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Say what you want about Transformers, but nobody can deny that it’s a one-of-a-kind franchise. While there are many franchises that share some similarities, there’s a certain stylistic flair that sets Transformers apart as unique — whether that’s a good or bad unique, I’ll leave up to you.
Maybe you’re like me and watched any or all of the Transformers movies with high hopes only to leave the theater disappointed. Maybe it’s one of many such disappointments that eventually made you stop going to the cinemas. Maybe you love the concept of giant robots but are saddened by the dearth of giant robot movies.
It’s true: there’s a huge gap in the market with a lot of potential. But the good news is that there are a handful of “larger than life” films over the past two decades that were actually pretty good. Whether you like Transformers or not, the following films should appeal.
Robot Jox (1989)
When a nuclear holocaust devastates the entire world, the remnant nations come together and outright ban war. Over time, these nations form two opposing factions that agree to resolve their differences through the only option left to them: gladiator-style duels between giant robots.
And that’s the premise of Robot Jox.
Most giant robot films are limited by the sheer amount of CGI involved in the process of making it look good. Yet, way back in 1989, director Stuart Gordon didn’t let that stop him from creating what would later go on to become a cult classic.
Despite the outdated Cold War cliche at the heart of the plot, Robot Jox has two glorious fight scenes that would make any fan of giant robots pump their fist with excitement.
Pacific Rim (2013)
In the not-so-distant future, a portal is discovered at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. From that portal, massively nightmarish creatures emerge and wreak havoc on human establishments across the world. In response, humans fight fire with fire by creating and piloting massively nightmarish robots.
Though it sounds pretty corny, Pacific Rim shattered expectations. It’s arguably what Transformers should have been from the very beginning.
No longer limited by primitive technologies, we’re finally entering an age where we can watch the kind of stories that were once constrained to animation. Indeed, Pacific Rim is basically an anime come to life — and actually executed well.
If you get the chance, be sure to watch this one in 3D. While it’s often seen as a gimmick, this is one of a handful movies that are worth watching in 3D. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The Avengers may not be the first — or even 10th — film that comes to mind when you think “giant robots”, but it has giant things and robots in it. Which counts, right? But seriously, the heart of the Avengers franchise is very much in the same place as the Transformers franchise, and it turns out they’re quite similar.
As the second-highest grossing film of 2015 at the time of this writing, there’s no doubt that people want more films like Age of Ultron, despite the reservations revealed in our Age of Ultron movie review.
I suppose it’s a good thing that Marvel has already announced a two-part sequel titled Infinity War, with the first half scheduled for release in 2018. Are you excited?
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
Do I need to explain this one? The Godzilla franchise dates all the way back to 1954 and pretty much popularized the entire genre of “big huge dangers” that we’ve all come to love.
“But Godzilla isn’t a robot!”, I hear you say. While that’s true, there was one film in the series that introduced a robotic element to the creature. In the titular film, Mechagodzilla is the villain, while Godzilla, who’s normally the big bad, clashes against him. The film also involves two other massive creatures, Anguirus and King Caesar.
Big battles everywhere.
Even though the 2014 version of Godzilla is less about robots and more about aliens, I recommend that you check it out as well. And like Pacific Rim, it’s definitely worth watching in 3D. It’s no longer available in theaters so your only hope is to watch it on a 3D smart TV. (Or not. It’s still good even in regular ol’ 2D.)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
If Transformers appeals to you for its simple plot, mindless action, and vast array of explosions, then you may not like this one. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is not a summer blockbuster. It’s nearly antithetical to everything Transformers is.
But it has giant robots, it has action and adventure, and it’s a fun watch, so why not give it a try?
Set in an alternative version of New York City in the 1930s, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a highly stylized take on the classic city-invaded-by-huge-robots plotline — but, as always, there’s more to it than first meets the eye.
And when I say it’s highly stylized, I mean it. What’s impressive here is that the entire film was shot using computer-generated surroundings that were rendered and composited by nearly 100 visual effects artists. Have you seen Sin City? It looks kinda like that, except with giant robots.
More Giant Robots In Movies
Giant robots are a rarity in featured films. Sure, some popular ones like the Megazord from Power Rangers come to mind, but in the grand scheme, it is but a tiny portion. Perhaps in the next decade, when CGI isn’t so cost-prohibitive, we’ll start seeing more movies like Transformers and Pacific Rim.
But until then, don’t forget to check out these tech-heavy movies that all geeks should watch as well as these best geek movies of all time. They should tide you over until the giant robot revolution hits your local movie theater.
NB: Anime films were intentionally left off this list. While I’m aware that big mecha stories are common in the anime world, I haven’t watched enough of them to make any kind of judgments. If you’d like to recommend one, please feel free to do so.
Are there any other movies that should appeal to those who love giant robots? Share them with us in the comments below, telling us why you personally enjoyed them.