Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy, the Invisible Man – all classic horror villains with hundreds of movies dedicated to them. Beyond those titans of the genre, there are zombies, slasher villains, kaiju, blobs, gremlins, clowns, and aliens, each with their own assortment of films and franchises. But what about that most mechanical of adversaries, the killer robot? While there are plenty of science fiction films about evil robots – 2001: A Space Odyssey, Colossus: The Forbin Project, and Blade Runner, just to name a few – not many of these films branch off into horror territory. The ones that do, however, are great, and prove that robots have just as much claim to horror fame as zombies or vampires do. Get ready for some mechanical mayhem, robotic rampages, and a lot of flashing lights, because collected below are 12 of the best killer robot horror movies ever made.
12 M3GAN (2023)
M3GAN, the most recent entry on this list, is about a highly realistic AI doll and the havoc it wreaks on one unfortunate family. Programmed to provide care, interaction, and playtime for children, M3GAN goes haywire and becomes overprotective of her child companion, setting the stage for violence and calamity. The film released to great critical and commercial success, with critics praising its melding of horror and comedy elements. The hit horror comedy also boasts a prescient message about the dangers of parenting through technology, and takes a satirical approach to the material that elevates it beyond mere campy robot horror.
Virus is about a ship’s crew that becomes the target of an alien-robot bent on turning the human race into cyborg slaves. The film stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland, and is directed by legendary special effects artist John Bruno, the man responsible for the award-winning effects in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Abyss. The film was not successful upon release, but has since garnered a well-deserved cult following. The special effects are very impressive for the time period, with the robotic bad guy being one of the creepiest sci-fi creatures to come out of the ‘90s.
10 Kronos (1957)
Kronos is a low-budget black-and-white science fiction flick about a giant alien robot that lands in the Southwestern United States and wreaks havoc upon the land, absorbing the energy of the Earth’s core in the process. It’s a relatively simple plot, but the special effects — specifically the imposing rendering of the titular robot — are extremely effective and make for some truly memorable images. If you enjoy classic black-and-white science fiction from the Atomic Age, you’d be remiss not to check out this little-seen gem of killer robot terror.
9 Deadly Friend (1986)
Deadly Friend is about a young computer whiz who attempts to revive his brain-dead neighbor by inserting a robot’s processor into her head. The operation is a success, but soon she goes haywire and begins killing people in their neighborhood. Directed by horror master Wes Craven (of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame), the film is an underrated horror-science fiction genre melder that is worth seeking out. Though not the best film in Craven’s legendary horror filmography, Deadly Friend is one of the most unique science fiction films of its day and presents a surprisingly prophetic vision of the future that holds up well today.
8 Saturn 3 (1980)
Saturn 3 is an oddball science fiction dud from 1980 that has become a cult classic due to its all-star cast (including Farrah Fawcett, Harvey Keitel, and Kirk Douglas) and the creepy robot at the center of its plot. The film is about two people who live on a space station who are endangered by a scientist and his lustful robot. It’s a really strange film, and one that is far from perfect, but as Den of Geek puts it, “in the middle of it all, there’s a great, genuinely weird-looking robot waiting to scare the life out of us.”
7 Westworld (1973)
Westworld may be more familiar to audiences now as the hit HBO series, but in 1973 Michael Crichton first adapted his idea into a feature film starring the great Yul Brynner. The film is about a Wild West theme park full of androids dressed in period-attire and programmed to act as cowboys and outlaws. Designed to be the ultimate escapist getaway, things quickly go awry when the androids start killing people in the park. It’s a thrilling movie, loaded with imaginative ideas, great performances, and special effects that hold up wonderfully. If you’re in the mood for more killer theme park androids, the Peter Fonda-starring 1976 sequel Futureworld is worth checking out as well.
6 Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch follows an unlikely duo in their efforts to uncover the secrets of a mysterious mask-making company before they can kill thousands of children with their nefarious Halloween plans. While the threequel was originally maligned for its complete and total lack of connective tissue to the first two Michael Myers-centric slashers, it has since been reappraised as a solid stand-alone horror flick brimming with creative ideas. One such creative idea is the twist that the evil mask making company is run by killer robots.
5 Demon Seed (1977)
Demon Seed, based on the novel of the same name by Dean Koontz, is about child psychologist Susan Harris, who lives in the 1970s speculative fiction version of a “smart home.” When her husband leaves for a conference, Susan is trapped inside the house by the computer program, which operates every appliance and fixture of the house. The computer, known as Proteus IV, becomes bent on impregnating Susan so that it may take on human form, killing anyone who interferes along the way. It is a frightening vision of a future which is not so different from our present reality, and easily one of the best killer (robot) house movies ever made.
4 Screamers (1995)
Screamers features Peter Weller as Joe Hendricksson, a military commander who intends to put an end to a violent labor dispute on the planet Sirius 6B. Upon his arrival in the desert of the planet, however, he finds that it is populated by a deadly form of self-replicating machines known colloquially as “screamers.” The screamers burrow beneath the sand and attack with saws that can dismember in a flash. The killer robots can also change their appearance to disguise themselves as lifelike humans.
Based on the Philip K. Dick novella Second Variety and written for the screen by Dan O’Bannon (of Alien fame), Screamers has a lot going for it. Though the film garnered mixed reviews, the effects are fun and the thematic elements are strong. As eloquently put by Roger Ebert, “The look and the basic plot elements are not original, but what makes the film somewhat intriguing is its “Blade Runner”-like ambiguity: who is, and who isn’t, a human being.”
3 Hardware (1990)
Hardware is a cult classic horror film set in an atomic war-torn United States. Nomads now roam the wasteland and scavenge for anything of use. One nomad happens upon a set of robot parts that he intends to give to his girlfriend to build a sculpture out of. In a frightening twist, the robot parts are capable of reassembling themselves into their killer robot whole. Despite the film’s low budget, Hardware boasts impressive cinematography and a striking color palette that elevates it above the usual crop of cult genre flicks. It’s an intense post-apocalyptic movie that does a lot with very little budget.
2 The Terminator (1984)
The Terminator is the classic killer robot flick – the “Austrian Oak” Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the titular cybernetic assassin to perfection, thrilling and delighting audiences for generations as he hunts down Sarah Connor and her brave protector Kyle Reese. Although The Terminator is often heralded as one of the best science fiction films of the ‘80s, it should also be remembered as one of the most effective horror films of its day. Schwarzenegger’s killer cyborg is an unrelenting force of violence, and one of the most iconic characters of the 1980s.
1 Chopping Mall (1986)
Chopping Mall is a low-budget Julie Corman-produced sleazefest that tells the thrilling tale of what happens when eight unsuspecting teenagers get trapped in a security-bot-protected mall after hours. Its simple premise sets the stage for a plethora of creative kills, including an extremely memorable laser-induced head explosion. Chopping Mall is not only one of the best killer robot horror movies ever made, but it’s also one of the funniest horror comedies of all time. Director Jim Wynorski imbues the film with just the right amount of wry wit to compliment the scares, which keeps the pace brisk. In a fashion similar to George A. Romero’s iconic zombie flick Dawn of the Dead,
Chopping Mall uses its mall setting and sense of humor to comment on consumerism, making the film feel fresh even today. Additionally, the film boasts one of scream queen legend Barbara Crampton’s all-time best performances, as well as cameos by cult legends Dick Miller, Mary Woronov, and Paul Bartel.