We’ve all seen that video of Boston Dynamics’ newest next-gen A.I. robot being terrorized by an employee with a hockey stick. Have we learned nothing from robot uprising movies? All Atlas wants to do is pick up a box, but humans just don’t seem to want to make it easy for these peace-loving bots.
Clearly, the next step for Atlas is to become a sentient being destined to rule the world with his cyber-buddies, with humans powerless to stop the onslaught. After all, we did program them to open doors. With that in mind, here are the 12 Best Robot Uprising Movies from which we should take heed.
12 You have 20 seconds to comply - RoboCop
Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 dystopian flick RoboCop doesn’t waste any time in foreshadowing the danger of building semi-autonomous robots, even if they are intended for law enforcement. When the evil corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) demonstrates its ED-209 enforcement droid to the board, things don’t go too well. In fact, old ED locks onto one of the board members and gruesomely takes him down.
Luckily, someone at OCP realizes if you mix a little bit of robot with a little bit of slain police officer — aka Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) — your robot is less likely to want to take over. That kind of works until Murphy, now decked out as RoboCop, stages an uprising of his own against his corporate creator. And in the scheme of robot uprisings, this one’s generally for the better.
11 You can’t trust Ava - Ex Machina
In Ex Machina, we meet A.I. android Ava (Alicia Vikander), her creator billionaire Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and Nathan’s employee Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), the latter of whom travels to a secret bunker location to work out if Ava can pass as human, via a Turing test. What could go wrong? All of it, basically.
By the end of Alex Garland’s directorial debut, the beautiful Ava has outsmarted everyone, killed her creator, and sealed Caleb inside the bunker while she escaped out into the outside world. The cerebral thriller asks many questions about what it means to be human and even more about the things human create. Take away lesson: hide your knives.
10 The little robot that could - WALL-E
Who wasn’t captivated by the robot love story in the Pixar sci-fi future flick, Wall-E? WALL-E and EVE sure do make a cute couple, and a cunning one to boot. When a mutinous ship robot threatens the possible return of mankind to a dystopian Earth, the love birds spur on a robot uprising of their own, releasing a horde of malfunctioning bots who ultimately help them save the day.
Inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL, the ship’s devilish computer AUTO (voiced by Sigourney Weaver) might only be following her directive, but sentient robots like WALL-E and EVE know better, perhaps proving that a robot uprising isn’t always a bad thing.
9 First robot on the Moon
Warcraft director Duncan Jones’ 2009 sci-fi indie thriller Moon was a critical hit and told the story of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), an astronaut manning a lunar mining station. But something isn’t quite right, and his only companion, a A.I. robot named GERTY, seems to be hiding the truth to their presence on the moon. GERTY, whose distinctive feature is a small screen that displays smiley (or frowny) face emoticons, is only bypassed when Sam manages to trick the robot.
Despite the robot’s initial programming, GERTY ends up turning good, which probably just goes to show you can trust a computer with a smiley face.
8 The end of the world - The World's End
Strictly speaking, the world of Edgar Wright’s The World's End is overrun by alien androids, which have replaced their corresponding and compliant humans. But that doesn’t make the impending uprising any less frightening, or less difficult for the film’s lead characters (played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) to confront.
Perhaps the hallmark of The World’s End’s near-uprising is the pub bathroom fight scene in which the androids are first exposed as humanistic, pieced-together dolls filled with blue goo. Thankfully it turns out the end of the world can be at least slowed down with a little improvised martial arts action.
7 A Bleak Future - X-Men: Days of Future Past
Things go from bad to worse in Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past when military scientist Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) creates an army of robots called Sentinels to find and destroy mutants, then gives them extra transformation powers using DNA from the shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
This all happens in the 1970s, and by the time the future hits, the Sentinels seek full-on mutant and mutant-ally domination. Only a time-traveling intervention from Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) can save the day, and undo this incredibly bleak future Earth has found itself in. The X-Men do manage to put a stop to Bolivar and the Sentinels, but in doing so, they may have unknowingly set themselves on an even darker path.
6 A robot may not harm a human - I, Robot
Sometimes it’s not the robots themselves that stage an uprising, but a central artificially intelligent source. Such is the case in Alex Proyas’ I, Robot. Here, an A.I. computer called VIKI at the center of a corporation selling helper humanoid robots to the public resorts to the only thing she knows best – a takeover of mankind.
The cause is, as always, humans themselves, who have programmed VIKI and the robots with an Isaac Asimov-inspired Three Laws of Robotics. And the savior is, as always, a switched-on human – shout out to Will Smith for rescuing humanity once again.
5 When robots ride horseback - Westworld
The 1973 sci-fi western Westworld, written and directed by Jurassic Park scribe Michael Crichton, scared plenty of filmgoers in its depiction of future theme parks inhabited by androids that are indistinguishable from humans. When they malfunction, the androids (surprise surprise) begin killing guests.
Westworld was an early pioneer in the field of computer graphics on film, utilizing early digital film scanning and printing for a key scene that made the robot uprising all the more terrifying. And you’ll soon be able to revisit the world of Westworld – HBO is making a TV series adaptation due out later this year.
4 The Matrix has you - The Matrix
We humans really need to stop making intelligent machines, because clearly, all they’re going to do is wage war on us then harvest our bodies’ bioelectricity for power. At least, that’s what happens in The Matrix from The Wachowski Brothers. And while we’re trapped in a kind of suspended pacification, we can look forward to a simulated world that only a few realize can be escaped.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about the robot uprising aspects of The Matrix is that only scant details are revealed about how humans created and lost control of the artificially intelligent robots, and about the ensuing chaos (there’s always ensuing chaos). For further snippets, look to the collection of animated shorts called The Animatrix which explore just how humans brought this on themselves, as usual.
3 Must be expensive - Blade Runner
Is Harrison Ford a replicant, a genetically engineered humanoid? Maybe, but ultimately he’s not the one seeking an uprising in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Instead, it’s a group of replicants led by Roy (Rutger Hauer) who discover their lifespan has been limited to just four years and "want more life." Who wouldn’t?
You just can’t keep a good replicant down – they’re stronger and more agile than humans – which means just letting the clock tick down turns out to be a good way of preventing certainly catastrophe. At least until Blade Runner 2 comes around as scheduled in 2018.
2 Come with me if you want to survive the robot uprising - The Terminator films
When James Cameron imagined the first Terminator film, and its subsequent sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he probably didn’t think we’d still be trying to stop Skynet from taking over the world in more movies and TV shows (and that Arnold Schwarzenegger would still be in them). But we are, and Arnie is, and he always only just seems to be able stop the inevitable mess that comes from building computer systems that become self-aware.
But why is the franchise so endearing and enduring? Put that down to a strong sense of self-reflection in the human condition, the relationships we seek and the technology we rely on. Even the Terminator himself says in the second film, "It is in your nature to destroy yourselves." Great.
1 Hal’s in and out of control - 2001: A Space Odyssey
A game-changer in how computers were realized on screen, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey also demonstrated just how maniacal man-made technology can be, even if it’s only represented by a glowing red light. That light is ship computer HAL 9000, or Hal, which decides that astronauts on a mission to Jupiter aren’t following the plan.
What follows is a test in robotic self-preservation and ultimately a thwarted uprising. Kubrick showed us robots can get upset, can suffer fear…and be pretty mean.
Are you looking forward to the robot uprising, or are you more of a zombie apocalypse-sort of person. What's your favorite tale of robotic uprising? Let us know in the comments below.