Science fiction and robots go together like Matthew McConaughey and rampant shirtlessness but the upcoming indie dramedy Robot & Frank does something different with artificially intelligent creations by having Frank Langella's aging jewel thief turn his robot caretaker into a co-conspirator and eventually a friend.
The directorial debut from Jake Schreier, written by Christopher D. Ford and co-starring Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden, is set in the near future but that's where it's sci-fi influence ends, preferring to put a safe and human spin on the robot tale, with Peter Sarsgaard's mild-mannered 'bot operating without malice, a desire to take over the earth or potentially faulty wiring that would let him become sentient.
Robot movies have, of course, run the gamut from comedies to animated romances to scary cautionary tales of what our futures may hold as we become more dependent on machines and with this upcoming contribution to the genre, we thought a top 10 list was in order. To note: we chose to exclude androids and those robots masquerading as one of us (sorry Blade Runner, Terminator 2, Metropolis), preferring our robots to look like, well, robots, metallic exterior, stiff movements and all.
Check out which flicks made our list of the Top 10 Robot Movies below.
Frank & Robot opens in select Cineplex theatres August 24.
|#10 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Having Alan Rickman voice Martin, the perpetually bored and severely depressed robot with a brain the size of a planet is some genius casting, even though the role owes as much to the British actor's distinctive throaty tenor as it does to the designers who ensured Marvin's oversized head and slumped shoulders helped communicate his deep unhappiness. Though the movie is about Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) saving the Earth from certain doom, Marvin is a stand-out part of the Garth Jennings sci-fi adaptation of Douglas Adams' book. It's also worth noting that Marvin the Paranoid Android bares some resemblance to the one in Robot & Frank. Let's hope that one is as sweetly endearing.
|#9 Silent Running (1972)
Bruce Dern is an ecologist whose passion for nature is put to the test when he's instructed to jettison the last remnants of a forest that he's been tending to aboard a space ship. He defies orders and decides to keep the plant-life alive, the only such greenery around in the future, and, finding himself alone on the space craft, turns to three service robots for companionship. That means playing cards together and even naming them Huey, Louie and Dewey after the DuckTales cartoon characters. While these drones weren't very sophisticated, they did help Dern's character stave off loneliness and serves as early examples of sci-fi movie robots.
|#8 The Iron Giant (1999)
Vin Diesel voices the metallic space giant in this animated feature from Ratatouille director Brad Bird. Set in the 1950s at the height of the Cold War, a boy's friendship with an enormous robot is all that stops an all-out war when a paranoid government agent makes it his mission to destroy the robot with outer space origins. Based on the 1968 book "The Iron Man," the Iron Giant is a hero who saves the day in this heart-warming tale of friendship that makes a pretty good case for how cool it would be to have a giant robot BFF. The Iron Giant looks like he could be cut from the same metallic cloth as Gort, capable of destruction but possessing a soft spot for the human race.
|#7 Robots (2005)
In a world full of robots, Rodney Copperbottom, a wannabe inventor out to save his father's business, stands out from the nuts and bolts crowd. Voiced by Ewan McGregor, Rodney the robot is a witty and charming whiz when it comes to re-working outdated robots and generally being an all-around good guy who longs to make the world a better place. Rodney is an idealist and the heart and soul of a ragtag group of recycled and outdated parts in this sweet movie about standing up for what you believe in. Plus, who could resist a bunch of robots that dance to James Brown?
|#6 Short Circuit (1986)
Johnny 5 is alive! Steve Guttenberg, Ally Sheedy and an unrecognizable Fisher Stevens star in this unlikely '80s classic that absolutely shows its age - not to mention racially insensitive casting and dialogue - but where Short Circuit got it right was with the one robot who comes to life after being struck by lightning and becomes a fugitive in a strange new world. It's a feather-light movie with a broad message about what it means to be human but it was family-friendly viewing at the time and has a robot trying to do Stooges slapstick, so chuckles are all but guaranteed.
|#5 I, Robot (2004)
Isaac Asimov's literary output has provided Hollywood with a handful of its best sci-fi storylines and this Will Smith starrer is no different. When his techno-phobic cop accuses a robot of murder, panic starts to set in as it suddenly seems like the machines may be rising up against their supposed human masters. The look and feel of the Alex Proyas flick may owe a debt to Blade Runner but the aesthetic choices in I, Robot were innovative and eye-catching enough to give off that ineffable futuristic dread, making the movie's setting, and technological threats, very believable.
|#4 The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Meet Gort (Lock Martin), the humanoid robot with the power to vaporize the earth thanks to a powerful laser beam that shoots out of his visor-covered eyes. He's part of an intergalactic police force, sent to earth with the very human-like alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie). Like a space RoboCop, he keeps an eye on the human race, disappears our weapons and issues an ultimatum to humanity: live peacefully or risk destruction. Gort got a snazzy makeover in the 2008 Keanu Reeves remake, which saw him grow from a seamless eight-feet-tall metal man to a giant Cyclops made of microscopic machines, capable of swarming into a target-devouring cloud. Now that's what I call a futuristic makeover.
|#3 RoboCop (1987)
Part man, part cop, all machine. With that kind of self-serious, all-in tagline, how could RoboCop not appear on our Top 10 list? Paul Verhoeven's dystopic sci-fi flick takes places in a crime-ridden Detroit where a policeman (Paul Weller) on the brink of death becomes a super-cop after scientists experiment with adding robotic elements to his body. RoboCop is violent, campy, intriguing and good enough to be remade with the likes of Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson come 2013. The investigation of what makes a person human isn't a new debate, but RoboCop's futuristic, R-rated look was definitely an original.
|#2 Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977)
Have you ever heard smart aleck robot banter consisting of an erudite English-accented golden bot and a beeping blue droid going back-and-forth like a married couple? The bond between George Lucas' metallic creations R2-D2 and C-3P0 was endearing and more than that, funny, meaning that Harrison Ford's sharp-tongued Han Solo wasn't the only one scoring laughs in the sci-fi classic. Forever part of pop culture, this wining robot duo have been imitated but never duplicated.
#1 WALL-E (2008)
Seven hundred years after humans have vacated the trash heap that is now Earth, all that remains is waste-collecting robot WALL-E. Looking like the offspring of Short Circuit's Johnny 5, WALL-E is a curious and lonely 'bot, enamored with the planet's trinkets, broken-down remnants of a time that once was...and show tunes. He's not sleek and futuristic like reconnaissance robot, and object of affection, EVE he looks like, well, a robot should. Armed with gadgets and gizmos, WALL-E's affectionate and likeable curiosity warms our hearts without ever saying a word in this Disney-Pixar Andrew Stanton classic.
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