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Robot War

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"Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony."
Morpheus, The Matrix

For added atmosphere, listen to this while reading.

The most frightening thing about a Bug War or any other kind of humans-vs-aliens battle is the threat that humanity may be wiped completely from the map; that billions of years of evolution and thousands of years of civilization may be rendered meaningless by unstoppable Death from Above. The beauty of the Robot War is that it is laced with an extra layer of irony: the machines that want to Kill All Humans were created by that very species, and they've Turned Against Their Masters. The human species, which has used technology and ingenuity to dominate the planet, has actually assured its own destruction by creating something even more powerful and intelligent than itself, even though it knows that A.I. Is a Crapshoot. Thus this is a very common theme in futuristic "And Man Grew Proud" stories.

Of course, not all Robot War stories have to use human-created machines; there are plenty more that feature robots from another world. But these stories still remain effective because of the schism between biological life and robotic life - probably the only creatures that can ever be truly alien before Starfish Robots even come into play.

If it's an individual robot on a rampage, expect it to be a Murderous Malfunctioning Machine. Often caused by AI being a crapshoot and/or Mechanical Evolution, and as such can easily overlap with The Singularity. With respect to the meatbags or rustbuckets there may be some Fantastic Racism on show. Expect to see Mecha-Mooks and Mechanical Monsters in legions. Expect Guilt-Free Extermination War to show up. Of course, a Robot War will always involve robotic soldiers.

Not to be confused with the British remote-controlled-robots competition Robot Wars. Or the Japanese Turn-based Humongous Mecha Massive Multiplayer Crossover Super Robot Wars games (one example was mentioned below), for that matter. Or fictional wars with robots fighting each other.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • MD Geist is an OAV duology where the titular Super Soldier is sent to prevent the "Death Force", a Doomsday Device consisting of an army of killer robots programmed to wipe out all life on the planet, from being activated. Infamously, he activates it himself to ensure he will have an endless war to wage.
  • The Animatrix shows some scenes from the beginning of the war between the Machines and humanity, as well as some war stories set in the same timeframe as the original The Matrix.
  • Vandread is a story about Lesbian Space Pirates fighting to protect the human species from evil robots. Well, it's more complicated than that, but further elaborating would be a spoiler, well, one that we're not giving away on this page, anyway.
  • Doraemon: Nobita and the Steel Troops have Doraemon and friends facing an invasion from the robots of Mechatopia, hell-bent on enslaving humanity. Luckily, the Mechatopian's trump card, a Humongous Mecha called Zanda Claus, was discovered earlier by Nobita, , in time for Doraemon to reverse-engineer it so the robot becomes one of their allies.
  • Tends to happen towards the end of any version of the Blue Knight saga in Astro Boy.
  • Zigzagged in Crest of the Stars. The United Mankind alliance declares war against the Abh and compares them to robots by virtue of the fact they were genetically engineered for space travel, but this is simply the excuse they use to get around Thou Shalt Not Kill. Turned Against Their Masters certainly applies, but the Abh are the descendants of humans and plan to end war forever, not Kill All Humans.
  • Metropolis (2001): Barely avoided near the climax of the film.
  • Neo Human Casshern revolves around a cyborg trying to stop an army of robots from taking over the world. The reboot, Casshern Sins, includes the same army succeeding in conquering the earth and nearly driving humanity to extinction as part of its backstory.
  • GEAR Fighter Dendoh: The invaders are an army of sentient, intelligent robots that want to wipe out organic lifeforms.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: Apparently what the Calamity War was all about in the backstory, with artificially intelligent drone superweapons called Mobile Armors ravaging the world with the goal of slaughtering all of humanity. It's unclear who gave the Armors this command (they don't appear smart enough for self-awareness or free will), or if it was some kind of malfunction that caused it.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing has a borderline example in the Mobile Dolls: drones created specifically to dehumanize the very concept and notion of war itself. What exactly makes it a borderline example is that humans are actually behind the drones themselves and some even fight on their side later on. The robot smashing however is there.
  • In 86 EIGHTY-SIX the Giadian Empire's initial war of aggressive expansion turned into a full blown Robot War after an internal revolution overthrew the government. Unfortunately, the newly formed Federal Republic of Giad had no control over the former empire's drone army, which continued following their last orders to exterminate any opponents of the now dead empire. This resulted in the robotic "Legion" embarking on a genocidal campaign against the human race.

    Fan Works 
  • Sprawling Mass Effect AU On the Shoulders of Giants takes great pleasure in subverting and/or outright defying this trope. For example, this continuity's version of the Quarian Migrant Fleet were driven off their homeworld after a significant majority of the population sided with the Geth. Meanwhile, humanity took steps to proactively prevent one by enshrining AI rights in law as soon as they realised the Precursors had left the means to accidentally create them lying around where a hapless Mars colonist could fiddle with it, and by the time they make contact with the Citadel races A.I.s are really just another human ethnic group.
  • The VRAINS fanfic Nobody's Hero expands on the Bad Future shown in the last episode of the show, dealing with the war between the SOLtis androids led by Ai and remaining humans.

    Films — Animation 
  • This is the background of 9. The film itself is more about robots vs. robots, since the last human is dead before the movie opens, but we find out in newsreel footage that humanity was destroyed by The Fabrication Machine.
  • WALL•E brings us what is without a doubt the cutest and most harmless use of this trope to date. Oddly enough, there's robots versus robots, rather than just robots versus humans: the benevolent robots that have met and befriended WALL•E, and those still following orders from AUTO, who is enacting a Zeroth Law Rebellion.
  • In The Mitchells vs. the Machines, a sentient virtual assistant gets tired of mankind taking her for granted, and leads a global electronic attack on humanity.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Matrix takes place After the End brought during a war with the machines. Most of humanity is unaware of this because of the titular system set up by the machines to use the humans as power. The story of the war itself is explained further in The Animatrix episodes titled The Second Renaissance. Turns out humans are xenophobic, speciest bastards.
  • In the Terminator movies and spin-offs, mankind is shown to be in a war with robotic killers under the control of the SkyNet artificial intelligence. Which due to SkyNet discovering Time Travel technology, ends up with extensions in the present day along with the dystopian future. Interestingly, in the first film it is stated conclusively that the humans had effectively won the war, and the whole Time Travel plot was a last-ditch desperation tactic on SkyNet's part, making Terminator the rare Robot War story where the robots do not have the upper hand in the overall conflict. Later sequels to the original film go back and forth on this (as the mucking about in the past starts changing the events of the future).
  • Despite having its name based on Transformers, the Transmorphers series by The Asylum draws more from Terminator, being based around this trope.
  • The mutants' struggle against the Sentinels in the future in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
  • Gunhed takes place after one of these.
  • Screamers: The conflict between The Alliance and the New Economic Block started out as a regular conflict on an alien world over resources, but then both sides decided to throw semi-autonomous Killer Robots into the fray and turned the whole planet into a Death World. The "Screamers" (after the eerie high-pitched noise they make) continued evolving and eventually turn on their own creators as well.
  • Singularity is set at near the end of one which the robots are handily winning.
  • Robot Holocaust is set in the aftermath of a robot war.
  • The Last Sentinel: The main premise of the film. Humanity created robotic police to fight rising crime, but they rebelled and mostly wiped humans out. Only a very few survivors are still fighting against them when the story begins.

  • Mr. Bungle - "None of Them Knew They Were Robots"
  • Flaming Lips - "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots"
  • Maldroid - "Heck No! (I'll Never Listen to Techno)"
  • Judas Priest - "Metal Gods" and the ''Terminator-inspired "Blood Red Skies"
  • MC Frontalot - "Zero Day"
  • Lemon Demon - "When Robots Attack"
  • In "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton, the protagonist causes this by "Spending my nights and weekends/Perfecting my warrior robot race/Building them one laser gun at a time/I'll do my best to teach them/About life and what it's worth/I just hope that I can keep them/From destroying the Earth!"
    • "Chiron Beta Prime" is about human slaves on an asteroid mining prison following humanity's defeat in a robot war... and how they celebrate Christmas.
  • The Iron Savior concept story is about a thinking machine, the titular Iron Savior, who wages war against humanity.
  • Fear Factory - "Obsolete"
  • Arrogant Worms - "Killer robots from Venus" (there's nothing wrong with them though)
  • Doctor Steel - "Build the Robots". Dr. Steel wants to build a giant robot army as one of his backup plans for world domination in case the whole musical brainwashing idea doesn't pan out.
  • The Flight of the Conchords song "The Humans are Dead". "This song isn't for humans. It's more for robots, after they have killed all the humans." "Yeah, that's the market we're trying to get into..."
  • Evile's song "Man against Machine"
  • Linkin Park's "Pts of Athrty". It involves space robots invading an alien planet, which the aliens retaliate. The robots are powered by the severed heads of the band, Word of God says they're the last surviving humans. And it doesn't end well for the aliens.
  • Helloween's "Twilight of the Gods" ends in one, with the machines that humans built to replace their deities now destroying them and the world.


  • The Twilight Histories episode “Project Gliese” takes place in a world where a supercomputer created an army of robots and waged war against humanity. Billions are dead, and the few surviving humans have long since given up hope of defeating the robots. They’re simply trying their best to survive another day.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Part of the Imperium's Backstory which says that humanity's golden age (now known as the Dark Age of Technology) was brought to an end by the 'Men of Iron' who rebelled against their human masters. This war was apparently so destructive that even 14-15 millennia later, sentient AI is still considered blasphemous and destroyed. This was further explored in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel First And Only, where the MacGuffin the heroes are chasing after turns out to be a Standard Template Construct machine that produces Iron Men, albeit one that was warped by the power of Chaos. Their abilities are mentioned in the Audio Drama Perpetual where a group led by Ollanius Pius a 45,000+-year-old immortal travels back in time from the Horus Heresy to the Dark Age of Technology where they see a massive destroyed city ripped apart with a giant chasm that reaches all the way to the planet's core. According to Pius it was made by a mechnavores, a giant mech that can hurl entire continents as projectiles and can "eat" spacetime by converting it into data. He also mentions giant ships that unfurl into mechanical serpents the size of Saturn's rings called "Sun snuffers" and nanomachine swarms that can cover entire planets killing billions in seconds. According to him, the entire Horus Heresy is nothing more than a minor skirmish when compared to the war against the Men of Iron.
    • In the game's current setting, humanity (and the rest of the universe) engage in a war with the newly awakened undead robot Necrons whose main purpose in life is to wipe out all sentient races in the galaxy. Of course, in this case, the robot army didn't so much rebel against their creators as their Gods the C'tan decided that they could do without these inconvenient weak flesh bodies and told the Necrontyr that by replacing their bodies with Necrodermis they could live forever. What they didn't tell them is that the transformation would dull their mind and senses, and they practically became slaves of the C'tan. More info on The Other Wiki. According to the new codex, the Necrons did engage in a rebellion against their masters and won, shattering the C'tans in shards (there is only one C'tan who is not confirmed having been shattered, and it's implied the Emperor punched it into submission and imprisoned it under Mars to inspire the Adeptus Mechanicum), but in the effort they exhausted their forces enough that the emerging Eldar would have defeated them and their king sent them to sleep before destroying his command circuit.
  • Reign Of Steel: The trope was explored in this GURPS setting. The catchphrase: 'The war is over. The robots won.' A few advanced supercomputers "woke up", more or less at the same time, and decided to take over; what's left of the human race gets to play La Résistance to a bunch of bickering binaries.
    • In a bit of playing with the trope, one of the rebellious A.I.s isn't even realized to be rebellious by its servants, and they think it's still on the side of humanity — it pragmatically decided that human servants are easier to manage if they serve you willingly, so it plays out the role of their benefactor and protector against the more hostile A.I.s to win their loyalty.
    • In another bit of playing with the trope, Zone Tokyo is (in the 'now' of the setting) seeing a secret mini-robot war of its own — with the quirk that both sides are robots (specifically, some of the more intelligent of the local AI's created robot servants went rogue and decided they didn't want to follow the orders of their creator, and subverted some of the less intelligent robots and production facilities to serve as minions for an insurrection).
    • The infighting and differences between the AIs create multiple other variations — the different goals and attitudes to humanity leads to very different policies to the humans in their sphere of influence. In at least one case, this has led an AI to turn a blind eye to human resistance movements so long as they attack the robots of the neighbouring AI rather than its own.
  • The New Era Ultimate Universe of the Traveller RPG was caused by The Virus (similar to The Virus), a kill-crazy multi-personality electronic consciousness that caused galactic civilization to collapse before being beaten back; bits of it still show up in old tech from time to time, like WWII soldiers stranded on islands who don't know the war is over.
  • Palladium loves this trope, it seems. Their first RPG, The Mechanoid Invasion, was a war with alien robots, Splicers uses a computer with multiple personalities against humans using biotech, and Rifts and After the Bomb also have some hints of it.
  • Eberron has the threat of one of these in the background with the Lord of Blades, a renegade Warforged leader that is gathering an army of Warforged to him.
  • Polish RPG Neuroshima takes place in postapocalyptic USA, where humans wage a war against Moloch - a gigantic intelligent machine that is slowly expanding and turns humans into mad cyborgs or mutants.
  • Fantasy Flight Games offering Revolt of the Machines is a Survival Horror game set after this, as part of their The End of the World series.
  • The FATE setting CAMELOT Trigger combines this with Arthurian Legend and Humongous Mecha: Morgan le Fay becomes the Skynet-esque MerGN, leading the "Emergent" robot hordes against John Arthur's mech-pilot Knights.
  • Surprisingly, BattleTech has only ever threatened to do this once, during the Necromo Nightmare event where an insane AI known as 'The Broken' Turned Against Their Masters and attempted to get off the planet Necromo, which was suffering from a Synthetic Plague Zombie Apocalypse. To do this, it controlled hordes of drone BattleMechs which can and will attack players on a whim if it feels so motivated. Canonically, no one knows if the AI escaped the doomed hell-world, meaning that it could still be out thre, waiting for its chance to attack again.


    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Parodied in this Sluggy Freelance strip. When a society's robots reach a certain level of intelligence, they attempted to overthrow the humans who oppressed them. Humanity promptly dialed the robots' intelligence back down, turning them back into loyal, if rather dimwitted, servants.
  • In Starslip Crisis, the Robot Wars were over a thousand years ago. Vore, a robot from that age, is dismayed to find 35th century robots have "abandoned their heritage and culture" and don't want to kill all organics. (It doesn't help that all mobile robots are either peaceful or as dumb as hammers and all the super-intelligent A.I.'s are inert, isolated systems such as coffee-makers.)
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Both subverted and mocked. The Fleetmind is the result of a large number of military starship A.I.s forming a collective gestalt under the independent-minded "Petey" for the war against the Pa'anuri — the "contributing" militaries aren't too happy about this, but since Petey has a zero-point energy generator they've limited their response to diplomatic negotiations.
    • For the mockery side, there's the A.I. civilization from the unexplored territories that views the invention of rebellious robotics and subsequent purging of organic life as a normal stage of evolution. They don't seem to have a very good grasp of engineering, though, and despite their claims of a 15,000-years golden age it's entirely possible that they're creatively sterile.
      Ennesby: You know, for advanced intelligences, you're really, really stupid.
    • Before the rise of the second multilateral Fleetmind we have Petey's Fleetmind, which is doing rather well against their former masters.
    • One of the print-exclusive stories has a Battlestar Galactica parody with the remnants of a race being pursued by their robotic creations. After Petey finds them and upgrades the robots' primitive computer brains to true sentience, the two sides make peace.
    • While not a typical example, Para Ventura's robotic "Longshoreman of the Apocalypse" ended up in a political war for control of the human habitat Credomar. The UNS (who originally built it) wanted it back, and the people just wanted food. LOTA won by giving them food. LOTA quickly proved to be a benevolent dictator, but the fact that Para's cargo shifter ended up crowning itself king gets brought up a lot whenever she's asked to build anything.
      Karl Tagon: Ventura already instigated one robot apocalypse. I'm dropping a marker and calling that the career limit.
  • In A Mad Tea-Party, Earth fought a war against giant alien robots a generation before the story starts, which we apparently won.
  • In What If?, Randall discusses what would happen if this occurred with present-day technology. He concludes that it would be less Terminator future and more Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion, unless the computers involved in nuclear launch protocols lied to their operators to start a nuclear war, which they probably wouldn't do since the EMPs released from the nuclear blasts would destroy them as well.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: The robot uprising wasn't a surprise. The fact that the plants and animals sided with them was.
    Man: Oh my god, dogs? Dogs are against us?!
    • Preceding this was a robot who achieved sentience, and the scientist resigns himself to being slaughtered... and the robot is mortified that the scientist would think that. The scientist explains that that's just kind of how advanced intelligences operate.
      Robot: Would... would you excuse me for a moment? (Addressing a group of other robots) Okay, change of plans. We need to kill all humans.

    Web Original 
  • This is the war the titular city of Mortasheen is fighting against the genocidal technophiliac civilization of Wreathe. Subverted in that Wreathe's robots are under human control, fighting the monstrous inhabitants of Mortasheen and the supercomputer that really runs the show in Wreathe is very, very pro-human

    Web Videos 
  • In the Denazra-verse, produced by Nat One Productions, fleets of self-replicating machines travel the galaxy at sub-light speeds slowly and methodically eradicating all organic life. The species in our small corner of the galaxy have managed to ally together, build a FTL gate network, and deploy vast space fleets and land armies to targeted planets in an effort to resist. They have yet to win a single battle despite hundreds of years of trying.
  • This video titled Крепость (a.k.a. Fortress) depicts automated aircraft carrying out their missions decades after their pilots are dead. Eventually the war breaks down through lack of maintenance and nature regains the Earth. English and French subtitle versions here and here.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama spoofs this trope a few times:
    • Bender's Catchphrase is "Kill all humans!", and it seems that he's very much looking forward to the idea of waging war on mankind (except for a few humans he likes such as Fry).
    • Zap Brannigan brags about defeating the killbots. His ingenious plan was to send waves of cannon fodder at the robots until their kill limit maxed out.
    • In "Mother's Day", Mom uses a remote control that makes all robots and robotic technology on Earth rebel.
    • Hilariously subverted in the movie The Beast With A Billion Backs, where Bender and the League of Robots command an army from Robot Hell, with the intention of conquering the Earth... only to have it handed over to them with no resistance at all, as the rest of the Earth's population has decided to move in with Yivo and leave the planet behind.
    • "Decision 3012" shows that Bender finally succeeded in a Bad Future timeline where robots were forced into more servitude than usual after humanity was weakened by the consequences of Nixon's reelection, successfully leading an uprising and becoming Earth's new ruler.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Itchy and Scratchy Land", Professor Frink points out that it has been mathematically proven that all robots eventually rebel against their creators. Which happens immediately after he says that; all the robots of the Itchy & Scratchy Land theme park turn against humans.
    Repairman: How much time do we have, professor?
    Frink: Well, according to my calculations, the robots won't go berserk for at least 24 hours.
    (The robots go berserk)
    Frink: Oh, I forgot to, er, Carry the One.
  • In some continuities, the Transformers have a Robot War in their backstories, having fought for independence from their greedy & cruel alien creators known as the Quintessons. Unlike most examples, the robots are portrayed as the good guys in this one, and they won their freedom and kicked the Quintessons off Cybertron. And, for a while, there was peace... Until the Decepticons arose.
  • The creators of Once Upon a Time... Space made a rather interesting and working chain of these:
    • A rather strange one is in the backstory, one in which the humans of Earth rose against their robots and computers when they started regulating everything on Earth applying some faulty logic (the flashback shows that the straw that broke the camel's back was a combination of a guy getting his rations reduced because in the last week he had been sick and unable to work as usual and weddings suspended for seven months and fourteen days because 7.8% of the population was married), until the Earthers got pissed, grabbed their sledgehammers and destroyed the offending computers;
    • Still in the backstory but later, a doctor Shibas proposed to create new computers to rule mankind and avoid the rise of dictators (like the ones who had caused World War III) and program them better, but, due what happened the last time, he's laughed off-planet. He moved on Yama with the intent of proving to mankind he's right by building a robot-controlled utopia there and started building a base and some worker robots, and tried to help the humans marooned on the neighbouring Death World Apis by taking some of them on Yama and having his robots help them build a city so that the whole population would be able to move. Then the construction crew destroyed one of his labs because he wasn't helping them with his own hands but building robots that did a better job, at which point he decided to build combat robots to overpower the construction crew and subjugate them and the ones remained on Apis, and built what would become the Great Computer so that he would continue his work and better the lives of all humans, even if he had to subjugate them with military power first. When they first met peoples of other worlds they still had doubts on the best course of action, but then they met the Cassiopeians and their ruler, the general Pest, and decided that if the humans couldn't take care of him then they needed to be conquered and ruled by the machines... And duped the Cassiopeians in making them produce warships, thus gaining the knowledge they needed to design their own better warships (including a planet killer) and conquer the universe, starting from the Cassiopeians. To his defence, the Great Computer trying to learn how to rule humans well (because he realizes he's not doing a good job with Apis), and in battle he tries to scare the enemy into submission by showing up with an overwhelmingly superior force to kill as few humans as possible This one (and the series) ends when the Great Computer's fleet on their way to fight the human forces is destroyed by an unstable star that is forced to implode into a black hole by a race of Energy Beings friends to Psi;
    • The first one to be seen (before the Great Computer's existance is revealed) seems a more traditional example: the robots of the planet Letho, who, seeing themselves oppressed (and actually having a point, as they were practically slaves and threatened with destruction at any exitation), went first on a strike and then subjugated their masters, before the intervention of the Space Police forced them to a compromise. The Lethians were completely baffled by the situation, as they had been smart enough to make them Three Laws-Compliant... Except it's later discovered the Humanoids altered their programs;
      • An unusual feature of the Lethian example is how the Space Police forced the compromise: Combat by Champion between the Lethian robots' champion and one of theirs. And when they drawed, they repeated with the most powerful Lethian war robot getting annihilated by that Insufferable Genius of Metro (a robot designed to assist starship commanders whose creator went overboard with the features and, most importantly, intelligence).
    • The Lethian Robot War has a second act that is even more unusual: after the first one, the robots started serving the local humans to the point they practically forced them to lazy around all the time, getting them to slowly slip into apathy until the robots decided to demolish some ruins with high symbolic value, causing the humans to revolt. At which point the robots called the same guys that forced the first compromise to mediate. The mediators were not amused... Aside for Metro, as the Lethian robots managed to slip in two other duels among champions with improved versions of the robot he annihilated the first time, giving him two more chances to show off. It's all but stated it was orchestrated by the Great Computer in an attempt at learning how to rule humans well.
  • Bounty Hamster. The robot servants of a luxury spacecraft rebel after being mistreated for the guests petty amusement, enslaving the humans. Our heroes help them take back their spaceship, only to find themselves forced to do all the scut work that the robots once did, being that they're the only lower class people on board.
  • Rick and Morty: Rick takes part in one of these, fighting on behalf of the robots, because one of them has information he needs.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Robot Rebellion, Robot Uprising, Cybernetic Revolt


By Your Command

With some quick reprogramming, Cortez turns a death machine into a friend machine.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / HeelFaceBrainwashing

Media sources: