Robots have recurred throughout TV and movies for decades, but there’s never been one quite like Bender Bending Rodríguez, before or since Futurama premiered in 1999. We meet him in the very first episode, Space Pilot 3000. Fry is queuing to use what he believes is a phone booth, but it’s actually a suicide booth. Bender cheats the system with a coin attached to a string but the robot calls the thing a “lousy stinking rip-off” after Fry saves them both. When he tells Fry, “I didn’t have anything else planned for today, let’s go get drunk,” we knew they’d be friends forever.

Voiced by John DiMaggio, he might be the most iconic and loved character in the history of Futurama. Known for drinking and stealing, he’s an antihero you just can’t help but treasure, and he’s delivered more good lines than audiences could possibly count. What we don’t often talk about, on the other hand, is his look.

John Dimaggio as Bender holding a bent pole in front of wall in Futurama
Futurama episode 001 cr. Disney+ media player

Bender’s appearance has arguably helped equate to the character’s success; the design is classic with some subtle differences to robots in other media. He’s more similar, however, to another on-screen robot than you may have known, and that’s because Bender’s design was directly influenced by it.

There is a 1977 American animated movie called Wizards that was distributed by 20th Century Fox, and although it’s not widely known, it boasts an incredibly passionate cult following. The sci-fi epic includes a character by the name of Necron 99, a robot who, in the context of the film, is sent back in time to kill all those who believe in magic.

Yet, he’s transformed from a villain into a hero when a wizard named Avatar reconditions him to look away from violence. He’s renamed Peace and joins the central characters in their quest to restore it to the land.

Bender was actually modeled after the Necron 99/Peace character, which was created by Wizards writer, director, and producer Ralph Bakshi. Although the character in Wizards is red and not grey, the similarities are undeniable, down to the dark slat where the character’s eyes go and even the antenna atop his head.

The Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening was likely inspired by the movie more broadly too, and Bender’s design pays respect to a rich history of animation, of which Wizards should be recognized as being an important part.

Ralph had previously been known for projects like Fritz The Cat and Heavy Traffic, so sci-fi was seen as a significant deviation in his career. Nevertheless, the work has gone on to become incredibly influential amongst creatives and aficionados of cult cinema. The film still earns midnight screenings at theaters every now and then, and if you haven’t seen it, there’s still time before Futurama returns for season 8 on Hulu and Disney+ on Monday, July 24th 2023.

Wizards is available to rent or purchase on the likes of Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV.

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