What if I told you good readers that James Cameron's benchmark sci-fi classic "The Terminator" did not introduce killer robots that enslave humanity. Nor did Marvel with their creation of Ultron in the late 1960's. If that is shocking to the core, what if I also told you that a Czech production titled Rosumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum's Universal Robots) or R.U.R. introduced 64 years earlier not only is the earliest example of killer robots in any medium, but also for introducing the term Robot into the English language and redefined science fiction in general. Many don't know that robot or roboti actually derives from the Czech word robota which translates into forced labor.
R.U.R. was a play written by Czech playwright Karel Čapek in 1920, about robots made from synthetic materials built as servants for humanity. The robots once satisfied with being slaves to human kind, soon begin to revolt and eradicate the human race, leaving all but one in their wake, who then force the lone survivor to be their slave. It was a cautionary tale about the overall fear there was in post World War I Europe. The advances in industry at that point resulted in a worldwide conflict decimating entire countries in ways unheard of prior to then.
Published in Prague and debuting in the same city, R.U.R. was a smash hit, with many calling it a masterpiece. Three years later the robots toured the United States albeit with alterations, as with many of american adaptations continuing to this day. In the debut New York performance Hollywood legends Pat O' Brien and Spencer Tracy both suited up as robot extras. The American production closed after 184 shows and had a brief revival in New York City in 1939. Just a year prior in 1938 a portion of the play had been broadcast by the BBC in what is considered the very first ever science fiction broadcast. Sadly, the footage is lost to time. Before the Twilight Zone, before Science Fiction Theater, before Captain Video, there was R.U.R.
Many films, tv shows and even cartoons have paid homage or were influenced by this groundbreaking play. They include, Batman the Animated Series, Star Trek, Futurama, the Outer Limits, Dollhouse and I, Robot. When you venture into theaters to see the next Terminator film, or the next Avengers, remember that it was a European play that made it all possible.