WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Pacific Rim Uprising and Ready Player One, in theaters now.
For those who've spent years hoarding vintage Megazord toys, have a fondness for video games set in futuristic war zones or have long been singing the praises of Bubblegum Crisis to Blade Runner fans, giant robots and mecha will never have fallen off of your pop culture radar.
For the general viewing public, however, the sight of Pacific Rim's enormous Jaegers would have been a unique one back in 2013. In 2018, the Kaiju-smashing mecha are back for more in Pacific Rim Uprising, but this time the Jaegers are facing some big, mechanized competition company at the box office.
In a relatively brief time, cinema screens have become filled to bursting with piloted mecha of varying shapes and sizes, and with references to the manga and anime that popularized them. Pacific Rim's Jaegers, with their skyscraper sizes, varied types, nicknames, fluid maneuverability and dependency on the minds and bodies of human pilots are reminiscent of everything from Patlabor to Neon Genesis Evangelion (some of which is intentional and some only incidental).
The Easter egg celebration that is Ready Player One notably includes the Iron Giant stalking across a virtual battlefield in its trailers, and the film triples down on the giant-robot love in a fight scene that will no doubt go down as one of the most shamelessly nerd-baiting delights in pop-culture history. Not only does the film's villain pilot Mechagodzilla to take down the Iron Giant, who's rescued by none other than the RX-78-2 model from Mobile Suit Gundam, thanks to a special MSG power-up from one of the heroes.
Even Tony Stark's beefy Hulkbuster armor, which returns later this month in Avengers: Infinity War, is essentially an exoskeleton mech in the tradition of Gundam and Appleseed. Similarly, a version of the mechanized Batsuit Bruce Wayne donned in The Dark Returns popped up to give the Man of Steel a beating in 2016's Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
In that same year, Netflix's revival of 1980s animated classic, Voltron: Legendary Defender, began streaming, and a year after that, a rebooted version of the original Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers lineup also brought the unique joy of seeing massive mechs combine to make even bigger mechs back to our cinema screens, too. Along with the non-piloted alien robots of the Transformers franchise, these properties were instrumental in spreading the love for big 'bots outside of Japan over 30 years ago, and their resurgence brings this current trend full circle.