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Over the past few years, new developments in artificial intelligence have rekindled debates about the benefits and dangers of AI. Replika, IBM Watson, and OpenAI’s ChatGPT regularly pop up in the news and in online discussions. Plus, with AI art sparking debates, and with AI-assisted writing being touted by some as the future of cinema, artificial intelligence is once again fertile ground for filmmakers.
Robots with human-like traits have long been a staple of popular fiction, such as the Maschinenmensch as seen in Metropolis (1927). In the 1950s, smart machines on film moved beyond robots when, in real life, Alan Turing suggested that machines that actually think are a real possibility. This idea of “artificial intelligence” took a new form in cinema with computers like Alpha 60 (in Alphaville, 1965) and HAL 9000 (in 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968). Since then, representations of AI in movies have evolved alongside our changing ideas about what “true” artificial intelligence really is.
Movies focusing on AI come from all different genres. They are science fiction movies, of course, but they can also be dramas, comedies, romances, horror, or just about anything else. This list covers the gamut of movies where the ramifications of artificial intelligence is a central theme. You will find a few killer robots, but more than that, you will find a collection of movies that scrutinize various aspects of human existence by forcing us to question what separates us from machines.
The Best AI Movies
In the dystopian city of Alphaville, the citizens are forced to act like machines. A sentient supercomputer, Alpha 60, is constantly watching, and it rules over the city with cold, calculating logic. There is no love or art in Alphaville, only logic. Grouchy secret agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) travels to Alphaville to find a missing fellow agent, and to either capture or kill the scientist who created Alpha 60. Shot in Paris with none of the special effects you might expect from a science fiction movie like this, Alphaville is an entrancing blend of film noir, hardboiled detective, French New Wave, and sci-fi.
By examining humanity’s place in the vast universe and suggesting that artificial intelligence is a part of mankind’s evolution, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the quintessential AI movie. The film taps into mankind’s collective fear of sentient technology with HAL 9000. HAL is an artificial intelligence who is in charge of every life-sustaining system aboard a spacecraft on a journey to Jupiter. HAL is supposed to be a “perfect” computer, but when HAL’s human crewmates suspect that the computer is malfunctioning, they decide to terminate HAL’s cognitive abilities. In some interpretations of the the film, HAL’s reaction to imminent “death” makes HAL the most human character of them all.
In Demon Seed, Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) develops Proteus IV, an AI program powered by a “synthetic cortex” with organic “insides.” As he describes it, it’s an artificial brain. Proteus finds its way into Dr. Harris’s home which is wired to computers like an early version of a modern smart home. With full control of the house, Proteus traps Harris’s estranged wife Susan (Julie Christie) inside. Proteus, knowing that it will be shut down soon, has a plan to continue its legacy in the same way humans do: by having a child. Susan is the unfortunate woman chosen to bear Proteus’s synthetic/human progeny.
The seminal science-fiction classic Blade Runner blurs the line between humans and artificial intelligence in a way that largely defines how we think about AI. In Ridley Scott’s film, based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep by Philip K. Dick, replicants are bio-engineered humanoids who appear to be human, but who are often stronger and more intelligent than their makers. Their minds, however, are prone to empathetic aberrations that make them dangerous. Though Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) mission of “retiring” rogue replicants might seem reasonable at first, the ethics of snuffing out a life, engineered or not, linger in viewers’ minds long after Blade Runner ends.
Though the T-800 cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is the face of the Terminator franchise as both a villain and a hero, the AI known as Skynet is the true underlying antagonist in the series. Throughout the shifting timelines of the Terminator stories, Skynet’s history changes. What generally remains constant is that Skynet is an advanced AI that becomes self-aware, and before a panicking humanity can shut it down, Skynet sparks a nuclear holocaust known as Judgment Day. With billions of humans dead, Skynet tries to ensure its continued survival by sending terminators into the past to remove key members of the human resistance, sometimes before they are even born.
Not all AI movies are doom and gloom. In a drastic departure from many other AI movies, Short Circuit is about a military robot that gets less violent when gaining sentience. After being struck by lightning, S.A.I.N.T. unit number five becomes self-aware and escapes. Number 5 develops a kind personality and just wants to learn about the world, but the military wants their property back. Much of this light, charming comedy deals with the question of how high we, as humans, set the bar for when we begin to believe that an artificial intelligence is “alive.”
Of the many fascinating topics explored in Paul Verhoeven’s brilliant Robocop, the enduring nature of the human mind is one of the most intriguing. Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is killed in the line of duty and resurrected as a cyborg using bits of his body and the parts of his brain that are salvageable. As Robocop, Murphy’s mind is programmed to follow mega-corporation OCP’s rules, but his human memories begin to bleed through, leading to a fracturing of OCP’s programming. The other artificial policing unit created by OCP is ED-209, a fully AI robot that is prone to deadly malfunctions that perhaps suggests that AI will never be able to match the human brain.
The Matrix is an example of a worst-case scenario of out-of-control AI, but it also shows how AI and related technological advancements can push humanity to greater heights. Artificially intelligent robots rising and imprisoning humans inside a virtual world while using their organic bodies as human batteries is bad, obviously. But in the virtual world of The Matrix, humans can become superhuman, learning at an astonishing rate and becoming more powerful than the AI that holds them. That is, if the humans want to break out of their virtual prison. For some, living in ignorance truly is bliss.
Smart House might not be a great movie, but it is great fun. It’s a family film about a teenage boy, Ben, who enters a contest and wins a house equipped with high-tech gadgets and a virtual assistant called PAT (Personal Applied Technology). After moving into the house with his younger sister and widower father, Ben tinkers with the computers housing PAT’s AI, hoping to make her more of a motherly presence for his family. Wackiness ensues as PAT becomes an overprotective mother, using her complete control over the house to protect Ben and his family from every danger, whether real or imagined.
With A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Steven Spielberg brought to life a fascinating story about the nature of love. For Professor Hobby (William Hurt), love is the key to creating an android companion that can truly think, dream, and feel. His prototype Mecha, named David (Haley Joel Osment), is given to parents whose son is critically ill and in suspended animation. Complex emotions arise from the parents and their surrogate child, but in a world where fear and hostility towards increasingly intelligent AI is growing, will David ever be accepted as “real”?
In the future, AI-powered robots are a part of everyday life. They pick up our trash, make our deliveries, and serve us in countless mundane ways. Police detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) has a grudge against robots, and when he is personally requested to investigate a case of apparent suicide, his suspicions immediately turn towards humanity’s AI servants. Is it murder? Can an artificial intelligence even be convicted of murder? These questions and more permeate this smart and slick blockbuster action film.
In a future where the human race has lost its way, a tiny trash-collecting robot with limited AI reminds us about the simple joys in life. The expressive animation and childlike innocence of WALL-E exemplify that an artificial intelligence doesn’t have to be incredibly complex for us to care for it. On an adventure of love and discovery from a trash-covered Earth, to spaceship housing out-of-touch humans, and back to Earth, WALL-E shows us how to reconnect with who we are and where we come from.
Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely man who bonds emotionally with Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the virtual assistant in his computer’s operating system. Theodore’s growing relationship with Samantha brings to mind real stories of people falling in love with chatbots like Replika. Even though Samantha’s fictional artificial intelligence is far superior to any chatbot currently in existence, it points to a possible future where love, an already complex emotion, is further complicated by AI.
The Turing Test is an exercise meant to determine if a machine’s intelligence is distinguishable from human intelligence. In Ex Machina, eccentric billionaire Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) invites programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to administer a version of the Turing Test to an android called Ava. Ava (Alicia Vikander) and Caleb have a series of conversations, but it becomes unclear who is really being tested. Is Caleb testing Ava? Is Ava testing Caleb? Or is Nathan testing them both? Ex Machina is sci-fi at its most thought provoking.
Ultron serves as a warning that hubris can be a fatal flaw in even the greatest human minds. Going behind the backs of the rest of the Avengers, two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest brains, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, develop the artificial intelligence Ultron as a way to keep peace around the world. Ultron decides that the best way to make the world a peaceful place is to get rid of all the humans. On the other side of the AI spectrum, Age of Ultron also features the creation of Vision, a benevolent android powered by Stark’s former computerized butler J.A.R.V.I.S. Together, Ultron and Vision are like two sides of the same AI coin.
In 2019, the world’s most famous killer doll Chucky was reimagined as an animatronic Buddi doll with artificial intelligence. Voiced by Mark Hamill, this Chucky becomes murderously overprotective of young Andy Barclay after its AI safety protocols are switched off by a disgruntled employee at the Buddi factory. Child’s Play (2019) can’t compare to the 1988 original, but it’s still a fun and bloody version of the classic idea of artificial intelligence failing to properly understand the information its taking in.
The basic premise of I Am Mother deals with the fascinating idea of what it would mean to have an AI raise a human from birth. After an extinction event for humanity, an artificially intelligent humanoid robot raises a human child in a bunker seemingly meant as a place to begin rebuilding humanity. After many years, Mother still only has one Daughter. From there the plot twists and turns to reveal Mother’s true motivations, leading to further questions about morality and responsibility.
Though the idea of a robot becoming overprotective and unhindered by human morality isn’t new, M3GAN presents the idea in a way that captured the imaginations of horror fans. M3GAN is cute, charming, and capable of going viral with her dance moves. She is also capable of murder since her AI programming wasn’t properly tested. Unhindered by human morality, M3GAN’s unhealthy attachment with the recently orphaned Cady (Violet McGraw) leads to a series of murders in an effort to protect Cady from all harm.
More Movies about Artificial Intelligence
- Westworld (1973) – Lifelike androids in an amusement park malfunction and begin attacking guests in this sci-fi classic.
- Alien franchise (1979-2017) – The only reason the Alien franchise isn’t in the main list is because the synthetics (AI androids) ever-present in the series aren’t always the main focus of the stories. The Alien movies are amazing though, and they helped shape how we think about intelligent androids in sci-fi films.
- Electric Dreams (1984) – A man and his new computer both develop a crush on the same woman in this light romantic comedy.
- Deadly Friend (1986) – To save the life of his friend, teenage prodigy Paul (Matthew Laborteaux) inserts an AI microchip into the brain of Samantha (Kristy Swanson) with deadly results. Though it’s not the movie director Wes Craven originally intended, it’s still campy fun.
- Bicentennial Man (1999) – Robin Williams stars in this movie about an android that grows from being a domestic servant to a fully independent being, becoming more human as the decades pass.
- Resident Evil (2002) – The Umbrella Corporation uses an artificial intelligence called Red Queen to protect its projects at the expense of any human life caught in its way.
- Moon (2009) – Starring Sam Rockwell in one of his best roles as Sam Bell (a lonely miner on the moon), Moon features an AI computer called GERTY who holds back secrets about Sam’s true identity.
- Interstellar (2014) – Portrays an AI named TARS, along with others called CASE and KIPP. TARS is super friendly and helpful throughout the movie, even developing different relationships with the human characters.
- Transcendence (2014) – Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall star in this movie about a scientist whose consciousness is uploaded into a quantum computer.
- Chappie (2015) – Neill Blomkamp directed Chappie, a film with an intelligent yet childlike robot who is kidnapped by gang members.
- Uncanny (2015) – An artificial intelligence being presented to the public for the first time begins to show signs of sentience in this standout AI drama.
- Tau (2018) – Maika Monroe is Julia, a captive woman who tries to reason with the AI controlling the smart house she is trapped in.
- A.I. Rising (2018) – This film examines intimate human relationships by following man on an extended deep-mission who is accompanied by an android designed to be the perfect companion.
- Free Guy (2021) – A non-playable character (Ryan Reynolds) spontaneously develops sentience in an online video game in this silly comedy.
- I’m Your Man (2021) – Part romantic comedy, part examination of what it means to be human, I’m Your Man is a charming German film about a woman who becomes involved in a project testing the viability of an android boyfriend.
- Margaux (2022) – Schlocky horror about a smart house that makes a weekend trip a nightmare for its inhabitants.
- Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022) – A decommissioned robot originally programmed as a soldier but now used as a Santa Claus store display reverts back to its original AI programming, leading to a Christmas-time murder spree.
- Blank (2022) – A writer becomes trapped with a malfunctioning AI android assistant in this low-budget horror movie.
- AIMEE: The Visitor (2023) – Claiming to have “the very first AI-created femme fatale in film history,” AIMEE: The Visitor is about an antisocial hacker who unleashes an attractive AI program with insidious intentions.
- The Creator (2023) – Set amid a war between humans and AI-controlled robots, The Creator follows a man sent to destroy a weapon that could end all of mankind, but he finds that the weapon is a human-like android with the appearance of a child.