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SkeleBot 9000

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"Just for my own edification, did you have to design the robots with such horrifying features? I'm not a design guy, or anything, but I can't see any either performance or aesthetic benefits in designing the robots with cold, skeleton heads, piercing red eyes and giant metal teeth."

A visual trope in science fiction materials: humanoid robots that look skeletal in design. They all have relatively thin limbs that are reminiscent of bones, and they usually lack "filling" in places where humans have only soft organs, like the abdomen.

Such robots can be very obvious, with sinister, grinning skull-faces, a la T-800 from Terminator films. Others are more subtle, with either fairly realistic faces or no faces at all. Some, such as the T-800s, are designed to be covered with "something", so they literally are robot skeletons once you remove the coverings.

Obvious SkeleBots are meant to scare characters. Often, these are the cold, inhuman soldiers of the Big Bad. On the other hand, subtle SkeleBots are often presented (at least at first) as perfectly innocuous consumer devices, but they're meant to subtly creep out the audience.

This trope also makes quite a bit of sense from a pure engineering standpoint: the bipedal human skeleton is a rather efficient infrastructure. Placing processing power and sensors in a compact, heavily armored box at the top of the body minimizes lag and provides the best vantage point possible, the ribcage centralizes and protects important components, and an upright bipedal stance allows both great strength and dexterity in the upper limbsnote  while also making us one of the few animals that can survive prolonged high-speed travel.note  Eliminating excess weight by replacing muscle with systems of cables or servo motors and organs with compact power supplies would let you strip the body down to, well, the bare bones essentials.

That said, while there might be no mechanical need for the extra padding or housing necessary to keep a robot built on the human frame from looking skeletal, "not looking creepy" is a general design goal for consumer products, especially those with recognizable faces. Subtle SkeleBots with "intact" faces often lean as much towards the "moving corpse" nadir of the Uncanny Valley as Dem Bones. Sometimes overlaps with Unnecessarily Creepy Robot for cases when it would probably be better if the robot didn't resemble a skeleton, but this doesn't seem to have occurred to the designer (or possibly that it did).

If you're specifically looking for Terminator Expies then take a look at Terminator Impersonator.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Boomer androids from the original Bubblegum Crisis, as Terminator Impersonators, also have skull-like heads under their artificial skins (the rest of the body is much less skeletal).
  • During the Red Ribbon Army arc of Dragon Ball, Goku and crew encounter what appears to be a skeleton with a Arm Cannon in an abandoned pirate's lair.
  • As an iconic, long-running mecha franchise, Gundam sometimes brings in this design element:
    • Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: While the first Psyco Gundam had a head design mostly the same as the original RX-78, the Psyco Gundam Mk II has a slatted faceplate evocative of a skull.
    • Despite its name, the Skull Gundam from Mobile Fighter G Gundam doesn't quite fit this trope. While its arms and legs are skeletal, its torso is a giant skull.
    • The suits of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans frequently have parts of their inner frames exposed, especially the waists, giving them a bit of this aesthetic. It's a way to give them a low-tech, inhuman feel, befitting the especially gritty, down-to-earth atmosphere of the show.
  • The Skullgunners from Blue Comet SPT Layzner have heads shape like the top of a human skull, though their disproportionately-large size make them resemble The Greys. They're AI-controlled Mecha-Mooks which communicate with each other through a Hive Mind for ruthless efficiency.

    Comic Books 
  • The "anorexic Cybermen" from the Doctor Who Magazine comic story The Flood are another example of the subtle version, as seen here.
  • In the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Rancor uploads her consciousness into a robot made of Wolverine's Adamantium skeleton.
  • The robot in "Spirou and the Robot Blueprints" (fr. orig. "Spirou et les plans du robot"), a Spirou & Fantasio comic from 1948, is at least vaguely skeletal.
  • Most robots from the comic Magnus Robot Fighter: 4000 AD are somewhat subtly skeletal. They have flatly mechanical faces or faceless heads, thin limbs, and chests joined to hips by nothing more than a thick cable.
  • Superman:
  • Some later versions of Warlock from New Mutants have played with this trope, by having him look very skeletal when in low energy, and much fuller and human-like when in full power.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Terminator: The T-800, T-850, T-X, T-600, T-700, and Rev-9 endoskeletons. While the endoskeleton is designed for a reasonable purpose — to be a framework on which to grow human flesh to better disguise the Terminators — the real reason is the horrific image (one of them really illustrates the Nightmare Fuel page) of implacable metal skeletons coming after you. The fact that they are also terrifying has another in-universe reason: they're built for warfare and the psychological effect on the enemy would be rather potent (the Cracked article, while amusing, relies on the premise that Cyberdyne created the Terminators before Judgement Day, which they did not). Not for nothing did James Cameron base them on an actual nightmare he had while filming Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.
    • Terminator Salvation: Marcus Wright, following getting badly injured by a landmine, is revealed to have a metallic endoskeleton underneath his skin. What's notable is that he also has his internal organs interspersed with the endoskeleton, making him a true Cyborg rather than a Meatsack Robot.
    • The Rev-9 from Terminator: Dark Fate can split into two robots, the shapeshifting liquid metal exterior can come off leaving the robotic skeleton behind.
  • Star Wars:
    • From the Star Wars prequels (mainly The Phantom Menace):
      • The B-1 battle droids are skeletal, designed to be easily packed up and stored. According to Expanded Universe material, they are actually supposed to resemble the skeletons of Neimoidians (the people who designed them), which would be scary... if you're Neimoidian. The junior novelization has Jar Jar Binks compare them to Gungan skeletons when he first sees one.
      • Concept art shows that the original plan was for the Neimoidians themselves to have elongated faces and skeletal limbs just like their battle droids. This was scrapped for the movie (perhaps because it would have required the Neimoidians to be fully animatronic or CGI, and they figured were already pushing it with Jar-Jar) and the EU explanation was retconned in. This concept carried over to the Geonosians in Attack of the Clones.
      • Similarly, the Destroyer Droids look like skelebots of the (EU-only) Colicoids who designed them. Including the rolling ball form.
    • The unfinished version of C-3PO, with his "parts showing", in The Phantom Menace.
    • General Grievous, though he is technically a Cyborg, invokes this trope with his appearance. A lot of the effect is from his skull-like mask, which all members of his culture wear.
  • The highly evolved robots at the end of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.
  • The NS-5 and NS-4 robots in I, Robot.
  • One of the failed RoboCop 2 prototypes removes his helmet to reveal a bloody human skull before screaming and collapsing.

  • New Jedi Order: One of the methods of fighting the Yuuzhan Vong is the YVH-1, an Elite Mook battle droid that perfectly resembles the T-800 and is specifically designed to scan and identify hidden Yuuzhan Vong agents and battle the extremely technophobic race in full combat. Justified in that human and Yuuzhan Vong skeletons are fairly similar and their appearance is meant to be insulting rather than frightening, backed up by the pre-programmed Battle Cry, "We are machines! We are greater than the Yuuzhan Vong!"
  • Taken literally in Neptune's Brood; the Church of the Fragile, lacking resources but having a fully stocked crypt, uses actual human skeletons as service robots.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate: The Ark of Truth: The replicators take over a human and the results is one of these after the flesh is burned off. This is a clear Shout-Out to Terminator, especially the similar music in that scene.
  • Craig Ferguson's "robot skeleton" sidekick Geoff Peterson on The Late Late Show.
  • The Cylon Centurions in Caprica, specifically referred to as "skeletons" more than once. Though in the finale ones with added armor plating are shown.
  • A notable competitor from the Robot Wars spin-off Techno Games was Skeletron, a machine originally built to compete in the rope climbing event, but so impressive that it was upgraded to a full performance animatronic and made the show's mascot. Its design (or rather her design) was clearly based on the iconic T-800 endoskeleton.
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • In "The Camp", the Commandant and the other camp overseers are androids who have a dermal layer fitted over their endoskeletons. This layer is organic and ages over time like human skin but it can be replaced. With every complete replacement, the relevant android assumes a new identity. The Commandant reveals to Prisoner 98843 that the previous ten camp commandants were all him.
    • In "The Hunt", the androids who are being hunted by the Nichols family have endoskeletons that are covered with artificial flesh.
    • In "Simon Says", the robot Simon has a partially constructed skeletal frame.
  • On Sesame Street, there's a segment about mechanical toys, robots, and the Voyager satellites set to kind of creepy music, that features an android that looks kind of like a skeleton, and even has a clear casing so that the inside can be seen.

  • Analog: The cover of the January 1931 issue has a large metallic robot with a broad torso and head but skinny abdomen, arms, and legs.

  • The Robots by Kraftwerk are depicted in cover art and in 1991 video as plastic torsos with rotating heads and skeletal hands. Unlike real skeletons, they have only one bone in the lower arm, but two in the upper arm.


    Tabletop Games 

  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Necrons are the result of an ancient alien race, the Necrotyr, uploading their consciousness into skeletal robotic bodies. Thematically the Necrons are intended to be a science fiction version of the Undead.
    • The Chaos Androids from the first two editions of the game (as well as the early Gaiden Game Space Crusade) were daemonically-possessed automatons that take the form of shining plasteel skeletons. These androids were removed from the game and background material, along with the Chaos Squats who created them, and their look used as one of the inspirations for the Necrons.
    • The Men of Iron, the machines who rebelled against humanity over fifteen thousand years before the setting's present, are depicted as skeletal robots in the first Gaunt's Ghosts novel.
  • In Rifts:

  • The Cyber Forest [Fantasy Girls] series by Nuke Matrix made use of this trope for their earlier kits which were highly unusual for mecha musume kits as they had highly visible and mechanical spines and legs alongside the usual human features. As the line went on however this feature started to be gradually phased out.

    Video Games 
  • A gigantic skeleton mecha serves as the last boss of Bay Route, and a Bait-and-Switch Boss at that; after you defeat the terrorist leader's mooks, leaving the leader at your mercy, suddenly the skele-bot appears from below, allowing the leader to enter it's side.
  • The Robot Master Skull Man from Mega Man 4.
    • The Skeleton Joe from the same game.
    • His counterpart from the Mega Man Battle Network series is even lankier, more skeletal, and downright creepier for a multitude of reasons, including his manic grin.
  • After Dr. Lugae loses his first go-round with the heroes in Final Fantasy IV, he transforms himself into a skeleton robot for the second battle. The implication is that he just tears his skin off. In the original Japanese, he does.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Mass Effect: When Sovereign reanimates Saren's corpse, all the organic tissue burns away to reveal a metallic skeletal construct.
    • The Human Reaper larva in Mass Effect 2. To make it even scarier, it's huge (just one eye is bigger around than an adult human) and it's incomplete; basically just a skull, a spine, a ribcage and two handless arms. Nonetheless, it's capable of moving, attacking, and obliterating potential threats with lasers.
  • Mutant Night, where majority of your enemies are Mecha-Mooks, has robotic monkey skeletons as recurring foes. They only look creepy, however, and dies after being hit by two Eye Beams.
  • Snatcher features Terminator-like robots. In fact, they look so much like the Terminator that the localized release had to change their glowing eyes to green to avoid copyright infringement.
  • TimeSplitters 2 has the Chassisbot, which has one of the smallest frames in the game, making it hard to hit. Fans speculate that is just the chassis of a sentrybot with some additional equipment, which might also explain its sub-par stats.
  • The MMORPG Toontown Online has Skelecogs in-game which you will most often find in cog factories, during HQ raids, and in high level buildings (but sometimes, also during district invasions). Not only do they look creepier than their regular cogs counterpart, but they're almost always more powerful as well.
  • Dr. Nefarious from Ratchet & Clank. His Alternate Self Emperor Nefarious in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart looks even more skeleton-like due to his white color scheme.
  • Mini-bosses Scurvo and Dreadfuse from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword are Pirate SkeleBots.
  • Phase 1 Dark Troopers in Dark Forces are essentially robot skeletons with a vibroblade in one arm and a blast shield in the other.
  • The MechWarrior series (based on BattleTech) often features the Atlas, a 100-ton battlemech with a skull-shaped cockpit. Mech 4 in particular emphasizes the skeleton nature, by making the Atlas the tallest and giving it a bone-white head and fists. Multiplayer Battletech 3025 also gave it glowing red eyes.
    • The final boss for MechAssault 2 is essentially an incomplete Humongous Mecha skelebot. The mech has a huge, articulated skull for a head (with moving jaws) and is missing its entire lower torso and legs. Both Mechassault games likewise feature Atlases similar to the ones in MPBT 3025
  • Contra III: The Alien Wars features a giant one named Big Fuzz as a bossfight. It breathes fire, fires homing eye beams and throws time bombs around the room. Eventually it will lose its grip on the doors it was holding open, cutting off its head. Big Fuzz reappears in Contra 4 with the same fire breath attack and this time, you must close the doors on its neck to kill it in similar fashion.
  • Sharpshooter 3D has a Game Within a Game where you inexplicably transform into a Terminator-like robot and shoots your way through a space station filled with mutant enemies.
  • The boss villain Yaridovich from Super Mario RPG is technically an anthropomorphic spear, but his spindly limbs give him a skeletal look.
  • The hostile golems beyond the walls in Phoenotopia and Phoenotopia : Awakening.
  • The animatronic endoskeletons in Five Nights at Freddy's. Followed by an Actual Endoskeleton Character (Animatronic?) in Five Nights at Freddy's 2. He only appears in 2 rooms, doesn't attack the character, and is a complete mystery.
  • The Broken Lords of Endless Legend, a society forced to bind their souls to Animated Armor to survive the Endless Winter, typically have simplistic mask-like heads/helmets, but Baron Joslyn Deyval and the Dust Bishops have a skull-shaped head (complete with Glowing Eyelights of Undeath) and an enormous gaping mouth glowing with their inner Dust light.
  • In Fallout 4, the Generation 1 and Gen 2 synths used by The Institute are built with a skeletal frame. Gen 2s have synthetic rubbery skin, while Gen 1s are basically walking, talking, shooting metal skeletons. Since most synths have spent many years in the very unkind environment of the Commonwealth wasteland, the Gen 2s' rubber skin is usually flaking off. Generation 3 synths are, for all intents and purposes, Artificial Humans — completely indistinguishable from your standard organically grown person unless you cut them open.
  • The Final Boss of the Arcade Game Bay Route is a Humongous Mecha resembling a skeletal head and limbless torso.
  • Terraria:
    • The Skeletron Prime boss is basically a giant floating robot skull with four skeletal limbs equipped with weapons.
    • The Santa-NK 1 doesn't seem to fit this trope at first, but once half of its health is depleted, its face tears off, revealing a mechanical skull underneath.
  • The Simon animatronic in POPGOES is a purple skeleton, presumably possessed by the Purple Guy of Five Nights at Freddy's.
  • The Murderbots in Saints Row IV.
  • An early boss in Galerians, Dr. Lem. He seems like a relatively mundane Mad Doctor type until an unexpected Robotic Reveal mid-boss fight where it turns out he has a Terminator-esque endoskeleton.
  • The Henchman 800 mooks from Rayman 2: The Great Escape, who have skull-shaped heads and very thin limbs and are pirates like the above Scurvo and Dreadfuse.
  • Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City: Olympia is a rare Robot Girl version of this trope. She conceals it with a cloak most of the time as her head is able to convincingly pass as human. The normal female Yggdroid's are a partial example as they conceal some of it with a plate at the abdomen though official art reveals that there is nothing else behind that to conceal it.
  • Nejibird from Toy Fighter is a spindly robot whose body consist of thin pipes forming a vaguely humanoid frame, and with a plastic bird's head.
  • X-Kaliber 2097 has a Terminator Impersonator who's revealed to be a T-800-like robotic monstrosity with a mechanical skull for a head after it's Robotic Reveal.
  • Zeiram Zone have robots whose bodies consist of a metal frame with minimal components attached as recurring enemies for the first half of the game.


    Web Video 
  • Atop the Fourth Wall: The Movie: Mechakara peels off his face before his final confrontation with Linkara, revealing a robotic skull hiding underneath. After being shot in the back by the Magic Gun, the resulting blast burns away Mechakara's flesh and clothes, revealing a metallic skeleton underneath.

    Western Animation 
  • DC Animated Universe:
  • The "ghost robot" Scared-Stiff in Filmation's Ghostbusters. However, he might be a subversion of the "creepy" part of this trope, as he's described in fan circles as "a wimpy C-3PO".
  • Transmutate from Beast Wars. Her appearance is due to being a protoform unable to scan an alt-mode, treated as sickly and deformed by the other characters.
  • Krang in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), as opposed to his original version.
  • Aku created a whole horde of things like this in the Samurai Jack episode "Samurai versus Samurai", but despite their ghastly appearance, they really weren't much better than the rest of his Mecha-Mooks. (After Jack destroyed them all, the pieces pulled themselves together into a giant junk-monster, but that was only slightly more formidable.)
  • One of these is the autopilot of a damaged plane in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Hare Lift". (Even its head is just a tiny blinking lightbulb.) Upon being activated and seeing the severity of the plane's condition, it immediately straps on a parachute and jumps.
  • Superfriends: The final two iterations Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show and Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians had Superman foe Brainiac switch to the skeletal android body he had in the comics at the time.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Skele Bot 9000, Skele Bot


The Necrons

An ancient race of skeletal automatons forced into an eons long slumber in the wake of a great galactic war, the Necrons stir in their tombs once again, intent on resuming their genocidal march across a now furtile galaxy.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / SkeleBot9000

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