Robots are all about making the unreal seem real and movies are often the same way. So it would make sense that the first could be memorable when combined with the second. Let’s look at a few of the best robots in movie history.
Number 5 alive. Silly as he may be, Johnny Five from Short Circuit was the go-between for a story of friendship and a free chance for one-liners. Beyond being on the run from the government, he learned how to drive by hijacking Stephanie’s snack truck, danced like he was John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and cooked. Ok, “mixed thoroughly” may not have been fully understood, nor taking hash browns out of the box before heating. A sample one-liner is in response to Steve Guttenberg asking how the robot could ignore its program for killing:
“Of course, I know it’s wrong to kill but who told you?”
“I told me.”
He can even be a window into our commercialism, with an offhand: “Campbell Soup, a meal in itself.” Johnny Five, in his 1980s comedy sort of way, a robot all his own.
Johnny 5 robot from Short Circuit was sold at auction for $138,000. Image: Rik Morgan / Wikimedia Commons
Fearful, funny, and unforgettable, C-3PO from Star Wars at times seemed more human that robot, actually worried about getting killed and even dealing with feelings of cowardice. Though R2D2 didn’t talk, it was often the little bot’s influence that kept C-3PO in the fight, pressing on to help his surrogate family. Having that “I was behind you all along” attitude, C-3PO also could be quite two-faced.
This is basically C-3PO and Your Show of Shows wrapped into one, but when you have Joan Rivers’ delivery and Mel Brooks’s words, you can have hearty laughs. When our heroes from Spaceballs are about to meet their own Yoda, and John Candy says their surroundings look like the Temple of Doom, Rivers replies: “Well, it sure ain’t Temple Beth Israel.” From running away from the Schwartz’s steam to complaining about sand up her gears, Rivers’ performance—for her—is restrained and makes for one funny bot. The late Roger Ebert questioned why they waited so long for a Star Wars parody, that it would have been funnier if it had been done years before. I don’t know—I’m still laughing.
Figure of C-3PO at the San Diego Museum of Man. Image: Wikimedia Commons
In Robot & Frank, a story of a lonely elderly man and a robot (VGC-60L) who provides care and companionship, the machine reminds us that it isn’t real but Frank somehow senses their connection is. The moment when Frank wipes the robot clean of memory looks more like a man struggling to give in to a hug, to give in to fully feeling an experience he knows happened.
Maybe the most lovable cinematic creation since E.T., his movements are robotic yet cleverly human. Also with a statement to be made on the environment, the film has a potentially deeper impact through this wonderfully idiosyncratic robot. He often says so much without saying a word in the entire movie, though he's not without his squeaks.
Eric Butterman is an independent writer.
Maybe the most lovable cinematic creation since E.T., his [WALL-E] movements are robotic yet cleverly human.
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