Robots in Film
A Complete Illustrated History
of Robots in the Movies

Part 8

Robots in the Movies
Film/Year, Name of Robot and Film Description

Making Mr. Right (1987)


In Susan Seidelman's PG-13 sci-fi comedic romance, John Malkovich played a dual role:

  • emotionless, inept, grouchy and nerdy android creator Dr. Jeff Peters
  • lifelike android 'Ulysses', created in Jeff's image and intended for solitary deep space research for seven years

Intended comic confusion arose when the design company Chemtech Corporation's PR New Wave "image consultant" Frankie Stone (Ann Magnuson), who had promoted, packaged and 'sold' Ulysses (with a detachable, spinning head) to the American public, also taught the android about emotions, sensitivity and love. She ultimately fell in love with the more evolved and sexually-satisfying male robot, when Ulysses switched roles with his creator.

RoboCop (1987)

RoboCop; also ED 209

The first film in the series, by director Paul Verhoeven, was a graphically-violent film set in dystopic, crime-filled futuristic Detroit, with the tagline: "Part man, part machine, all cop."

It featured a cyborg - a half-human (with repressed and fragmented human memories), half-robotic, bullet-proofed, crime-fighting supercop (Peter Weller/Robert John Burke), officer Alex J. Murphy's alter-ego.

Alex was killed in the line of duty as a cop, and brought back as an invincible cyborg called RoboCop. The robotic enforcer was built by the corrupt local law-enforcement organization called the OmniConsumer Products Corporation (OCP). RoboCop took various elements of past robotic designs, such as Gort's head, "Fake" Maria's legs, and C-3PO's body. Beneath its exterior, it had a human face. When in sleep mode (in a chair), it was battery-recharged and reconfigured.

The film also featured the stop-motion animated ED-209 (Enforcement Droid Series 209) robot - a giant, awkward, faceless, hard-surfaced, top-heavy, self-sufficient, law enforcement robot for "urban pacification" - heralded as "a self-sufficient, law-enforcement robot" and "the hot military product for the next decade."

During an experimental demonstration in the boardroom, after the crouched, combat-stanced ED-209 gave a warning when a gun was threateningly pointed at it: "Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply," it malfunctioned and killed its opponent Kinney (Kevin/Ken Page) with a violent volley of shots from its Gatling gun hands, even though the weapon was surrendered. The faulty robot was excused by OCP Senior President Dick Jones (Ronny Cox): "I'm sure it's only a glitch, a temporary setback."

Sequels: RoboCop 2 (1990), RoboCop 3 (1993).



Spaceballs (1987)

Dot Matrix

Mel Brooks' science fiction comedy fantasy featured a wise-cracking character named Dot Matrix (Lorene Yarnell, voice of Joan Rivers). Dot Matrix was Princess Vespa's (Daphne Zuniga) gold-plated, protective Droid of Honor for her wedding on the peace-loving planet of Druidia.

The robot resembled a female version of Star Wars' C-3PO. Her name referred to a non-laser type of serial dot matrix computer printer that printed dots within a grid pattern.

Cyborg (1989)

Cyborg Pearl Prophet

In this post-apocalyptic, martial arts film, the starring character was not the cyborg (it was basically a red-herring for a film title).

Jean-Claude Van Damme starred as "the first hero of the 21st century," a mercenary named Gibson Rickenbacker whose mission was the rescue of a beautiful, but abducted cyborg Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon) from evil kidnapper Fender Tremolo (Vincent Klyn) and his band of "flesh pirates."

She was programmed with a possible cure for the plague that was slowly killing humanity.

The film was followed with the sequel Cyborg 2 (1993), with an early appearance by a young Angelina Jolie, and a direct-to-video release of Cyborg 3: The Recycler (1994). This cyborg film was typical of many that came out in the 90s, including Cyborg Cop (1993), Cyborg Cop II (1994), and Cyborg Cop III (1995) (aka Cyborg Soldier).

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands

Johnny Depp starred as shy, creative, white-faced, Frankenstein-like, unfinished Edward Scissorhands, an artificial life-form with unique scissor-hands - perfect for hedge and giant ice sculpting.

Reclusive, kindly Inventor 'father' (Vincent Price in his last film role) died before he could install real hands on the inherently-good 'son.'

Before being invited to live with a suburban family, Edward lived a lonely and naive existence in a castle overlooking the neighborhood.

Hardware (1990, UK)

M.A.R.K. 13 prototype killer combat droid

In this low-budget, cyber-punkish sci-fi horror hybrid film, an android head-helmet was found in the radioactive desert wasteland (previously in an area of New Jersey before an apocalypse) by an unnamed scavenger nomad (Carl McCoy).

Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) acquired the junked robot and gave it as a Christmas gift to his metalwork artist/girlfriend Jill Grakowski (Stacey Travis) who used it in one of her blowtorch and chain-saw sculptures.

The multi-limbed, intelligent military droid was originally government-programmed to kill people, without prejudice, as a means of population control (via the 'Emergency Population Control Bill'). The droid was named after a Biblical verse, Mark 13 ("Let no flesh be spared").

The humanoid skull (with an American flag painted on its headpiece) came to life (on Christmas Day, significantly) in her sculpture - the droid reconstructed itself from the various pieces of junk hardware in Jill's apartment, with glowing red eyes and a computer motherboard in the shape of a pentagram, claws, and a powerdrill. It then went on a killing rampage (with high-tech lasers and weapons).

The misogynistic MARK 13 first targeted Jill alone in her secure apartment, and conducted a simulated rape by forcing a revolving metal drill between her legs. The droid's fatal flaw was an inability to insulate against moisture - Jill lured the killer machine into her shower where she smashed it into pieces.

Robot Jox (1990)

Giant Mega Robots, specifically for example, the Western Market's red/white Matsumoto-14, or the Confederation's Vovalefski-42

In this Stuart Gordon film, warfare was strictly forbidden between nations following a nuclear holocaust of WWIII. However, the two major nations, the American-like "Western Market" and the Russian alliance "Confederation" could war against each other on large vast playing fields - but vicariously. They could fight by using giant mechanical robots, human-piloted by gladiator-like 'jockies' (or jox).

The film's tagline described them as the "ultimate killing machine. Part Man. Part Metal." The robots were equipped with various weapons, including lasers, missiles, and cannons. To be exacting, however, they were not really robots but anthropomorphic-controlled vehicles - that is, the movements of the giant robot mimicked the actions of the jox in a control harness, while weapons were fired by a combination of joy sticks, switches, and buttons.

Total Recall (1990)

Johnny Cab

In the film's futuristic world of 2084, taxi drivers were replaced by robotic automatons called "Johnny Cabs" (voice of Robert Picardo).

When asked by Mars virtual reality secret agent Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), "Where am I?," the whistling 'Johnny Cab' replied: "You're in a Johnny Cab." When Quaid again asked: "I mean, what am I doing here?...How did I get in this taxi?," the 'Johnny Cab' robot replied common-sensically: "The door opened. You got in," and then rolled its eyes.

Later, when pursued in a car chase sequence, Quaid jumped in another Johnny Cab and in anger (after swearing at the robot), grabbed the robot and tore him from the gear mechanism attached to the floor, and threw him in the back seat. As the cab sped away amidst gunfire, the robot comically cautioned: "Fasten your seat belt."

When Quaid escaped and left the cab, the robot chirped: "The fare is 18 credits, please," to which Quaid responded: "Sue me, dickhead," causing the robot to flare up and run the cab into a wall to create a fiery explosion - a defense mechanism to prevent unpaid fares. The tactic was unsuccessful in this case.

And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird (1991)


Two inventive Carson brothers, Josh (Joshua Miller) and Max (Edan Gross) won the local science fair by inventing a voice-activated robot that could move and collect garbage from one place to another.

They then went on to create a robot named Newman, which demonstrated a capacity for emotion when its memory chips were invaded (through a Ouija board) by the reincarnated spirit of the boys' dead father Matthew (voice of Alan Thicke), a computer genius who was thought to have committed suicide two years earlier.

Newman looked like a small, red, motorized, wheeled bell.

Robots in Film
(chronological, by film title)
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

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