One of the hottest subjects in both computer science and mainstream cinema right now is artificial intelligence. In recent years, we've seen films such as Ex Machina and Avengers: Age of Ultron tackle the subject from a variety of angles. It seems that human-like androids and the moral dilemmas that accompany them have made for some of the most exciting movies in recent years. Whether as faithful companions or malicious killers, the attempt to create life out of ones and zeroes always yields unique results for #sciencefiction films.
Artificial intelligence is nothing new, however. Screenwriters have been tinkering with the concept for nearly a century with varying degrees of success. While many credit Kubrick with popularizing AI in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the first known instance can be traced all the way back to Fritz Lang's Metropolis from 1927. So to celebrate 90 years of lifelike robots, here's a timeline of some major films which grapple with AI as a subject.
A landmark work of German expressionist cinema that is still studied extensively, Metropolis presents a futuristic landscape in which industry and technology reign supreme in the lives of civilians. In one of the film's most prominent scenes, the likeness of a young woman is transmitted into a robot to recreate her form and destroy her reputation in the community. For the first cinematic attempt at artificial intelligence, the scene is absolutely stunning and raises interesting moral questions about the possible human likeness android creations.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
A curious 1951 film which feels like something out of a Twilight Zone episode, The Day the Earth Stood Still tells the story of a humanoid alien creature who arrives on Earth in a flying spaceship. While the film presents a fascinating conflict in which humanity attempts to interact with extraterrestrial life, it presents a unique depiction of AI in the form of Gort. A silent, towering figure with violent potential, Gort has become one of the most famous images from the film and remains an exemplary symbol for AI creations on the whole.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
One of the most powerful, thought-provoking uses of AI in any film, the Hal 9000 is one of the most terrifying creations of any movie. Cleverly devised by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, Hal is charged with accompanying the Discovery One spacecraft on its mission to Jupiter. However, things get lethal when Hal detects that his human companions may be growing shy about completing the mission. This was one of the first films to raise serious moral questions about the progression of AI technology moving into the future, and it remains a stunning accomplishment of American cinema.
The inspiration for the hit HBO series of the same name, Westworld from 1973 uses AI to instill terror in its audience. It tells the story of a Western-themed amusement park gone horribly wrong. With a whirlwind cast including Yul Brenner and Richard Benjamin, this is a film that explores the horrifying "what if" side of AI. This was also one of the first films to explore the "amusement park tragedy" concept which would later inspire the #JurassicPark novel and subsequent films.
The Star Wars Franchise (1977-present)
Finally we reach a more friendly depiction of androids in cinema. For the last 40 years, Star Wars has warmed the hearts of audiences for its playful, wholesome android side characters. Whether it's the classic partnership of C3PO and R2D2 or newer additions such as BB8 and K-2SO, #StarWars has always seemed to get android characters just right. We can only hope that the franchise continues to present exciting new robot friends for us to enjoy in the future.
Blade Runner (1982)
Often considered the AI movie, Blade Runner is a milestone achievement of science fiction which continues to astound audiences today. Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by the great Philip K. Dick, the film follows the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an ex-police officer who is tasked as an android bounty hunter. He seeks out "replicants" who have come to Earth illegally and puts them down for money. One of the most powerful depictions of AI in any film to date, Blade Runner gives some of the most thought-provoking displays of humanity from its unlikeliest of characters.
The Terminator (1984)
A blockbuster hit which has become a lucrative franchise, The Terminator is perhaps the pinnacle of the 80s action movie. It's no surprise that it draws from various science fiction elements to tell its story, including both artificial intelligence and time travel. With a head-spinning plot that only grows more elaborate in further installments, this movie takes AI to exciting new heights. Arnold Schwarzenegger solidifies his legacy as the Terminator, an android assassin sent back in time to kill protagonist Sarah Connor (portrayed by Linda Hamilton). The film is both clever and exciting, making for a truly fun addition to the AI timeline of films.
An eccentric 80s action film but also a powerful piece of social commentary, RoboCop remains one of the high points of director Paul Verhoeven's career. It puts forward a near-future dystopia rampant with crime and financial ruin. The government of Detroit puts its hope in RoboCop, a cyborg creation aimed at cleaning the streets of criminal activity. The movie is an exciting exploration of what it would be like to program androids to take on the role of law enforcement, and it is packed with social commentary that is increasingly relevant today.
The Iron Giant (1999)
It was only a matter of time before AI found its way into beloved childhood entertainment. The Iron Giant was a special film for an entire generation, introducing many children to their first "gentle giant" movie. A heartwarming story of friendship and individualism, the film is a work of artistry that should not be discounted simply for its target audience. It also brings a welcome depiction of AI in the form of companionship and mutual respect between robot and human.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
The title alone makes this Steven Spielberg classic a noteworthy addition to our timeline. Set in a futuristic society devastated by global warming, A.I. tells the story of a young android boy (played by Haley Joel Osment) who is programmed with the capacity to love. A captivating tale of technology, rivalry, and humanity, A.I. takes full advantage of its opportunity to explore the true definition of humanity, a theme which AI films are best suited to tackle. When it comes to android cinema, this film ranks among the greats and remains one of the strongest sci-fi films of its generation.
Perhaps the franchise most synonymous with Michael Bay's career, #Transformers is a stunning display of visual effects. Based on the popular toys and cartoon series from years past, the film depicts an action-packed conflict between the noble Autobots and the sinister Decepticon. While the franchise has been criticized for its rehashed concepts and reliance on genre tropes, these films still have a huge following, drawing in sufficient box office proceeds to keep the series thriving financially. There may not be much thematic exploration here, but you get to see big robots fight each other, which you might enjoy in its own right.
It was only natural that #Pixar would hop on the AI bandwagon to tell one of their most visually stunning stories to date. Wall-E presents the humble tale of a trash compactor robot left stranded on Earth after the human race has evacuated. He has developed a vibrant personality and eventually sets off for a galactic adventure with his new robot companion EVE. The duo serves as one of the most adorable images of AI you'll ever see in a film, and the movie explores surprising themes of both humanity and the environment which make it well worth a watch.
One of the most radiant, enchanting films from recent years, Her explores what happens when a man falls in love with the AI voice on his cell phone. Acclaimed director Spike Jonze tells perhaps the most gut-wrenching story of his career. With unique characters and sensational performances, Her explores an often underlooked side of artificial intelligence. The film also tackles themes of humanity and the purpose of personal relationships, forcing the audience to question their beliefs from start to finish.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
Endlessly entertaining and a shining achievement from the Disney animation team, Big Hero 6 is based on a #Marvel comic book series of the same name. It follows 14 year-old Hiro Hamada and his robot companion Baymax as they form a superhero team to take on a malicious supervillain. The film is fast, fun, and heartwarming, taking clear inspiration from The Iron Giant. This is another film which brings a warmer approach to artificial intelligence, using it to build a unique on-screen friendship.
Ex Machina (2015)
One of the most tense and realistic depictions of artificial intelligence in any film to date, Ex Machina depicts a computer programmer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) tasked with administering the Turing Test on a new work of artificial intelligence (Alicia Vikander). A suspenseful mystery and a gripping exploration of what it means to be alive, Ex Machina is one of the smartest screenplays about artificial intelligence to ever hit the silver screen. The film also won the #Oscar for Best Visual Effects due to its slick, distinct style.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The Avengers director Joss Whedon selected Ultron as the primary villain in the first #Avengers sequel. Created by Tony Stark in an attempt at establishing peace around the world, Ultron unleashes widespread mayhem and destruction, proving a formidable foe for Earth's mightiest heroes. The film explores significant themes of artificial intelligence such as self-awareness and autonomous rebellion, making it an action-packed addition to the canon of AI cinema.
No matter how they are presented, human-like metal creations are a welcome addition to any science fiction story. Not only do they raise fascinating moral questions and thematically drive a work of film, but they present engaging characters with unique android traits. While they have already had a rich history in the cinematic landscape, one thing is certain: AI isn't going away any time soon. All we can do is learn to embrace it and hope that it doesn't become self-aware.
What's your favorite film about artificial intelligence? Let me know in the comments below!