Jun 19 2012 4:00pm

10 Movies That Really Need Robots

Sometimes a movie fails to inspire. Maybe it’s too slow, or the dialogue is flat. Maybe the characters spend too much time looking at the horizon, knitting their alabaster brows, feeling things so complex and soulful that normal people fall asleep watching them. Maybe it’s my editing heart or just my human desire not to be bored, but I often find myself thinking “What this movie needs is... an OCD fisherman on a meth binge” or “...a few more rabid dogs” or even “...Satan, arriving on a bicycle to rule the earth for a thousand years.”

Since writing my book, which features robots in a prominent role, I’ve been obsessing on robots I love in the movies. A movie with a robot in it has never really let me down. I’m not sure I can establish an absolute cause and effect relationship here, but if vampires and zombies can be surgically added to beef up the entertainment value of familiar tales, then I feel robots can be applied medicinally to movies that fail to excite. Here are ten movies I can really see improving after a stiff shot of robot.


If two women are central to a movie, you can bet your box of tissues that one of them is going to become fatally ill, linger, and then die. Mothers and daughters, sisters, friends: there’s a bad kidney lurking, or some kind of malignancy — depend upon it. This movie is all about the friendship between two women: C.C. and Hillary. Sometimes they fight; sometimes they’re friends. Sometimes they have boyfriends; sometimes they have careers. UNTIL the writers remember the importance of killing off one of any female pair, at which point Hillary pops out a heart condition and begins to aggressively die. Enter the robot.

An artificial heart would cure Hillary’s medical problem, then the movie could end cheerfully, instead of bumping off into a puddle of despair, and leaving “Wind Beneath My Wings” with us as the most ambiguous tearjerking song of the decade. “You are the wind beneath my wings,” bellows C.C. That’s right, bitch. MY wings. You are the insubstantial jet of air whose only significance is the way you create lift under my brilliant plumage as I soar. I am the soaring plumage. Had Hillary lived with a robot heart, she might have even gotten her own wings. Then C.C. and Hillary could have taken more turns trampling and inflating each others’ enormous egos.

Eat Pray Love

In my robot-infested version of this movie, the world would be under attack by a robotic horde. Their objective can be anything reasonable: world domination, religious conversion, eating at Chipotle just like the humans do, or whatever. The important thing is that our heroine, Liz Gilbert, has a good reason to travel to Rome, India, and Bali — because robots are there, killing all the people! Traveling the world to find yourself is intolerably insipid, but traveling the world to quell a robot uprising is quite fantastic. Their tagline: “Let yourself go.” My tagline: “Let yourself go... fight robots!”

Steel Magnolias

Steel Magnolias is about a bunch of women in a social group that forms around a hair salon. Not only are they all friends, but there is a mother-daughter pair right in the middle of it, so you know right away that the daughter is marked for death. Sure enough, Shelby Eatenton has diabetes, and spends the movie sweetly expiring. Oh, first she has a baby. But then she dies.  

You may think I am going to call up a dialysis robot, to save Shelby and the day. But Shelby’s illness and death are so critical to the movie that subtracting that part of the plot would deflate the whole film. Steel Magnolias is a tense, emotional, Southern movie, where lots of feelings go unspoken, and lots of anxiety rampages around unseen and unspoken while women are wisecracking and biting their tongues. What this movie really needs is a hairdressing robot. A comical robot that can humorously misfire and scald an old lady, or chop the tresses off a prom queen, or give a goat a perm. Comic relief, a problem in common for all the frenemies in the movie to unite against, and it could wear a funny, frilly apron.

The English Patient

In the forties, in the desert, everything was very difficult. When your girlfriend got shot, you had to leave her in a cave for three days while you wandered around getting lost, captured, and burned up in a fire. Your girlfriend, in the past, had to die alone in despair, causing you to spend the rest of your life in a guilty funk, poisoning everything you touch. In the future, in the desert, everything will be easy! You can leave your android companion with your girlfriend to minister to her needs in the cave while you are gone. Or, better yet, you can send your android companion to get help. And your android companion will actually get help, and bring it back. I’ll confess I have always thought that a real man, upon reaching town, would have calmly explained his presence, instead of getting pissy with the cops and being thrown in jail. Robots don’t get pissy with cops. Robots just report the cave’s location, and the medical requirements of the people inside.

Terms of Endearment

The Steel Magnolias Principle: Mother + Daughter = Death. For this movie, I would still not save the daughter with a medical robot. I would use a robotic spy plane death drone to first document and then punish the adulterous transgressions of the daughter’s husband. First, his name is Flap. Have you ever heard of anyone in all of literature or pop culture named “Flap”? No. Having a name that no one else has might be cool if the name wasn’t “Flap.” But it is. Second, he looks like Jeff Daniels and is a college professor and yet has a passionate affair with a young graduate student named Janice while his wife dies of cancer. Flap and Janice. Now Flap (I can hardly say his name without throat punching him) makes it through the theatrical release of Terms of Endearment by mumbling and deflecting, but in my version, he would be hunted by attack drones and killed without mercy.

Hanging Up

In this movie, three sisters, played by Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, and Lisa Kudrow, have a lot of conversations, wear clothes, and try to figure out what to do with their disagreeably dying father. In my version, there’s a fourth sister, a robot, whose job it is to kill the father and blame it on the others. Instantly better! That’ll give the ladies something to talk about on the phone. “Have you seen Sally?” “Yes, she’s in my living room right now, a coil of brutal steel and wire, planting evidence in my purse!”

Little Women

The Terms of Endearment Principle: When mother and daughter are together in a movie, one of them will die a lingering death. This movie is no exception. As we all know from our old but vibrant emotional scars, Beth dies. But the problem here isn’t Beth’s illness. It’s really the fact that the movie just has too many freakin’ women in it. Six female main characters? It’s a marvel the attrition rate to slow diseases wasn’t even higher. My solution would be to turn Marmee and Aunt March into genderless robots. While we’re at it, let’s make them warring robots. Marmee would be the good robot (obvs) and Aunt March would be the one with the glowing red eyes, and they could fight for the souls of the four sisters. Forget pickled limes and darning and community theater. Let’s talk futuristic weaponry. Oh, you don’t think I should mess with Little Women? Weren’t you the one complaining that Winona Ryder’s portrayal of Jo March was gutless and insipid? Yeah, but okay, robots will ruin the movie. Blame the robots.

Good Luck Chuck

High concept movies are supposed to be easy to understand. For example, this movie is about a man who is cursed in such a way that whoever he sleeps with marries the next person she sleeps with. Clear? Except, the movie doesn’t seem to be about that at all after the first five minutes. What about this: Chuck is a man cursed in such a way that every girl he sleeps with becomes a robot and tries to take over the nearest corporation, utilizing its manufacturing pipeline to replicate itself. Robot armies form. Chuck is forced into celibacy — or is he? Yep, NOW we’re clear.

500 Days of Summer

Here is a movie about the terrible angst and unbearable heartache caused by engaging in a semi-okay relationship that lasted less than a year with someone you weren’t sure you really liked. The director of the movie has admitted that Summer (played by Zooey Deschanel) was not meant to be a real girl, but a phase that Tom (male main character) goes through. She’s an immature interpretation of perfection. Okay, let’s take that one step farther, since the movie as it is now gave me seven cavities in my teeth right before my head fell off from the preciousness of it all. Tom’s architecture degree could be utilized by creating a robot Summer that will do everything Tom wants her to do, and never wander off or get distracted by bricks and how they stack and are red. Maybe Robot Summer can fight Real Summer, or else both the Summers can turn on Tom and teach him a lesson about growing up. In the face.


Adding robots to Twilight is all about triangulation. There are vampires and werewolves already, and now there are also robots. Since the werewolves are all boys, the robots should be all girls. Tell me you don’t want to see an urban gang of lesbian robot chicks vying for Bella’s attention, to offset the earthy testosterone of Team Jacob. I’d watch it. Think Pris from Blade  Runner. Now thing Pris from Blade Runner popping Edward Cullen’s head off.

Wouldn’t it be nice if one could apply these fixes to movies while watching? Sort of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” where Choice A was “carry on sucking” and Choice B was “start being awesome with a robot.” I’m sure there are other movies that need robots. Meet Joe Black would be vastly improved by an android that fulfills the function of Death. City of Angels would be much more interesting if the angel inadvertently fell in love with a Roomba. And Shallow Hal? Well let’s just say that a movie that claims it is “surprisingly moving” and yet has a vestigial tail as a plot point needs a Terminator, stat.

To what movie would you add a robot? Tell me in the comments.

Lydia Netzer is a writer, a reader, and a mom, living in Virginia with her two redheaded kids and her android cyclist husband. Her novel, Shine Shine Shine, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press on July 17, 2012. It has robots in it already. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Chris Hawks
1. SaltManZ
I'm reminded of the episode of Friends where Rachel and Phoebe attended a book club, and Rachel was stealing all of Phoebe's answers, so Phoebe started feeding her made-up stuff, to the point where Rachel announced to the class that she thought Wuthering Heights was ahead of its time because of the robots. :D
Fade Manley
2. fadeaccompli
I would totally watch your versions of The English Patient and Twilight.

In fact, I think I'm going to start adding urban gangs of lesbian robots to all my stories from now on, possibly accompanied by their emotionless android assistants. This could only end well.
3. Dietes
The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Robot.
Ian Tregillis
4. ITregillis
I pretty much agree 100% with everything said here. More robots = more entertainment.

Not a movie, but I've often said King Lear would be considerably shorter if Voltron showed up in the middle of Act III.
5. ginaXgrant
The Unbearable Lightness of Beings? ;-D
6. dpally
Jane Eyre. Rachel said that Jane Eyre was ahead of its time because of robots.
7. jerec84
Haven't seen the Twilight films but I was thinking Kristen Stewart was already playing a robot.
8. Justinfromga
Robots need to be in all movies about historical events. We already know that ship is going to sink in Titanic. What if instead of it just sinking, we find out robots were on board as part of a secret experiment the whole time and it was their bravery that led to the survivial of so many. In my version a floating robot who feels deaths steely grip would cry out with his dying words "there is enough freaking room on that door bitch!"
9. AlBrown
Wasn't Richard Gere playing a robot in Pretty Women? That would explain a lot, in my mind...
Charles Gaston
10. parrothead
"Now thing Pris from Blade Runner popping Edward Cullen’s head off."

Now we have my "special" dream for the rest of the week. Thank you. Especially as Blade Runner is my all time fave movie, and my new girlfriend is (ugh) a Twilight fan, so I shall doubtless be subjected to that series at some time. I have already endured Beastly for her sake, rather painful given that my 3rd favorite is Beauty & The Beast (in case you were wondering, #2 is Pleasantville).

Already covered under the "all historical movies" suggestion, but specifically: all versions of the Alamo. My (Texan born and raised) dad sees every one that comes out, and my mom jokes that he's hoping this time the Texans win. So, here, have a couple Cylons.
Lydia Netzer
11. LydiaNetzer
Maybe in the case of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the robot could attack the projectionist and eat the middle third of the film?
12. a1ay
Tom’s architecture degree could be utilized by creating a robot Summer that will do everything Tom wants her to do, and never wander off or get distracted by bricks and how they stack and are red. Maybe Robot Summer can fight Real Summer, or else both the Summers can turn on Tom and teach him a lesson about growing up. In the face.

"500 Days of Summer Glau."

That is all.
13. DanielTMartin
I like the idea of taking Pretty Woman but Julia Roberts's character is a sexbot whose programming begins to grow (through magic exposure to opera, or something) and when Richard Gere's character's friend bursts in on her and tries to rape her, (thinking her a mere human prostitute) the robot kills him.

The two main characters then hide the body, the robot gets a new body and takes over the identity of the former friend and business partner, and the two men who now think there's much more to life than business retire to a nice condo in San Fransisco and live together happily ever after, eventually getting married when that becomes legal.

A robot, and Richard Gere getting gay married. How could this not win?
Keith Quigley
14. keithq
Wasn't Tom Cruise a robot in the remake of War of the Worlds?

But I could see Lawrence of Arabia with Peter O'Toole played by an android, not an obvious robot but more like a replicant. This of course explains why the match didn't burn him, or at least why he didn't *care* that it hurt.
Keith Quigley
15. keithq
"500 Days of Summer Glau."

Oh man, my day has been made! Thank you.
16. shalamiope
@6 dpally
If you like the story of Jane Eyre, Sharon Shinn's "Jenna Starborn" is a sci-fi retelling that has cyborgs.

When I had to watch "The Sound of Music" one too many times growing up, I thought it would have been fantastic if androids replaced the children & did a little rampaging.
Judi Romaine
17. infogypsy
Very good - I agree that every one of these films I which I have seen (except the last four) needed to be killed off - especially The English Patient! And now I include The Descendants, The Up Side of Anger, and that one out this month about that guy finding the sister he didn't know he had.

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