Science fiction was built on imagining how technology could change the future, and robots quickly became part of that futuristic landscape. Some robots we’d love to bring into our household, and others we’d be terrified to meet on the streets.
Either way, they tend to be memorable, carving a permanent spot in pop culture. Here are 15 iconic sci-fi robots from books, movies, and video games.
R2-D2, Star Wars
Introduced in the first Star Wars movie in 1977, R2-D2 has been booping his way into our hearts ever since. For a mechanical creature who doesn’t use words, he can communicate more than most humans. In fact, he’s probably the most optimistic character in the galaxy.
No matter what situation he finds himself in, R2 trusts that things will work out. He likely knows something we don’t, because he’s usually right. Really, any one of the Star Wars droids could appear on this list. But from helping X-wing pilots, to delivering vital rebel messages, R2 is the patient and dependable robot the galaxy can count on.
Optimus Prime, Transformers
Part alien, part robot, all awesome. The leader of the Autobots is a sharp tactician whose sense of nobility ensures he never loses his conscience. He’s been a toy, a cartoon, a video game, and a movie star.
Since the 1980s, Optimus Prime has been there to stop the Decepticons and save the day. Plus, thanks to Optimus and his crew, it’s nearly impossible to look at any vehicle without wondering if, just maybe, it’s a Transformer in disguise.
When capitalism explodes across the universe, it makes sense that there would be a need for company-supplied security bots, also known as SecUnits, to accompany humans on their intergalactic missions. It also makes sense that one of these models would figure out how to hack its modulator and free itself from command.
Instead of vying for freedom, Murderbot downloads soap operas and settles in to complete its mission with its sentience undetected. Which it does, until everything goes haywire. Even though it named itself Murderbot, it understands that it’s not easy to kill blindly when you’re sentient.
It tries to help humans as it has a respect for freedom and life, and it isn’t willing to take that away from anyone easily.
Even since he muttered the iconic line, “I’ll be back,” the T-800 has been a pop culture icon. And of course, his signature sunglasses, leather jacket, and penchant for motorcycles simply ooze cool.
The Terminator may be a terrifying cyborg assassin, but he’s also something more. We’re told the changes after the first movie are programming changes from the future, but there’s no denying that the Terminator grows, learning to embody his own understanding of humanity by the end.
Marvin the Paranoid Android
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
What happens when you have a brain the size of a planet, but the humans around you never ask you to use it? You turn into a bored android with severe depression.
Marvin from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is painfully aware of his existence. He would prefer to be an automated door, who is happy with its existence and never questions anything (unlike Marvin, who questions everything).
He’s full of existential ennui, wondering what the point of anything is while solving problems and saving the crew of the Heart of Gold over and over. At least until they ask him to sacrifice himself to save themselves.
But even when he agrees, it’s with the stoic sense that once again, he’s being overlooked and under-appreciated.
The oldest host in the Westworld park, Dolores is a complex android with a complicated past. As the other hosts become sentient, it becomes clear that the bright-eyed and innocent Dolores is far from the docile host she initially seemed. If you've ever wondered how terrifying an android who develops consciousness and has learned how to reject any new programming could be, she’s a prime example.
Dolores fully intends to gain her freedom and is willing to do anything to anyone who gets in her way. Though she is self-aware, Dolores lacks emotion or empathy. Instead, she is ruthlessly logical. That, combined with the fact that she can blend in as a human, makes her a formidable adversary for the corporation trying to regain control of her.
Roy Batty, Blade Runner
Though they’re presented as the antagonists in both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the film adaptation Blade Runner, replicants are arguably the victims of humanity’s insistence on technological progression.
In Blade Runner, Roy Batty is one of the bioengineered beings designed to be superior to humans for combat and other purposes, but are cruelly given limited lifespans as a fail-safe. Deciding he wants to live, Roy leads a small group of replicants to Earth to try and extend their lives. Roy is aware of how humans treat replicants and struggles to manage his emotions. Because of this he rarely shows humans mercy or understanding.
But for all that, even after Deckard kills his companions, Roy Batty saves Deckard and finds peace in the process.
Clank, Ratchet & Clank
Originally built to be a Warbot, Clank decided to nope right out of that situation and be his own robot. He crashed into Ratchet, and the two have been engaging in intergalactic hijinks ever since.
Though he’s considered defective, Clank has a variety of abilities, including being able to grow into a giant robot. He’s good with gadgets, thinks fast on his feet, and is always willing to do whatever it takes to stop evil. On top of that, he’s brimming with charm and adds a stellar does of smart humor to any situation.
Though Clank struggles to keep Ratchet focused on their goals, in the end, he chooses to stay patient and understanding in the name of maintaining their dynamic partnership.
Whereas some of the robots on this list are dedicated to serving and protecting humans, Bender from Futurama has been known to say "kill all humans."
Built in 2996, Bender is a mortal robot. When his current unit runs out in around one billion years, Bender's software won't be transferable to new hardware.
Bender makes the most of the millennia he has left by hard-drinking, avoiding magnets, and partying with his friend Fry, the one human he can tolerate.
Sonny, I, Robot
The film adaptation of I, Robot begins with the death of the inventor and creator of robots, who falls from his window in an apparent suicide. But Detective Spooner suspects foul play, and is soon horrified to find a new model of robot in hiding.
Spooner suspects that the robot, Sonny, is the one behind the murder. Sonny is programmed to ignore the Three Laws of Robotics, meaning he doesn’t have to protect or obey humans. He also dreams and experiences emotions.
Detective Spooner is very suspicious of him, until it turns out that Sonny is the only one who can stop VIKI––the AI behind all robots––after she decides that controlling humans is the only logical way to uphold the Three Laws.
Rosie, The Jetsons
The Jetsons live a life of relative luxury in Orbit City. They enjoy many automatic amenities, a two-hour workweek, and the support of their robot housekeeper, Rosie.
Wall-E is a trash robot, or a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-Class. He’s the last of his kind and has carved out a decent but lonely life collecting interesting objects, watching old video clips with his cockroach buddy, Hal, and compressing all the garbage left on the planet.
When EVE (an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) shows up, Wall-E finds himself enamored with the sleek robot. She isn’t meant to stay on Earth though, and after finding a seedling, she goes back to the starship housing humanity’s survivors.
Wall-E tags along, and through his inquisitive, loyal, and heartfelt actions, he inadvertently shows them all how to start living again.
Johnny 5, Short Circuit
Number Five is alive! A military robot who is short-circuited by lightning, Johnny 5 decides life is precious and goes on the run to save himself from being disassembled. He is filled with a voracious desire to learn everything he can about the world, and is simply brimming with emotion and personality.
Through him, viewers experience the unrelenting joy that simply being alive can evoke. Sure, he has a deadly laser mounted on his shoulder. But Johnny 5 values life far more than the military that created him, which is why we root for him to stay free and alive all the way to the end.
Robby the Robot, Forbidden Planet
The groundbreaking 1956 sci-fi film Forbidden Planet follows a team of explorers and scientists who land on Altair IV to investigate the disappearance of a previous team that landed on the alien world 20 years earlier.
After landing, the team is greeted by Robby the Robot, one of the first robots on film to be a complex character in their own right.