Top 5 Worst (Best?) Robot Movies of the 80s

Robots have been a staple of Hollywood since movies began, and in the 1980s, robots were all the rage. Some were very good, pushing the envelop of creativity and special effects, while others clung to the coattails of the leaders and tried to cash in on the craze. Here are 5 of the worst (or best if that’s your thing).

D.A.R.Y.L (1985)

Robot Movies
Barret Oliver (D.A.R.Y.L., 1986)

Daryl (Barret Oliver) looks like your average 10-year-old kid but is actually a top-secret government android with sophisticated artificial intelligence designed as a prototype for an army of super soldiers. His name means “Data-Analysing Robot Youth Lifeform” and when one of his creators has second thoughts about the future of the program, he frees him at the cost of his own life. Without any memory of who he is, Daryl is found and brought to an orphanage where he is soon placed with the Richardsons, a typical family of four who think he’s just a kid with great intelligence. But it’s not long before his skills begin to reveal themselves and the government closes in.

Directed by Simon Wincer, this kid’s sci-fi film is really a bore considering the clever plot. An attempt to combine the trend in sci-fi robots and kids adventure, it stars Oliver, who had just come off the popular The NeverEnding Story. Unfortunately, it’s a slow-paced, uninspired film with an odd mix of drama and comedy that just doesn’t work, leaving this one better off unplugged.

Then again, it’s a classic time-capsule of the era and features a great child actor giving it all he’s got in a breezy family-friendly film.

Deadly Friend (1986)

Robot Movies
Kirsty Swanson (Deadly Friend, 1986)

There’s no denying this contribution from horror master Wes Craven doesn’t deserve some love, and it certainly has a cult following. There is some campy fun to be had, but compared to his vast canon of often brilliant films, this one is a certified glitch. Kristy Swanson plays Samantha, the daughter of an abusive, alcoholic father (Richard Marcus), who in a rage, punches her straight-up brain-dead. Good thing her handsome new neighbor has already built a robot with a highly advanced A.I. brain named BB (no relation to BB-8) who got destroyed by a shotgun blast from ornery Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsey). He plugs BBs brain chip into Sam and now he’s got himself a zombie robot girlfriend. What could possibly go wrong?

A misfire from Craven, this mix of horror and sci-fi has a smart premise but is no fun to watch. Swanson is adorably good and does what she can with the awkward role, but it’s a mess throughout with no suspense and very few scares. Too much concentration on the gory effects reduces the development of the characters and there’s just a bland feel to the whole production. Not just a bad robot movie, it’s also a bad zombie one, too. Double whammies.

Then again, there’s something to be said for the ones that fail, and this movie has some interesting special effects if you’re willing to sit through it. It’s Craven after all.

Cherry 2000 (1987)

Robot Movies
Melanie Griffith (Cherry 2000, 1987)

In the far off future of 2017, the U.S. is a post-apocalyptic wasteland with pockets of would-be civilization. With the population low, sex is a big deal and hard to come by where lawyers draw up contracts before relationships and the deed can be done. Good thing there’s a thriving market for sexy female androids (known as  gynoids)! When Sam Treadwell’s (David Andrews) Cherry 2000 gynoid wife malfunctions during sex (they were doing it on the floor loaded with soap bubbles, so go figure), he needs to get her fixed, but she’s an older model and to get parts he needs to venture into the dangerous ‘Zone 7″. He hires Edith “E” Johnson (Melanie Griffith), a hard-nosed, experienced ‘tracker’ to lead him there and you can guess what happens along the way. They fall in love. That’s what happens.

Directed by Steve De Jarnatt, this ultra-cheesy, misogynistic sci-fi adventure is sub-par on every level, trying to cash in on a number of better films, including Mad Max and Blade Runner. While it very nearly closes in on so bad it’s good, it falls short, taking itself too seriously and miscasting Griffith who is unconvincing in every way as a toughie. Even a supporting role with Laurence Fishburne can’t save this mess. A futuristic post-apocalyptic story about sex robots with no nudity and no graphic violence is just plain wrong.

Then again, this makes for a fun double-feature with Mad Max and while it’s unbearably cheesy, that might just be the thing you’re looking for to have a few good laughs.

Saturn 3 (1980)

Robot Movies
Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel, Farrah Fawcett (Saturn 3, 1980)

It’s gonna get ugly fast. On a research station near Saturn, scientists and lovers Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) live alone, far from the over-populated Earth, conducting experiments on hydroponics. Their pastoral dream life is shattered by the arrival Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel) who has brought along a new highly-advanced robot called Hector who is meant to replace one of the scientists. Of course Benson is not really who he says he is and Hector goes on a murderous rampage. Fun for the whole family.

Directed by Stanley Donen, this is one of those movies you really want to be good. The setting, the plot, the actors . . . it all seems like it would be great, but unfortunately the script is not even laughably bad. It’s just cringeworthy. Watching Douglas, who was 31 years older than his co-star, get close with Fawcett is uncomfortable, and Hector is far from imposing. Not to mention the total abandonment of logic and basic science (apparently gravity is thing on space stations near Saturn, who knew?) and special effects that can’t match the high standard set by the new kid on the block, Star Wars. Disappointing describes hoping this movie will be good when it’s not. Dunderheaded describes just about everything else. In your living room, everyone can hear you scream.

Then again, there is no denying the irresistible allure of Fawcett, who glows throughout and if you love silly robots, Hector tops the list.

Galaxina (1980)

Robot Movies
Dorothy Stratten (Galaxina, 1980)

And so we come to Galaxina. If you haven’t seen Galaxina or even heard of Galaxina, then you’re in for a treat. Treat meaning anguish and regret. Starring Playboy Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten as the titular Galaxina, she plays a voluptuous (of course) android aboard the starship police cruiser Infinity, captained by the doltish Cornelius Butt (Avery Schreiber), which tells you just about everything you need to know. But we’ll tell you more anyway. She’s built like Playboy model but’ll give off electric shocks if you touch her. Wanting to experience what it’s like to be human (because doesn’t every robot want that?) she reprograms herself while the crew are in stasis. She falls in love with the dashing Sgt. Thor (Stephen Macht), and even though she doesn’t have the right sex parts, you know, down there, she assures him those are attachments she can order for an upgrade. So romantic.

Directed by William Sachs, this dreadful sci-fi/comedy lacks both good sci-fi and funny comedy. Ultra low-budget, it, like many that have nude models in their cast, relies on the jiggly bits to sell the show, even though this one ‘barely’ has much of that. It must be said that Ms Stratten was murdered shortly after this film’s release, which puts a damper on criticizing it, but there’s no escaping the dull direction, script, and approach to this exploitation film that doesn’t successfully poke fun at the targets it tries for and can’t compel to keep us watching, even with the beautiful Stratten as eye candy.

Then again . . . well. No. This is just bad.