEPFORD, CT
From: The Stepford Wives (1975)
I know what you’re thinking: “The Stepford Wives? But they weren’t killers, they were just the creepily ‘perfect’ wives of a group of emotionally-stunted scientists in a goofy 1970s social satire!” If so, then you’ve clearly forgotten the fact that Joanna’s robot doppleganger (played, like the real Joanna, by Katharine Ross) is apparently the one to take care of the organic original, suggesting that maybe all of the first wives were the ones doing the murdering in this sleepy Connecticut town. Sure, it’s not quite worldwide annihilation, but keeping the murder limited to one town also means that everyone involved gets away with it…
From: The Black Hole (1979)
Almost everything about The Black Hole seems to have been constructed with the intent to create nightmares in the minds of the viewer — how else to explain the presence of Ernest Borgnine and Anthony Perkins in a kids’ movie? — but nothing is more disturbing than the emotionless, creepy Maximilian, the robot protector of the Cygnus and part-time murderbot. Wait, did I say “nothing”? Because Maximilian’s final appearance in the movie, merged with his human controller in the fires of Hell, might top the freakiness of regular Maximilian.
From: Alien (1979)
Director Ridley Scott made so many good choices when it came to making the first Alien movie, but few were as smart as casting Ian Holm — short, silent and unprepossessing — as the humanlike Ash, a robot whose ulterior motives have a particularly deadly flavor to them. Even beheaded after an unsuccessful murder attempt, he still managed to come across as more dangerous than the acid-blooded xenomorph loose on the Nostromo. Michael Fassbender, this is still the bar you have to meet when that Prometheus sequel eventually gets made.
From: Blade Runner (1982)
Admittedly, Batty (Rutger Hauer, who never managed to find a role better than this one) might not have been able to pass the Voight-Kampff test, but Eldon Tyrell’s favorite son proved to be more than capable when it came to other things, even if said other things including killing a lot of people as a byproduct of wanting to confront his maker. Engineered to be constantly self-improving, Batty manages to apparently evolve past his limitations just before his death. In a strange way, he’s almost an inspiration, at least when it comes to crazy robot self-improvement.
From: The Terminator (1984)
Let’s be honest: when it comes to killer robots, it really doesn’t get much better than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s time-traveling cyborg from James Cameron’s sci-fi movie franchise. Sure, he might be on a mission to kill just one human being, but in doing so, he’s contributing to a worldwide genocide — and even if that doesn’t happen, he’s not particularly bothered who might just happen to die in the background while he’s getting his job done. I’m not the only one who thinks the series would have been better if he’d never ended up becoming a good guy, right…?
From: RoboCop (1987)
All robots should aspire to the example offered by the Enforcement Droid Series 209, a series that was built for one thing — keeping the peace on the difficult streets of a future dystopian version of Detroit — but ended up becoming something else altogether. Okay, that something else ended up being rogue killing machines that fought off the hero of the movie, and later still, entirely dysfunctional robot cops that were as interested in killing the citizens as protecting them, but nonetheless: respect the ambition behind such a transformation!
From: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
If we have to die young, let us die courtesy of gas and/or bullets shot from the nipple-guns of a beautiful fembot, courtesy of the genius of Dr. Evil. Yes, it’s true; on the face of it, they’re sex-droids that reinforce unnatural images of female sexuality that are more interested in appeasing the male gaze than facilitating better communication between genders, but on the other, they’re robots who kill people by shooting things out of their breasts, so it’s not like they’re all bad. (For those who thought I was heading somewhere else with that sentence, consider the ways in which the fembots subvert those same overly-sexualized images by implicitly making men helpless as a result of their sex appeal — and breast-guns. Look, it’s Austin Powers.)
From: Transformers (2007)
A welcome return to the killer robot norm in recent years, Megatron — and, indeed, all of his fellow Decepticons — are, for all their modernity and adaptability to the contemporary world, throwbacks to a bygone age where robots cared little for the fleshy ones who believed that they run the world, and instead only care about dominance and stripping the world of its natural resources. That Megatron shared a voice with The Matrix’s Agent Smith was merely icing on that already generous bad-guy cake. It almost makes up for the movie’s use of an entire race of good guy androids. Almost.
From: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
This is more like it. The Sentinels are part of X-Men lore — a series of killer robots created to exterminate the mutant race that, almost inevitably, ends up turning on its human masters whenever possible — and last year’s mutant superhero movie brought them to the big screen in a way that finally fulfilled their destructive potential. No, I’m not talking about the clunky (and, it turns out, easily defeated) giant models from the movie’s main 1970s setting, but the Omega Sentinels responsible for the killing spree as glimpsed in the future scenes. This is exactly what we want from our robot cinema, Hollywood. Stop giving us feel-good Johnny-5-alikes and start giving us more unstoppable machines that only want to kill. Everyone will thank you for it.