The meaningful art of 'one of the worst movies of all time': Phil Tucker's Robot Monster as an existential critique of American modernity

Daniel Tilsley

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This article analyses one of the ‘worst movies ever made’, Robot Monster (Tucker 1953), demonstrating how the text, through weirdness, pulpy absurdity and cinematic ineptitude, examines and mediates on the existential anxieties of modern America during the Cold War. Through the strange language of gorilla-robots and alien invasion, the text articulates those existential anxieties that arise from our awareness of freedom vs. the need to be contingent under increasingly interconnected societal conditions. As such, Robot Monster is also posited as a contribution to contemporary intellectual currents of the 1950s. This article will investigate the sense in which the key aspects of the film: Ro-Man society as mass society; Ro-Man as conflicted between ‘must’ and ‘cannot’; Ro-Man as a gorilla-robot; the perspective of Johnny’s dream, articulate and mediate on those anxieties. An examination of Robot Monster allows us to appreciate the ways in which ‘bad’ cinema creates alternative ways of seeing the problems and existential anxieties of contemporary American modernity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-42
Number of pages16
JournalHorror Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022


  • American cinema
  • Cold War
  • cult films
  • existentialism
  • intellectual history
  • mass society
  • science fiction

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