Ranking the best cyborg sci-fi action films of all time.
The success of films like The Terminator and Robocop triggered an avalanche of direct-to-video copycats. What they lacked in budget and brains, they more than compensated for it with relentless action. In this article, we’ll present the Top 20 classics of this exciting sub-genre, a world where C64-style CGI and home-made cybernetic augmentations are mandatory!
20) Shadow Warriors (1995)
The great Evan Lurie would appear in a dozen low-grade action flicks throughout the 1990s. Our list features three films graced by his presence, and Shadow Warriors is the first. Taylor (Lurie), a security offer at Global Cybernetics Inc, is killed on the job, and transformed into a cybernetic bodyguard, the “Techno Sapiens”. When another unit goes rogue, Taylor is sent after him.
You know you’re in ultra-low budget territory when a machine gun doesn’t even fire blanks, but only smoke. The film is a big trash fest, but it’s perfectly watchable not least because of Evan Lurie’s enthusiastic performance (and his uncannily large neck muscles). The action comes almost non-stop, even though the editing is atrocious with some sequences looking suspiciously like stock footage. But there’s helicopters flying around, a boat chase, and plenty of frantic running and shooting. Shadow Warriors is a film that becomes better with every portion of your favorite intoxicant.
19) Solo (1996)
Solo feels like a spiritual predecessor to Soldier at times, even though it doesn’t come even close to the awesomeness of Kurt Russell’s Sci-Fi inferno. And just like Russell, Van Peebles convincingly does what his role demands: looking dumb and being jacked. Solo is a cyborg super soldier who develops a conscience, when he refuses to kill civilians during his first combat mission. He is designated for shutdown but escapes, and the US military goes after him.
The film saw a theatrical release and has some good production values, but the mindset of a C-grade action flick. Viewers need to endure tedious dialogues, cliched characters, and rather uninspired action sequences. Solo is average is almost every respect, but is ultimately worth a watch because of William Sadler as hateful military commander. His Colonel Madden blows a whole fuse box in the explosive finale with a fun twist, taking sadistic pleasure in blasting everything and everyone to pieces (”First rule when you’re dealing with the devil? Don’t!”).
18) T-Force (1994)
Our next entry is another Evan Lurie banger, and of course he plays a cyborg super soldier. The cyborgs of the Terminal Force (among them Lurie’s Adam) are brought in to end a hostage situation which ends in a massacre. The government attempts to shut them down, but the T-Force goes rogue and embarks on a killing spree. There are two large and pretty neat set pieces at the beginning and end, with the middle part of the film featuring a couple of subplots that are glued together surprisingly well.
Lurie’s Adam is given plenty of time to philosophize about the ordeal of being an android, and Jack Scalia makes a good showing as charming alpha male cop with a disdain for anything cybernetic. Maybe there’s a bit too much talking and not enough kaboom for a production from action masters PM Entertainment, but T-Force is still an entertaining flick, and it introduces a new term into the already confusing world of cyborg terminology: the Cybernaut!
17) Shadowchaser (1992)
The film that put Frank Zagarino on the map as reliable muscle in DTV action flicks is also his best. The plot: Die Hard in a hospital with an evil cyborg. Zagarino tries his best to give a veritable Terminator impression, but whenever he’s on screen you will only be able to stare at his haircut which is one of the most ultimate in action movie history.
We also get Martin Kove in non-villain role for a change. He gives a decent Bruce Willis impression, spending half of the film crawling through vents and never being short of a witty remark. The action is solid, but rarely exciting, making Shadowchaser your typical middle-of-the-road B-actioner.
16) The Demolitionist (1995)
KNB effects group founder Robert Kurtzman’s directorial debut is a shameless Robocop rip-off. Police officer Alyssa is killed by gang boss Mad Dog during an undercover operation. She is brought back into the world by Project Lazarus. Imbued with superhuman power thanks to nanobots circulating through her body, Alyssa is out for revenge.
The hazy blue DTV thriller look was never as strong and persistent as in this film, and everything looks pretty slick for a 1 million dollar production. While the plot and dialogues are as cheesy it can get, the action doesn’t disappoint with a solid level of level of bloody violence courtesy of the KNB crew. TV starlets Nicole Eggert and Richard Grieco frequently look like they don’t know how they ended up in this film, but it doesn’t matter, The Demolitionist is a fun, silly ride that never steps on the brakes.
15) The Vindicator (1986)
The Vindicator is a Robocop ripoff that was made one year before Robocop came out! Carl is a scientist who dies in a dubious laboratory accident. His remains are integrated into a cybernetic body, and he becomes the ultimate killing machine. Carl escapes the laboratory, with a thirst for vengeance towards his creators.
The film is rooted in the tradition of horror films and urban exploitation flicks, with dark visuals, a creepy atmosphere and some sleazy kills. There is still a good chunk of action, thanks to Carl’s superhuman powers who easily rips apart everyone who has done him wrong. The Vindicator is a low-key effort, but it’s all put together competently to become a fine piece of gritty 1980s Sci-Fi fare.
14) Screamers: The Hunting (2009)
The original Screamers was an atmospheric Sci-Fi thriller, and in 2009 we were treated with the late DTV sequel. After receiving a distress signal, a group of soldiers is sent to a desert planet that was terrorized in the past by the killing robots Screamers. After their arrival the group gets the unsettling news that the Screamers are still around, some of them having evolved into human shape.
The sequel almost feels like a reboot of the original, as all the elements from the first film make a return, with the addition of some over-the-top gore effects that look appropriately disgusting. Even more than the first film, the second installment has Aliens and The Thing vibes all over it, and the humanoid Screamers are a creepy mix between cyborgs and zombies. Screamers: The Hunting delivers a healthy dose of old-school Sci-Fi horror entertainment.
13) Cyber-Tracker 2 (1995)
Straight out of the random cyborg movie name generator comes Cyber Tracker 2, the much improved sequel to its not-so-spectacular predecessor. Don “The Dragon” Wilson is back as undercover police agent. When a cyborg doppelganger of his wife kills the governor, Eric starts his own investigation to clear her from the charges, which quickly escalates into a demolition derby with his adversaries.
The second Cyber Tracker features a ton of awesome cyberpunk nonsense, including the inevitable VR martial arts sequence and a hacker battle. And the action dial was cranked up to the absolute maximum with an endless display of explosions, and cars flipping while being catapulted over other burning cars. The film also unashamedly copies entire sequences from the Terminator franchise such as the flood channel chase and the attack on the police station, but there’s nothing wrong with stealing from the best!
12) Cyborg 3: The Recycler (1994)
The first Cyborg had almost no cyborg stuff, so this awesome film cannot be our on our list, unfortunately, but there were sequels! Lets forget about the tedious second part, Cyborg 3: The Recycler gives us the real deal of humans vs. cyborgs! In a post-apocalyptic world, humans and cyborgs dwell in the desert. Cyborg Cash finds out that she is pregnant, and wanders to the mythical Cytown, where she hopes to find some help. Cyborg recycler (and killer) Lewellyn and his gang have plotted a course for Cytown, too.
The film has a fairly upbeat mood, with a bunch of silly humor and goofy characters, plus some funky techno beats. We also get to see Evan Lurie again, this time as part of the Cytown cyborg crew. Together with a bunch of cool action sequences for its budget Cyborg 3 becomes a worthy entry to the franchise.
11) Automatic (1995)
Automatic presents another variant of the “cyborg to the rescue” scenario. Home protection android J269 (Olivier Gruner) saves a woman from attempted rape by an executive of the corporation who built him. He kills the perpetrator, and the company sends a squad of mercenaries into the office building to cover up the incident. In the future, everyone is sitting in dimly-lit rooms, even top executives. It’s a laudable message for saving energy, and also a great trick to save money for set design.
Gruner is fun to watch as always with his totally ice-cold performance and top notch fighting skills. The film is a frantic chase through elevator shafts, crawlspaces and ventilation chutes, with a couple of nice fight sequences thrown into the mix. Automatic is a fun Die Hard ripoff that also does not take itself too serious.
10) Digital Man (1995)
Philip J. Roth has an extensive back catalog as a director, but most of his films are below the pain threshold even for hardened DTV consumers. Digital Man is an exception, and easily the best film he ever made. The D-1 Weapon System (Matthias Hues = The Digital Man) is sent to take down terrorists who have stolen nuclear missile launch codes. After completing the mission, his shuttle crashes into a desert village, and a team of elite soldiers is sent after him to secure the launch codes.
Mattias Hues stomps from one end of the village to the other – with one the biggest guns you’ll ever see – until his pursuers catch up with him. His initially friendly attitude towards the locals ends tragically (for them) as they are all too trigger-happy towards out-of-town folks. The frequent action sequences are shot well, with lots and lots and lots of colorful explosions. Digital Man is an upbeat and action-packed spectacle with a healthy dose of humor.
9) Cyborg Cop 2 (1993)
In the early 1990s, legendary director Sam Firstenberg retrained from ninjas to cyborgs, and with his Cyborg Cop duology he was able to preserve the spirit of his classics. The first Cyborg Cop was decent, but only the second film became the cheerful piece of carnage we came to expect from Firstenberg. After becoming self-aware, a cyborg super soldier decides he wants to take over the world with his fellow constructs. Only DEA agent Jack Ryan and his belly bag can stop them.
The film’s title is one of the biggest scandals in movie history, there is no cyborg cop in this film, only non-cyborg cops and non-cop cyborgs. But all is forgiven, we’re treated with a non-stop action fest with lots of gunfire, things exploding, people exploding, and a few creative kills (strangled with a tail pipe!) David Bradley is back driving his motorbike, beating people up, and just being a cool and funny chap in between the mayhem. Cyborg Cop 2 shows Firstenberg and Bradley in absolute top form!
8) The Last Sentinel (2007)
The 2000s saw a rather abrupt decline in high-entertainment low-budget actioners compared to the previous decade, but action maestro Jesse V. Johnson came to the rescue! In the future, humanity has lost the war against the cyborg drone police. One of the last survivors is Tallis (Don “The Dragon” Wilson), a genetically engineered supersoldier. He rescues a resistance fighter from a drone police squad, and together they devise a plan to save what remains of humanity.
Wilson delivers a surprisingly convincing performance as disillusioned and depressed combat veteran. The film also has a good mix of ingredients, among them cyborgs, swordfights and talking weapons. There’s a lot of spectacle with explosions and shootouts by the minute, and gallons of blood being spilled. The Last Sentinel is an action inferno that looks a lot better than it should considering its budget.
7) TC-2000 (1993)
The infernal martial arts quartet of Billy Blanks, Bolo Yeung, Matthias Hues and Jalal Merhi duke it out in TC-2000. After an environmental disaster, the privileged few live in underground cities. Jason (Blanks) is member of a cybernetically enhanced police force that patrols the entrance to the complex. Niki Picasso (Merhi) and his gang want in, and launch a plot that involves the high-heeled killing machine TC-2000. TC-2000 is cheese of the purest kind. The underground is a giant boiler room, and the cyborgs are so advanced that we cannot distinguish them from real humans.
The plot takes many abrupt and absurd changes of direction, so we are always in for a surprise. And there is some actual quality in the fight scenes! Every five minutes someone is getting roundhoused, and we can marvel at lots of oiled topless fighters. Yeung does some crazy kills, among them one where he punches into a one-foot-thick steel door, and the poor fellow on the other side just dies from the shockwave. TC-2000 is just a ton of fun!
6) American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993)
The late Joe Lara’s masterpiece has a great title, and you can even shuffle the words around to come up with new awesome names for movies such as American Warrior: Steel Cyborg or Cyborg Warrior: American Steel! After a nuclear war, the remaining humans live in misery enslaved by cyborgs. Radiation has also rendered them sterile, but scientists of the resistance created an embryo. Mary is tasked to bring the specimen to safety, but she is pursued by a cyborg killer, and only the mysterious loner Austin (Lara) can protect her.
The film is a relentless chase through ruined city blocks, filthy sewers and abandoned factories. Joe Lara does a good job as kind, but lethal protector going against a psychopathic drag queen gang, mutant mummy cannibals, and his ultimate nemesis, a blonde mustache terminator with glowing eyes. American Cyborg: Steel Warrior is action-packed and atmospheric, a true low-budget gem!
5) Manborg (2011)
With Manborg, director Steven Kostanski and his Astron-6 collective created the ultimate homage and parody of pretty much every other film on this list. Count Draculon and his army have destroyed human civilization. The Manborg and three human heroes are forced to fight in the arena for the pleasure of the demonic hordes, but break free to save what remains of humanity. The film is a blindingly colorful montage of 8-bit video game visuals, lots of creative special effects and cheesy humor.
Besides the Manborg, our quartet of warriors features Kung Fu master #1 Man, action hero Justice with a Power Glove for the extra punch, and knife-fighting expert Nina, this list of characters coincidentally being almost identical to the main protagonists to the next film on our list, Eliminators. Manborg is ultra-low budget and ultra-violent chaos that also doesn’t overstay it’s welcome with 60 minutes of total insanity.
4) Eliminators (1986)
If you would have asked a child in the 1980s what ingredients are needed to create their favorite action movie, cyborgs, ninjas and time travel would likely be on the list (plus of course laser guns and lots of explosions). And this is what we get in Eliminators! The evil genius Reeves wants to dispose of his cyborg servant the Mandroid, and has big plans to change the course of time for his own advantage. The Mandroid escapes, assembles a crew of adventurers, and together they set out on a quest to defeat Reeves.
The Mandroid is the most gentle and honorable cyborg in movie history. And his mobile battle unit (a mini-tank he can mount by taking off his legs) is an absolute highlight of the film! All is well on the action front, too. The heroes’ jungle trip is hindered by motorboat chases, moped squads, and cannibals. Eliminators is is infectiously cheerful, and maxes out on creativity and excitement as much as possible for a movie on a budget.
3) Knights (1993)
Vampire cyborg knights and humans beat each other up relentlessly in this terrific action extravaganza from Albert Pyun. A cyborg army roams the post-apocalyptic land, draining people’s blood as fuel for their bodies. Nea is rescued by the rogue cyborg Gabriel who teaches her secret martial arts techniques to become a cyborg killer (the secret: putting a stake into their head).
Five-times world kickboxing champion Kathy Long takes it up for the humans, hammering whole squads of cyborgs and their human minions into the ground. The action keeps coming almost non-stop, and the fight sequences are some of the best you’ll find in a DTV flick from the 1990s. As so often, Pyun created an eccentric and beautifully filmed action flick out of almost nothing, and Knights is one of his ultimate achievements!
2) Class of 1999 (1990)
Mark L. Lester’s sequel in spirit to his classic Class of 1984 carries the same cartoonish vibe, but delivers a huge upgrade on the action front! In the future, high schools have become lawless zones ruled by gangs. The school board deploys three android teachers to restore order. Their hard-line attitude initially seems to work but when they start killing students, the class fights back. The Tactical Education Units (the teachers) are characters you will love to hate; who doesn’t remember a slightly sadistic gym instructor or the overly pedantic history teacher?
The urban wasteland is a deadly, but rad playground for adolescents, and what Lester puts on display rivals it’s A-list action peers of the time. The violence goes completely over the top, with ripped hearts, drilled foreheads, and a perfectly staged finale full of cyborg prosthetics, endless gunfire and explosions. Class of 1999 is perfect entertainment, and also a great recommendation to watch for every stressed out teacher!
1) Nemesis (1992)
Our number one is the ultimate masterpiece from the grandmaster of cyborg cinema Albert Pyun. Cybernetically enhanced LAPD cop Alex Rain (Olivier Gruner) gets entangled in a conspiracy that involves his employer, a data chip with the mind of his android ex-lover, and a sinister plot for world domination. No one ever looked as bad-ass as the violent cyborg vandals in this film with their Armani suits and Gucci sunglasses.
And what Pyun puts on display in the action department is the crowning achievement of his career. Every single action scene becomes a playground of massive destruction, with complex set pieces that are executed flawlessly. Hundreds of bullets are flying left and right, unleashed from gigantic weapons that are fired from the hip with magazines that never run empty, and there’s explosions everywhere. Nemesis puts the “Punk” back into Cyberpunk big time!