Everybody has their preferences when it comes to TV and movies. My personal preference is to steer clear of Westworld. I don’t totally understand how it’s possible to make a show about killer robots boring, but the creators of this prestige HBO drama have accomplished just that. The series, which returns on June 26, has big actors, huge budgets, full network support, and some of the coolest visuals on TV, yet it still can’t manage to eek out decent dialogue, or plotting that doesn’t feel both incoherent and somehow also predictable. Most of the characters speak in tired, fortune-cookie platitudes, and the performances are closer to what you’d expect from people who tasked with a washing machine than a sympathetic humanoid escaping her wretched working conditions. It often feels that the show runners should have focused less on making something profound and instead just tried to make something entertaining.
To each their own. In the case of my “own,” I suggest you skip Westworld and check out these 11 robot-focused alternatives.
Yeah, that’s right. If you’re going to skip HBO’s shitty show (you should), try going back to the source material from whence it sprung. Novelist and screenwriter Michael Crichton’s 1973 original (which he wrote and directed) is basically Jurassic Park (which he also wrote) but with robots. The premise is simple: In the future, a theme park exists where you can live out your wildest fantasies in separate “worlds” populated by robots. There’s Romanworld (ancient Rome), Medievalworld (European Middle Ages), and, yes, Westworld, where you can play marauding cowboy. It’s all fun and games until something goes wrong (hint: the robots go haywire and start killing everybody). It’s a simple, effective concept, that is nonetheless fully realised, thought-provoking, deeply creepy, and better than its successor.
The Stepford Wives (1975)
The Stepford Wives, based upon a 1972 novel of the same name, is a creepy sci-fi parable that posits that all straight men really want in a girlfriend or wife is an accommodating, compliant, sex object. A classic 1970s thriller that adeptly mixes techno-paranoia and social commentary, the story centres around a woman named Joanna whose husband whisks her out of New York City to a suburb in Connecticut, where all the women act really weird. The reason that they act really weird is (*spoiler*) because their husbands are part of a local men’s association that turns wives into robots.
If nothing else, you should watch the trailer for this movie. The narrator sounds like he was…uh…excited…by the premise.
The Terminator (1984)
James Cameron’s The Terminator is a lot creepier than you remember it. While T2 might be the best of the franchise, the 1984 original is something of an overlooked classic. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a killer robot from the future who is sent back in time to murder the mother of John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance movement in the war with the machines and…you know, what? I’m pretty sure you already know what this movie is about. And, if you don’t, for the love of God get your shit together and watch it already.
Paul Verhoeven’s fantastic 1987 film Robocop may be a violent satire of Ronald Reagan’s corporatist, right-wing America, but it’s also just a helluva good time. In the future, things in Detroit are so bad that the city decides to privatize the police force, ceding control of it to a megacorporation called Omni Consumer Products. Omni then decides to roll out an experimental security product: a cyborg called Robocop. The product was created using the mangled body of a slain Detroit police officer, who is essentially brought back to life and put inside a cybernetic suit. Robocop hunts down the city’s criminals, obeying his corporate overlords…until he doesn’t.
The Matrix (1999)
Was The Matrix an allegory for transgender identity? A commentary about the internet? Or a sly way for the Illuminati to tell us we are all living in a computer simulation? Honestly, I’m game for all three. It’s just awesome watching Keanu fire a giant gun out of a helicopter or practice his kung fu moves on Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith — a sneering computer program who wants to stop the human insurgency at any cost. Any way you slice it, it’s a fun watch and one of the most influential films to come out of the 1990s.
A.I., Artificial Intelligence (2001)
You and your partner ever wanted a kid? Maybe a cute little boy with big, beautiful eyes? You won’t want that anymore after watching Haley Joel Osmond play the creepiest kid in ever in A.I. Artificial Intelligence. This 2003 movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and sourced from a treatment originally developed by Stanley Kubrick, is deeply weird and depressing. It’s also really, really good. Osmond plays David, a robot child who is procured by a man for his wife, after their son slips into a seemingly interminable coma. Things go ok for a little bit, but then the son wakes up and the family abandons David on the side of the road like some poorly behaved pooch. He subsequently goes on an odyssey of self-discovery that takes nearly two and a half hours to accomplish, but which ultimately involves a lot of amazing imagery, narrative twists, and great acting. Worth a watch!
Futurama: Bender’s Big Score (2007)
This movie went direct-to-video. But the hilarious Matt Groening still made a better TV show than HBO’s Westworld! Watch it and have a laugh.
Ex Machina (2014)
All hail Alex Garland, one of the few filmmakers active today who consistently makes cool, entertaining, original work. Garland really made his mark with this 2014 psychological thriller about a corporate worker bee (Domhnall Gleeson) who gets whisked away to the estate of his Bezos-like boss (Oscar Isaac), who wants to test out his new robot on him. That robot is played to “uncanny valley” perfection by Alicia Vikander, who looks and sounds a lot like a robot. A really hot robot, that is. Things don’t go as planned and problems ensue.
If you want to be even more weirded out, check out Garland’s more recent movie Men, which is about Jessie Buckley booking the worst Airbnb of her life.
Love, Death, and Robots (2019-Present)
An anthology series that mimics the feel of a short story collection, Love, Death, and Robots swings wildly from comedy to action to horror. The show’s got something for every type of sci-fi fan. Each episode is about 15 minutes or less, so you’ll get yourself hooked and find yourself already done in a tiny span of time compared to some of the other recommendations on this list. My personal favourites are the first episode and the finale of the first season. The first, “Three Robots,” is slapstick post-apocalyptic robot comedy. The finale, “Zima Blue,” is a profound meditation on the nature of humanity and art and a touching tribute to real-life artist Yves Klein. Chills.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
Set in a futuristic San Francisco that Silicon Valley engineers could only dream of, Big Hero 6 features a robot tightly integrated into one family, so much so that Hiro Hamada can’t imagine life without the cuddly, Michelin-Man-esque Baymax. When the two are chased by a villain in a Kabuki mask who can control malevolent nanobots with his mind and get no help from the cops, it’s time for both of them to grow up and live up to Hiro’s namesake.
It’s in the title: this is a movie about robots. Disney’s star-studded (Halle Berry? Amanda Bynes? Drew Carey? Mel Brooks?) animated tribute to a robots-only society of the future features a teenager (Ewan McGregor) coming of age and making his way in “Robot City,” the bright and clanking metropolis of the metal-bodied. Robin Williams makes a memorable turn as a sidekick paparazzo, and his character’s animated mannerisms mimic Williams’ own distinctive, hilarious body language.