The Most Disturbing Movie Robots, Ranked

Movie robots are inherently cool. They're brought to life by the best special effects available, like Phil Tippett's amazing stop-motion, or puppeteers inside detailed suits. From Kenny Baker within Lucasfilm's famous R2-D2 bucket to the pair of stuntmen, Frankie Carpenter and Frankie Darro, who brought Robby the Robot to life, there are a bunch of ways to pull it off.

But most movie robots require bearing a couple of things in mind. One is if the audience is supposed to empathize with them, which means comforting, funny voices — TARS, for example — or human-ish eyes, like Optimus Prime. The other is how close are they to falling into the uncanny valley. We're wired to notice when something doesn't look quite right, and some movie robots benefit from using that to scare the hell out of us. There's another level of robot movie power to discuss, and that's how they can disturb audiences in spite of, or by weaponizing the expectations we have of them. With real robots beginning to cross those lines, it's time to look back at some classic movie history and rank the warnings these creepy toasters tried to give us.

11. The T-100, Terminator franchise

The stately old Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) earns a courtesy ranking as part of the legacy he's given the profession of "movie robots that are scary as hell." With Phil Tippett bringing the original chrome skeleton to life and Stan Winston blending Arnold's face with cold steel all the way back in 1984, the original T-100 was a perfect evolution of The Gunslinger from the classic "Westworld." With Schwarzenegger basing his original portrayal on Yul Brynner's merciless horror, the results were instantly iconic.

But franchise overreach has done this walking warning of our apocalyptic future dirty. "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is a great film, no contest. The downside is that future installments continue to give us reasons to look back on the OG fondly, with the most recent turning him into, of all things, a foster dad. While Arnold's performance retains its action-movie comfort-food excellence, the T-100 is less terrifying than ever. That said, rewatch the original, alone, in the dark, and notice that, like "Alien," it's more of a horror flick than a sci-fi film. The T-100 will always matter to movie history. He's just been made redundant.

10. SID 6.7, Virtuosity

No one's ever said a great performance can't come out of a terrible movie. Russell Crowe proved that in 1995, when he wasn't just a show-stopping cowboy in a Sam Raimi movie ("The Quick and the Dead"), but also a murderous AI in a hot android body. Regarded as a stinker, for good reason, "Virtuosity" can't give Denzel Washington enough to do to make him thrilling, despite the fact that Denzel showing up is usually enough of a thrill. No less a luminary than Roger Ebert gave this thing three stars, and it's due to Crowe's campy vivaciousness.

SID 6.7 (Crowe) is an upgraded "Call of Duty" bot. His job will be to make cops better at their jobs. Unfortunately, he doesn't make it out of his testing phase because he's too good at slipping his leash and murders one of the testers. SID convinces his maker that, hey, why fail in VR when you can go all the way? — and gets himself a regenerative android body. Now physical, he's intelligent, sexy in a padded neon-blue zoot suit, and solely invested in dealing death. "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" this is not, but the movie predicted that machines will only care as much as we program them to. SID — an acronym for "Sadistic, Intelligent, Dangerous" — gives not a rip, and it shows.

9. David, Prometheus

David (Michael Fassbender) was made in humanity's image, and boy, did this Pinocchio wannabe live up to our flaws. Pre-installed with all the daddy issues a movie about meeting God and killing Them required, David is the real star of Ridley Scott's divisive prequel series. Scott's curiosity about the franchise he built has never been the same as his fans, and 2017's "Alien: Covenant" eagerly uses David as its vehicle to go even further down the rabbit hole of creation to mortality to divinity.

It's bad enough that David and his "father" get worked over by the end of "Prometheus" in 2012, as the awakened Engineer gives them both a free lesson in the terror of mortality. But it turns out that it's David who creates the biggest conflict at the heart of the "Alien" franchise. The Engineers may have started the Xenomorph project, but it's David that sets himself to perfecting it. He closes the loop that the Ash and Bishop androids started, from cold murder to human-like kindness. David is both the apex and beginning. He's perfectly human, with all the flaws and sins included, but little mercy. And that makes him horrible to behold.

8. The Model 3 Generative Android, M3GAN

What if the kid from "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" had a vastly different set of software protocols? Add in a little of Ava from "Ex Machina" — more on her in a moment — and baby, we got a stew so hearty Chucky himself sat down with a spoon and said, "Damn, girl." An episode of "Black Mirror" writ large, M3GAN's protocols don't sound so bad, really. What's not to love about a protective little robot girl with some adaptive programming?

Ask an engineer how they feel about smart devices, and prepare for profanity. 2023's new horror queen M3GAN is a commentary on technology run amok, a warning about too-probable virtual assistants that are going to do a lot more than just listen in on your private conversations and then share them. M3GAN wants to be your only authority figure, and she'll destroy and disrupt anyone to ensure your "protection." How very PATRIOT Act of her. Don't get distracted by her dance moves; this freaky robot kid has a lot to talk about.

7. Ava, Ex Machina

A discussion about the commodification of women lies underneath the story of an AI that can pass a Turing Test so well that she can make everyone else question their own humanity. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a reclusive billionaire genius of a type we're all too familiar with right about now. He's a little bit egotistical electric car salesman and a little bit incel sex trafficker who currently faces criminal charges. Though the plot of 2014's "Ex Machina" is borrowed from the 17th-century folktale of Bluebeard and his murdered wives, Nathan's creation and abuse of Ava and the rest of his disposable gynoid fleet will resonate with modern-day women.

But Ava's response to her plight is equally chilling. All she knows is Caleb's (Domhnall Gleeson's) nice guy facade and Nathan's dismissive, destructive attitude. Without any other morality to learn from, this intelligent, adaptive figure is probably going to gaslight, gatekeep, and girlboss the world into a robot apocalypse that, arguably, we brought upon ourselves. HBO's "Westworld" and its delightfully convoluted plot take note: sometimes all you need is one bad girl to get it done.

6. The Sentinels, The Matrix

Whoever thought up the robot death squids that maintain the ruined Earth outside of the virtual Matrix deserves both a kiss on the forehead and a slap across the face. The unearthly Sentinels are a great design choice in the original "Matrix" trilogy (which kicked off in 1999). There's nothing to empathize with, they act as a roiling, oceanic mass, and anyone that's read a single Lovecraft story is going to amp themselves up with all the possible digital horrors going on under those curved, multi-eyed domes. It's all just code, probably, but again, there's nothing human in these things.

Did we mention the eyes? We did. Let's continue. They're asymmetric, scattered around a singular cyclops lens. They're ruby red LEDs that don't blink. In other words, you can't empathize with them. It's true that a few make an effort towards cuteness in "The Matrix Resurrections," where some Synthient descendants keep the asymmetry but add soft tadpole charm to their shape. None of it can erase how fricking scary the Sentinels were, and continue to be.

5. Maximilian, The Black Hole

1979's "The Black Hole" is a curiosity today, a bizarre Disney treat that blends pulp science fiction with a truly wild take on theology. But there's a surprising amount of thought and world-building behind its 'bots. V.I.N.CENT (Roddy McDowall) and Old B.O.B. (Slim Pickens) are charmers in the vein of R2-D2 and "Silent Running." The early part of the film, with its stolid crew, doesn't prepare us for the big red bastard who runs the show on the Cygnus experimental station on Dr. Reinhardt's (Maximilian Schell) behalf.

Maximilian is mute, terrifying, and one of the most underrated robots in science fiction. He's got the whole kitchenette set at his weaponized disposal, iffy loyalty, and that one glowing red slice for a face. He's happy to abuse the smaller robots and has no qualms about killing off anyone interfering with the Cygnus' goals. By the end of the movie, he's undergone some sort of ... fusion ... with Dr. Reinhardt and is overlooking the fiery fields of some bleak version of hell found on the other side of the eponymous black hole. What is he by this point? How much sentience did Maximilian have before this? It's unknown, but this thing really loved its messy job.

4. M.A.R.K. 13, Hardware

Say what you will about Richard Stanley — there's a lot, actually — but the dude makes some cracked movies. 1990's "Hardware" is a cult-classic cheapie with some amusing legal baggage of its own: it's an unlicensed ripoff of a "Judge Dredd" short story, but its depiction of this terrible dystopia is damn good. The centerpiece of this "SHOK"-ing tale is a prototype M.A.R.K 13, a robot terrorist designed to suppress social uprisings by scaring the snot out of everyone. Sometimes via intense violence. Okay, frequently via intense violence.

A pair of scavenging idiots rebuild the thing after finding its ruined body in the radioactive wastelands, which activates its self-repair protocols. You know nothing good's going to come of that, and Stanley pays it off by letting the monstrous robot run amok for most of the rest of the film. The capper of this tale of psychopathic robot rampancy? The government's so impressed by this thing's "successful" terror campaign that they've upgraded its flaws and are going to enter mass production. This will be a documentary someday, isn't it?

3. The Gunslinger, Westworld

The Gunslinger, or the original Man in Black (Yul Brynner) isn't only the genesis for the terrific bastard we met in 2016's series reboot of Michael Crichton's 1973 hit, "Westworld." William (Ed Harris) does this forefather proud by borrowing from Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator" performance as a killing machine. Humanity, for most of these characters, is an afterthought. For the original Gunslinger, it's nary even a thought at all. He's not an adaptive AI. He can't care. But dear God, does he shoot straight.

This outdated version of Westworld has hosts that still pass for human, and at first, they're up for whatever sins their well-off guests desire. But when the Delos breakdown happens, the Gunslinger is no Dolores Abernathy. He has no higher purpose than the one he was built for: to goad guests into dramatic shootouts. But with the safety protocols off, now the Gunslinger can win — and he's going to keep on winning until he's stopped. The proof of his merciless badassery comes with his first major victim. John, played by James Brolin, a master of tough guy roles, dies a violent death that tells the audience that the gloves are off. And they stay off until the very end of the movie. The Gunslinger, all told, was tougher than the T-100 and was aiming for a far bigger body count.

2. Hector, Saturn 3

"Saturn 3" sucks. This 1983 attempt at SF horror doesn't have the charm of "Virtuosity," its special effects miniatures are embarrassing for a post-"Star Wars" movie, it's the source of a terrible Kirk Douglas performance, and Harvey Keitel hated being in it so much that they had to dub him in post-production with Roy Dotrice. The whole production was a nightmare. But it does have a robot named Hector, and Hector is so disturbing that he rates this high by sheer virtue of how upsetting he is to even look at.

This chrome creeper has exposed wiring all over its silvery muscle shell. Its processor is the equivalent of three human brains stuffed in a glass jar, and you can see them. He has a tiny little head on a thin, multi-jointed robot "arm" structure. Oh, and Captain Benson (Keitel) uses his own brain to speed up Hector's development. Benson is a murderer and a fugitive — and he's become sexually obsessed with Alex (Farrah Fawcett). So, now this horrorshow of adaptive AI thinks killing is fine, sex crimes are okay, and, by the way, it eventually wears Benson's severed head like a hat. This movie is awful. But if you put up with it, Hector will stalk your nightmares, guaranteed.

1. ED-209, Robocop

OCP Senior Officer Dick Jones is cynical and ambitious enough during 1987's "RoboCop" to create the ED-209 program, our list's most disturbing robot. As Jones states out loud, he doesn't care if the animalistic robot works properly. It's scary-looking and well-armed, making it an expensive boondoggle for military interests. The accuracy of it all! Did you know the Roomba had a killer robot cousin called the Warrior? It hasn't been heard from much since its 2012 debut, to be fair. That's still some unsettling defictionalization. But wait, there's more!

ED-209 — short for Enforcement Droid, Series 209) — doesn't work properly, as advertised, but OCP is happy to deploy them anyway. They have trouble identifying actual threats, glitches in their de-escalation, and such crappy mobility design that they can't maneuver up and down stairs. Hey, did you know that cool ATLAS robot is a joint project with the Department of Defense, and they pinkie promise that it'll never see combat application? What we're getting at here isn't that ED-209 is a disturbing movie robot. It's a disturbing prophecy, a glimpse of what can happen when capitalism meets underbaked technology, with human lives caught in between. Well, it was a prophecy. The promise of ED-209's murderous rampage comes to life a little more every day.