This past weekend, Robot & Frank became the latest film to tackle hypothetical interactions between people and intelligent, thinking machines. Robots have been a part of fiction for centuries, even longer if you count the myths that involve walking, talking statues. And from almost the very beginning, machine men have had a place in cinema as well. Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable robots that movies have brought us.
 

The Robot Maria (Metropolis, 1927)
One of the most influential movies ever made, Fritz Lang’s silent classic set the stage for visual science fiction stories. One of the film’s most iconic images is that of the feminine android built by mad scientist Rotwang. Originally made to resemble the woman whom Rotwang pined for, he modifies her to be a double of Maria, the messianic figure of the lower classes in the titular city. The robotic Maria (known alternatively as “Futura,” “Parody,” “Machina,” and more, depending on the translation) stirs chaos in the slums, as Rotwang hopes to instigate a war. Brigitte Helm, the actress who played Maria, also portrayed her doppelgänger. The look of the robot was the template for the way many future robots in film and other visual media would be designed, including some of the entrants on this list.
 

Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951 (and 2008))
Klaatu barada nikto. Throughout this classic of antiwar, anti-nuclear weaponry sentiment, this large, imposing sentinel stands motionless in front of the space ship that has brought extraterrestrial envoy Klaatu to Earth. It is only when Klaatu is mortally wounded by paranoid humans that Gort springs into action, vaporizing all in his path with a laser beam. Gort is just one in a line of peacekeeping robots, the only beings entrusted with the power to destroy by the greater forces of the universal community. Once he’s set on a rampage, only a special code phrase can make him cease. He is the police officer, a being with no agenda other than preventing violence, no matter how much violence that entails. He is a sword of Damocles hanging over the human race’s head. Gort was portrayed by seven-and-a-half foot tall actor Lock Martin wearing an extremely cumbersome suit.

In the 2008 remake of the film, “GORT,” is a CGI creation (of course), and even larger than he is in the original (since all remakes must of course outdo their predecessors), and is made out of nanomachines. When unwitting scientists try to examine him, the nanomachines are loosed and begin to devour everything in their path. It’s unclear what metaphorical purpose this serves.
 

Robby the Robot (Various, first appeared in Forbidden Planet, 1956)
Forbidden Planet is a sci-fi retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Robby the Robot is the analogue of the spirit Ariel, a servant of the man left adrift on an island / remote planet. He helps both the castaway Professor Morbius and the spaceship crew sent to rescue the scientist on their adventure. Robby was the first movie robot to be designed to look something like an actual machine, a complex construction with numerous functional-looking lights and diodes. Costing over a hundred thousand dollars, Robby was one of the most expensive props ever made. Stuntman Frankie Darro made the robot move, while Marvin Miller provided his voice. Since Forbidden Planet, Robby has popped up in many more films and TV shows over the decades, including The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, and The Invisible Boy.
 

R2D2, C-3PO, and many more (The Star Wars series, starting 1977)
One of the mainstays of the many, many incarnations of the Star Wars franchise has been the droids. Possessing highly varied personalities, they serve seemingly every kind of function in the Galaxy Far Far Away, from translators to drink servers. R2D2 (Kenny Baker) and C3PO (Anthony Daniels) are the face of the droids in this fictional universe, indeed, one of the faces of the universe itself. They are some of the few characters to appear in all six of the main movies, and additionally factor into the animated Clone Wars series, not to mention countless spin-off books, video games, and more. The pair even got their own spin-off Saturday morning cartoon, Star Wars: Droids, that aired in the late ’80’s.

Daniels played C-3PO like a butler, and the character is a frequent source of comic relief throughout both the Original and Prequel trilogies. His nebbish, panicky personality contrasts with that of his counterpart, the ever-stoic and brave R2D2. For his part, R2 is remarkably full of personality for a character incapable of facial expression and only able to move in limited ways. Just like everything else that works in Star Wars, these two are convincing because the films know to treat them seriously as characters. As a result, they’ve become beloved worldwide, with R2 in particular being extremely popular with children.
 

Various Androids (The Alien series, starting 1979)
It was originally a rather stunning twist in Alien that Ash (Ian Holm), science officer aboard the Nostromo, wasn’t a man but a machine. Since then, every movie in the series has featured an android as a major character. What’s interesting is how their roles vary with each film. Ash is an antagonist, striving to allow the alien to kill his crew so that he can deliver it to his corporate masters. But Bishop (Lance Henriksen) in Aliens is heroic, despite Ripley’s distrust of him (stemming from her experience with Ash), and when he “dies” in the next film, it’s meant to be tragic. In Alien Resurrection, Call (Winona Ryder) combines elements of the previous androids, with her true nature being a reveal, and her at first trying to kill Ripley, and later turning helpful. The latest film, Prometheus, features an even more inscrutable ‘bot: David (Michael Fassbender), a child-like, learning machine who performs terrible deeds with a beatific calm. The plot functions of the various androids depend on how they have been programmed to behave. They have personalities of sorts, but they are truly tools.
 

The Replicants (Blade Runner, 1982)
Blade Runner took a much more philosophical tack in its treatment of artificial intelligence than most previous sci-fi movies. Here, “replicants,” while used for general labor, are biologically indistinguishable from humans, albeit with a built-in four year lifespan. If a robot is so advanced and lifelike that it takes an extremely elaborate test to determine that they aren’t really human, then how far away from humanity are they, really? That’s the question that drives replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) to lead a small band of his kind to revolt against their masters and seek out a way to extend their lives. Their quest is allegorical for mankind’s own hunt to grasp at more life. There is some debate as to whether main character Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who hunts down the replicants due to their illegality on Earth, is himself, unknowingly, a replicant.
 

Terminators (The Terminator series, starting 1984)
Like the Alien androids, the roles of the Terminator robots depend on what they have been programmed to do. In the original Terminator, the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a relentless killing machine, sent back in time to eliminate Sarah Connor before she can give birth to the future leader of the resistance against the machines. But in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, another T-800, reprogrammed by the resistance, acts as a protector the Sarah and her son, John, while a newer, more advanced model, the T-1ooo (Robert Patrick) is the one trying to kill them. Variations on this theme, of good and bad Terminators fighting over the fates of humans, have continually played out in the movies and TV show. Another recurring idea is that the good Terminator will slowly come to learn about emotion, and develop a bond with John Connor. Such friendships usually end with a tearful goodbye and the robot having to sacrifice itself for the greater good.
 

Johnny 5 (The Short Circuit series, starting 1986)
After a lighting strike scrambles the circuits of Number 5, a prototype weapon of war, the robot learns about the nature of life, and comes to reject his destructive purpose. The plot of Short Circuit and its sequel concerns the machine, who has rechristened himself “Johnny 5,” struggling to establish his rights as a being. Despite fighting the military in the first movie and gang members in the second, he eventually is able to earn the recognition of his living nature by the wider community. Johnny-5’s innocent, exuberant, and naïve personality has made him an indelible figure in recent pop culture. Like everything else from the ’80’s, there is a remake planned of his movie.
 

The Iron Giant (The Iron Giant, 1999)
Despite the fact that the “machine of war decides to deny his programming” trope has become pretty well-worn at this point, Brad Bird was able to inject new life into it with this animated film. The story of a giant alien robot and the boy who becomes his friend works so well because Bird imbues it with good humor and genuine emotional resonance. The Giant (voiced by Vin Diesel) has a well thought-out, believable journey from blank slate to true-blue hero, and the relationship between him and Hogarth Hughes is one for the annals of unusual friendships. It culminates in a terrific tearjerker moment, when the Giant decides what kind of person it wants to be. “Suuuuupermaaaan.” 
 

WALL-E (WALL-E, 2008)
Tasked with cleaning up the Earth after humans leave it smothered in mountains of trash, WALL-E is the last of his model still doing his duty. He spends every day dutifully compacting garbage into cubes and stacking said cubes quite neatly. Everything changes with the arrival of EVE, a “female” robot sent to scout the planet for signs of life. WALL-E follows the budding romance between WALL-E and EVE, which plays out in beautiful near-silence. There isn’t really a question of who is and isn’t human here; in fact, it’s the robots who demonstrate to the adipose human race how to act like people again. Through brilliant use of body language, the Pixar animators infused WALL-E with a full personality, one that makes him a highly sympathetic protagonist.