24 Robot Movies That Will Make You Question Humanity
Robots have been featured in movies as far back as back as 1907’s “The Mechanical Statue and the Ingenious Servant,” proving moviegoers’ fascination with the intersection between humanity and technology is as old as cinema itself. In an era where the field of robotics is steadily advancing and AI is part of many people’s day-to-day life, there’s now an entire genre devoted to robot movies. But what’s most fascinating is all the different ways Hollywood portrays robots, cyborgs, and AI on screen.
Quite often, robots are the heroes of their own stories. Iconic robots like Wall-E, Chappie, and even Sonny from “I, Robot” are brilliant, but also wonderfully human in their actions. They transcend their programmed directives to become sympathetic characters who are sometimes at odds with the humans who made them – and for good reason. Humans tend to be the real monsters in movies about robots, thanks in large part to an inability to accept the technology they designed for one purpose has a mind of its own.
But robots can be the bad guys, too. Just as filmmakers relish juxtaposing the innocence of a robot against human characters indulging in the worst possible behavior, they also love to serve up a tale of technology gone rogue. You have to look no further than the power-mad HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to see our collective fear that technology might one day outsmart its creators and seek to usurp us. More recently, there’s the terrifying robot doll M3gan, who still haunts our nightmares.
Whether you love to root for robots or you like a robot tale that will send shivers down your spine, this list of the best robot movies has a robotic allegory for everyone. A few caveats: we included disembodied AI characters and cyborgs on this list as well, because it simply felt wrong to leave the likes of HAL and Alita off this list. Ultimately, they all face the same human prejudices and fears – it’s just that some of them are misunderstood, while others really are up to no good. Ready to dive into some robot classics (and future classics)? Read on for our picks for the best robot movies out there.
Best Robot Movies: "2001: A Space Odyssey"
Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” covers a lot of ground. Beginning with an eerie black monolith and ending with a wild trip through space and time itself, the movie is overflowing with big ideas about the creation of life on Earth, time travel, and technology. However, nothing in the movie is more famous than HAL, the ship’s computer system who begins operating on its own terms and turns against the human crew of a spaceship in deep space. As HAL refuses to take orders and begins acting on its own accord, the movie turns into an intense sci-fi horror movie that will make you side-eye your Alexa.
Best Robot Movies: "A.I. Artificial Intelligence"
Haley Joel Osment may be best known for his role in “The Sixth Sense,” but he’s also outstanding in 2001’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” a heartbreaking story about a robot child programed to love. David is the first robot with the ability to love, and he finds happiness when he’s adopted by the Swinton family, whose son is in suspended rest after he contracted a rare disease. Sadly, when their living son is cured, he becomes jealous of David, which leads the robot’s family to turn on him. Heartbroken, he sets out on a quest to become a real boy, like Pinocchio, and yes, it ends up being every bit as devastating as it sounds.
Best Robot Movies: "Alita: Battle Angel"
“Alita: Battle Angel” might be a controversial pick since Alita is technically a cyborg – she has a human brain and a robotic body. Still, Alita has no memory of her past when a scientist named Dr. Dyson builds her a new body, which means she essentially has to relearn what it means to be human. What really makes the character unique though is the way she embraces her robotic side, even becoming a champion in the racing sport Motorball. Unlike many robot and cyborg characters, Alita doesn’t wrestle with her humanity, she’s confident in who she is, which allows her to become a hero in her futuristic world.
Best Robot Movies: "Westworld"
Before it was a hit HBO series, “Westworld” was a 1973 movie starring Yul Brynner. The movie follows a similar plot to the show: Rich people pay an excessive amount of money to visit an amusement park populated by androids that allow them to act out their fantasies. At first, it’s all fun and games for friends Peter and John, until their stay in Westworld is upended by a computer malfunction. Soon, their vacation turns into a fight for survival as one of the androids stalks them across the park instead of simply dying when they shoot it likes it’s programmed to do.
Best Robot Movies: "M3gan"
“M3gan” the movie follows a toy designer who creates an AI robot to be the perfect toy and companion. But M3gan the doll takes her commands to protect her charge a little too seriously, and soon she’s murdering people. The doll became an instant classic when fans officially met her in January 2023, and yes, she’s getting a sequel.
Best Robot Movies: "Archive"
It’s entirely possible that you’ve never heard of the 2020 independent film “Archive,” but even though it’s not well-known, it still deserves a place on this list. The film stars Theo James as a scientist named George Almore, who is desperate to create the first truly human A.I. in hopes of being reunited with his dead wife. George has his wife’s consciousness stored and ready to be uploaded into the robot, but questions of ethics and disagreements with his other A.I. creations stall his progress. The budget for “Archive” may have been small, but this little movie is packed with big ideas, a stellar performance from James, and more than enough emotion to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
Best Robot Movies: "Big Hero 6"
Like most Disney movies, “Big Hero 6” will make you cry just as much as it will make you laugh. When the brilliant 14-year-old Hiro loses his older brother in a horrible explosion, he’s left angry and desperate to make the people responsible pay for their actions. In the aftermath, he activates one of his brother’s inventions, Baymax, a robot designed to care for people. But Hiro sees an opportunity to weaponize Baymax to defeat the people who killed his brother – which is something his brother never would have wanted. As Hiro processes his grief with the help of Baymax, he slowly begins to realize that it’s always better to help people than to hurt them.
Best Robot Movies: "Bicentennial Man"
Critics weren’t charmed by “Bicentennial Man” when it was released in 1999, but Robin Williams‘s performance as Andrew, a robot who is encouraged to explore his human qualities, is far too beautiful to be ignored. Andrew is initially brought into the Martin family’s home to serve as a housekeeper of sorts, but he soon displays signs of creativity and independent thought. He nurtures these qualities over decades until it’s clear he’s every bit as human as the people who created him, leading him to petition the World Congress to recognize him as a human with the ability to love and feel just like anyone else.
Best Robot Movies: "Blade Runner"
“Blade Runner” is a cyberpunk masterpiece that’s at once a gritty, sci-fi crime drama and an exploration of what it means to be human. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a jaded ex-police officer who is hired to deactivate replicants who are living on Earth illegally. These replicants look like humans, but they’re robots with a limited amount of time to live. Despite being built rather than born, the replicants possess human attributes and memories – and in at least one case, they sometimes have no idea that they’re replicants. This complicates Rick’s job as he begins to question whether or not he’s doing the right thing by deactivating the replicants.
Best Robot Movies: "Bumblebee"
All of the “Transformers” films are fun, and any of them could have made this list, but “Bumblebee” is by far the most ambitious movie in the franchise. In 1987, a young woman named Charlie is gifted a rundown 1967 yellow Volkswagen Beetle for her 18th birthday. For her part, Charlie is still processing the death of her father, so she intends to pour her energy into restoring the car. But when Bumblebee reveals himself to her, she becomes drawn into a world-saving mission that also helps her move on with her life and accept her new family dynamic thanks to a little help from her robotic friend.
Best Robot Movies: "Chappie"
There are plenty of movies out there about robots being used to police cities, but “Chappie” is special. Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, a British scientist is tasked with building a robotic police force, but he’s equally interested in seeing if he can imbue his creations with human emotions. Despite being warned by his superiors to stop his experimentations, he creates Chappie, a child-like robot with the ability to learn. At first, Chappie is innocent, but when a small gang takes him in, he learns how to use weapons, feel love, and eventually even experience rage. By the end, Chappie’s internal life is every bit as complex as any human’s, proving that you can’t have humanity without experiencing pain and loss.
Best Robot Movies: "Ex Machina"
Alicia Vikander gives a jaw-dropping performance that will keep you guessing until the very end in “Ex Machina.” She plays a robot named Ava who was created by a narcissistic CEO who recruits one of his programmers, Caleb, to prove his creation is capable of independent thought. The more time Caleb spends with Ava, the more enamored with her he becomes. The two soon hatch a plan that will allow her to escape the confines of the CEO’s remote home, but it becomes increasingly unclear whether or not Ava is truly interested in Caleb or if she’s simply manipulating him for her own gain.
Best Robot Movies: "Finch"
“Finch” is one of the most recent films on this list, but the potent combination of Tom Hanks, a dog, and a robot is too emotional to resist. Set 10 years after a solar flare left Earth mostly uninhabitable, a robotics engineer named Finch (Hanks) is racing against time to create a robot that will be able to care for his dog, Goodyear, after he dies. The end result is Jeff, an imperfect, but lovable robot who is eager to learn and gain Goodyear’s trust as Finch tries to teach him how to love and protect his pup when he dies. To say this is a 10-tissue movie would be an understatement.
Best Robot Movies: "Ghost in the Shell" (1995)
Forget the problematic live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson, the only version of “Ghost in the Shell” you need to see is the original 1995 anime movie. The story follows Maj. Motoko Kusanagi, who is a cyborg federal agent in pursuit of a criminal known as the Puppet Master. The Puppet Master hacks into the brains of cyborgs and change their identities – which hits close to home for Motoko. As the case intensifies, the agent becomes increasingly preoccupied by questions about her own identity, and a burning desire to know what life would be like if she was fully human.
Best Robot Movies: "I, Robot"
Isaac Asimov almost certainly never imagined his cerebral short story collection “I, Robot” would one day become a blockbuster movie, but thanks to the chemistry between Will Smith and Alan Tudyk, who voices the rogue robot Sonny, it absolutely works. Smith stars as Chicago homicide detective Del, who hates and mistrusts robots, which makes him an interesting choice to spearhead a case where a robot is suspected of murder. However, nothing is as simple as Del suspects, which he realizes when he meets Sonny, a robot who is capable of defying the Three Laws of Robotics, but who is still nowhere near as nefarious as his creators.
Best Robot Movies: "Her"
Siri, Alexa, Google – these are just a few of the A.I. assistants people talk to everyday. But what if you fell in love with one of them? That’s the question at the center of “Her,” a movie about a man who channels his grief over his divorce into a relationship with the disembodied voice of “Samantha,” an operating system who he falls in love with. More than anything else, this incisive movie serves as a smart piece of social commentary on our digital age. As people spend more and more of their time online, the risk of losing sight of the need for authentic human connection becomes all too real.
Best Robot Movies: "Short Circuit"
Is “Short Circit” a tad bit outdated? Yes, yes it is, but this oddball comedy is still a joy to watch. The movie focuses on Number 5, a robot who was built as a Cold War weapon that becomes sentient after being struck by lightning. After escaping from the facility where he was being held, Number 5 meets Stephanie Speck, a young woman who takes him into her home and teaches him about the world. Soon, the people who created the robot come looking for him, which leads to some madcap comedy as Number 5 and Stephanie attempt to evade them.
Best Robot Movies: "Wall-E"
With his big eyes and gentle spirit, it’s impossible not to love Wall-E, the central character in Pixar’s near-silent 2008 feature film. This absolutely stunning film begins with Wall-E, a glorified trash compacter, on Earth alone, aside from his pet cockroach. Despite having no companions, the little robot has gained an appreciation for humanity by sorting through the garbage humans left behind. Then another robot, EVE, shows up, and Wall-E finally learns what it means to have companionship. Ultimately, it’s his desire not to lose EVE that sets him off on an adventure that will ultimately bring people back to Earth and restore your faith in humanity in the process.
Best Robot Movies: "The Iron Giant"
Brad Bird’s directorial debut “The Iron Giant” is a gorgeous film about friendship, prejudices, and the dangers of letting fear dictate one’s actions. Set during the Cold War, the movie tells the story of an alien robot who befriends a young boy after he crash lands on Earth. The two form a fast friendship, as the little boy tells the robot it’s like the heroes from his comic books. Sadly, the friends are separated when the army comes to believe the giant must be destroyed and sets out on a mission that could jeopardize the whole world, simply because they fear something they don’t understand.
Best Robot Movies: "Metropolis"
Released in 1927, the groundbreaking silent film “Metropolis” is one of the first full-length sci-fi movies, and it includes one of cinema’s earliest robots. The German film is set in a futuristic society where the rich rule in towers high above the city, while workers toil for them below. When Maria, a woman from below, brings a group of children to observe the rich for a day, the son of the society’s leader, Freder, becomes disillusioned with his way of life. But as he grows closer to Maria, his father orders one of his underlings to create a robot version of her to stop her from starting a worker uprising. Instead, the man attempts to use the robot Maria to destroy the city of Metropolis entirely.
Best Robot Movies: "Pacific Rim"
Usually, robot movies are allegories about the nature of being human, but sometimes they’re also just big, noisy action flicks that are a ton of fun to watch. “Pacific Rim” falls into the latter category. However, that doesn’t make it any less worthy of earning a place on this list. In “Pacific Rim,” robots are known as Jaegers, and they’re operated by humans who are dispatched to fight off alien monsters known as Kaiju. The end result is basically a live-action Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots with killer special effects that will take your breath away.
Best Robot Movies: "Ron's Gone Wrong"
“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is the newest movie on this list, and its story is far too thoughtful to be ignored. In addition to being a big-hearted and funny film, this 2022 animated movie also serves up some wise commentary on the ways in which technology and social media can at times be isolating. When middle-schooler Barney receives a B-bot from his dad, he’s excited that he can finally be like all of his classmates. But his excitement is short-lived when he discovers his B-bot, Ron, is broken and must be taught how to be a friend before he can help Barney make any human friends of his own. Along the way, Barney realizes that his broken B-bot without access to the internet can teach him far more than the functioning ones his peers can’t stand to be away from ever could.
Best Robot Movies: "Star Wars: A New Hope"
“Star Wars: A New Hope” (and the Star Wars franchise in general) is so much more than a robot movie, but we would be remiss if we didn’t include two of cinema’s most famous robot characters on the list. Not only do R2-D2 and C-3P0 hold the distinction of being the only characters to appear in every single Star Wars movie, the lovable duo are also integral to the plot. What’s more is their odd couple dynamic adds some much-needed levity to the proceedings, while giving the franchise an extra dash of heart that’s only improved upon by the later addition of the equally charming BB-8.
Best Robot Movies: "The Terminator"
No list of the best robot movies would be complete without “The Terminator.” Released in 1984, the first film in the immensely popular franchise introduced the world to Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Terminator, a relentless killing machine sent back in time to stop John Conner from ever being born. While later movies made the Terminator a more sympathetic character, Schwarzenegger is absolutely terrifying in the original movie as he stalks Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner through bars and back alleys with one singular goal in mind: kill her before her future son has a chance to stop the robot uprising once and for all.