Hugh Jackman’s robot boxing film Real Steel will arrive in theaters soon, promising to give audiences all the robot-on-robot pugilism any rational human being could ever hope to see.
However, when it comes to anything resembling a live-action version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, I’m far from rational. To put it mildly, I’m a bit of a junkie for robot movies. Give me two (or more) mechs trading punches, swinging swords, or shooting lasers at each other, and you have my complete and undivided attention.
Knowing that, it’s probably no surprise that some of the movie moments forever etched into my brain have managed to achieve a robot-flavored Rocky level of greatness, while others — many, many others — have made me wish I could reformat that portion of my grey matter.
So, in the interests of celebrating both the good and bad of robot-brawl history, here are the five best and worst fights between robots (not humans and robots or aliens and robots) in cinema.
THE FIVE GREATEST ROBOT BRAWLS
T-800 vs. T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
When The Terminator debuted in 1984, it was hard to imagine any opponent — human or otherwise — matching up against Arnold Schwarzenegger’s musclebound T-800. Lo and behold, director James Cameron returned in 1991 with a film that not only cast the T-800 as one of the good guys, but also offered up a new enemy that made the T-800 seem like an ineffective relic. Robert Patrick played the liquid-metal T-1000 in the film, and their climactic battle in the steel mill goes down as one of the most memorable robot brawls in cinematic history — not only for its fast, hard-hitting action, but also for the groundbreaking effects that helped the film win four Academy Awards that year.
WATCH IT HERE
Optimus Prime vs. Megatron (The Transformers: The Movie)
If you were a child of the ’80s and had access to a television, it’s pretty much assured that even thinking about Optimus Prime voice actor Peter Cullen uttering the words “One shall stand… one shall fall.” will send a shiver down your spine. While the battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron occurs early on in the film, it remains one of the most memorable 60 seconds in movie history for much of a generation due to its deadly serious repercussions. Director Nelson Shin knew that if these were to be Optimus Prime’s final moments, the popular character would need to go out in a heroic blaze of glory — and that’s exactly the send-off he gave him.
While fan demand would eventually bring about the return of Optimus Prime to the Transformers universe, his battle against Megatron was regarded as such an important part of the franchise’s history that it would later receive a nod in Michael Bay’s live-action movie series, with Cullen reprising his role as Optimus more than 20 years later and once again tell the Decepticons’ leader, “One shall stand… one shall fall.”
Johnny 5 vs. The S.A.I.N.T.s (Short Circuit)
When it comes to fight-scene dialogue, few lines are as memorable as the taunt sentient military robot Johnny 5 hurls at S.A.I.N.T. #2, one of the laser-wielding robots that were once his peers.
“Hey laser lips, your mama was a snowblower!”
Now that is a taunt.
As Johnny 5 proceeds to incapacitate the rest of his mechanical pursuers, the hits keep coming, too. Unleashing a flurry of Looney Tunes references and commercial taglines, Johnny 5 quickly establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with in this scene from the 1986 classic, earning himself a spot among the greatest robot fighters in cinematic history for his fighting ability and his chatter.
WALL-E, EVE & the Rogue Robots vs AUTO and the Axiom Security ‘Bots (WALL-E)
While not the most explosive battle (it is a Pixar film, after all), WALL-E & EVE’s run the rough the gauntlet of security forces on the Axiom is one of many cheer-worthy moments in one of the best films of recent years. In fact, the Oscar-winning 2008 film is filled with great mech-friendly action featuring both the recycling robot with a heart of gold and his tough-as-nails love, EVE.
In the end, it’s no surprise that there’s a massive amount of fan-made “Wall-E vs.” videos out there featuring the noble robot taking on everything from R2D2 to a common vacuum cleaner. And guess what? Wall-E always wins.
Robocop vs ED-209 (Robocop)
While Robocop is technically a cyborg and not a robot, it’s hard not to include this confrontation between mechanized police officer Alex Murphy and the bestial, two-legged tank known as ED-209. After the machine-gun armed ED-209 unloads about three bazillion rounds into an OCP executive early in the film and paves the way for the “Robocop” program to move forward, audiences knew that a showdown between the two was inevitable. While their first confrontation resulted in Robocop receiving a fairly impressive beatdown at the hands of ol’ 209, Murphy eventually settled things up with a dose of heavy weaponry, leaving the score Robocop 1, ED-209 0.
THE FIVE WORST ROBOT BRAWLS
Achilles vs. Alexander (Robot Jox)
Watching this film by Re-Animator and Space Truckers director Stuart Gordon, it’s actually hard to believe this film was made in 1990, several years after films like The Terminator and Robocop. If it had been made a decade earlier than those films, some of the more ridiculous aspects of the film might be forgiven — but only some of them.
Often regarded as one of the most unintentionally funny robot fights in movie history, this brawl between giant mechas piloted by rival “jox” Achilles (Gary Graham) and Alexander (Paul Koslo) adds injury to insult when one of the robots crushes a stadium full of onlookers. It’s a strange feeling to find yourself still laughing at the ridiculous robot fight when the camera pans over the carnage that cut it short.
V.I.N.Cent vs. Maximilian (The Black Hole)
Walt Disney Productions’ response to Star Wars was received well by critics and ended up winning a pair of Oscars for its innovative effects, but very few of those positive elements were on display in this fight between the USS Palomino’s chief helper robot, V.I.N.Cent (Vital Information Necessary CENTralized), and the silent, hulking security robot of the USS Cygnus, Maximilian. While the film’s score does its best to make the battle seem dramatic — and for someone under the age of ten, it very well might be — there’s no denying that the grand finale’s robot brawl was a bit of a letdown. Of course, there also the matter of Maximilian’s potentially lewd self-defense technique that pops up around the 0:21 mark in the video. What is that thing?
While I tried to include any sequels in this list, no one seems to be certain whether 1993’s Robot Wars actually is a sequel to the aforementioned Robot Jox. The two films share at least one actor, Danny Kamekona, but his character was killed in the first of the two films — so it’s anybody’s guess what (if any) connection the two films share.
Nevertheless, Robot Wars manages to raise a bar that was already set pretty low in Robot Jox by having its climactic brawl occur between a giant robot and… (wait for it)… a giant robot scorpion! Still, in a year that also saw the terrible live-action Super Mario Bros. movie and the godawful Robocop 3 also arrive in theaters, it’s hard to be overly critical about the ridiculous robot-on-robot brawl occuring in Robot Wars.
No, wait… I take that back. This is really, really bad stuff, people.
Evil Robot Bill & Ted vs Good Robot Bill & Teds (Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey)
This one’s a controversial pick for the “bad” list in that I actually like this 1991 sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. However, given that most of the film is devoted to the title duo’s efforts to return from the dead and vanquish the evil robot versions of themselves, when they finally do arrange a showdown, the results are a bit, well… anticlimactic. I remember watching this film on VHS the year it was released and eagerly anticipating the moment the good robots gave their evil counterparts what they deserved, and then in the blink of an eye — the time it takes for them to run up and punch their heads off, in fact — it was over.
Where’s the artistry here, Good Robot Bill & Ted? Where’s the sense of achievement? Take note: We are not entertained.
Two Robots Without Names Using Swords (Exterminator City)
Do a search for “Worst Robot Fight Ever” and you’ll find this scene from 2005’s Exterminator City.
No, seriously — look it up. I’ll wait.
See what I mean? This ridiculously low-budget film was basically just a vehicle for getting a long list of adult-film stars to disrobe (the film’s credits even list their professional websites), but it’s achieved a sort of notoriety among science-fiction movie fans as being the low-end extreme for measuring a film’s quality (i.e., “Where would you say that film ranks on a scale of Aliens to Exterminator City?”). It’s worth noting that the robots on the film are all either people wearing cheesy robot costumes or homemade puppets (yes, puppets), and despite the film’s plot (“A robot pest controller turned serial killer has embarked on a murderous rampage, carving his way through the population of Atro City.”) they’re not even given names in the credits.
That should tell you all you need to know about the film’s priorities — and why this scene is almost unanimously regarded as having the worst robot fight in cinema history.