Massive man-operated mechs have become something of a modern trope in cinema, mainly in the genre of science fiction. From suits that power up the user’s abilities to robotic giants that take on supersized monsters we’ve seen this trope become more and more popular since the 1980s as technology becomes more relevant in the stories that Hollywood spits out. With the sequel film “Pacific Rim: Uprising” hitting theaters this weekend I decided to look at the best mechs to hit the big screen so far. Pretty sure the original “Pacific Rim” might be featured as well. So here are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Mechs.
A “mech” by definition is a large, pilotable robot so that means this list will not focus on smaller power suits like the exoskeleton in “Elysium” and Exo Suits of “Edge of Tomorrow” that are more armor than mech or sentient beings like the Transformers. The suits can be partially operated by user movement, but for the most part have to be operated via controls. As such, this list focuses on robotic creations piloted by humans, either inside the robotic suit or through a control mechanism. The robots don’t have to be massive, but they do have to in some way act as an extension of their controller.
This list is not about the quality of the films these mechs were in. These mechs were rated based on design and “cool factor” with their impact on pop culture also taken into consideration.
If you’d like to enjoy some extreme mechanized mayhem this weekend you can check out “Pacific Rim: Uprising” and look for my review as well. For now, on with the list!
10. The Rhino, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
Starting my list is a mech that only got a few minutes of screen time but is extremely memorable nonetheless. While the 2014 sequel in the Spider-Man reboot series was poorly received by fans and has since faded into irrelevancy, the Rhino was one of the few bright spots in the movie despite only showing up for the final scene. His appearance in the trailer was a huge draw for audiences…and it irritated a few fans in the process for only being featured briefly with little payoff. Piloted by Aleksei Sytsevich, the Rhino suit was a purely mechanical device that Sytsevich used to embrace the power and rage of the animal it was based on with a powerful horn, firearms and rocket launchers to add to its immense power. One of many mech suits hinted at in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” for the now-abandoned Sinister Six feature film, the Rhino’s suit was creative and intimidating in all the right ways. Alas we’ll never get to see how this modernized version of the classic comic villain would have truly panned out, but for the brief time we got to see it the Rhino proved to be a memorable addition to the Spider-Man legacy.
9. The Megazord, “Power Rangers (2017)”
A modernized version of the giant battling machine operated by the Power Rangers that pretty much made massive mechs a popular thing in the 90s, the 2017 reimagining of the original Megazord looks a lot different from the bulkier version from the original three seasons of the “Power Rangers” show sporting a sleek design that made it faster and allowed each ranger to control it from within their own section of the massive mech. Formed from the five individual dinosaur based Zords of each of the rangers, this robot helped them in their battle with the destructive Goldar as Rita Repulsa sought to dominate planet Earth after her unintentional resurrection. This was actually the third Megazord on the big screen after the Ninja Megazord and the Turbo Megazord, but this was the most stylish of the three. An iconic part of the original TV series that is still a part of the show’s run today, the Megazord has long been one of the Power Rangers’ most important weapons and in the 2017 theatrical film it was no different as fans got to enjoy a memorable take on one of the most famous mechs in pop culture.
8. The Silver Samurai, “The Wolverine”
It might not be the most celebrated interpretation of Wolverine’s classic foe, but the Silver Samurai in the 2013 film “The Wolverine” was memorable nonetheless. A mechanical suit operated by the aged Yashina, a former Japanese soldier turned industrial magnate who Wolverine saved during the dropping of the atomic bombs over Japan, the Silver Samurai was an intimidating foe for the mutant hero with a massive silver sword and near impenetrable armor that protected its operator from Wolverine’s claws. The samurai armor also had the ability to drain Wolverine of his healing factor and transfer it to Yashida making it a technical marvel as well as a powerful fighting machine. It’s design called back to the classic samurai suits of the past and it was only due to its users monologuing that it was defeated by exposing Yashida’s head to Wolverine and his allies. Over the years many mechanical suits have become a part of superhero lore (evident bu the first three entries in this list being from superhero movies) and the Silver Samurai is one of the best even if it didn’t quite live up to the heavy expectations of fans of the Wolverine comics.
7. The Bio-Suit, “District 9”
Also called a mech prawn, this mechanical entity was used by the Prawn aliens for numerous purposes in “District 9”. With an operator inside the thoracic cavity, the bio-suit allowed access to strong mechanical appendages as well as weaponry used for offense and defense. Built presumably for the purposes of mechanical repairs to other machines, this bio-suit also included the ability to magnetically redirect bullets making it quite the dangerous weapon in a pinch. Initially piloted by Prawn Little CJ, it becomes a weapon for human character Wikus to use to save Prawn Christopher Johnson and while the suit is torn to pieces throughout the attack it served its purpose and contributed to one of the most iconic scenes in “District 9”. Its design gave it the appearance of a multi-purpose vehicle taking into consideration ease of movement as well as it’s many different applications making it dangerous, cool, and functional as all great mech suits should be. Strangely human despite its alien origins, the bio-suit took inspiration from suits of the past while embracing its own look to make it stand out in modern science fiction.
6. Atom, “Real Steel”
The only fully remote controlled mech on this list, Atom was a fighting machine from the 2011 action film “Real Steel” where human boxing had been replaced with robotic tournaments. Piloted by Hugh Jackman’s Charlie Kenton, Atom was an underdog fighting machine that became a Rocky-esque people’s champion after taking on one of the most technologically advanced fighting robots in the world. An inspiring creation, there was something strangely human about this robot that made him a popular and memorable character in the film even without his own soul to appreciate. These human qualities were made even more apparent when Kenton was forced to use a shadow feature to allow Atom to mimic his own movements, making Atom and Kenton unified fighters in a battle of pride where the two had to depend on each other to survive the fight. One of the few movie mechs used more for sport than as a tool of war, Atom proved that there can be more behind the machines on the big screen as a robot heart and personality as well as fighting spirit. He might no be human or sentient, but Atom speaks to the underdog inside us all.
5. The Ninjago Mechs, “The Lego Ninjago Movie”
Taking a note from the “Power Rangers” franchise, the mechs used by the Ninjago ninja’s in this 2017 animated film served as similar battle vehicles to the Zords with each being specifically designed to fit the theme of their individual Ninja. The six giant mechs are essential tools for the Ninjas to fight off the attacks by evil Lord Garmadon, well until he destroyed them leaving the Ninjago Ninjas defenseless. The loss of the mechs becomes a big part of the ninjas’ search for new powers, but for the first half of the movie the mechs are memorable and well designed tools of battle that give the ninjas super hero qualities. They might have been made to sell toys, but these mechs were well designed and packed quite a punch in their fight against Garmadon’s many equally massive machines that terrorize Ninjago. They’re powerful robots inspired by the fascination over superhero mechs of the past that took the idea, ran with it and improved on it in many ways and were by far some of the best parts of an otherwise mediocre animated movie.
4. The AMP, “Avatar”
The Amplified Mobility Platform, or AMP, suit is an advanced military suit that moves and maneuvers just like the human inside it and was the main weapon of many ground troops in the 2009 sci-fi epic “Avatar”. Equipped with a powerful firearm complete with a blade extension, the suit of war gave humans an edge against the Na’vi people and made it a dangerous and destructive tool for the humans to employ in their time of need. Its most famous appearance was in the final battle as Jake Sully, in his avatar, took on Colonel Miles Quaritch where the suit gave Quaritch the upper hand. A memorable mech with incredible power and a well thought out design that took into consideration movement and battle tactics, the AMP was by far the most iconic human weapon of this science fiction ground breaker and made the human’s domination of a planet filled with wildlife and powerful natives more believable. It helped inspire many of the mech suits that have come about in film since. It also served as an interesting comparative plot devise to the avatars themselves, acting as an extension of humans for destruction whereas the avatars were an extension of humans for diplomacy.
3. The Hulk Buster Armor, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
While the Iron Man armor in its purest form might not qualify for this list, the Hulk Buster Armor does. More than just another Iron Man armor, this suit is more of an actual mech overlaying the regular Iron Man suit to increase the size, strength and durability of the Marvel hero in order to fend off the Hulk should the massive green being lose control. Seen in “Age of Ultron” and also set to appear in “Avengers: Infinity War”, this mech suit is a technological marvel created by Tony Stark and Hulk’s alter ego Bruce Banner that stole the show in its theatrical debut and remains one of the most popular and well-known versions of Iron Man’s famed collection of technologically advanced suits. While it increases Iron Man’s power however it is also slow and harder to control, containing Iron Man within its chest to control it remotely rather than moving fluidly with Tony Stark’s own body movements as other armors do. This also allows for Stark’s security as we see an arm get ripped off the machine and reformed by spare parts in a battle. Regardless of its shortcomings, this super powered suit is a worthy entry on this list as the most bad-ass mech in a growing line of mechanical suits features throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
2. The Jaeger, “Pacific Rim”
Supersized mechanical warriors controlled by two pilots moving in sync with each other, the Jaegers are the last line of defense for the Earth against the Kaiju, otherworldly beings bent on destroying the Earth. The main robots of “Pacific Rim” the most well-known Jaeger in Gypsy Danger, but numerous different models were featured throughout the movie each with their own features, weapons and advancements that made each one unique and stylish. This is what this movie was all about, big monsters versus big robots, and what made the Jaegers stand out is the complicated controls. The two pilots have to trust each other completely, moving in perfect synchronization to bring their robot to life and perform feats of incredible skill to get the upper hand on their massive monster foes. This format of control splits the stress and impact of operating the Jaeger among two individuals instead of one and it has been shown a single operator piloting the mech could result in deadly strain on the user. As far as movie mechs go the Jaegers remain among the most iconic, creatively designed, and complicated robots that could go toe to toe with nearly anything and come out on top as long as the men and women behind the controls have faith in their ability to get the best out of their machine of war.
1. The Power Loader, “Aliens”
The Power Loader from “Aliens” is by far one of the most iconic mechs in all of film and earns its spot at the top by being a multi-purpose tool that wasn’t built for battle but made due in a pinch. Now you might say well this looks more like a suit than a mech, but while Ripley could walk the machine on her own movements the loader was operated through controls making it one of the first true mech suits in film. Used to fight off a Xenomorph Queen aboard the USS Sulaco, this mech was actually built for power as a construction vehicle but was converted into a weapon that gave Ripley the strength and durability needed to take on the most powerful Alien she had encountered to that point. It’s part of one of the most iconic scenes in all of science fiction and its design, which helped inspire the AMP in James Cameron’s “Avatar” and was modified from a four-legged machine after “Star Wars” debuted the AT-ATs, was perfectly fitting of both combat and hard labor. This is one of the few entries on this list that was not created primarily as a tool of battle or war, and yet it made the perfect weapon to give one of the most epic and celebrated movie heroines the edge she needed in the final confrontation of the film. In the real world it would be tough to see this machine securing a victory for anyone over the other mechs on this list, but when you get right down to it this was the mech that started it all and made the concept of mechanical suit-based weaponry not only a popular concept, but a certified trope of numerous genres in the years since. Many have tried to capture the cool factor, functionality and simplicity of this iconic mech and few have ever come close.