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To be a true giant freakin robot, a metal beastie must fit a two criteria. First, it has to be a robot. That means it’s not a vehicle, and it’s not driven by a human. Power Rangers, you’re out of luck. It must think (however dimly) for itself. Second, it has to be bigger than holy hell. Giant means giant. Sorry Johnny 5, you may be alive but you’re kind of a puny wimp. Data? Grow a few hundred feet and get back to me. We’re talking GIANT freakin robots here, and nothing else is worth your time.
So, without further ado here’s our list of the five biggest Giant Freakin Robots ever to show up in movie theaters before Michael Bay’s rock em sock em Transformers.
Syndrome's Robot in The Incredibles (2004)
Origin: Invented by the villain Syndrome to kill superheroes.
Abilities: Adapts to attacks, beam weapons, extendable multi-tooled arms
Brad Bird has a giant robot obsession. This is one of two movies on his resume with giant robots in it. In this case, they serve as the tool of choice for the villain of The Incredibles, Syndrome, to use in his long-gestating plot to take over the world and prove he’s just as super as people with natural powers. Syndrome’s robots go through several iterations, the first few are defeated by superheroes off camera and his second to last version is beaten by a fat, out of shape Mr. Incredible. But it’s the final version that makes this list, and nearly defeats not only Mr. Incredible but his entire family.
The unnamed robot is massive, and though he’s given basic instructions by remote control he thinks and adapts for himself. Until Transformers, giant robots have always worked best in animation where they’re not limited by an effects budget, and that’s never been more true than in Incredibles where the film culminates in a massive robot/superhero throwdown the likes of which you’re not likely to see in any other film. The robot itself may be little more than a tool, but it’s a tool with one helluva whallop.
4. MechaGodzilla in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (1974)
Origin: Created by ape-like alien beings and sent to Earth to conquer.
Weight: 40,000 tons
Abilities: Flight, flamethrower, lazer eye beams, missile claws, electrical beam, forcefield, and other energy weapons.
Created by a race of alien apes who live near a black hole, MechaGodzilla at first appeared on Earth disguised as Godzilla himself. Soon his true form was revealed though, as an all-metal, robo version of the greatest city stomping monster of all time, Godzilla. He first appeared in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla in 1974, though other version would be created and fight again in later films. The 1974 version was the only truly robotic one though, as subsequent MechaGodzilla’s would get human brains and even pilots after the failure of the original to defeat Tokyo’s lizard hero/destroyer.
Like every Godzilla character, he’s incredibly silly. But the movie is so over the top and the character so ridiculous that he’s developed quite a cult following. MechaGodzilla is, let’s face it, lizard-stomping fun. He stands out from the pack as one of the few Giant Freakin Robots shaped like an animal. He’s not just a giant freakin robot, he’s a Giant Freakin Robot Lizard!!
3. Jet Jaguar in Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)
Origin: Built by a Japanese scientist.
Weight: 25,000 tons
Abilities: Speaks monster language, flight, extreme growth.
By the mid-70s Toho was starting to run out of flesh and blood monsters for their Godzilla monster to play with, and so they decided to mix things up with robots. The first was Jet Jaguar, a man-sized, man-made robot who inexplicably, and for no discernable reason can grow to massive, monster-sized proportions whenever he feels like it. Alright, it didn’t make a damn bit of sense but this is Godzilla and you have to expect that from a movie whose chief pleasures come from watching a man in a lizard suit knockover cheap miniatures.
The look of the robot was actually the result of a contest, in which the studio asked fans to come up with a new hero for them to use. Jet ended up looking like an amalgam of other popular anime robot superheroes of the time, in particular Ultraman and Mazinger Z. Originally he was supposed to get his own movie, but Toho panicked and rewrote the script to team him up with Godzilla in a battle against the monsters Megalon and Gigan. These days Japan and robots are almost synonymous, but you have to wonder if Jet Jaguar had anything to do with feeding their robo-obsession. Since his debut, he’s been the frequent butt of jokes, and even taken a few punches from the guys over at MSTK3, but no matter how cheesy he may be it’s hard to forget Jet Jaguar the lovable, inexplicable, poorly thought out, ultimate robot buddy.
2. Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Origin: Alien being from the planet Cybertron.
Height: 24 – 40ft
Abilities: transforms into a Mac truck, carries an energy rifle
Michael Bay’s Transformers is the character’s second stint on screen. He first appeared in the 1986 animated film Transformers: The Movie, and without him there’d be no live action version of the franchise to stomp its way through theaters. Here, he appears in his original and most iconic form, as a flat-nosed Mac truck with a red and white cab and a bluish/black wheelbase. Like all Transformers, he transforms from his automobile mode into a towering robot whose mouth is perpetually covered by a face plate. His exact size is hard to figure, since it seemed to fluctuate in the cartoons depending on whatever was convenient for the animators. Most estimates put him between 24 and 30 feet tall, though some theorize he may be as much as a massive 40ft in height.
Voiced by the great voice actor Peter Cullen, Prime sounds a little like John Wayne and rather appropriately he’s always ready to transform and roll out. But what’s most endearing about the character is the kindness and compassion he shows for both his friends and enemies. Supremely intelligent and ever willing to sacrifice himself to save others, Prime leads the Autobots against their evil giant robot foes the Decepticons. Prime dies in the animated film, and for many Transformers obsessed 80s kids his demise was one of the most traumatic moments of their life. Ok, maybe not their life but at least the most traumatic of the summer. Bambi’s mother? Forget it, I saved my tears for Prime.
1. Iron Giant in The Iron Giant (1999)
Origin: Alien technology, fell from outer space.
Abilities: Flight, spontaneous self-repair, heavy alien weaponry.
Created as a weapon, when the Iron Giant falls to Earth from outer space and loses his memory, he becomes every little boy’s ultimate fantasy: a robot best friend. The Iron Giant isn’t just an icon, he’s a hero and the most brilliant giant robot ever to appear on the silver screen. Much more than just a romping, stomping, tool of destruction or ultimate warrior like the other GIANT FREAKIN ROBOTS on this list, the Iron Giant is a massive robot with a soul.
The 2-D animated movie follows a boy named Hogarth as he finds and befriends the friendly and childlike giant, and then as the government hunts and attempts to destroy the kindhearted, mega-sized metal man. In the end, the gentle giant sacrifices himself to save the little boy he comes to love. Like the robots in Sky Captain, the Iron Giant sports a retro look, appropriate since the movie takes place in 1957. He’s what robots looked like, back when computers where still the figment of someone’s imagination. He rarely speaks, but says volumes with gestures and iron sounding growls. It’s enough. His movie is one of the best reviewed, most beloved, cult-hit animated films of all time, and the Iron Giant takes our crown as the top GIANT FREAKIN ROBOT of all time.
Nominated but didn’t make the cut: Robots in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Gort in The Day The Earth Stood Still, ED-209 in Robocop