Pacific Rim smashes its way into theaters this week, giving audiences their long-awaited look at director Guillermo del Toro's vision for a world in which the only defense against gigantic monsters (called "Kaiju") invading the Earth is a squad of equally massive robots (called "Jaegers"). While the film boasts an impressive cast that includes Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman and Charlie Day, make no mistake: it's the humongous, brawling bots that are the real stars of the film.
Still, Pacific Rim isn't the first film to feature one (or more) giant, mechanized pugilists pounding their enemies to protect humanity, avoid an all-out war, or in some cases, just to win a bet.
Here are some of the more notable films to put giant-robot brawls in the spotlight over the years:
Sure, this 1989 film is as low budget as it gets at times, featuring a mix of stop-motion animation and painfully dated visual effects for its battles between rival nations' towering, laser-wielding robots, but it's often one of the first projects mentioned (usually with a smile) when discussing the topic of giant-robot movies. It reportedly took $180 million to bring the robots of Pacific Rim to life, so if nothing else, Robot Jox – and its $10 million budget – gets points for ambition.
The Transformers: The Movie
There's been no shortage of cartoons featuring giant, brawling mechs, but this 1986 movie gave the famous "robots in disguise" the feature-film treatment, and also gave audiences one of the most epic, memorable moments in towering robot-on-robot violence ever to come out of Hollywood. Not only did Optimus Prime's battle with Megatron take a deadly toll on both robots, but it also traumatized a generation of young Transformers fans.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
The world-famous, city-destroying lizard Godzilla first encountered his mechanized doppleganger in 1974's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and the pair went on to brawl several more times in various films. Given that Mechagodzilla is the robotic version of one of cinema's greatest kaiju, there's no denying his place among the most prominent supersized bots on the big screen.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Giant robots took a retro turn in this 2004 film that never quite found an audience, despite some amazing visual effects and a fantastic design for its invading robo army. While they ultimately proved to be no match for the heroic Sky Captain, these robots did prove that you don't need to look futuristic to look cool (and cause a ridiculous amount of damage).
Monsters vs. Aliens
Sometimes the best way to fight giant, alien robots invading Earth is with giant monsters of our own. And that's exactly what happened in this 2009 animated film from Dreamworks, which pitted a team of homegrown "monsters" against an alien conqueror piloting a massive, mechanized tool of destruction. Not only did it turn the typical robot-vs.-monster dynamic on its head, but it told a darn good story, too.
James Remar (The Warriors) starred in this ridiculously low-budget 1997 film that put Earth's last, remaining hope at thwarting an invasion in the powerful, pincer-like hands of a Robo Warrior, a towering mech discovered by a 12-year-old boy. While the inevitable brawl between the Robo Warrior and a giant mech piloted by the reptilian invaders wasn't going to win any Oscars, it did achieve a Robot Jox-level of silliness that made it memorable... but not in a good way. This is late-night, B-movie action at its most laughable, starring giant robots!
This 2009 chapter of the Terminator franchise earned mixed reviews, but there was a lot for giant-robot fans to like about the sequence featuring a massive "Harvester" robot attacking a human outpost. Scary in both scale and destructive force, the Harvester's attack was one of the most memorable scenes in the film and added a whole new tier to the franchise's robotic rogue's gallery.
King Kong Escapes (featuring Mechani-Kong)
He might not be as famous as Mechagodzilla, but Mechani-Kong predates his reptilian counterpart by almost a decade. This robotic version of King Kong was first introduced in a 1966 animated series, and then later appeared in the 1967 feature-length film King Kong Escapes. Sadly, Mechani-Kong's fate would ultimately match that of his inspiration, with the robot falling from a tower to his "death." Say it ain't so, Mechani-Kong!
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The live-action Transformers films have a fair share of critics, but they also have a heaping helping of robot-on-robot brawls. While Optimus Prime's battle with Megatron in the first film was impressive and the three-way fight in Dark of the Moon was similarly great, it was the highway fight in the latter film that really showcased both the carnage these robots were capable of and their tremendous skill at protecting their human pals. It was one of the most memorable set pieces in the best film of the franchise.
Godzilla vs. Megalon (featuring Jet Jaguar)
The classic, rubber-costume kaiju films have informed the bulk of this list, and why shouldn't they? They provided much of the inspiration for Pacific Rim, after all. And thanks to the presence of size-changing, monster-fighting robot Jet Jaguar, you can add the 1973 classic Godzilla vs. Megalon to the list, too. This memorable chapter of Godzilla's adventures had the famous lizard teaming up with a karate-trained robot to defeat a pair of kaiju on a path of destruction.
Honorable Mention: If you like your robots a little less giant, Real Steel is packed with some great android rumbles, and if you're open to going the anime route, Patlabor: The Movie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSj7wCe7ejA) is a feature-length adventure that unfolds within the much, much larger, mech-filled world of the Patlabor series. (Of course, if you're going to go down that road for more robot action, the anime and anime-style series Giant Robo, Robotech, Voltron and Mobile Suit Gundam all provide nice, mainstream-friendly doses of giant-robot action.)