An Early History of Our Cinematic Cyborgs

3. Dr. No

Dr. No might not seem like your classic cyborg story. But he fits the description nonetheless — if Webster’s defines cyborg as “a person whose body contains mechanical or electrical devices and whose abilities are greater than the abilities of normal humans,” then the not-so-good doctor fits right in. Not only does he sport a pair of stylish black robot hands, but they’ve got super strength, giving him a check mark in both categories. And although No might not have the same human to machine ratio as the Colossus, he represents a common yet undervalued kind of cyborg: the mad scientist with robot hands.

Dr. Strangelove was afflicted with a similar robotic prosthesis. As was Dr. Rotwang, the scientist in Metropolis who created the evil robotic Maria. Even Dr. Claw of Inspector Gadget falls into the same category. He may have seemed more like a Blofeld-type, but did obtain some kind of doctorate and was the head of an organization called M.A.D. There’s definitely something there.

These characters are a lesser kind of cyborg, a kind whose inner ugliness manifests itself in something alien and foreign, something that gives their evil-ness a clear visual representation (note that the heroic mostly-human cyborgs, like the Six Million Dollar Man or Will Smith’s character in I, Robot, have no outwardly noticeable cyborg features). Normally, it’s the mad scientist who plays God. And it’s the hubris of outfitting yourself with something powerful yet extremely prone to malfunction, like 60s-era robot hands, that sends so many mad scientists to their doom. Just look what happened to Dr. No.

4. The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy

Despite its misleading title, the robot of The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy is actually a cyborg — one of the cardboard box and spray paint variety, but a cyborg nonetheless. The creation of the villainous Dr. Knupp, this particular cyborg had a human head grafted onto a machine body, which is readily apparent, thanks to the face-hole cut in his standard bucket/antennae robot head (those things must have come standard with 1950s killing machines). It was dippy, it was barely an hour long, and the robot/cyborg confusion wasn’t the only major error in the title: despite touting an Aztec mummy, the filmmakers (Mexican filmmakers, no less) never checked to see if the Aztecs actually mummified their dead. They don’t.

Yet despite all those errors, The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, released the same year as The Colossus of New York, marked a turning point in the history of film cyborgs. With that poorly-made, error-riddled mess, cyborgs were now anyone’s game. They weren’t confined to niche sci-fi writers or Fritz Lang; they had entered the public eye to such an extent that filmmakers looking for a few bucks could churn out a cheap cyborg flicks, confident that some audience, somewhere, would be ready to gobble it up.

By 1960, the word “cyborg” had finally entered the public lexicon, having been coined by Manfred Klynes and Nathan S. Clyne during talks of potential robot/human astronauts. And soon after, cyborgs finally began to find a place in pop culture, in TV shows (the Cybermen of Dr. Who), comic books (Dr. Octopus), and even Japanese manga/anime (8 Man). 1966 sealed the deal with the release of Cyborg 2087, a low-budget actioner where a part human, part robot hero traveled to the past in order to save the future. Only now, the word “Cyborg” was prominently featured, front and center. Cyborgs were here to stay.

So if you’re headed to the movies this weekend, and you happen to see a tall dark stranger who’s comprised mostly of robot parts, think back on all the previous metal men and women that paved the way for his uttering of “your move, creep.”

Adam Bellotto is a freelancer writer from Virginia who moved to California because movies are super neat. His work can also be read at Perihelion Science Fiction and Starpulse, among other places.

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