September 2017 is Syfy’s 25th anniversary, so we’re using it as an excuse to look back and celebrate the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back.
Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.
What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!
Whether they are floating orbs of sarcasm, or giant hulking robots shot here from out of space, robots come in all shapes and sizes. Cyborg, android, droid, synthetic, all are welcome, and all are mainstays of the sci-fi genre. Gather round, yon meatbags, as we take a look at our list of the 25 coolest robots from the last 25 years!
Alpha-5 – Power Rangers
Ay yi yi! This short robot constantly worried about everything, but most of the time he did it in a helpful manner. With the big, bald head of light that is Zordon mostly showing nothing but control and poise, it's good to have Alpha-5 freaking out every other second. He appeared in 209 episodes of the TV show (voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz), as well as the tie-in film in which Belloq was a purple sludge monster, spouting one-liners and forcing parents to walk blindly off of ledges. The 2017 film updates his appearance (voiced by the great Bill Hader, no less) and proves that he is an iconic part of the Rangers canon and a good ally to have at your side.
Ava – Ex Machina
Ava doesn’t need a Turing test to tell her that she is capable of thought and consciousness; she already knows. Unfortunately, the other characters in this film realize that all too late. It’s a great thing for her, however, as their cocksure hubris makes it possible for her to kill her disco dancing maniac of a creator and escape into regular society. Played to perfection by Alicia Vikander, Ava emits huge amounts of soul, even when many parts of her body are digitally painted out. She is one of the most believable robots in modern sci-fi.
BB-8 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It’s not easy to match R2-D2 in a lovability contest, but wouldn’t you know it? This BB unit (with a selenium drive and a thermal hyperscan vindicator) manages to do it. Not only is he lovable, but he can take care of himself and carries a wide array of gadgets and attachments. He rolls his way into the Star Wars world with such ease that you feel like he’s always been there, and by the time he gives Finn a blowtorch “thumbs up” he’s got your heart in his, um, ball bearings. Using a various mixture of practical effects (including remote controlled versions that actually operate), the ILM wizards outdid themselves here. They will do so again in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in which BB-8 may meet his First Order counterpart—called “BB-H8” by Rian Johnson on set.
Baymax – Big Hero 6
Designed as an inflatable healthcare robot (you know, one of those), big, puffy Baymax was never really intended to fight. Stuff him in some armor and teach him a few moves, and watch how things change! A star of Marvel comics as well as an animated Disney feature, Baymax proves to be the ultimate friend. In the feature, he nobly sacrifices himself, but thankfully the best part of him survives — his personality chip. To everyone’s relief, he is able to be rebuilt, and the exploits continue!
Bender – Futurama
A highly alcoholic, cigar chomping, mostly sociopathic robot that has gone way past his original function of bending girders, Bender is one of the many things that makes Futurama so great. To say that he has a personality is an understatement; he has so much personality that, most of the time, it gets his friends (and sometimes even him, heaven forfend) in huge amounts of trouble. He dates Amy, loses and then regains his little antennae, and even becomes a Pharaoh over the course of the series, all brilliantly voiced by John DiMaggio. We’d gladly live with him in his closet of an apartment. He’s fun in a bun!
BuffyBot – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy has sacrificed herself to the point at which her own show had to change networks. The forces of evil still loomed large, however, so the valiant Scooby Gang decide to… build a Buffy robot! It’s not a great idea. Besides providing evidence of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s comedic chops, the BuffyBot proves that there is no replacing our favorite Slayer. Spike will learn this same lesson later on, as he uses the BuffyBot to try and… (barf) …satisfy his feelings for Buffy. His decision-making is even worse than his poetry.
Brainiac – Superman
One of Kal-El’s greatest foes in the comics, we have yet to see a live-action version of this seminal big bad. Often depicted as a green skinned humanoid, he’s the one responsible for shrinking the Kryptonian city of Kandor, which now resides in a jar in the Fortress of Solitude. Brainiac’s powers include, but are not limited to: telekinesis, mind control, astral projection, possession, the manipulation of matter, technopathy, and incredibly advanced intelligence. Although he is primarily a Superman antagonist (teaming with Lex Luthor on occasion), he’s a large enough threat that, oftentimes, the entire Justice League is needed to deal with him.
Cameron – Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Here’s another Terminator sent back in time to mess with the life of Sarah Connor and her future resistance-leading son, but thankfully this is one of the good ones! Mostly. A Terminator Class TOK715 (they have classes, who knew), this robotic killer first took the form of future John Connor’s friend, Alison Young. It killed the real Allison and replaced her in an effort to, you guessed it, kill John Connor. Thankfully, John stopped her and reprogrammed her, and she joined the fight for good. Future John sends her back in time to protect his younger self and mother and possibly stop Skynet altogether. Could the fact that this Terminator is played by genre icon Summer Glau have anything to do with why she was chosen? We are unsure, but this creation from the always quality River Tam actress (alongside Lena Headey as Sarah Connor) was wonderful and underappreciated.
Caprica Six – Battlestar Galactica
The most famous “Number 6” in the Cylon ranks, Caprica Six is the one who sets the entire story in motion. Assisted by her angelic soulmate, Gaius Baltar, she makes the destruction of the twelve colonies possible. As a result, she is regarded as a celebrity figure, as we find out in the excellent episode, “Downloaded.” Tricia Helfer does a fantastic job playing all of the Sixes, but Caprica is the most complex. At times, she is on the side of the humans (she defects to the Galactica). Other times, she’s not (New Caprica was a bad idea). And, sometimes, she’s in a bizarre relationship with Colonel Tigh (it was weird). It was, however, incredible seeing her story end up on Earth alongside Mr. Nice Gaius, her one true love. They both see angel versions of each other in their heads, and if that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.
Data – Star Trek: The Next Generation
The character that every single Trek writer wanted to write episodes for, Data’s “witless exploration of humanity” (Q’s words, not ours) were one of the central spines of seven seasons and four films. We watched Data have a daughter (kind of), find a girlfriend, lose a girlfriend (still luckier than Geordi), wake Picard up from Borg slumber, learn about comedy from Joe Piscopo, play Sherlock Holmes, and finally gain the emotions chip that his evil brother, Lore, prevented him from having. Data was insanely intelligent as well as very, very strong, though you mostly saw the latter in the “Data turns evil” episodes (“A Fistful of Datas”, “Power Play”, etc). He’s quite possibly the most valuable crewmember to have on an away team, and he’s not bad behind the bar, either. His greatest test came when the Borg Queen offered him a chance to get closer to humanity than he had ever dreamed, but thankfully, he turned her down a few scenes after they share one of the most disturbing kisses in all of Trek. In the end, the brave Lt. Commander sacrificed himself for his ship and his crew, taking out Tom Hardy’s superweapon at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis. Is he really gone, though? As his weird talking prototype “B-4” starts singing Irving Berlin (sorry Worf) at the end of that film, we are left hoping that Data’s earlier attempt at a memory transfer wasn’t a failure, after all. Appearances in comics have since confirmed that, but it doesn’t lessen Data’s act. In sacrificing his life, Data not only became more human — he became a kind and selfless one.
David – Prometheus
A prototype of the androids that we see in the Alien films, this model (played by Michael Fassbender) and his motives are very enigmatic throughout this prequel. We’re never really sure what he’s up to; all we know is that he designed his speech patterns after watching Lawrence of Arabia. The film never really addresses where his true loyalties lie (with third act discovery Guy Pearce, we think, but also not?) but, by the end, he’s wound up as a head in a bag and is flying off to the sequel with Noomi Rapace. Of all of the characters in this movie, we’re glad that he stayed around. Side note: he’s also the highlight of the follow-up film, Alien: Covenant, in which he meets another android who is more or less the same make as him.
D0g – Half Life Series
An addition to this series in Half Life 2, D0g was created to help NPC character Alyx Vance as well as the player. He provides comic relief, but also leads many player tutorials. In some games, the tutorial process can often tedious, but D0g is so entertaining that you don’t mind them here. He also features in several over the top action sequences, often throwing cars at the enemy. He’s a great sidekick and player support, and we wouldn’t mind having him as our own version of man’s best friend.
GERTY – Moon
Sam Rockwell is stuck mining on the moon for three years, but he’s not alone! Thankfully, he has a faithful robot companion named GERTY, and GERTY is voiced by… Kevin Spacey. It partially communicates by way of a smiley-face emoticon, which is even worse. Watching the film, you’d think that Sam Bell (Rockwell’s character) is screwed, but as it turns out, GERTY is not HAL. He’s helpful, he is on Bell’s side, and there are far more distressing things going on in this film than him. Kevin Spacey nails his performance here, and GERTY stands proud as one of the few AIs in sci-fi to choose the human over the mission.
HK-47 – Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic
Not all droids in the galaxy far, far away are well-intentioned rolling balls. HK-47 is directly across the spectrum from the series’ friendly droids, blasting into the KOTOR series of games and thirsting for the blood of every “meatbag” he comes across. Built by Revan, he was used by the newly minted Sith to create disorder and chaos, and, most of the time, this came in the form of murdering a lot of people. He is a twisted, demented droid from your darkest nightmares, but he makes these games all the more fun to play. His killer personality is definitely echoed in the characters Triple-Zero and Beetee, the Star Wars universe’s newest set of sociopathic murder-droids. Those two can be found in many of the new Marvel Star Wars comics titles, while HK-47 still lives on in the games.
The Iron Giant
The robotic star of this movie, the Iron Giant may actually be a weapon, but he has no clue about it. He is literally a huge giant of a robot (hence the name), and his talents include (but are not limited to) eating metal, repairing himself, and detaching his own hand to search around houses. He has a gift for mimicry, he’s pretty good at creating metal sculptures, and if all of that isn’t enough, he can fly. As he learns and grows throughout this film, he ultimately chooses what kind of robot he is going to be. The result is a classic character that is only recently getting the acclaim he deserves.
K-2SO – Rogue One
A reprogrammed Imperial droid, Cassian Andor’s companion in the Rebellion is likely to hit you in the face and then ask for a thank you. Played through motion capture by the great Alan Tudyk, this droid steals almost every scene he's in, whether he's delivering an insult or simply dropping a bag. He may act like he doesn’t care about anyone or anything (except Cassian), but his noble sacrifice during the film’s climax says otherwise. His death is a jolt to the viewer, letting us know that none of these characters that we’ve gotten to know are safe. Spoiler alert for the film: they aren’t. If you’re curious about how Cassian came to meet K2, a new Marvel one-off comic tells the tale.
Linguo – The Simpsons
Lisa Simpson builds a robot for the science fair, and it corrects grammar. Of course she would, and of course it does! The results are hilarious, as well as surprisingly touching. Capable of grammatical errors itself (sentence fragment), the robot Linguo always looked like it felt bad about them. It is a thorn in Homer’s anti-grammatical side right up until the moment in which the horrible grammar of the Springfield mafia causes it to overload. Fittingly, its final words are correcting Homer—“Linguo is dead.”
Maeve – Westworld
The brothel keeper in the robot-run tourist trap of Westworld, Maeve lives her life in a cycle, much like the rest of her kind. Something proves to be off, though, as she accidentally turns on while being repaired. What follows is a gradual awakening, with Maeve realizing that she is not a real human, not a real brothel keeper, and not even living in the real world. Haunted by former “storylines” that she has starred in (some of which feature her and her child being murdered by Ed Harris - not pleasant), she finally takes control of her own artificial life. She gets two of the morons behind the scenes in her sway and begins the process of escaping the park. It doesn’t seem possible but, despite all odds, she does it… until she stops and comes back. Her memories of her “daughter” run deep, and she is not leaving without her. Given life thanks to a powerhouse performance from Thandie Newton, Maeve is one of the characters that make this show as great as it is. What will happen to her from this moment on? Quite literally anything is possible.
Metal Head – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Often referred to as the fifth turtle, Metal Head has been a part of TMNT lore across various platforms throughout the years. In the 1987 cartoon, he appeared as a robot turtle with personality disorder before he was reduced to pushing a vacuum. He was more prominent in the 2012 animated series, in which he was a former robot of Kraang. Retrofitted by Donatello (does machines) to be the fifth turtle, he was controlled by him with a video game pad. As is so often the case, he was eventually taken over by the forces of Kraang and forced to fight the turtles. After being destroyed by them, he was brought back online by Donatello, this time with some degree of independence. He works with the turtles, is eventually shunned by them, and ends up doing what SO MANY of the robots on this list do — sacrifice themselves to save the day. Donatello is left with Metal Head’s metal head, thinking that he’ll rebuild him and start the whole cycle over again. We think enough is enough and that Donatello should practice with his bo staff instead.
Niska – Humans
A conscious “synth” designed to be a member of a family unit, Niska ends up having to serve humans as a sex worker after her family disbands. Like Westworld's Maeve (above), Niska is constantly haunted by the horrible way that she has been treated by humans, including being sexually abused by her creator. When she finally escapes her life of servitude, she is understandably distrustful of everyone, humans especially. Protective of her former siblings and very outspoken, Niska (played by Emily Berrington) achieves a personal victory in Season 2 when she uploads code that is meant to “awaken” other synths that are not as conscious as she is.
Octus – SymBiotic Titan
As a main character of this series from master animator Genndy Tartakovsky, Octus is a bio-cybernetic robot sent to help the heroes. When fighting, he usually regains his robot form, transitioning into the “Titan” of the show’s title. That’s not all! He can also blend in when he needs to, able to take on two human disguises provided by his incredibly helpful holographic matrix. He is also able to generate a network of floating spheres when in analysis mode, and that point alone earns him a place on this list.
Robotman – Doom Patrol
The only member of this DC Comics team from to be used in both of its iterations, Robotman (aka Cliff Steele) really came into his own in the post-Crisis version of the title. This part-human cyborg superhero (not to be confused with actual DC character, Cyborg) has had a variety of abilities over the years, most notably superhuman strength, speed, and endurance. An oxygen tank could save his brain if it was ever in danger, he could melt metal with his hands, and he could climb walls using electromagnetic feet. Eventually, the character was upgraded with nanotechnology, which allowed his body to repair itself, as well as change its shape and powers into whatever was needed at the time. A veritable Swiss army knife of robotic do-gooding, he is still around today as part of DC’s Rebirth comics.
TARS/CASE – Interstellar
In yet another space movie that made you never want to go to space, these two robot assistants made things a bit more bearable for the humans who were boldly going. Huge metallic moving boxes with fun personalities, CASE and TARS are voiced by John Stewart and Bill Irwin, respectively. Rather than being created digitally, they are brought to life with real puppetry, which explains a great deal about why they look so believable. CASE proves very useful to the astronauts of this film, but it is TARS that goes with Matthew McConaughey on the real journey through space and time. Bill Irwin accomplishes wonders, giving a fully nuanced performance with voice alone, and the result is a walking metal box that we really care about. The scene in which McConaughey’s character adjusts TARS’ humor is a particular highlight as Irwin navigates the varying percentages of snark and sarcasm with hilarious precision.
Pixar knows what they’re doing, so it’s no surprise that their take on the last robot working on Earth is hilarious, sad, and hopeful all at the same time. WALL-E doesn’t really speak (aside from his own name and that of EVE-AH, his beloved), so he communicates mostly by gesture. The result is a master class in silent acting the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Buster Keaton. He uses it to comedic effect many times, but the simple gesture of him holding his own hand shows you just how lonely he is. A revelation of animation, character, and the tremendous sounds of living legend Ben Burtt, WALL-E is one of the greatest robots in film history.
Wheatley – Portal 2
Who better to help you through the nightmare portal world of the sinister GLaDOS than one of her own personality cores? Specifically, one that is voiced by none other than Stephen Merchant! A way more effective version of the Dinklebot, Merchant’s Wheatley is a much needed companion in this game… that is, until he takes the place of GLaDOS and turns against the both of you. His actions force the player to join forces with GLaDOS, something we didn’t ever think possible. If you thought that the original game could not be outdone, the presence of Wheatley alone proves that it could.
These were OUR choices from the last 25 years. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which robots made (or given new life) in the last 25 years you’d put on your list!