It was only a matter of time.
10) The Terminator
You’re probably wondering why Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic, nigh indestructible killer-from-the-future is so low on this list. Well if you think about it, the Terminator is actually kind of crap. It gets sent back in time to a point where no existing weapons can harm it and nobody even suspects the existence of Skynet or an army of evil machines, only to get its robot ass handed to it by a normal, un-militarised woman, who then goes on to tell her son all about it and prepares him for his role as future leader of the resistance. If the Terminator hadn’t even bothered to go back in time none of that would have happened and John Connor would have been as surprised as the rest of us when machines nuked us all. Doing nothing at all would have been more effective than what it actually did. And if that wasn’t bad enough, in the next two films the Terminators get themselves re-programmed to help the humans survive! Nice going there, genius. If I were Skynet I wouldn’t be too happy with their performance. Still, nice abs.
By the way, I totally AM Skynet.
9) Kato (Straight Title Robot Anime)
As much as I love Straight Title Robot Anime, the main reason I’m putting Kato in this list is for the hilarity of having an inane, basically useless little girl-droid from a ridiculously obscure Anime be higher on the list than the Terminator. Ok, that’s the only reason. I could’ve picked any of the adorable heroines of the show but I went with Kato since we both used to work in a library and because her ultra serious, pedantic attempts at creating humour are pretty darn hilarious, as is her ability to pull off her own head in the name of comic impersonation. Plus during the improv bits of the show, the other two ‘bots are actually pretty good, coming up with some witty lines, whereas Kato is rubbish at it. Watching her struggle desperately to come up with funny things to say just makes me want to give her a great big hug. And yeah, I know that ‘hug-inspiring’ will never get you top of many lists of coolest apocalyptic robots, but for a guy whose idea of a good post-apocalyptic film features a waste disposal robot and a cockroach, it’s enough for an honourable mention. Oh, Kato. If only you’d worked in the same library as me. I could’ve taught you the exquisite human art of trolling.
8) Colin (Mona Lisa Overdrive)
Colin, or the chip-ghost, is by no means the coolest AI/construct/robot/whatever in the Sprawl books, but he’s still pretty awesome. Originally made as a virtual tour guide for Japanese tourists to London, Colin’s appearance and personality were built to resemble the Japanese stereotype of the British. To that end, he is basically the artful dodger, right down to the chimney-sweep cap and ‘alright guv’nor?’ demeanour. Colin was given to Kumiko, one of the four protagonists of Mona Lisa Overdrive by her mob-boss father to keep her company as she is sent to London to avoid getting caught up in all his zany mob-boss antics. His only physical form is a small metal device which, whenever Kumiko grips it in her hand, grants her a wise cracking holographic guide only she can see, to assist her in navigating the shady streets and shifting alliances of futuristic London. Later on it is revealed that Colin has been augmented by daddy to contain enough cyber weaponry to level a small army, just in case. Say what you will about Yakuza crime lords, they sure know how to look after their kids.
7) The Eiffel Tower (Umbrella Academy)
That’s right- the Eiffel Tower is actually a giant robot space ship. And one day it goes berserk and the seven superpower-gifted but ever so dysfunctional kids of the Umbrella Academy are the only ones who can stop it. The ensuing chaos makes for a bizarre, hilarious intro to an even more bizarre and hilarious story, and “Just as I suspected: Zombie Robot Gustave Eiffel!” is one of the greatest lines in anything, ever. Since Umbrella Academy was written by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, I’m trying hard to come up with an MCR gag to use here. So far all I’ve got is the fact that though Gustave Eiffel may be dead and gone, believe me, his memory will caaaaaaaaarrry ooooooooon, will caaaaaaaaaarry ooooooooooon.
Yeah, not great. Hey, I’m tired.
6) Crimson Typhoon (Pacific Rim)
One way to guarantee that your ‘bot is badass is to make it really, really big. And they don’t come much bigger than the awe inspiring jaegers from Pacific Rim. Watching giant robots/monster fights on that kind of scale execulted so perfeclty made for easily the best movie of the summer. My favourite was the Chinese machine- piloted by three brothers, this bad boy is sporting some seriously awesome triple arm circular saw action and was more than a match for any kaiju that came crawling out of the sea to meet it. Until it got double teamed and torn to shreds, that is.
If you’re gonna destroy humanity and reign supreme over the earth, this is how to do it right. Unlike Skynet, AM didn’t even have to wait for the technological advances of 2029 to nuke us all to early graves- he did it all on cold-war era technology, analog tapes and all. A machine so big it literally takes up the entire world and keeps the last five humans alive artificially solely to torture them endlessly, even unto the ending of the universe? Can’t argue with that. Plus he has some pretty cool powers- being able to summon cyclones and massive birds to torment his playthings and even transplant their consciousnesses into formless blobs of jelly. By ‘cool’ I mean utterly, utterly terrifying. Be nice to your computer. One day it might take away your mouth.
4) Metal Face (Xenoblade Chronicles)
Like virtually everything else in Xenoblade Chhronicles, the villains are done very well. Over the course of the game you get to fight a whole host of believable, well developed antagonists whose viewpoint you can totally sympathise with even as you are appalled by the acts they commit. Metal face is NOT one of those villains. There is nothing sympathetic about a twelve foot hunk of metal with claws to put wolverine to shame. The first few times you meet him he is a silent, deadly killing machine with glowing red eyes, unknown motivations and a fondness for skewering your loved ones. Later, in one of the most surprising moments in the game, it is revealed he can speak, and not only does he have a voice, but he has a leery, sneering cockney accent, and his motivations for attacking you? For the sheer bloody fun of it. The shift from ‘silent menace’ to ‘pantomime villain’ it a bit jarring, but it’s pulled off very well. Every game needs a straightforward, evil for the sake of evil baddy you can focus your hate on and lock horns with again and again in the hope of finally taking the bugger down. For most of the time you fight him, Metal Face is totally impervious to all of your attacks, making some incredibly frustrating and tense battles as you try desperately to hold out until some plot twist saves you from his wrath. His eventual defeat is, needless to say, incredibly satisfying. One of the coolest, most badass looking machines around, and evil to the core.
3) Wintermute/Neuromancer (Neuromancer, Count Zero and sort of Mona Lisa Overdrive too)
(This entry will spoil one of the most mind blowing twists in the history of literature. Just sayin’.)
Taking over the world too much hassle? There’s an easier way. Just trick a grizzled hacker-for-hire, a chick with razor blade fingernails, a sadistic master of illusion, a clearly insane ex military general and a whole bunch of space-rastas into jailbreaking your evil AI twin out of cyber-prison and then fuse with him to use your combined power to create an alternate digital universe where every human being living or dead exists with you in one mind. Then use that one mind to contact other planets. For added bonus points you could then have your omnipotent unified consciousness shatter into several fragments which then wander around cyberspace, inspiring a cult of voodoo worshippers who willingly let you hijack their bodies.
No one ever sees it coming.
2) EVE/Eeevaaaaaa! (Wall-E)
Wall-E definitely has the heart, and if ever I need my garden clearing out I know who to call, but in most other situations EVE is the badass one of the couple. Capable of supersonic flight, ultra speed bubble wrap popping and packing a laser that can blow oil tankers apart, EVE definitely knows how to handle herself. Plus when she laughs her eyes make those upside down crescent moon shapes, which is kinda cute. She’s a gal of few words, and pretty high maintenance too- being rather prone to going totally comatose whenever she spots a plant- but her determination and loyalty were instrumental in bringing humanity back down to earth.
1) HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey)
So obviously I wanted to put Wall-E at the top of this list, but as I was typing a predictably soppy spiel about the power of love and friendship and proving that robots have hearts after all, suddenly my laptop started typing of its own accord. It simply said:
I’m sorry Paul, I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.
Whilst I was running a thorough virus scan I had time to reconsider, and concluded that maybe it had a point. Not only is he the archetypal malignant AI and the primary antagonist of one of the all time great cinematic accomplishments (to call 2001 a Space Odyssey merely a ‘film’ seems not to do it justice, so cinematic accomplishment, I say), HAL 9000 is one of the greatest characters- machine or otherwise- in all of science fiction.
For starters he’s the only character in the film to whom you feel any emotional attachment whatsoever. And that’s by design: the dialogue of the human characters is kept deliberately clipped and uninvolving; only HAL gets time to show any real emotion and his relationship with astronaut Bowman is the only human element in an otherwise cold and emotionless spectacle of a film. All this makes it all the more devastating when HAL decides to betray the astronauts and continue their mission alone. And yet even when he’s disconnected the life support of the guys in stasis and tried to lock Bowman and the other guy out in space, you still feel sorry for him as he is shut down. HAL’s attempts to plead for his life, and his expressions of fear and regret are truly moving, even delivered as they are in his creepy monotone. 2001 is an absolute mind blower of a film, spanning millennia, dealing with the most profound questions in the universe and using some of the most awe inspiring effects and cinematography ever filmed. So perhaps it’s fitting that for such a revolutionary, unconventional film that the only emotional connection comes from a glowing red eye in a box.