Top 10 Artificial Intelligence Movies

by JD Warnock on July 8, 2008

in Top 10s

My love affair with Pixar’s latest animated masterpiece “Wall-E” is so absolute that it has inspired this list of my Top 10 Artificial Intelligence Movies, or savvy circuit-board flims. That is to say, more specifically films featuring memorable robots. It is entirely possible that robots and artificial-intelligence storylines have ultimately been best served by the very best of small screen sci-fi, in endless episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or “Doctor Who,” but over the years there have been some extremely interesting and philosophically profound films that attempt to deal with humanity’s curious destiny to recreate ourselves in the form of wicked smart machinery. So, dig in and as always tell us what you think.

10. Artificial Intelligence: A. I. (2001) AI Haley Joel Osment Spielberg

Movie magicians Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick teamed up just the once, and their undearppreciated effort received a mixed reaction from audiences. I defend the film on the strength of the ideas and themes it so boldly plays with, and not on the terrifying voicework cameo by Robin Williams. I still maintain that the film would be far more compelling if the film had ended with the Haley Joel Osment character entombed, frozen and alone for an eternity at the bottom of the ocean, but, robot or not, Steven Spielberg can’t just abandon a kid and then run the credits. The film’s art direction and visual style are brilliant, and the challenging narrative has all the hallmarks of top-notch philosophical science fiction.

9. Alien (1979) Ian Holm Alien

One of the more memorable moments – outside of the alien exploding out of John Hurt’s chest – in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic “Alien,” is the big reveal that Ian Holm’s character, science officer Ash, is an android. For me, subsequent “Alien” pictures failed to capture the claustrophobic paranoia and creepy thrill of the original. And while only a part of the larger story, the skillfully crafted arc of Holm’s mysterious character proves yet again that he’s a total badass.

8. Robocop (1987) Robocop Peter Weller

Director Paul Verhoeven would go on to commit such celluloid crimes as “Showgirls” and “Hollow Man,” but in 1987 he was busy making a machine-meets-man classic in the original “Robocop” starring “Buckaroo Banzai” himself, Peter Weller. A 2010 remake is in the works, but I for one don’t need a rehash of this gem. I say leave well enough alone, unless of course they can see to it that “That 70′s Show” co-star Kurtwood Smith is the baddie again, at which point I may revise my previous statement.

7. Star Trek: Generations (1994), Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Star Trek First Contact Data

While “Generations” was in many ways a superior film, both “Generations” and “First Contact” continue the Data (Brent Spiner) character’s search for self-awareness. The “Next Generation” series had more time to devote to Data’s ongoing adventures, but the films continue to explore the iconic android’s fascinating journey to find emotion and purpose. Sure, “Generations” boasts original cast members, but the thing “First Contact” has going for it is The Borg. Easily one of the Star Trek universe’s most righteous players, The Borg have burned the words “futile” and “assimilation” into the brain of any serious sci-fi fan, making them both educational and frightening.

6. The Matrix (1999) The Matrix Hugo Weaving

The Wachowski brothers went and completely besmirched the legacy of this film with uninspiring sequels, but the concept of an illusory world contained within a planetary wide computer matrix remains one of the modern era’s most undeniably original storylines. The computer brain is personified by Agent Smith, played marvelously by one of modern cinema’s finest support players, Hugo Weaving. Without the sequels, “The Matrix” goes down as a landmark film. With them it’s just number six on some silly list of movies about artificial intelligence.

5. Transformers (2007) Transformers Michael Bay

Everyone has their roles to play. Apparently one of mine is to defend Michael Bay films to an audience of film lovers. It’s not an admirable position, but I will attempt to fulfill my duties with what little dignity I’m allowed. There’s red velvet cake and then there’s a Hershey’s bar, there’s Tiramisu and then there’s Twinkies. Sometimes you want the fancy stuff with the depth and substance which can only come from skill and artistry, and then there’s the good stuff without all hassle that’s just pure sugary joy. Michael Bay movies are big screen candy and don’t usually take themselves too seriously, and frankly, sometimes that’s all I’m looking for. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There has never been a more perfect match than Michael Bay and the Transformers. “Transformers 2″ is an eminent reality, and I can’t wait to get back on the ride.

4. Wall-E (2008) Wall-E

I absolutely hate it when self-important magazines include new albums on lists of the most important records of all-time. Long before time has had the opportunity to take a good wack at their standing, audacious writers want to be the first to call out Nirvana’s “Nevermind” or Radiohead’s “O.K. Computer” as classic works that will stand as pinnacles of achievement for decades to come. In the spirit of those brave souls, whose haste I so vehemently criticize, I nominate “Wall-E” as a film which will be remembered for its bold message and heavy themes, right there in a financially successful animated feature for kids. The filmmakers have balls as big as Texas to bite off the philosophically challenging story which is such a blatant indictment of modernity- and to do so with almost no dialogue whatsoever for the first half an hour. This movie is courageous and entertaining. And who knew that was still possible?

3. Blade Runner (1982) Blade Runner Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

During the time it took to write this list, there are two new versions of “Blade Runner” available on DVD and Blu-ray. This Ridley Scott masterwork, based on the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is a must on any list of great films about “smart machines.” It doesn’t get much more intellectual than “Blade Runner” when it comes to literary science fiction on the big screen, which is why so few films have attempted or succeeded in chasing its tail.

2. The Original Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983) Darth Vader Star Wars

Let’s pretend for a moment that the prequels were all just a bad dream from which we are all about to wake. In this fantasy there’s no Jar-Jar Binks, no Trade Federation representatives with offensive accents, and no greenscreen acting from capable veterans and disappointing neophytes alike. Let’s think back to the good old days before George Lucas decided to direct the prequels himself and picture the original trilogy as it was in 1983, finished and perfect. There are a pair of droids that are excuse enough to land at the top of this list, but the circuit board standout in the Star Wars universe is obviously Luke’s pops. The Darth Vader character is, of course, one of the all-time greats in the dilemma of man and machine. Like Robocop, Anakin Skywalker is “more machine than man,” but somewhere amidst all the circuitry and wiring some vestige of humanity still lurks. Lucas was right to realize the Vader character’s transformation from man to machine, and back again, was strong enough to build six movies on, he just wasn’t able to recognize that Irvin Kershner (who directed “The Empire Strikes Back”) should have directed all of them.

1. The Terminator (1984) Terminator

Like “The Matrix,” this film, if taken all by it’s lonesome, is a monument of modern science-fiction storytelling. Humanity itself is faced with extinction, in the not so distant future at the hands of Skynet, a computer network that we created which has decided we’ve outgrown our usefulness. The inherent danger in creating artificially intelligent beings is that they might figure out eventually that the world just might be a more efficient place if there weren’t so many humans messing up the works. One of the problems with exceptional sci-fi is that audiences want more and studios are willing to give it too them, whether it dilutes the power of the original ideas or not. Half the films on this list prove that if humans could just leave well enough alone, we might all have fewer DVDs, but we’d also have a few more untarnished legacies to quibble about and defend at conventions.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ashly July 8, 2008 at 10:52 am

I seriously do not understand what the issue was with Transformers for some people.. I LOVED that movie!! The visuals were A-MAZ-ING!! Yea the story was slightly off and out there, but the damn cars turn into robots,, what the hell do you expect?? It ain’t gonna be gold, just take it for what it is. Was it an issue with the storyline and the original cartoon or comic? Also, whats everyones problem with Michael Bay?? It seems that he does what he does quite well, that being big budget flashy films, so whats wrong with that.?

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2 Kenny July 8, 2008 at 3:57 pm

An excellent idea for a list. Sci-fi/fantasy is probably my favorite genre. I would have also put Ghost in The Shell, Metropolis, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m hesitant to give Wall-E high praise, although it is a good film, it doesn’t introduce new concepts and ideas like other sci-fi artificial intelligence-based filims do. Other than those omissions, the list is pretty sound.

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3 Noemi S July 8, 2008 at 4:10 pm

True that. Michael Bay and Transformers were like every fanboys wet dream. It is an unbeatable match. Now, I’m not a huge fan of Michael Bay because he tends to only focus on the visual artistry (which, is AMAZING) and barely touches on the actual story and characters (Pearl Harbor), but in Transformers it totally worked. That is one of Bay’s movies I cannot disagree with. It’s a movie based on a cartoon, how in-depth can you get? It’s nice not having to think once in a while when watching a movie.

Anyway, great list.

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4 Erica July 8, 2008 at 6:39 pm

I’m going with Ashly on the Transformers thing. I want to poke people in the eye when they tell me they don’t like Transformers. And why? Because it wasn’t deep enough? It’s a freaking action film in it’s basic of basic forms. I own it and watch it on a regular basis. Love it!

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5 Whit Whipple January 3, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Transformers was complete shit and Michael Bay should be in prison for those movies.

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6 Dana July 8, 2008 at 8:26 pm

This is a PERFECT list for a movie marathon. Long live sci-fi, how I love “The Terminator”, “Alien” and “Robocop”.

In answer to everyone’s hate for Michael Bay movies, please take a look at at on my film teacher’s movies about it:

http://www.spike.com/video/killing-michael-bay/2472952

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7 Alan July 9, 2008 at 6:31 am

Good list. I’m a fan of everything listed except Wall-E (which I haven’t seen yet). However, I would definitely have put 2001: A Space Odyssey in there, perhaps in place of Wall-E purely as it has yet to prove itself.

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8 Josh July 9, 2008 at 8:27 am

solid list

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9 Kausigan July 9, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Shouldn’t Transformers 1 and the upcoming Transformers 2 present in this list…

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10 Reed July 9, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Great list JD. I’d have Blade Runner #1 because it deals so centrally with the theme. But of course I’m a huge Terminator fan and have not one quibble with its position atop the list.

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11 Alan Rapp July 9, 2008 at 10:11 pm

Sorry to disagree with you, and many of the comments here, but Transformers is just awful and a complete bastardization of the original toys, comics and cartoons. I liked The Island and I couldn’t get behind Transformers.

My other objection, though I like the film, is Robocop simply because I’m not sure it falls into the A.I. category. He’s a guy who becomes a cyborg, so his intelligence isn’t really artificial is it? Maybe I’m splitting hairs…

Props to Dana for posting the link to Killing Michael Bay. I used to work with John McGrath and remember him talking about the project and why Bay had to live at the end.

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12 RCM July 10, 2008 at 7:17 am

For me, Blade Runner is definitely number 1, not that terminator isn’t great.

I don’t love nor hate “Transformers”, but stand firmly behind the idea that good films aren’t just limited to the realm of deep epics and pretty art-films. One needs a broad appreciation of movies, Michael Bay does what he does, it’s fun. Good list!

On several occasions you guys have talked of your favorite TV shows and I was wondering if you ever check out the re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica”? A great show by most standards, taking on themes from “Blade Runner” it certainly has the highest bar in this subject.

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13 Jonathan Prevost July 16, 2008 at 11:11 pm

I found your list to be entertaining.I really disagreed with star trek as number 7.I was also shocked that I robot wasn’t on the list.Apart from that great list.

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14 Eric July 20, 2008 at 12:23 pm

Um… Short Cicuit 2? Helll-ooooo?

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15 Jim G October 26, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Good work. I’m off to rent these titles one by one.

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16 Christopher Skyi February 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm

You completely missed one the best A.I. out there: Colossus: The Forbin Project. See: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7412690463406323384#

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17 Alex April 10, 2011 at 2:25 am

Stealth is another good choise.

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18 Alex April 10, 2011 at 2:32 am

War Games could also be included here.

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