Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interests are science fiction and zombie movies. I also enjoy pessimistic and survival films a lot.
For decades now, artificial intelligence has motivated great stories in cinema. Whether generating empathy, spreading terror or simply being invaluable allies of human counterparts, artificial intelligence is the sci-fi soul of an invaluable gallery of cybernetic characters.
This is our countdown of the best artificial intelligence films ever made.
20) "Star Wars: A New Hope" (1977)
This list begins with a not-so-obvious option, considering that Star Wars is more a space opera full of extraterrestrials, Jedis, mercenaries, bounty hunters and yes, some androids, but hear me out: The perfect ideology is the invisible one, the one that is so massified that it isn't perceived. The A.I. In the Star Wars universe is just another normal "faction".
R2D2 and C3PO not only are one of the most iconic A.I. characters of all time (which would immediately guarantee this movie a spot on this list), but we tend to forget that in A New Hope, the introduction of the saga that would change the world forever, these two androids are its exclusive main narrators for practically the entirety of the first hour.
That’s a huge responsibility for two androids, which both carried out in perfect fashion.
19) "Bicentennial Man" (1999)
The Chris Columbus dramedy, panned by critics at the time of its release, has aged quite well. The story of an android (Robin Williams) and the relationship with his human family, is an ambitious tale about the evolution of society's perception of artificial intelligence.
Of course, the inescapable absence of actor Robin Williams (who died in 2014) signifies an imposing presence in his Bicentennial Man's character Andrew. A mortality that, unintentionally, has given a different dimension to this biopic about an android who manages to be considered human only when he chooses to be perishable.
18) "Automata" (2014)
Automata is a little and unknown Antonio Banderas film is undoubtedly genre-derivative, but has original ideas and a very clever design of the charismatic Stephen-Hawkings-voice, clumsy-looking robots, called here "Pilgrims".
With a modest budget and outstanding results, the film by Gabe Ibanez builds a good tale about the ethical limits of property over artificial intelligence, in a dystopia where androids, fundamental for the survival of the human species, are a clear allegory of cheap and exploited labor.
17) "Westworld" (1973)
Michael Crichton's tale about a western-themed amusement park filled with androids that revolt against the visitors gives full priority to the entertainment and thriller atmosphere. In Westworld, there aren't big moral lessons or philosophical themes. That's also completely valid. Sometimes, a movie can be style over substance and still have relevance. Westworld is full blown technophobia and it works perfectly.
You can't deny its influence. Its most direct result, HBO’s TV show of the same name, deepens like no other work of fiction the ethics behind the manipulation of artificial intelligence.
In addition, Westworld was the first film to use digital image processing to consistently emulate the android's point of view. It can't get more meta than this.
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16) "Chappie" (2015)
The most recent full feature work by Neill Blomkamp is an underrated gem, largely because of the exaggerated annoying presence of Ninja and Yolandi Visser playing exaggerated, annoying versions of themselves.
But once you ignore the glorified Die Antwoord's music video aspect of this film, and get to see the rest of the story, Chappie is an interesting, explosive and entertaining tale about a child-like android (played by Sharlto Copley) who emulates human behavior, falling into the hands of a criminal gang.
Oh, and Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman represent the yin & yang of humanity.
15) "RoboCop" (1987)
Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop is an absolute sci-fi classic. It functions as a Cyberpunk story, a dystopian story or as a straightforward action movie. Its themes of gentrification, savage neoliberalism, corruption and monopoly of violence haven't lost a single ounce of validity.
And of course, artificial intelligence plays a fundamental role in this story. Not only the instability of the ED-209 enforcement droid motivates the rest of the plot, but our hero Alex Murphy struggles with his reprogrammed A.I. during the whole movie in order to cling to what little humanity he has left.
14) "I, Robot" (2004)
Alex Proyas channels Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics into his most blockbuster film to date. Taking as a starting point a mysterious murder where the principal suspect is a robot that has managed to bypass its programming, this neo-noir is full of entertaining moments.
With Will Smith as the human face and with a great performance by Alan Tudyk as the robot Sonny, I, Robot is an adventure of great quality, with wonderful special effects and constant tension of the trust invested in the A.I. bearers. Although Asimov's robot book series is excellent, at this place on the list we haven't really arrived at the best AI movies yet. I Robot is a good Will Smith science fiction vehicle though.
13) "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece (OK, one of them) occupies a mandatory place in this list, in the same way as other classics like Star Wars or Robocop: These are films that go far beyond being an "A.I." story, but their contribution to the topic is simply priceless.
And although HAL 9000 only appears during the middle third of the film, its terrifying presence (thanks to the disturbing, calm voice of Douglas Rain) is unforgettable. The faceless entity of HAL 9000 is the most remembered character in this work of art full of interpretations.
In a film about the human relationship with the unknown universe, HAL 9000 is the ultimate support human tool. That is why its "betrayal", ultimately the result of human error, is a legendary shock.
12) "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001)
Conceived by Stanley Kubrick and directed by Steven Spielberg, A.I. , as its title made clear, was meant to be the perfect movie about it. Unfortunately, the excess of endings, the dissonant tone of the outcome, plus some emotional cheap traps by Spielberg, end up diminished its impact by a lot.
But ignoring their unfulfilled impossible expectations, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is an impressive cinematic display designed to show the complex situation of an Android emulating (and trying to replace) a human being almost to perfection.
With an outstanding soundtrack, an enviable casting and a wonderful, inspirational collection of Spielberg's frames, this film is not only essential in this list, but in sci-fi in general.
11) "Tron" (1982)
On paper, a film inspired by the video game Pong, where a computer programmer is absorbed by an artificial intelligence and downloaded to cyberspace where programs and OS are neon versions (with luminous costumes and frisbees) of their human creators, sounds like an absolute train-wreck.
But thanks to innovative visual effects, Jeff Bridges' charisma, David Warner's presence, Steven Lisberger's direction and Wendy Carlos's score, those identity discs and the Light Cycles would not only end up looking incredibly cool but would enhance the relevance of this story about a corrupt, control freak AI.
10) "Colossus: The Forbin Project" (1970)
U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. are suspicious of each other. Their governments have invested all their creative power in constructing each one an artificial intelligence mega-machine with access to nuclear weapons to make the corresponding warlike decisions without "compromising" human emotions standing in the way. Boy, do that sound like a really bad idea.
Of course, slowly and progressively, both machines ally and begin to conclude that in order to maintain world peace, it's necessary to have absolute control over humankind.
Instead of taking the easy route to Cold War paranoia, Colossus: The Forbin Project prefers to take a look at our arrogance and inventive hostility and show us the final irony.
9) "Robot & Frank" (2012)
Set in the immediate future, an ex-convict and former thief (Frank Langella), lives the last years of his retired life at home, with serious deterioration of his memory. His son (James Marsden), decides to buy a special Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to attend his basic necessities and help him recreate and exercise his memory.
But the kleptomaniac impulses, plus his infatuation with the local librarian (Susan Sarandon), will impulse Frank, after many attempts, to convince the robot to help him commit some minor crimes without violating its programming.
An amazing film with an outstanding script about memory loss, cognitive structures (artificial and real), emotional impulses and the human need to always bypass the official rules of the game.
8) "Metropolis" (1927)
The expressionist gem of Fritz Lang is the first (at least recognized) film to have a character with artificial intelligence.
And while that's reason enough to have a secure place on this list, Metropolis is much more than a historical cute fact.
Because 90 years later, the Metropolis robot is one of the most iconic figures of the cinema of all time. Lang's work on the class struggle is far from losing any relevance.
7) "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991)
Yes, 1984's The Terminator started this whole saga where artificial intelligence is the main antagonist of mankind, but James Cameron's sequel not only surpasses the original in all departments but also really delves into its tale about human nature and our--apparently--inevitable self-destructive vein.
To make it even simpler: There isn't--and won't be in a long time--a conversation about fictional artificial intelligence that doesn't mention Skynet.
6) "Her" (2013)
There is no film that has so effectively inquire deeper into our relationship with computer operating systems like Her. It could sound like a farfetched motif, but the truth is that we have more than 10 years interacting daily, for a great number of hours, with various programs and operating systems. Our social networks adapt to our tastes and our timelines tailor-made our preferences.
That's why Spike Jonze's fantastic work about an immediate future where a man named Theodore (a wonderful Joaquin Phoenix) engages in a genuine love relationship with his Uber-Siri Samantha (Scarlett Johansson, in a voice acting role that deserved more praise) resonated immediately.
Imagining the future in the medium and long term provides a lot of creative freedom, but gaining credibility with an immediate future setting requires an extra degree of genius.
5) "Blade Runner" (1982)
You could create 50 lists with different sci-fi sub-genres, and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner will always find a way to a deserved high-rank spot in all of them.
Its place here doesn't deserve further discussion. 35 years later we still need to know if Deckard was or was not a replicant. The countless number of debates in this regard reaffirms the main motif of this classic: Why do we need to know what makes us human?
4) "Wall-E" (2008)
Arguably the best Pixar animation to date, Wall-E relies on its artificial intelligence, on and off-screen. There are no voiceovers. There isn't almost any dialogue. Humans are lazy, secondary characters. All messages and actions are effectively transmitted with body language and robotic sounds.
The most powerful thing about Wall-E is its script. The robot protagonist, a human creation, faces a persistent struggle to save the planet and return it to better times. Its journey to keep alive the last planet's seedling while nostalgically reviewing items (AKA garbage) of the civilization's past, and expressing its romantic feelings for another robot, is a fantastic reminder that even our most mundane creations (Wall-E is basically a trash compactor!)will always have our humanity imprinted.
3) "The Matrix" (1999)
The Wachowski made the perfect anti-system manifesto, using artificial intelligence not only as the main antagonist but as the creator of all the paradigms that govern humankind.
But like all good quality sci-fi stories, the path to technophobia has many routes. Combining philosophy, political ideologies, and religious beliefs, The Matrix delves into the very human reasons that made this scenario come true in the first place while displaying a rare optimistic/utopian tone in the survivors' spirit wanting freedom at any cost.
Like a token of good faith, The Wachowski narrated all this relying entirely on new technology, changing the way special effects were made in the process.
2) "Ex Machina" (2014)
This is an easy, to-the-point sell: Ex Machina is the greatest Turing Test in the form of a sci-fi psychological thriller ever made.
If that isn't reason enough (but of course it is) to understand its quality, at least trust the wonderful artists behind this movie. Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd) writes and directs and the cast is formed by the talented Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson.
1) "Ghost in the Shell" (1995)
Mamoru Oshii's work inspired by the manga by Masamune Shirow deserves the highest place on this list for multiple reasons. To begin with, its influence is undeniable and even today it continues to motivate creative minds inside the genre. Quite simply, without Ghost in the Shell, there won't be The Matrix, a close competitor for the top spot.
But not everything is a historical legacy. Where other classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Blade Runner cover a broader philosophical debate, the thematic core of Ghost in the Shell is the search for identity (and gender roles) in communion with technological advances. Because in this universe's future, human consciousness can be translated into a downloadable digital language called “ghosts”.
This is by far the perfect A.I. movie. Its perfect balance between substance and style is something that directors search for their entire life.
© 2019 Sam Shepards
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on June 12, 2019:
Thanks, Sam. More to explore. Keep writing these great articles. Respectfully, Tim
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on June 12, 2019:
A small update here. I haven't seen the new netflix movie I am Mother and the older netflix film Tau yet, so possibly those movies could be on the list. There seems to be a small explosion of artificial intelligence science fiction movies. We are not even talking about things like the HBO series version of westworld yet. Possibly one of the best treatments of AI, although it's very human level AI like Ex Machina, I don't believe the next step to general or strong AI will resemble humans, it will be something that is very alien to us in intelligence.
I will extend the article with possible contenders for a spot on the AI list, movies I have seen and didn't make it for certain reasons and others that are on my still have to watch list.
I also enjoyed the more or less B movie Upgrade, just a lot of fun and a cunning AI.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on June 05, 2019:
Thank you. I didn't know that about HAL's voice. I have to say there is something really unsettling about HAL's voice, but maybe that's because of the movie. The same thing goes for the voice of GLaDOS in the portal games.
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on June 05, 2019:
I enjoyed this, Sam. Well written and entertaining. I've seen most of these. The interesting thing about 2001: A Space Odyssey, according to an NY Times interview with the guy who did the AI's voice, is that the way Hal spoke to humans influenced the way computer programmers create their digital voices today. Great list and worth the read. Thanks Sam.
Respect and admiration,
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on June 05, 2019:
Chappie has some serious issues. The evolution of AI as a learning machine is done well. I'm just not that big a fan of Die Antwoord to have nearly 45 min of them in there. Could have been so much better without and a more serious treatment.
Noel Penaflor from California on June 04, 2019:
Great list. The only one I haven't seen is Chappie. I've had many chances, but never seem that interested.