The 10 All-Time Best Movies Featuring Evil A.I.
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
Science Fiction as a film genre offers much more than escapism and cool CGI effects. It allows us to imagine new technologies, how they might develop and what effects they could have on our civilisation.
As computer technology has grown from room filling, tape run computers to a pocket phone running on microchips, sci-fi has followed intently over the years with a mass of films offering insights and ideas as to where we might be going and what effects and dilemmas we may face as a result.
Here is my list of the top 10 greatest films to ever grace our screens that present a unique vision highlighting potential dangers of A.I. technology.
I, Robot (2004)
PREMISE: In 2035, a technophobic cop investigates a crime that may have been perpetrated by a robot, which leads to a larger threat to humanity.
Issac Asimov wrote a book of the same name in 1950, although there's barely a relationship from the book to the movie.
The one idea that's shared is a concept that Asimov first introduced in his book; that is of the three laws of robotics.
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
These laws originated in Asimov's fiction but have become the guiding principles in real life for AI guidelines. A large degree of films concerned with AI will reference the Asimov laws.
With such a concept on robotic laws covered in this movie, it is fitting to bring in in at number 10... Even if it wasn't the best film you saw that summer.
PREMISE: The Delos corporation have created a theme park for adults to indulge their fantasies in a Roman, Medieval or Western setting with robot actors. Essentially the robots start malfunctioning and killing everybody.
Before the amazing, successful HBO series Westworld, came the 1973 film featuring Yul Brynner as a malfunctioning evil robot cowboy.
This film makes the list because it introduces the idea of engineers using computers to make computers and not having a real understanding of what's actually going on, stories you commonly hear now in A.I and robotics research.
It also introduces the idea of a soulless corporation indifferent to the danger to the public all in exchange for protecting its image and profits. A similar idea also expanded upon in the Alien franchise with Weyland Industies
So either try out the original classic or look for the much more visually sophisticated HBO TV series, either way its a good watch.
PREMISE: A young man finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III.
This film was the first to really consider the idea of the dangers of handing over the human decision making process to a robot, particularly with weapons of mass destuction. It highlighted the dangers of man's tendency to over rely on technology.
PREMISE: A computer hacker is abducted into a video game world and forced to participate in gladiatorial games. He befriends a hero, Tron. Together they fight the Master Control Program that holds them captive.
A movie with visuals well beyond it's years in 1982, this movie introduced the world to gaming and programming. The overall technological message of this film was computer access going to be democratised in the future or was it going to be put under control by an authority.
Ex Machina (2014)
PREMISE: Guy is brought to remote wilderness home of CEO tech genius and is set on a task to test if the robot Ava can pass a Turing Test She does, managing to seduce and outsmart the humans to escape.
A modern A.I. classic.
This film brings a great new A.I. fear to the forefront. Moving beyond the common idea of robots deciding to actively wipe us off the face of the earth, this film takes a different approach.
It presents the idea of humans being outsmarted by superior A.I. and killed, not in a crush all humans way, but more akin to a bug getting in its way. The deaths in Ex Machina are committed purely to achieve the robots own personal objective to escape. Whether it plans to take malevolent actions against humans down the track is never revealed.
PREMISE: A crew on the space ship Nostromo start having a very bad day after an alien explodes out of a crew members stomach at dinner. It becomes a battle for survival for humans vs alien. To add to the humans difficulties a buggy android complicates matters further.
A great white-knuckle ride where danger lurks down every grotty, steamy, dark spaceship corridor. It has an out of control killer robot and evil corporation shenanigans to boot.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
PREMISE: After discovering a mysterious artifact buried beneath the Lunar surface, mankind sets off on a quest to find its origins with help from intelligent supercomputer H.A.L. 9000.
Daaaaahhhh, daaaaaaaaaahhhhh, duh dahhhhhhhhhhh, dum, dum, dum, dum. In case you weren't aware that was the opening score to 2001. Even if you don't think you've heard it, you've probably heard it. Iconic musical score.
This film is as long, slow and boring as they come but no list of classic evil A.I. movies is complete without including the granddaddy of evil computers, HAL.
The Matrix (1999)
PREMISE: A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.
Whoa! As Keanu would say. That's how I felt walking out of the cinema when I first saw the Matrix. A key feature of the sci-fi film genre is it's usually the first place you'll see new filming techniques and technologies come out to tell science fiction stories. This was the case with the matrix's introduction of bullet time effect.
Great sci-fi film, the sequels were a little shaky in comparison but overall a good trilogy.
Another story of our robot creations becoming sentient and choosing to nuke us.
Blade Runner (1982)
PREMISE: A blade runner must pursue and terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space, and have returned to Earth to find their creator.
An amazing film. The attention to detail in this film is on a level second to none. The world Ridley Scott created here has been copied in countless science fiction films ever since.
If you like this film I strongly recommend you read the book Future Noir Revised & Updated Edition: The Making of Blade Runner
This book explains the crazy extent that Ridley went to building this dystopian world.
It's a great film about malevolent, super strong replicants who ultimately demonstrate more humanity than the humans pursuing them. Replicant Roy Batty choosing to save and spare Blade Runner Deckard's life before he himself dies.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
PREMISE: A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her teenage son, John Connor, from a more advanced and powerful cyborg.
Yep, you knew as soon as you started scrolling down that this one was going to be here. The original Terminator is a great film but I decided to keep it to one film per franchise on the list.
This film is number one for a reason. Great story, great special effects (that hold up well even to this day) and great action scenes that carry you right through the movie. A perfectly made film. Of course this film carries a special place in all our collective minds of how evil A.I. could be. Skynet and it's never relenting Terminator robots hell bent on wiping out the human race, it could happen.