April 19, 2021 5 min read

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Giant Killer Robots: Our Enduring Hollywood Obsession

Our fascination with gigantic killer robots is as American as apple pie. These characters are a staple of blockbuster Hollywood films—and given that movie budgets & special effects abilities keep increasing, we can reasonably expect that this trend will only continue.

Who Were The Original Giant, Killer Robots?

Arguably the earliest, well-known instance of giant killer robots in film or literature came from H.G. Wells classic novel War of the Worlds. There, the invading Martians man (or should I say martian) "Fighting-Machines", robotic tripods armed with heat rays, chemical weapons, and tentacles (used to pick up & toss helpless humans into the distance.)

Fighting-Machine, giant killer robot from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds

Since his original novel, there have been many TV & movie adaptations of these tripod robots. The 2005 film featuring Tom Cruise, in particular, features many different attack scenes from these Fighting-Machines—including the famous street scene where dozens of people are vaporized by their heat rays:

The classic 1996 film, Mars Attacks!, features giant killer robots very similar to these, obviously borrowing from H.G. Wells here. Although the Mars Attacks robots do only have two legs, just as in War of the Worlds, they're also piloted by Martians (rather hilariously, I might add):

"Invasion", aliens invade & attack Earth, poster or canvas wall art

Giant Killer Robots 2.0: "Your Hardware Is Obsolete"

More recent Hollywood versions of the giant killer robot make the H.G. Wells Fighting-Machines look cute by comparison.

The Terminator Salvation film, for example, features the incredibly epic Harvester robots, which wreak absolute havoc upon a group of Judgement Day survivors in the famous gas-station scene:

Not only are their sound effects amazing, but the devastation they produce here makes them absolutely terrifying opponents. What chance could a measly little human have against such an enormous, robotic killer?

Which brings us to our next question...

Giant Killer Robots: What Role Do They Play In Cinema?

If you think about, the giant killer robot is really the ultimate nemesis. Capable of feeling no pain or emotion, they have one directive: to annihilate you. 

There is no pleading with them, or reasoning with them—your only two options are defeat them, or be destroyed. (Just imagine one of those Judgement Day survivors from that Harvester attack scene stopping and being like: "Hey man, let's stop and talk about this for a minute!" Talk about vaporizing fish in a barrel!)

It brings to mind the famous Terminator quote on this point:

"That terminator is out there. It cant be bargained with, it cant be reasoned with, it doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop...EVER, untill you are dead!"

Now imagine that, except it's a GIANT terminator—so massive that shooting it with a gargantuan 50-caliber rifle only has the effect of pathetically tinking off its armor.

Giant killer Harvester robot, from Terminator: Salvation movie

The giant killer robot nemesis allows us to take the prototypical hero story, and boost it up on steroids: The human hero characters get confronted with this gigantic obstacle—this seemingly undefeatable foe who embarrasses our first efforts to beat him. What chance could we possibly stand against such an enormous, technologically-advanced robot who turns our buildings into dust and barely even flinches when shot with our most powerful weapons?

But then, after some initial failed attempts and some learning experiences, the group of humans sets aside their differences, comes together, and using a combination of brainpower, persistence and teamwork—against all odds—they defeat their cold, metallic attacker.

Stories like this connect with something deep inside of us all. It's a reflection of our own struggles in life, albeit amplified for the movie screen: If they can overcome these seemingly impossible challenges, perhaps I could defeat the odds as well and pull of something great in my life?

Victorious man stands at top of mountain with his arms raised

"Phased Plasma Rifles... Pulsed Laser Weapons... Whatever You Need, We've Got it, Bud."

Another tantalizing feature of the giant killer robot is that their technological advancement gives movie writers & directors free reign to use their imagination and get incredibly creative about the action scenes.

"A retractable, shoulder-mounted cannon that obliterates moving vehicles? Sounds awesome. Let's make it happen."

"An arm that transforms into a sword capable of slicing steel? That sounds great."

In many ways, the giant killer robot shares key characteristics with the mad scientist character, discussed in a previous article of ours. Whatever zany invention or ridiculous weapon is needed to make for an awesome scene on the big screen, the mad scientist character can quickly invent it in his evil laboratory with ease:

"Nano-mites that turn buildings into dust? No problem. I'll have it on your desk by Friday."

"Super soldiers that are immune to cobra venom? Sure, I'll have them ready for battle before lunch."

"Mad Scientist", evil genius in lab holds beaker, poster or canvas art


Whatever awesome weapons are needed for a fantastic action scene, the giant killer robot can just whip them out and none of us will question it. We're not going to argue with the feasibility of him actually carrying around a gravity cannon of that power; it's a giant, advanced robot—so basically anything we see goes.

Giant Killer Robots Are Simply Awesome—Isn't That Enough?

Let's not overlook another very simple reason that gigantic killer robots feature so heavily on the movie screen: They're an awesome character to watch in action.

In the movie business, blowing things up to the extremes oftentimes works well.

Ant-Man? He's a superhero that can shrink himself down to a tiny version of himself. Or an enormous version, depending on what's needed for the task at hand.

Godzilla? It's a lizard. But it's humongous.

The list could go on and on.

When it comes to the big screen, bigger is usually better. Why do you think we're watching it on the big screen to begin with? I rest my case.

Giant Killer Robots: Sometimes, They're The Good Guy

I should also point out that the enormous killer robot character isn't always a nemesis. In some films, such as Pacific Rim, they actually function as our protectors.

And in the case of Pacific Rim, we're not just talking about giant robots here; we're talking about extra, EXTRA-giant robots. These things are huge—as are the freakish monsters they go to battle with. A Terminator Harvester robot would look at one of these and be like: "Nah man I'm outta here."

Pacific Rim "Jaegers," giant killer robots that protect us from monsters.

"My Giant Robot Could Kill Your Giant Robot."

The giant killer robot theme really reaches its apex in the Transformers movies. Here you have not just one individual, gigantic bad-guy killer robot (these strings of adjectives are getting hard to follow here!), but an entire team of them in the form of the Decepticons.

And on top of that, you then have an opposing team of good-guy giant killer robots to go to war with them! As you could imagine this makes for some very entertaining viewing on the movie screen—and it's no wonder the Transformers series does so well in theaters.

Huge transformer robot wielding weapon

They're huge, they're metallic, and they've got all kinds of weapons up their sleeves. (Sometimes their sleeve IS a weapon!)

Whatever particular form it happens to take, simply put, the gigantic killer robot makes for some very entertaining cinema. Given their versatility for writers, and the "Wow!" factor they punch, the giant killer robot will continue to be a Hollywood staple. 


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