Real robots and sci-fi robots are not new. Since the Golden Age of Science Fiction, robots have both haunted and amazed us. In any given month, over 2 million robot related searches are done on Google alone.
Works of science fiction have long inspired the field of robotics. Robots and androids also have been an inspiration for speculative fiction authors since the beginning of the genre. In fact, the Bob Eggleton artwork above, used for the cover of L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future Volume 35, inspired “The Lost Robot” original story by Dean Wesley Smith.
When New York Times bestselling author L. Ron Hubbard wrote of robots, he really wrote about people—this quality set the trend of “humanized” robots and androids in science fiction at a time when the genre stories were about machines and machinery. For instance, in “Battling Bolto” a strong man pretending to be a robot discovers his boss is a robot, and in “Tough Old Man” an aging constable’s lack of feelings is not a matter of insensitivity, but of a secret—and surprising—side of his character. Both of these classic short stories can be found in L. Ron Hubbard’s When Shadows Fall.
While amazing leaps are being made in the world of real science, with robots like Honda’s Asimo (practically a fully functioning android!) and the Mars rover making it possible to explore other planets, we wanted to share some of the most loved science fiction robots and the books and movies that inspired them.
Meet giant robots and android robots—some are currently trending in the media and a few are from the dawn of television, and one of them is a famous robot that got his start in a video game.
Alita: Battle Angel
Set in the future, a cyber doctor salvages a cyborg woman by connecting her head with the powerful Berserker body. When she awakens, Alita does not remember the details of her former life and she must learn to navigate this new life on the treacherous streets of Iron City. James Cameron and Jon Landau are producing Alita Battle Angel as an American cyberpunk action film, based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series. Here is the movie trailer.
Atom of Real Steel
Atom is the “People’s Champion” in the robot boxing science fiction movie Real Steel. Heavy towering robots have taken over the boxing ring, washing up prizefighter Charlie Kenton. Charlie and his estranged son Max come together to create a championship robot boxer for one last chance at redemption in the ring. This film was based on Richard Matheson’s short story “Steel” published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which was also adapted into a Twilight Zone episode.
The Bicentennial Man was designed as a robot programmed for domestic chores. His uncommon characteristics, like his sensitivity to beauty and humor, lead him on a two-century journey to become more than human. The story was based on the science fiction novel The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, which is written in the Foundation universe. I, Robot, is a collection of Asimov’s positronic robot stories. (Definition: positronic refers to a computer brain created by Isaac Asimov that gives a sort of consciousness to robots.)
Baymax of Big Hero 6
Baymax is an inflatable health care robot whose purpose is to take care of people. He is activated by 14-year old Hiro Hamada, and together they fight to avert a deadly plot involving mass production microbots. Big Hero 6 is a Disney animated film inspired by a Marvel comic superhero of the same name and is now a manga series by Haruki Ueno.
Box of Logan’s Run
Box is the killer robot in the science fiction film Loganʼs Run. Set in a utopian future, where all is perfect, except that death is mandatory at age 30. The runners are hunted down by an elite police force known as Sandmen. Logan, one of them, decides to become a runner himself and join the resistance, only to find himself frantically pursued by a fellow Sandman. The original novel was written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.
State-of-the-art armor-plated attack robots have virtually replaced the human police force. One police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming to aide a gang of criminals. Chappie soon starts to develop the ability to think and feel for himself. This dystopian science fiction action crime thriller was directed by Neill Blomkamp.
Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation
Data is the robot in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is the sole survivor of an attack on his system. He is a self-aware fully functioning android that serves as the second officer on the USS Enterprise-D. His character replaced Spock in this new generation of Star Trek. The series follows the intergalactic adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and the crew, as they travel the galaxy and explore new worlds.
Robot K1 of Doctor Who
Robot K1 is an experimental prototype that starts to learn too quickly, proving too risky a project. While Robot K1 is thought to be retired, it is secretly programmed to kill using a disintegrator gun and his target is the Cabinet Minister and anyone who gets in the way. Doctor Who, a compassionate alien Time Lord, must not only stop Robot K1 but must discover who is behind the plot before it is too late and the death toll ratchets up. Robot K1 is the first of many robots that appear throughout the Doctor Who series.
Unbeknownst to Caleb Smith, an internet computer programmer, he has been chosen to be the human element in a capabilities test with Ava, a beautiful android with synthetic intelligence (IA). However, Ava turns out to be more self-aware and deceptive than imagined. Ex Machina is a science fiction thriller film by Alex Garland.
Gort of The Day the Earth Stood Still
Gort is the deadly robot in the American science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Gort was brought to Earth by an alien dignitary attempting to warn us. They soon find themselves involved in a government witch-hunt in this science fiction classic. Gort is an eight-foot-tall robot created using a seamless single piece of metal and armed with a laser weapon under his visor that can vaporize matter. This film is based on the short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates, an editor for Strange Tales and Weird Tales. The robot Gnut in the story became Gort in the movie.
HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey
HAL 9000 is the AI supercomputer that controls the Discovery, a spacecraft used for the mission to Saturn, in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This epic science fiction film was produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick and the novel was written by Arthur C. Clarke. HAL is capable of the highest levels of cognitive functioning, perhaps rivaling—and even threatening—the human mind.
The Iron Giant
A huge robot crash-lands on Earth and is rescued by a young boy. He tries to protect the gentle giant from the military and a nosy government agent. This Warner Brothers’ animation The Iron Giant captures both the imagination and heart. The story was inspired by Ted Hughes’ novel The Iron Man.
Johnny 5 of Short Circuit
Johnny 5 is the military experimental robot who escapes after short-circuiting in an electrical storm, in the high-tech comedy Short Circuit. After being struck by lightning, he is given consciousness and decides he’s human. The Defense Department is desperate to find him, but the young woman who found him is protecting him and teaching him a gentler way of life.
Giant Robo of Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot
Giant Robo, under the voice control of Johnny Sokko, battles countless menacing monsters threatening Earth. This flying robot with his huge size, fiery breath, finger-launching missiles, laser eyes, and physical strength ignited the imaginations of many early robot fans in this Japanese TV series brought to America in the ’70s. It was originally inspired by the Giant Robo manga series created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama.
Lost Robot is a huge warrior robot stranded in Lake Mead. Author Dean Wesley Smith, inspired by L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 35 cover art, writes an original Sky Tate mystery about the discovery of a giant robot warrior and his unusual relationship with a human. Artwork by Bob Eggleton. Order your copy and you will receive another book in the series for free.
Marvin the Paranoid Android of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the depressed robot controlling the spaceship Heart of Gold. Earth is being demolished to build an intergalactic highway, and just seconds before the destruction Arthur Dent is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to be a researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And thus begins this hilarious adventure through the Galaxy.
Mechagodzilla of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
Godzilla meets his match with Mechagodzilla—an enormous robot with the size and strength of Godzilla, further enhanced with rocket-propelled legs, nuclear finger missiles and made of indestructible steel. When the two super-monsters battle in this Japanese science fiction film classic, the entire world is confused by this Jurassic imposter.
Mega Man is the super fighting robot in a science fiction video game. The game has eleven main games and several spin-offs. A series of corrupted robot masters face Mega Man at the different stages of the game. Mega Man also inspired a Japanese Animated TV series where Mega Man and several video game characters battle Dr. Wily as he attempts to destroy the city with his evil machinations.
Optimus Prime of the Transformers
The science fiction action movie franchise, the Transformers, features the Autobots, a sentient self-configuring robotic lifeform from the planet Cybertron. Optimus Prime is the leader of the Autobots, and working with others like Bumblebee, forms an alliance to protect mankind against his arch-nemesis Megatron and his Decepticons.
R2-D2, C-P3O, BB-8 of the Star Wars franchise
The Star Wars science fiction movies have long featured robots and androids (known simply as ‘droids’) as integral characters. R2-D2, C-P3O, and BB-8 are universally recognized robots. This epic space opera is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. There are eight main movies so far released (and several other character and sub-plot movies) and many books in the series.
Robby the Robot of Forbidden Planet
Robby the Robot was designed by Dr. Morbius, a stranded survivor on the distant world of Altair IV, in the classic science fiction film the Forbidden Planet. He was programmed using the deciphered secrets of a long-extinct race. When a rescue mission arrives 20 years later, Dr. Morbius refuses to give up the technology and mysteriously the rescuers start being killed off.
Alex Murphy, a murdered Detroit cop, becomes RoboCop—a crime-fighting cyborg equipped with high-tech weaponry in this science fiction action film. Despite his nearly indestructible exterior, he has nightmares of his previous existence and his murder that drive him to do more than fight crime—he wants revenge.
Robot 7723 of Next Gen
A top-secret combat robot known as 7723 teams up with the rebellious young Mai in this action-packed animated Netflix feature movie. They set out to stop a vicious madman from world domination. Here is the Next Gen trailer.
Robot B9 of Lost in Space
The un-named B9 robot from the TV series Lost in Space has become an iconic cultural image, and often demonstrated human characteristics, and is remembered for warning young Will Robinson of impending danger by saying, “Danger, Will Robinson!”
Roy Batty (Nexus-6 replicant) of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049
Roy Batty is the renegade leader of the Nexus-6 replicants, in Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Originally created for off-world military service, he is a combat replicant and main antagonist. Agent Deckard hunts the destructive fugitive replicants in this high-tech dystopian science fiction thriller inspired by Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
In a future where Skynet’s synthetic intelligent machine network has virtually wiped out mankind, John Connor forms a resistance. To stop the resistance before it is begun, a ruthless cyborg terminator is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, John’s mother, before he is born. The Terminator franchise was created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd.
WALL·E, a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class, is the last functioning robot on Earth. He has spent 700 years cleaning up the planet one piece of trash at a time. 700 years is a long time and he has become very lonely. When the spaceship Axiom sends in the EVE probe in search of plant life, WALL·E is smitten. WALL·E embarks on his greatest adventure as he follows EVE across the Galaxy in this animated masterpiece by Pixar.
Yod of He, She and It
Yod is a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions, and the ability to kill, and created to protect Tikva, the Jewish free town in Marge Piercy’s cyberpunk novel He, She and It. When Shira returns home to Tikva, she is recruited by her brilliant grandmother to help protect the city and meets Yod, who she develops an unexpected relationship with.
This article would not be complete if we did not share some amazing videos about real robots that show the leap from science fiction robots to reality:
Let us know your favorite sci-fi robot.
Other articles and resources you may be interested in:
10 Sci-Fi Weapons that Should Never be Invented
Science Fiction Books and the Power of the Human Spirit
Science fiction is the herald of possibility: How fantastic fiction has become science fact
This is great! I enjoyed the overview of the robot lit and I placed my pre-order for the anthology. I enjoy the WOTF anthology every year!
Thanks Tom! Glad you enjoyed the article and even happier that you preordered your copy of the new book. With other comments being made, I am learning a lot about just how many robots exist in the realm of SF.
Roy Batty isn’t a robot, strictly speaking.
Missing from the list:
1. The upgraded B9 in the new series of Lost in Space.
2. The robot that looked like a logo in Interstellar
3. The helper robots in Silent Running
5. Ghost in the Shell
6. Death Machine
7. The toaster on Red Dwarf
8. Skaffen Amtiskaw and the other drones and Minds from Iain M Banks’ Culture series
9. All the robots in Disney’s Black Hole, especially the big red one with the kitchen appliance fingers
10. The fixers from Batteries Not Included
My favourite? The little black thing on the Death Star that’s afraid of wookies.
Wow. You know your robots! For the sake of terminology and this blog, and as I am still sort of old school on robots, replicants (with or without the visage of Rutger Hauer) qualify loosely speaking. 🙂
I like that you enjoy the little MSE-6 Mouse Droid on the Death Star being afraid of Chewy.
SUPER cool list! You’ve covered all my favorites, and many that I have never heard of – so thanks for the tips, I’ll be checking those out.
As far as real robots, I’d add just one more (or a class of robots) to the list: robots that have explored another planet in our Solar System, Mars! They are: Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity.
Hi Robert, Thanks for the additional robots. Feel free to add their images if you want. While the robots included in this post are fictional, yours are the real thing!