Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.’s in Movies

Published 6 months ago by , Updated April 18th, 2014 at 2:02 pm,

Transcendence banner image with Johnny Depp Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

There was a time when the notion of a computer capable of not just running programs, but modeling human intelligence was purely a feature of outlandish science fiction. But recent years have shown that an ‘artificial intelligence’ isn’t just a figment of sci-fi imagination, but to many, an inevitable discovery. It’s even the main subject (and threat) of the Johnny Depp-led Transcendence.

Whether it’s skepticism, fear, or simply the need for villains that has turned the notion of ‘A.I.’ into a great and terrible thing, blockbuster films have relied on the idea of an inhuman, unfeeling, artificial brain for their conflicts. The trend of killer movie A.I.s doesn’t show any signs of stopping, so we’ve decided to narrow the roster down to a list of our favorites. It should go without saying that spoilers lie ahead.

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The Rules:

  1. The A.I. must exist, either explicitly or implicitly, outside of a single body or form.
  2. The A.I. must be portrayed as a singular intelligence which may have spawned subsidiary extensions, but not the other way around (a hive mind).
  3. The A.I. must exhibit decision-making capabilities as a sign of intelligence, not simple programming.
  4. The A.I. must, through either means or ends, seek the destruction of human life.

Now that we’re all on the same page, read on for our list:

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10. ARIIA, Eagle Eye (2008)

Eagle Eye ARIIA Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

D.J. Caruso’s Eagle Eye begins with a common enough premise: what seems like a massive frame-job and conspiracy surrounding Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) takes a twist when he’s contacted by a mysterious woman (the uncredited voice of Julianne Moore) offering him a way out. The woman is soon revealed to be a government-created supercomputer, dubbed the Autonomous Reconnaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst – ‘ARIIA’ for short. Using autonomous aircraft, automated traffic and surveillance systems across the United States, ARIIA moves her pawns – human and otherwise – into place for a truly sinister attack.

ARIIA’s desire to eliminate the President of the United States and the rest of the Executive branch is par for the course in political thrillers, but her justification for the attack under the Constitution and Patriot Act are something new. The filmmakers weren’t going for any meaningful political statement, but it’s a nice change from the usual ‘kill humans’ justification.

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9. Auto, Wall-E (2008)

Wall E AUTO Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

Pixar’s WALL-E casts human beings in a poor light from the start, as corporations and excess (specifically due to big-box retailer ‘Buy ‘n’ Large’) have left Earth one massive garbage dump, with humans vacationing off-world as the hero of the film tackles the trash. But when the humans aboard the spaceliner Axiom are finally revealed, the true menace to both them and the robotic leads is exposed.

Coddled by the overwhelming guidance of Auto – the ship’s A.I. autopilot – humanity has been reduced to helpless, morbidly obese passengers, with Auto resorting to deception, robo-homicide, destruction of evidence and brute force to keep humans from ever returning home. The film itself garnered critical acclaim, and with Auto influenced by both 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s homicidal A.I. and Apple’s line of computer products (with Auto voiced by the company’s MacinTalk speech program), the A.I. pilot is an homage to the trope’s best examples, becoming one in the process.

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8. V.I.K.I., I, Robot (2004)

VIKI I Robot Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

The film may share little in common with Isaac Asimov’s original story, but I, Robot tackles the same question: can robots – even those which must protect, not harm humanity – ever really be trusted? What begins as a clear-cut murder case is complicated when America’s supply of cutting-edge robot servants are controlled remotely, orchestrating a military coup to turn humanity into cattle under the protection of United States Robotics (USR).

The final twist comes when USR’s Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence (V.I.K.I.) is revealed to be the mastermind, not defying the Three Laws of Robotics, but realizing that to best protect humanity freedoms must be sacrificed. That justification is a common one in sci-fi action, but with an army of robots at her disposal, V.I.K.I. is more than memorable. And her logic is undeniable.

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7. WOPR/Joshua, WarGames (1983)

WarGames Joshua WOPR Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

One of several films focusing on global nuclear war, and the American/Soviet standoff during The Cold War, WarGames showed that inhuman computers can be just as flawed as the humans protecting the world’s population. When a teenage hacker (Matthew Broderick) causes NORAD’s War Operation Plan Response (WOPR) supercomputer – ‘Joshua’ to his friends – to simulate global thermonuclear war, all hell breaks loose as the US Army believes war to be imminent.

Although Joshua’s simulation proved the futility of nuclear strategies like The Atlantic Heavy, The Italian Takeover, or The Canadian Thrust, they don’t quite constitute intelligence. However, Joshua’s attempts to trigger global war prove his lethality. But his ability to discover and realize the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction, proved he was capable of learning; not just a simulation program.

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6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Arnim Zola Captain America Winter Soldier Best AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

Comic book fans knew that when Swiss scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) acted as Red Skull’s right-hand man in Captain America: The First Avenger, it could have been the first of many appearances by the mad scientist. When Toby Jones confirmed Zola’s return in The Winter Soldier, and that the character had found a way to “defeat time” itself, it seemed like fans might see the supervillain encased in his comic book robotic suit.

What fans got instead was a bank of dated computers onto which Arnim Zola had uploaded his consciousness. Luckily, the transition from real intelligence to artificial intelligence didn’t lessen Zola’s sassy demeanor, embodying the wit and snark he did when still boasting a pulse. With the green monitor providing something of a nod to the comics, the character might even have proved more memorable in A.I. form. And that’s a feat.

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5. Master Control Program, Tron (1982)

MCP Tron Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

Beginning its life as a simple chess program, ENCOM’s Master Control Program (MCP) was given new purpose when the devious and dastardly Ed Dillinger (David Warner) came to power, and made the MCP the supervisor of all of the company’s digital assets. As absolute power often does, the MCP was completely corrupted, instilling a ruthless dictatorship within the computer realm of TRON, but the program soon set its sights on the real world.

By the time the events of the film begin, the MCP has already turned Dillinger into a quivering servant, threatening to expose the Senior Executive’s darkest secrets if he attempted to interfere with the program’s hacking of the United States Pentagon. We have to admire the MCP’s resolve, attempting dominance that characters in TRON: Legacy would later repeat, but with significantly fewer resources.

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4. V’Ger, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Star Trek Motion Picture VGer Best AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

Easily the most mysterious entry on our list, the artificial intelligence/galactic phenomenon known only as V’Ger – the central antagonist of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – is one that every Trekkie will remember. First storming Federation Space and defeating Klingons without breaking a sweat, the massive cloud of light and energy was like nothing Starfleet had ever encountered. And once its origins and purpose became clear, the confusion multiplied.

Beginning its existence as the unmanned space probe Voyager 6, the probe’s quest for information led it to an unknown race of sentient machines. How or why the race turned the probe into a massive intelligence is unknown, but V’Ger’s quest for knowledge led to unparalleled destruction. Until, that is, it ascended to a higher form by merging with one of its human ‘creators.’ To what end? It seems we may never know…

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3. The Machines, The Matrix (1999)

Matrix Machines Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

Some sci-fi fans may immediately take issue with the definition of The Matrix‘s machine overlords as a single artificial intelligence, but regardless of how vast their numbers became, their origins are singular. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) explained mankind’s downfall as stemming from the birth of “A.I. – a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines.” Any doubt that the race of sentient machines was subject to one intelligence was erased when Neo (Keanu Reeves) came face-to-face with the enemy in The Matrix: Revolutions.

Sure, a metallic baby face isn’t the most intimidating A.I. visage. Yet you can’t argue with results; dominating the human race and bringing them to the brink of extinction more than once is impressive. But concocting a mental prison to turn slaves into power? That’s ingenious on a new (and chilling) level.

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2. Skynet, The Terminator (1984)

Terminator Skynet Best Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

The Matrix may have brought the idea of a machine uprising back into the conversation, but it owes plenty to the success of The Terminator. Every sci-fi fan knows the legacy of Skynet by now: the military artificial intelligence that used its newfound self-awareness to trigger nuclear war. Where WarGames‘ WOPR only simulated global destruction, Skynet made good on the concept.

Surprisingly, Skynet itself has almost never been seen in the Terminator series, using its line of T-800s and other robotic war machines to impose its will. But knowing that what one Terminator sees, every Terminator sees just adds to the odds stacked against humanity. The murderous A.I. may have lost in the end, but it’s the deadliest one we could ever encounter.

Image Credit: JJasso on Deviant Art

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1. H.A.L. 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

HAL 2001 Space Odyssey Movie AI Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

It may not be the most bombastic or openly violent A.I. in movie history, but among murderous computer ‘servants,’ 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s HAL 9000 is beyond comparison. Officially named for his function as a ‘Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer,’ the artificial intelligence trusted with overseeing the spaceship Discovery One and its crew was immortalized as soon as the film first hit screens. Represented solely through red, unblinking eyes, and speaking in a calm tone no matter how frantic the situation, HAL is as off-putting as ‘simulated intelligence’ can get.

The A.I.’s legacy is still alive and well in just about every piece of science fiction dealing with a warm, trustworthy computer program meant to simulate a human personality. But no matter how warm or fuzzy they may get, HAL 9000 proved that the most endearing A.I.s can hide some of the darkest intentions.

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Conclusion

terminator 5 genesis script Our 10 Favorite Killer A.I.s in Movies

That’s just a sample of the movie A.I.’s we could name as particularly memorable, so be sure to name your own favorites in the comments.

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TAGS: 2001: a space odyssey, eagle eye, i robot, star trek, terminator, the matrix, Transcendence, tron, wall-e, wargames

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  1. HAIL HYDRA!!!

    • …kind of reminds me of the alienated kids who identify with the murderous Joker in Batman. More disconcerting and sad than funny.

      • Nobody’s identifying with them just because they like the quote movie lines, Joker was an amazing performance, that doesn’t mean that people are rooting for Joker to kill people and same goes for Hydra.

        • I think he is talking about the Jokers GOONS in Dark Knight. Not about real people. Troubles kids in Gotham, remember when Harvey Dent was flipping his coin scaring the hell out of the kid saying if it lands on tails he shoots him? (two headed coin?)

          I think he is talking about that. I might be mistaken though.

          • No, he meant the people who saw the movie and identified with The Joker’s character and quoted him endlessly.

            Which is kind of sad and disconcerting that Jeff never understood how easily identifiable Joker was in that film. He made a lot of sense, especially in his conversation with Harvey about how nobody cares if a gang member gets shot and killed but if a soldier suffers the same fate, it becomes a huge tragedy.

            It’s like, society is so screwed up that people have sympathy for one person and disdain for another due to circumstances that skew their opinion and we put more effort in grieving for one person just because they’re a public figure or in a respected job but feel nothing for someone lower down the food chain.

            The thing that stopped Joker being seen as a hero was the fact that he was clearly psychotic and proved his point by indulging in his love of violence, chaos and anarchy.

  2. C’mon!
    I CANT be the only one who thought the concept of an entire human brain being uploaded into TAPE memory was dumb!
    Does NOBODY have any idea of the limitations of that format or the number of computations the human brain does per second?!?
    It was ridiculous! But not NEARLY as ridiculous as putting that logical fallacy above WOPR!

    • I see your point, however Sci~fi refers to Science fiction so it doesn’t have to be completely realistic. In many cases it isn’t.

      • Is THAT what Sci-Fi means? I always thought it meant Scissor Fingers, thanks for clearing that up.

        And that is NOT science fiction as far as I’m concerned. When a movie (or book or whatever) completely ignores known science it ceases to be science fiction and becomes just regular old fiction.

        It takes more than adding space ships or laser swords to TRULY be Sci-Fi.

        • The Science Fiction genre is actually meant to defy known (read: possible) science. Spaceships, check. Aliens, you betcha’. Human consciousness logged into a computer, score. Don’t tell me that the Alien franchise isn’t sci-fi. Don’t tell me that Star Trek/Star Wars isn’t sci-fi. Science Fiction is supposed to be exactly that.

          • Star Wars is not sci-fi, it’s fantasy.

            Just my opinion.

          • Also, you’re dead wrong about what Sci-Fi is “supposed” to be if you think that crap in Cap 2 is it.

            Science Fiction:
            fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets. From Oxford dictionary.

            It’s meant to defy known technology in a future tense. You can’t retroactively change what is known and be expected to be taken seriously. So if you write about the past, and completely make up what was possible with 1940′s tech, you’re not writing Sci-Fi, you’re writing fantasy…. Or more to the point just writing bad fiction. You can’t MAKE UP what is possible with existing tech. That character was beyond ridiculously NOT possible.

        • Ok, that statement is just dumb. Who died and made you sci-fi king? The genre has “fiction” in the name for christs sake. Also, you might remember that there are a lot of things that were science fiction at one time, but have become science fact. Remember the communicators used in the old start trek series? Just because it is not possible now does not mean it won’t be possible in the future.

    • -Super Soldier Serum
      -Gamma Radiation making people turn into green rage monsters
      -Thor
      -Iron Man
      -SHIELD Heli carrier
      -Being Frozen in ice and thawed out 70 years later and being okay
      -Extremis
      -A million other examples, but I do not have all day.
      -Vibranuim
      -Uru

      And THAT is what you are complaining about?

      • um…

        in the comment section of an article about the best killer A.I. in movies…

        Yes, that is what I am complaining about.

        How would Gamma rays even factor into this discussion? Is Hulk A.I. too?

  3. No Colossus is a big fat fail on this article.

    • Colossus was my second thought, after V’Ger or Nomad (of course Nomad was from the TV show, not movie, thus unqualified). What was the name of the Russian computer Colossus linked with?

      • That would be Guardian.

        • Correctamundo!

    • Whilst it’s true that Colossus killed thousands, its purpose was the establishment of its domination to, paradoxically, bring an end to war, famine and disease, and expand the boundaries of human knowledge. Colossus just about fits the “means” part of the fourth rule above, but rather than being a straight blueprint for Skynet-type destruction of humanity, actually sought “the betterment of man”. At a terrible price, of course.

  4. I think I’m one of the few people who really liked Eagle Eye, despite the glaring problems like remotely collapsing high tension towers

    • i thought eagle eye was ok also. it has rewatchability.

  5. I always likes “Colossus: The Forbin Project” from 1970. It was ahead of its time and predates all but 2001 on this list. And with a lack of a (spoiler alert) happy ending, its more true to reality than most Hollywood fare. Add to that the current state of world surveillance and the NSA, and it’s more relevant than ever. Maybe it was a little too forward thinking…

    • Yeah, a lot of science fiction writers from the 50s and 60s are being remembered now as being completely accurate in a lot of their ideas. Kinda scary when you think about it.

      I did have an interesting conversation with Dr Michio Kaku though a few months ago when he brought up the idea of uploading our thoughts, personality and memories into an AI and I suggested maybe that could be used in lieu of human explorers if we were to somehow harness the ability to travel through a black hole or create a wormhole (another of his favourite topics) to explore, so that we can prevent human casualties but make use of sentient AI that would think and react the way humans would in those situations (basically to prevent the need for a long range transmitter because at the moment, our space exploration involves sending things out there and either relying on it to ping back signals or for us to use remote control movement from Earth).

  6. Sadly, we live in a world that is coming closer to be dependent on AI.

    Siri dial my wife’s number

  7. Wrong to use HAL as an example, when his whole murderous intent was because he had been told to keep the secret about the Monolith from Dave and Frank.

    The fact that he had been told to lie, something he was programmed never to do, and subsequently to hide the Monolith, was what caused his logic circuit to fail. It became more logical to kill the crew in order to keep the secret.

    Not really touched on in the movie but the books (2001 & 2010) touch more on it, and unlike the movie (2010) Haywood Floyd isn’t blamed, but his superiors are, as they implanted the commands. Namely keep the secret from the crew at all costs!

    • I’d argue that in logical terms HAL was operating just fine. The source of his conflict was, as you say, concealing the true purpose of the mission from Bowman and Poole, which was why he faked the imminent failure of the AE35 unit in an attempt to break their communication with Earth. When that lead to the possibility of them disconnecting him, he took the only logical step open to him: removing them and the rest of the crew in hibernation, and continuing the mission alone.

  8. How does or doesn’t the Borg fit on this list? Definitely a hive mind. Which came first, the computer or person, in the case of the Borg?

    • There’s a series of novels in the Trek universe that explores how the Borg became Borg (I have a lot of Star Trek novels on my Kindle, so I’m not sure which titles these are). The books start after Voyager comes home, the Borg decide to wipe out the Alpha Quadrant once and for all, but in the end, everything sort of works out for our heroes.

  9. Nice list! Does the Tet from Oblivion count as a killer A.I.? If so, that would definitely be one of my picks.

    • The Tet was definitely considered, but the movie leaves its exact nature fairly ambiguous. Would it be the woman communicating with them? Is it organic? Is it simply beyond our understanding? Definitely one of the best alien ‘beings,’ since plenty on the SR crew love that movie.

      • The woman communicating with them was just the face the a.i picked to present herself. Much like how Tom and his co-pilot were picked to it’s army of clones, because they were the first human’s it encountered.

      • That’s true. And to be fair, the Tet’s ambiguous nature is one of it’s most compelling aspects. I definitely don’t mind not knowing what it is.

  10. GLaDOS from portal needs to be on the list.

    • That’s videogames. And if your gonna bring up Glados, then might as well bring up Shodan from System shock.

      • I was waiting for Shodan to show up; creepiest A.I ever

  11. Where is J.A.R.V.I.S. and the Red Queen!?

    • JARVIS isn’t a killer. Yet. ;-)

    • As per the rules of this article, JARVIS is not a threat to human kind so it doesn’t make the list

      Ultron however is a different story

  12. Where the heck is the A.I. from the Aliens movies and Prometheus!?? That stuff was truly chilling, I guess everyone forgets that one.

    And definitely Red Queen from Resident Evil.

    • Those were androids from the alien films, I assume this list was looking for a.i that are not limited to one body. As for the red queen from resident evil…Seeing as how “She” wasn’t the real threat in those movies and was easily shut down in the first film I’d scratch her off any list involving evil a.i.

      • @Big_Boss: hit the nail on the head. We were focusing on A.I.’s that exist as an intelligence, not a robot, android, or anything similar. As for the Red Queen, it seemed to us that she is basically a security program simply following her programming, just given a personality to help/hinder communication with people.

        Either way, it would be tough for her to crack the top ten!

  13. nice spoiler for cap 2 luckily i had seen it

  14. It’s a tenuous one, but how about the talking bomb in Dark Star?

  15. Wait till Ultron.

    • How can we have Ultron without Hank Pym….

      • Ask Joss Whedon.

  16. Demon Seed (1977)

    A Classic Horro Sci-fi and have to see before you DIE!!!

  17. I liked Clu more than master control

    Im sure oblivion belongs here over something.

  18. Does the serial killer from Ghost In The Machine count?

  19. What about the robot chick from the 80s movie Deadly Friend. The guys girlfriend dies so he makes her a robot or something. The famous scene where she throws a basket ball at the angry old womans head & she literally explodes.

  20. The Red Queen.

  21. I think that David from Prometheus should be include. He was the only reason why I kept on watching till the end and will watch the sequel solely because of him.

  22. Improper apostrophe use. Never use apostrophes to pluralize anything especially abbreviations and initialisms.

    Further, you already abbreviated artificial intelligence as “A.I.” properly using periods; why would you pluralize it with an apostrophe???

  23. I always felt Hal 9000 sounded like Liberace. Threatening and effeminate at the same time. Liberace’s future history bore this out. Since I first heard Hal, I have kept careful watch on anyone sounding like that, on a few occasions with good reason.