More Human Than Human--that’s the iconic motto of the Tyrell Corporation in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner. This simple phrase advertised the quality of the company’s biorobotic android product, better known as Replicants. The motto can also easily be used to describe the overarching concept of cyborgs throughout pop culture.
From the pages of William Gibson’s Neuromancer to James Cameron’s cinematic takes on cyborg-themed entertainment, the technological advancements of our society have mirrored the ongoing evolution of the cyborg. With the recent release of Blade Runner 2049, this has never been more relevant, so here are pop culture’s 10 best cyborgs.
Roy Batty (Blade Runner)
In 1982’s Blade Runner, Rutger Hauer’s Replicant, Roy Batty, showcased the struggles of a conscious new species fighting for the right to exist in a future world of prejudice.
Batty is portrayed as a formidable villain, and does his fair share of insidious deeds throughout the film, but his quest for freedom adds complex layers to this good versus evil story. The film comes to an unexpected climax as Batty goes against his own programming to save Deckard, showing his flawed humanity in the process.
Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man)
“We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, faster, stronger...” The iconic opening narration to The Six Million Dollar Man sums up ABC’s classic science fiction series.
After Steve Austin (Lee Majors) suffers a life-threatening accident, the Office of Scientific Intelligence rebuilds the astronaut from the ground up, replacing his right arm, both legs and left eye with bionic prosthetics and implants. An upgraded Austin soon hits the streets to fight crime for the government. The popularity of the cyborg hero concept led to 1976’s entertaining spinoff, The Bionic Woman, and a well done, but short-lived, TV remake in 2007.
Using The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) and Get Smart’s Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) as inspiration, Inspector Gadget hit the world of cartoon entertainment in 1983. The popular children’s show followed the adventures of a bumbling detective who used a never-ending supply of high-tech implants to fight crime.
The formula worked as the odd gadgets informed the Inspector’s physical comedy. Teaming up with Penny, his quirky niece, and a genius dog named Brain, the formula proved highly entertaining for the show’s young audience. The series ran for three years before hitting syndication, eventually leading to the 1999 live-action movie starring Matthew Broderick.
Lt. Commander Geordi LaForge (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
From 1987 to 1994, LeVar Burton portrayed the USS Enterprise-D’s Chief Engineering Officer. His signature VISOR--Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement--gave Geordi some extra sensory abilities that made him one-of-a-kind.
LaForge became an instant icon in the world of Star Trek, continuing Gene Roddenberry’s long-running practice of maintaining diversity in science fiction entertainment. Presenting an African American character as a high functioning intellectual--harking back to the 1966 casting of Nichelle Nichols as Starfleet Officer Nyota Uhura--continued pushing the genre forward, both in the series’ seven seasons and the multiple movies that followed.
Dolores Abernathy (Westworld)
Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is the oldest active host in Westworld, a technologically advanced theme park catering to high society’s deepest and darkest fantasies. Her archetypal narrative at the beginning of HBO’s high-concept series found her living as a rancher’s daughter amid the backdrop of 19th century Wild West America.
As the story progressed, though, Dolores discovered a much deeper truth: Her whole existence was an elaborately orchestrated work of fiction. Dolores eventually gained a sense of self that led to a chaotic upheaval that was life-threatening to Westworld’s patrons and damaging to the park’s uncertain future.
Officer James Murphy (RoboCop)
Acting as a bloody, over-the-top satire on the excess of 1980s America, Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop presented Dallas City--an industrialized cesspool run rampant with all sorts of violent criminals. If only a hero would step up and bring order to these streets!
Enter Officer James Murphy (Peter Weller). After suffering multiple gunshots and being presumed dead, Murphy gets the Humpty Dumpty treatment. Rebuilt with a prosthetic cerebrum and cerebellum and a cybernetic body--and wielding a pretty awesome hip-holstered handgun--the RoboCop was born. Dallas City, and popular culture, were never the same again.
Sharon Agathon (Battlestar Galactica)
With so many cyborgs--err, Cylons--featured in Battlestar Galactica, one character easily stood out from the pack. Contrary to popular opinion--sorry, Number Six (Tricia Helfer)--Sharon Agathon (Grace Park) is the Cylon hero in question.
Sharon’s motivations were simple: Her love for her husband and daughter, and her role as a Galactica officer. These emotional attachments flipped the Cylon concept on its head, giving Agathon a human foundation that, along with her romance with Helo (Tahmoh Penikett), helped to pave the way for the show’s progressive climax. Coming to the aid of humans, time and again, Sharon brought levity and hope to the bleak and brooding series.
Maeve Millay (Westworld)
Acting as the brothel madam in Westworld’s Mariposa Saloon, Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) fit an Old West archetype to a T. Yet when a virus impacts her narrative loop, Maeve begins questioning her reality as echoes from previous programmed identities come back to haunt her.
Much like Dolores, Maeve becomes self aware. But instead of inciting a violent uprising within the park, Maeve breaks through her coded reality to discover the inner workings of Delos, the company that owns Westworld. As ruthless as she is cunning, the brothel madame uses her skills to manipulate her programming while charting her own escape from this virtual world to the real one above ground.
The T-800 (The Terminator)
In 1984, the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 Terminator--or T-800 for short--traveled from the future with the sole mission of killing Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), preventing her unborn son from leading the human resistance in 2029.
This assassination mission--the first of many, as documented in the film’s numerous sequels--changed the action movie game. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ruthless killing machine was impactful in multiple ways: He inadvertently caused Skynet to become sentient in the franchise’s first film, his endoskeleton is impervious to most damage, and most importantly, the character put Arnold on the map as an action star.
Darth Vader (Star Wars)
Equipped with cybernetic arms, legs, respirator helmet and sinister-looking cape, Darth Vader is easily one of the most iconic cyborg characters in pop culture history.
His stature and mystique combined with an array of epic Sith Lord powers--his lightsaber skills and psychic chokeholds are stuff of legend--are just a few elements that lend to Vader’s notorious stake in the world of entertainment. With a fair share of repressed humanity and a heaping helping of family drama, the tale of Anakin Skywalker’s downfall brings all the nostalgia, emotion and terror necessary to give Darth Vader some legendary cyborg status.
Did we miss any? Tell us your favorite cyborgs from pop culture history in the comments below!