CLOSE
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

The Automata of Terror: Cinema's 8 Scariest Robots

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

For the most part, real robots and movie robots have something in common—they aren’t actually scary. The internet’s nervous Nellies notwithstanding, no one runs screaming when real-world humanoid bots stalk across a laboratory, and no one, not even the most simpering of humans, dives under the covers when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s machine assassin racks up another effortless, disinterested kill. It takes more than fictional murder to turn a cinematic robot into a nightmare delivery system. It’s the violence hardwired into them, and the malice that bubbles up through the code. Here are film’s most frightening automatons—not the most iconic, or the most feasible systems, but the ones whose twisted functionality will haunt your silly, human dreams.

1. Ash — Alien

Ain't It Cool News

Sometimes, a Hollywood robot will simply break, and produce a genuinely chilling moment. Consider the first time you saw Robocop’s ED-209 slip into its “You have 20 seconds to comply” fugue state. But what’s wrong with Ash can’t be chalked up to defective programming, or to an android simply following orders from his distant, corporate masters. When Ash attacks Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien, he does it with the relish of a serial killer, and in a decidedly non-robotic, inefficient manner, inexplicably trying to choke his victim with a rolled-up magazine. There’s no evidence that androids are designed to be malicious—that’s a feature Ash developed all by his lonesome. And even when he’s decapitated, the doctor-turned-killer manages to become even more of a horror, dripping and spewing milk-like blood throughout sci-fi’s most disturbing interrogation scene.

2. Michael — A Boy And His Dog


Cult Reviews

By the time you meet this mime-faced robot enforcer, A Boy And His Dog may already seem about as bleak—and as surreal—as a movie can get. The boy (a very young Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog (nowhere near as cute as it sounds) have wandered the irradiated post-apocalyptic wastelands for years, picking at civilization’s bones, finally discovering an underground utopia. The inevitable catch is too strange and complex to get into, since it distracts from the movie’s greatest horror: Michael, a grinning android in vaguely perverted clown makeup and decked out in the straw hat and overalls of a cartoon farm-hand. Michael kills with his hands, all smiles and rosy cheeks as he pulps necks and crushes heads.

3. Colossus — Colossus: The Forbin Project


Eccentric Cinema

HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey is deeply unsettling, and a fascinating take on how an artificial intelligence (AI) could suffer a very human-seeming psychotic break. Colossus, on the other hand, is a monster from birth, an AI that’s designed to automate the United States’ nuclear defenses, but who quickly (maybe even instantly) evolves into a petty despot. By the end of the first act of Colossus: The Forbin Project, the AI has already taken control of the planet, colluding with its Soviet AI counterpart, and threatening global destruction if any resistance is detected. The humans resist, but despite the death and destruction that results, it’s Colossus’ final speech that sticks with you. “We can coexist, but only on my terms,” it drones, informing its creator that he will continue to serve the AI, despite having masterminded the campaign to destroy it. “In time, you will come to regard me not only with respect, and awe, but with love.” Colossus doesn’t just beat humanity—the damn thing gloats about it.

4. Police Bots — Elysium


Sony Pictures

Elysium is a rarity—a big-budget protest movie, balancing breath-taking visuals with overstuffed social commentary, including the hyper-outsourcing fantasy of robots absently tending to Earth’s planet-wide ghetto. And as conceptually blunt as it is to depict robot cops manhandling Matt Damon’s character, it’s more than a little scary. The bots don’t just hassle him. They casually snap his arm, a moment of senseless, outsourced police brutality that feels strangely realistic. Why wouldn’t a fully automated security force, with no accountability, empathy, or drive to succeed, resort to fear and random violence to maintain order?

5. M.A.R.K.-13 — Hardware

Think too hard about Hardware’s ultra-powerful robo-bogeyman, and it’s almost too stupid to suffer—the military robot enters the movie as a handful of parts scavenged from the bombed-out dunes, only to miraculously reassemble itself and launch a killing spree. And yet, the M.A.R.K.-13 is haunting, its name an apparent reference to an apocalyptic Biblical passage (the phrase “no flesh will be spared” comes up multiple times), and its body an ungainly, almost insect bulk attached to a skull-like head (which is painted like an American flag, since the scrapped bot was intended as a sculpture). What pushes M.A.R.K.-13 over the edge is its sheer brutality, with six primary limbs and three auxiliary limbs, most of which seem specifically designed to drill, saw, or otherwise mangle. The movie suggests that the bot is built to reduce the resource-strained post-nuclear-war population, one mutilated human at a time.

6. Drone Sphere — Phantasm

Anyone claiming to know what the hell is going on in Phantasm, or its three sequels, is a stone-cold liar. This much is clear, though: A floating silver sphere that lodges itself in its target’s head with a pair of blades, and then drills into the brain sending blood and gray matter squirting through the orb’s handy rear port, is unforgettable cinema. The movie is definitely more supernatural horror than sci-fi, but proof of the sphere’s technological underpinnings is right on the franchise’s official site, which describes it as composed of “Unobtainium 426” and propelled by an “Anti-matter plasma cell.” Nonsense, all of it, but the point stands: The scariest thing about Phantasm is a robot, one that’s as dream-like as it is ridiculous, and as impossible to un-see as the rest of the film.

7. Hector — Saturn 3

Saturn 3 doesn’t deserve Hector, a towering killer humanoid whose tiny, snail-like stalk of a head rises from a bizarrely muscle-bound body, and whose deranged appeal can’t save the terrible B-movie from itself. The robot’s look is distressing enough, but the psychopath who assembles and programs Hector (as a possible replacement for researchers on a moonbase orbiting Saturn) accidentally transfers his own predatory lust for Farrah Fawcett’s character. Throw in the fact that Hector’s own brain incorporates fetal brain tissue, and the robot couldn’t be more repulsive.

8. Hunter-Killers — Terminator


Terminator Wiki

The T-800 is a cool villain, all grim and Arnoldy on the outside, and shiny, skull-faced doom on the inside. But the robots that turned the Terminator series into the foundation for countless thought-experiments about machine uprisings didn’t walk on two legs or kill people for their clothes. They were the ones rolling across piles of human bones, and patrolling the nuke-dimmed skies, faceless unmanned military vehicles scanning for more humans to exterminate. The ground-based and airborne Hunter-Killers looked like instruments of extinction, that name delineating the grim, one-sided process of wiping out a species. Though the HKs seem almost painfully prescient in today’s age of drone warfare, it was back in the '80s when they were most jarring, replacing another kind of shambling movie monster with something stranger, and much worse: the entire military industrial complex gaining sentience, and burning the world out of fear and self-interest.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Miramax
arrow
entertainment
11 Single Facts About Bridget Jones’s Diary
Miramax
Miramax

While it's not officially a holiday movie, so much of the action in Bridget Jones's Diary happens around the most wonderful time of the year that the rom-com has become essential wintertime viewing for many movie fans. Based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, it tells the story of a very single, and hopelessly romantic, working professional named Bridget (Renée Zellweger) who is determined to improve her love life. Enter two strapping gentlemen (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) to vie for her heart. Get to know more about the timeless dramedy that’s been delighting audiences since 2001. Just as it is.

1. THE SOURCE NOVEL CAME ABOUT FROM AN ANONYMOUS COLUMN ABOUT SINGLE LIFE.

In the foreword of Bridget Jones’s Diary, author Helen Fielding wrote about how she came to conjure up the story: “The Independent asked me to write a column, as myself, about single life in London. Much as I needed the money, the idea of writing about myself in that way seemed hopelessly embarrassing and revealing. I offered to write an anonymous column instead, using an exaggerated, comic, fictional character. I assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.”

2. SEVERAL CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON PEOPLE IN HELEN FIELDING’S LIFE.


Miramax

These include Jude (Tracey MacLeod) and Shazzer (Sharon Maguire, also the film’s director). In a column for the Evening Standard, MacLeod described how she didn’t even realize she inspired part of her best friend’s story until Fielding’s book launch party. “At the launch party for the first Bridget book, I was cornered by a smug married friend, ‘So ... what's it like being Jude?’ she asked,” MacLeod writes. “I was outraged. Of course I wasn't Jude, with her self-help books and horrible boyfriend. My boyfriend wasn't anything like Vile Richard ... But as more people began to believe that Jude and Shazzer were thinly-veiled portraits of myself and Sharon, I secretly got to like the idea.”

3. TONI COLLETTE DECLINED THE LEAD, AND KATE WINSLET WAS CONSIDERED FOR IT.

Before Zellweger stole the show, Aussie Toni Collette and Brit Kate Winslet were up for the part. According to AMC, “Toni Collette declined the role because she was on Broadway starring in The Wild Party at the time, and Kate Winslet was considered but the producers decided she was too young.”

4. HUGH GRANT ONLY SIGNED ON WHEN RICHARD CURTIS WAS ANNOUNCED AS THE WRITER. 


Miramax

“The only reason [I was a hard sell] was because I didn't feel they had the script quite right for a long time,” Firth told Cinema.com. “And I kept saying, ‘It's not working. Just get Richard Curtis to come in and help rewrite it.’ Eventually they did, and as soon as Richard came on board, I signed on the dotted line. So that's all it was.”

5. RENÉE ZELLWEGER GAINED 17 POUNDS FOR THE PART.

Zellweger’s weight gain for the role had the media abuzz for a while. According to The Guardian, “In order to play the eponymous heroine in the film adaptation of Fielding's bestseller, the actress gained 17 pounds, consulting a dietitian and endocrinologist who devised a regime of three full meals a day, multiple snacks, and no exercise.”

6. ZELLWEGER WORKED AT PICADOR FOR THREE WEEKS.

Zellweger went full Method for her iconic role, and became a temporary employee of the Picador publishing house. “We came up with a plan: she would be Bridget Cavendish, Bridget for obvious reasons and Cavendish as she was to be passed off as the sister of Jonathan Cavendish, a friend of one of our company chairmen,” Picador publicist Camilla Elworthy told The Guardian. “That last bit at least is true, and no one was to know that Jonathan Cavendish was one of the film's producers.”

7. ZELLWEGER KEPT A PHOTO OF JIM CARREY ON HER DESK.


Miramax

While working at Picador, Zellweger kept a picture of Jim Carrey on her desk—which made her alter ego Bridget Cavendish seem like some sort of obsessed fan. “Under the name Bridget Cavendish, she answered phones, served coffee, and made photocopies—without being recognized by any of her co-workers, who offered career advice and wondered privately why she kept a photo of Jim Carrey (her then-boyfriend) on her desk,” noted Hollywood.com.

8. ZELLWEGER INVITED HER BOSS AT PICADOR TO BE AN EXTRA ON SET.

In Camilla Elworthy’s write-up for The Guardian, she noted how she became a part of the production. “Renée sent me a thank you letter and gift after she'd gone and I have seen her a few times since then," Elworthy wrote. "She invited me on to the film set one day. She informed me that I had to stick around and be an extra and made sure that I was put somewhere that I would be seen ... As a result, half my head can be seen for half a nano-second in the launch party scene.”

9. THE EPIC FIGHT SCENE BETWEEN GRANT AND COLIN FIRTH WASN’T CHOREOGRAPHED.

You can thank the two actors for the hilarity of the iconic scene. In a Vulture article about the greatest fight scenes in movie history, writer Denise Martin recalled the improvised spar, writing, “No stunt coordinators. No elaborate choreography. Just a perfectly realized wimp brawl between two upper-middle-class Englishmen coming to awkward fisticuffs in front of a Greek restaurant.”

10. FIELDING ASKED FRIEND SALMAN RUSHDIE TO CAMEO IN THE FILM.

Recalling how he came to be part of the film, famed novelist Salman Rushdie told Texas Monthly, “Helen Fielding, the author of the book, is an old pal of mine, and she asked if I’d come along and make a fool of myself, and I said, ‘Why not?’”

11. GRANT DIDN’T HEAR ZELLWEGER SPEAK IN HER AMERICAN ACCENT UNTIL THE FILM’S WRAP PARTY.

Zellweger was so engrossed with Bridget Jones that one of her leading love interests didn’t meet the real actress until the end of the shoot. “Not once did she stop speaking with that accent, until the wrap party,” Grant told Cinema.com, “when suddenly this weird ... Texan appeared. I wanted to call security, I didn't know who the f*ck she was!”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Universal Home Video
arrow
entertainment
15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios