'The Iron Giant'

Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, first spelled out in 1942, cast a large shadow over all future robot stories. They're so logical, why wouldn't future manufacturers program them into every robot they made? Asimov delighted in bending the laws in a series of stories and novels, but it's fair to say that he influenced an entire generation of science fiction-loving boys to think of robots as beneficent and helpful rather than evil and malignant.

The love affair of boys and their robots may have begun on the printed page, but it quickly spread to movies and television shows. Astro Boy takes that love affair one step further, fusing boy and robot into a singular being, the creation of a scientist in memory of his lost son. The character first appeared in a manga before migrating to TV and film; the latest cinematic version opens tomorrow. In honor of Astro Boy, who surely is the most fitting embodiment of the term, we present the top ten sci-fi movies featuring boys and their robots:

1. The Iron Giant

An easy call. Hogarth is nine years old, a kind-hearted boy who is only too happy to hide his new friend, who just happens to be a 100-foot tall metal man. Hogarth is also wise beyond his years, boldly imploring the Iron Giant: "You don't have to be a gun. You are what you choose to be. You choose. Choose." Brad Bird's film is filled with impish fun and a gentle approach to morality that goes down easy and hits every target.

2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

I suppose Luke Skywalker is a little too old to be considered a "boy," but he sure acts like a boy and is (mostly) treated as one, so his endearing relationship with the lovable little mug R2-D2 counts as one of the more memorable, long-lasting encounters between a sci-fi boy and his robot.

3. Gigantor

My personal introduction to giant robots came every weekday afternoon in glorious black and white. Up to this day, I have been known to break out singing the theme song at inappropriate times -- "bigger than big, tougher than tough" -- and smiling at the recollection. Unfortunately, a recent viewing convinces me that I was much more patient as a little boy, but Gigantor will always be my unflappable, implacable hero. I was insanely jealous of young hero Billy Sparks, who got to control the giant flying robot.

4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Like Hogarth in The Iron Giant, young John Connor (Edward Furlong) doesn't want his new metallic pal to inflict any lasting harm: "You just can't go around killing people." "Why?" "Because you just can't, OK? Trust me on this." With a voice that still breaks in the higher registers, John sits at the cusp of adulthood, smart but still vulnerable, young enough to fall for the huggable lug with a heart of transistors.

5. Lost in Space

Nostalgia ain't all it's cracked up to be. I'm referring to the 60s TV show rather than the lame remake, though, to be frank, the original series was lame, too. Except for Robot B9, that is, who had a strong attachment to young Will Robinson. The Robot bore a strong resemblance to Robby the Robot from the classic Forbidden Planet, which isn't surprising, since Robert Kinoshita designed both mechanical creatures. When I was young, I wanted to be Will Robinson; as I got older, I wanted to spend time with Alta (Anne Francis) from Forbidden Planet. Go figure.

6. The Jetsons

Rosie only made a couple of fleeting appearances in the original run of episodes, but she always seemed to be around, maybe because she shows up in the end credits. Balanced atop a single leg, rolling around the home of the Jetsons, adorned with a throwback frilly apron, she demonstrated the limitations of imagination. We could think up gadgets galore, yet at heart we wanted a traditional maid to come clean up after ourselves. And she got along really well with Elroy, who always treated her right.

7. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Astro Boy in domestic garb, courtesy of Steven Spielberg channeling Stanley Kubrick. Of course, it would be more accurate to credit Pinocchio as one of the inspirations for this odd, awkward, stiffly haunting picture, which features a robot (Haley Joel Osment) who wants to be a boy to earn the love of his mother.

8. D.A.R.Y.L.

Quietly endearing, the little boy doesn't exactly know who he is, but he's a young man in trouble, so naturally Michael McKean and Mary Beth Hurt are happy to take him into their home. Little do they know that "Daryl" is an acronym, not a name, and that the ordinary looking boy has extraordinary abilities.

9. Spaceballs

If Luke Skywalker can be considered a boy, then so can Lone Starr (Bill Pullman), though his relationship with Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers) is not quite as endearing as Luke's with either R2-D2 or C-3PO. On the other hand, it's much, much funnier.

10. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Another personal, nostalgic favorite, and another category-buster. Still I have a lot of affection for Twiki, mostly because someone I loved gifted me with a plastic, life-sized version of the little guy, and for boys, robots are all about love.

categories Sci-Fi