Home / Features / Nostalgic Impulse: The best and the creepiest robots in popular culture

Nostalgic Impulse: The best and the creepiest robots in popular culture

A recent article on The Guardian got me thinking about robots. Yes, I admit to thinking of them in that fear-mongering, panic-stricken way that many people do post-Terminator. I often wonder when the robots will take over the world. It seems that with every new tech report on the wonders of modern robotics, we get one step closer to Skynet. Am I crazy or do I have a point?!

As so many things do these days, the article put me in a reflective mood and I begun thinking about my favourite (as well as the scariest) robots that have featured in pop culture over the years.

The best pop culture robots

5) The replicants in Blade Runner


I am listing replicant’s in the ‘cool’ list rather than the ‘creepy’ list, as even Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty is pretty damn awesome. He is so intelligent, that he causes his creator’s grief. And why shouldn’t he? He knows that he will die, that his four-year expiration date is coming up, and he wants to save himself (who wouldn’t?). Meanwhile, we all fall a little bit in love with sad replicant Rachael. It also wouldn’t surprise me if ‘pleasure model’ Pris Stratton (Daryl Hannah) didn’t appear in many a fanboys’ wet dreams.

4) Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation


Anyone who doesn’t love Brent Spiner… you suck. Yeah, you will find no logical, carefully thought out argument from me on the subject. I love this guy. I loved Data – his fascination with Sherlock Holmes, his pet cat (Spot), and his attempts at imitating human emotions. And then I met him at a sci-fi con. Best. Guy. Ever. Take that to the bank. But Data really was a cool android. And Lore – Data’s evil twin-droid – set up some great punch lines for Futurama.

3) Wall-E from… well… Wall-E


This little guy is just too cute. He reminded me of all the pets I’ve ever had, molded into one. His curiosity and determination melted my cold heart. I loved the idea that this little lonely robot would continue on his trash-compacting mission, but over time, he obviously would go a little mad.

2) Bender in Futurama


Bender was built specifically for one task – bending. And he’s damn good at it. What else is he good at? Being offensive, lying, cheating, stealing, and drinking booze. Despite his abhorrent behavior, Bender is incredibly lovable. His touching friendship with Fry underpins the show. I still have the door-poster of Bender I bought for the back of my University room. Bite my shiny metal ass!

1) C-3PO and R2-D2 from Star Wars

c3po and r2d2

I am lumping these two together because they are both awesome. Poor C-3PO gets a bad name compared to his astro-droid counterpart, but I have always been a fan. Would R2-D2 be so awesome if he didn’t have C-3PO as a straight man foil? Who would have thought that a story told primarily through the viewpoint of two droids would be such a hit? They are the quintessential droids – the droids that all future droids will be compared to.

Honorable mentions go to: Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Robot from Robot and Frank.


The creepiest pop culture robots

5) Ash in Alien, Bishop in Aliens, and David in Prometheus


First, Ian Holm’s character is surprisingly revealed to be an android in the first of the Alien films, then we meet creepy Lance Henriksen as Bishop. Much like Ripley, I didn’t warm to Bishop. He was creepy and I was more than a little bit distrustful. If they weren’t enough, Ridley Scott gave us Fassbender’s David in Prometheus. Creepy, creepy, creepy!

4) David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence


If Haley Joel Osment wasn’t creepy enough after his legendary appearance in The Sixth Sense, he outdid himself in A.I. Apparently, Osment tried to avoid blinking his eyes as often as he normally would and adapted an exceptionally straight posture to give a more robotic feel to his character. As if he really needed to try that hard to freak us out.

3) The cylons from Battlestar Galactica


The cylons in the original series were neither awesome nor creepy. But the brilliant reimagining of the series created fantastically creepy centurions and human models. The centurions’ oscillating red eyes and the noise that accompanied them were incredibly creepy amongst the stillness. Hearing that in the background instantly created tension and I would hold my breath for my favourite characters. The human models ranged from creepy and terrifying to weirdly hot. Yes, number six, I kinda like you, but I kinda don’t. Explain that to me? And if anyone says they wouldn’t be freaked out by the idea that anyone they know might turn out to be a cylon, they’re liars.

2) The Terminator


There are a number of different models of ‘terminators’ from the franchise. I still think the creepiest is the original – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of the T-800. Even creepier is his demise, minus the fake ‘skin’ covering his metal body and the red light in his eye finally goes out. While the liquid metal of the T-1000 is scary, it just doesn’t give me the same nightmares that the T-800’s metal skeleton does. It is possible that this has to do with the films they were introduced in – The Terminator is a slasher film, while Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an action thriller.

1) The NS-5 of iRobot

irobot sonny

Ok, confession time. I have not seen this film all the way through. The reason for that, however, is that it is just too creepy. When I first saw the trailer for this film I had nightmares for weeks. Those robots freaked me out. And then Sonny was voiced by Alan Tudyk! In order to remain a Tudyk fan, I avoided Sonny and all the other NS-5’s. I’m not sure if these robots chart on many people’s lists or iconic robots, but I find them absolutely terrifying – and this is my list, after all.

About Megan Leigh

Writer and editor of Pop Verse. Co-host of Breaking the Glass Slipper. My special interests include publishing, creative writing, and geekery.

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