We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
Before there were robots, there were automatons. These self-operating machines could look human-like, though made of metal. For this Top 7 list, I decided to ignore more advanced, human looking cyborgs and androids, so no Terminator or replicants. Most of the machines on this list would also be classified as robots, but I'm going steam-punk for this week's movie, the release of Martin Scorsese's Hugo, featuring a mysterious automaton that might find a place on this list someday.
7. Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (1956)
Recap: Shakespeare's The Tempest in space, Dr. Morbius and his daughter Altaira live with their robot companion/servant, Robby, on Altair. When a rocket lands, hoping to find out what happened to the rest of their crew 20 years ago, the secrets they find could kill them all. Reason: Though he looks a bit clunky (sort of like a metal Michelin man) by today's standards, Robby was one of the formative movie robots. He had artificial intelligence and was pretty funny (for a robot). But he wasn't a comedic foil, he cared for his human family and was incapable of hurting a human, even though it meant he could be destroyed. He was even made into a very popular toy, well before some of the other robots on this list.
6. Wall-E from Wall-E (2008)
Recap: Wall-E lives a solitary life on the abandoned planet Earth, cleaning up the mess humanity left behind. When he meets another robot, EVE, he follows her off into space, ignoring his mission, all for love. Reason: Despite speaking only a few words of English, Wall-E manages to completely win the love of the audience. EVE seems like a stone cold bitch for keeping him at bay for so long. Sure, she has her mission and it's not in her programming, we've all heard those lines before. When you meet your robot soul mate, it's time to stop playing and let love in.
5. R2-D2 from Star Wars (1977)
Recap: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, an annoying adolescent met a couple of droids who help lead him into becoming a Jedi master. Reason: When I was a kid, I thought Luke was brave and heroic. Watching the films years later, I realized he was a whiny teen who had to be pushed, kicking and screaming, to Jedi greatness. A lot of the pushing was done by the patient, helpful R2-D2. Speaking in bleeps and bloops that only C3PO could understand, this brave little droid who looked like a trashcan got his human charges out of many poorly handled situations. He guided Luke to Dagobah to train with Yoda, and stood by him when even Yoda despaired. Despite all this, it's always the humans getting the credit! But we know who the true MVP of the original Star Wars trilogy is.
4. GERTY from Moon (2009)
Recap: Sam Bell is finishing a three year stint on the Moon, with only robot GERTY for a companion. When he finds out that everything he knows about himself is a lie, he must rely on GERTY to help him put the pieces back together. Reason: Other robots on this list are loyal, brave and loving, but GERTY displays a more complex emotion. He has compassion for Sam. He even helps Sam go against the people who created him to give him a chance at a life. It's a really emotionally mature moment that you wouldn't expect of a machine, and it brings robots in film to a higher level of humanity. (Assuming that's what they're going for.)
3. Marvin from A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Recap: Right before the destruction of Earth (to make way for a hyperspace expressway), Arthur Dent manages to hitchhike aboard a passing ship with the help of his friend Ford Prefect. On board he meets Marvin, the paranoid android. He has a brain the size of a planet but can never find a task that occupies more than a fraction of it, leaving him bored and perpetually depressed. Reason: Though not the most likable robot, Marvin (voiced brilliantly by Alan Rickman) is a super-intelligent robot with a "real person personality." Unfortunately, this makes him depressed and more than a little obnoxious. Despite (or more likely, because of this) he's left to wait millions of years for his crew when they abandon him in the act of time traveling. Somehow, he has a knack for always being around. But the real reason I love him is that he's so damn funny.
2. Johnny 5 from Short Circuit (1986)
Recap: Johnny 5 is alive! After being struck by lightning, military robot "Number 5" rechristens himself Johnny 5 and becomes sentient. Reason: After becoming sentient, Johnny 5 doesn't go postal like fellow robot with a desire to live, like HAL from 2001 (he's not on the list because isn't really a robot, he's a ship). Johnny's desire to live leads him to have compassion for life. Sure he's a bit cheesy, but his joie de vivre makes up for even the presence of Steve Guttenberg. Plus, Wall-E would later bear more than a passing resemblance to him. Give credit to the original.
1. The Machine Man/Fake Maria from Metropolis (1927)
Recap: In a futuristic city, there are two classes, an upper class that lives in tall skyscrapers, playing all day, and a working class that toils underground. When the son of an elite meets a beautiful worker, he follows her underground and discovers the horrors that the workers face on a daily basis. He wishes to help bridge the divide, but is thwarted, in part due to an automaton made to look like the beautiful worker, Maria. Reason: Although at times the "Machine Man" has the look of Maria, she is really an automaton, acting out the desires of her creator. When I envisioned this list, I knew that Metropolis had to be on the top. The art deco machine is one of the most iconic images in silent cinema, and perhaps all cinema. She is beautiful, fluid, and terrifying because she's just an unstoppable force without a soul. Before all the compassionate, kind machines on this list, there was a machine man that created strife and discord. And she influenced all sci-fi cinema that came after.