The History of Robots in Movies

Robots and similar mechanical creations have been a part of movies since the early days of motion picture history. The actual term ‘robot’ was first used in the 1920s in a theatrical play called R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by playwright Karel Capek. ‘Robot’ was derived from the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning work or forced labor.

Prior to the word ‘robot’ becoming part of modern language, the term ‘automaton’ was used to describe machines with a human-like appearance. Motion pictures of varying types started coming into existence in the 1880s and 1890s and automatons did appear in early films such as L’Ève Future (1896) and The Master Mystery (1920).

And automatons are still a subject in movies today. The novel behind the 2011 movie Hugo was inspired by the story of the 18th century Maillardet Automaton, which actually exists and is currently on exhibit at the The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

But the first significant character known as a ‘robot’ from the early days of film is Robot Maria from the silent movie Metropolis, released in 1927 and directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang.

The next major cinematic leap in robot popularity occurred with the appearance of Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet in 1956.

But probably the most beloved robot characters in motion picture history are C-3PO and R2-D2, who made their debut appearance in the first Star Wars film in 1977.