This is one of those lists for which the concept just came to me out of nowhere and niggled in my brain until I finally had enough for a list. Why? Because robotic arms are just cool, that’s why. While sometimes perceived as an encroachment of technology replacing the human person, they’re usually used as impressive enhancements indicating the technological progress of their owner’s futuristic setting. They’re also a convenient replacement that serves as an ever-present reminder of the trauma of a lost limb. For those who have lost a limb, I look forward to the day when fully functional limbs comparable to the real thing are actually a reality, though that might be a mixed blessing, as you can see in this very dark animated short film.
As for this list, I had to go outside my typical realm of movies in order to get a full twelve. I had considered forgoing the robotic part and sticking instead with any prosthetic arm (think Dr. Strangelove, The Fugitive, and The Best Years of Our Lives), but that’s a list for another time. Eschewing realism, we’re sticking with fully functional robotic limbs, with my selection aided by the likes of television and anime. I’m also not counting characters who are more robot than human, so don’t expect to see the Terminator, Robocop, or DC’s Cyborg on here, despite the fact they technically fit the theme. Thus, here are my Top Twelve characters with robotic arms:
- Jet Black – Cowboy Bebop
As the captain of the Bebop, Jet Black is the most level-headed and fatherly member of his crew of interplanetary bounty hunters. A cop before being betrayed by his partner and losing his arm, he keeps his cybernetic replacement limb as a reminder of his former life and mistakes.
- Ulysses Klaue – Black Panther
Andy Serkis’s Klaue lost his arm to Ultron’s rage in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but in Black Panther he got a fancy vibranium one complete with a laser cannon. Too bad he didn’t stick around long enough to use it more.
- Yang – RWBY
This is sort of a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t watched Rooster Teeth’s ongoing animated web series, but Yang (the Y in the title RWBY) meets the wrong end of a sword and is dis-armed rather traumatically at one point. After a tough time healing, though, she’s come back strong with a cutting-edge replacement.
- Finn – Adventure Time
This might also count as a spoiler, but Finn, the human main character of Cartoon Network’s hit Adventure Time, also misplaces his arm, several times actually. After one replacement made of cursed grass turned into a clone of him (this is a weird series), he finally went with a mechanical upgrade, just like his counterpart from another dimension.
- Claw – Inspector Gadget
Whether it’s Rupert Everett in the first live-action film or his animated counterpart, Dr. Claw is Inspector Gadget’s most dangerous nemesis and gets this high on the list based on pure nostalgia. Yes, I realize the claw might be considered a hand prosthetic rather than an arm, but I’m allowed to fudge now and then.
- Violet Evergarden – Violet Evergarden
The title character of Netflix’s recent anime series Violet Evergarden is a traumatized former child soldier who, after the war’s end, finds a new life as a professional letter writer. Having lost both of her arms, her two mechanical limbs are both strong and remarkably adept at activities like typing on a typewriter. It’s really a good and poignant series, with the tenth episode being one of the most emotional episodes of TV I’ve seen.
- Furiosa – Mad Max: Fury Road
In most cases of replacement limbs, suspension of disbelief is required since their operation should involve complicated nerve links and such, so I have no idea how Furiosa’s mechanical forearm that straps into place is supposed to function. But it does, and it makes her that much cooler.
- Long John Silver – Treasure Planet
I never said someone on the list couldn’t also have a robotic leg. I hold that Treasure Planet is much better than the gimmicky update some critics called it, and turning Treasure Island’s one-legged pirate into a cyborg was an inspired addition, as well as a neat way to work in CGI to the 2-D animation.
- Edward Elric – Fullmetal Alchemist franchise
Here’s another character with a robotic arm and leg, both made out of a material called automail. The adventure of the Elric brothers in this hugely popular anime franchise all stems from an alchemy experiment gone wrong that claims two of Edward’s limbs and his brother’s whole body. Good thing he has access to automail prosthetics, which help facilitate all the fantasy action for which the series is known.
- Bucky / The Winter Soldier – Captain America/MCU
I’ll be honest. I sort of developed this list around Bucky. Captain America’s friend-turned-brainwashed-enemy-turned-friend-again was the first character I thought of, with the best robotic arm of recent years. Time will tell if Rocket ever gets his hands on it.
- Doctor Octopus – Spider-Man 2
Remember I said I could fudge? Sure, you could say Doc Ock’s robotic appendages are tentacles rather than arms, but the fact that they’re fused to his spinal column makes them limbs in my eyes, and he sure knows how to use them.
- Luke Skywalker/ Darth Vader – Star Wars
Most nerds out there probably saw this one coming. I couldn’t choose between father and son, so both Skywalkers share the #1 spot. If you have to lose a limb, light sabers are probably the safest way for it to happen, and at least the Star Wars universe has handy life-like replacements on demand. One day, perhaps we’ll get to that point too. (I can dream, can’t I?)
And here are some prosthetic runners-up worth mentioning:
Tetsuo from Akira – Tetsuo builds himself a robotic arm with his psychic powers, though it doesn’t go well afterward.
Combustion Man from Avatar: The Last Airbender – A bounty hunter after Aang has both a third eye and a mechanical forearm.
Cable (Josh Brolin) from Deadpool 2 – Cable didn’t make the list because I have not seen Deadpool 2, but he’s still worth a mention.
Detective Spooner (Will Smith) from I, Robot – Despite hating robots, Spooner has a bit of robot himself.
Tee Hee (Julius Harris) from Live and Let Die – I barely remember this James Bond movie, but apparently there’s a henchman with a pincer hand?
Kushana from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – The antagonist from this Miyazaki classic has removable hands thanks to some giant killer bugs.
Jonah (Beau Knapp) from The Signal – Alien experiments give abductees strange prosthetics in this sci-fi.
Thanks for reading my random nerdy list! Let me know what you think and feel free to tell me of any other robotic arm owners I may have forgotten.