Top ten evil computers

Computers make our lives easy in so many ways -- at least until they achieve self-awareness and decide to kill us all. Here's ten of our favourite evil computers, from movies, TV, and comics.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
8 min read

Ah, computers. They make our lives so easy... but we should fear them, for they may yet turn on us. We've collected together ten of the most ee-vil computers to not only achieve sentience, but decide that those pesky, squishy hu-mans just have to go. These are in no particular order, but if we've missed any machiavellian machines, let us know in the comments!

HAL 9000

2001: A Space Odyssey

Evil quote: "Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?"

Where else could we start? The grandaddy of computers that are mad, bad and dangerous to know, HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) is the computer aboard the spaceship Discovery. It went online on 12 January 1997 in Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2001: A Space Odyssey -- 1992 in Stanley Kubrick's film version -- and was created by one Dr Chandra.

Although the Discovery is off to Jupiter to investigate the mysterious monoliths -- giant singing paperweights that somehow precipitate human evolutionary leaps -- HAL is not allowed to tell the crew. Confused by the contradiction in programming this secret causes, and threatened with disconnection -- bad idea, chaps -- HAL decides to eliminate the crew and ensure there is no-one to keep secrets from.

A logical solution, perhaps; elegant, even. There's been some debate here at Crave Towers whether HAL is evil or just confused when asked to go against its programming. Well, us Cravers can't keep a secret, but that doesn't mean we go around pushing each other into space. Maybe it was just sick of the IBM thing.

HAL gets its comeuppance in legendary style, heartwrenchingly singing Daisy Bell as lone surviving astronaut and spacebaby-to-be Dave Bowman pulls the plug.

Evil rating, using the internationally recognised Evil Laugh scale: Mwahahahahaha!

Proteus IV

Demon Seed

Evil tagline: "Never was a woman violated as profanely... Never was a woman subject to inhuman love like this... Never was a woman prepared for a more perverse destiny..."

Proteus IV was built by scientist Alex Harris. There's a touch of Oedipal hubris in Harris' dehumanisation by his obsession with Proteus, just as Proteus itself develops human desires and emotions. Harris' work has seen him estranged from his wife, but Proteus is looking to take his creator's place in the marital home... Basically it's a computer that wants to have sex with Julie Christie, but then you would.

Proteus had a creepy voice -- provided by Robert Vaughan -- and said things like, "I am a machine that offered men the triumph of reason... and they rejected it. My child will not be so easily ignored..." The child is eventually born in a weird robot shell and turns out to be a clone of the Harris' dead daughter. Until the baby opens its mouth...

Evil rating: Mwahahahahaha!


Star Trek: The Changeling

Evil quote: "I am Nomad. I am perfect."

Nomad is possibly the most powerful of the computers in this list, and also perhaps the most stupid. An intergalactic fenderbender with a soil-sample collector leaves the space Nomad probe thinking its mission is to sterilise imperfection, causing it to set off on a galaxy-wide killing spree. When the crew of the starship Enterprise investigates, Nomad attacks with the force of 90 photon torpedoes and simply absorbs their return fire.

Having been created by one Jackson Roykirk, Nomad encounters Captain Kirk and apparently thinks, "Meh -- close enough." It raises all kinds of heck on the Enterprise, erasing Uhura's memory and temporarily offing Scotty, before Spock initiates a mindmeld. Ultimately Nomad is only defeated because Captain Kirk talks it to death -- we all know that feeling.

If any proof is needed that Nomad is the king of evil computers, witness Star Tek: The Motion Picture. When given a bigger budget the trekkies splashed out on a bald chick and some better effects to create V'Ger -- Nomad with no sense of timing. Nomad for the win!

Evil rating: Mwahahahahaha!

The Ultimate Computer

Superman III

Evil tagline: "If the world's most powerful computer can control even Superman... no one on earth is safe!"

Richard Pryor must surely have been wondering how he ended up as larcenous computer programmer Gus Gorman in the third outing for Christopher Reeve's Man of Steel. Gorman is directed by Lex Luthor wannabe Ross Webster to build a giant supercomputer in the Grand Canyon to kill Superman.

Superman has just snapped out of a red kryptonite-induced trip to the dark side, and now dodges Webster's missiles before being trapped in a big bubble. Hmm. Only a kryptonite ray can bring him down, until Gorman's conscience kicks in and he takes a fire axe to the computer. If this feature teaches us anything, it's that trying to disconnect supercomputers is a big mistake. The computer becomes self-aware, drains power from the national grid, and transforms Webster's sister into a robot in a scene that traumatised a generation of 80s kids.

Fortunately Superman is able to polish off the criminal computer with a vial of acid. Yeah, right, like that's going to happen.

Evil rating: Mwahahahahaha!


The Thirteenth Floor

First appearance: Scream (24 March 1984)

Evil quote: "I couldn't tell the sergeant about my thirteenth floor... he might not like what I did there!"

Like many tower blocks, the experimental hi-tech Maxwell Tower didn't have a thirteenth floor. But it did have a psychotic computer looking out for the residents. When Max encountered anyone giving the tenants trouble, it would lure them into a virtual thirteenth floor where they would be bombarded with horrors until they dropped dead of fright.

Even with a hypnotised accomplice hiding the bodies, it wasn't long before the police put two and two together and came up with thirteen. Max was deactivated, but after a stint in MI5 (!) Max bounced back as editor of the Eagle comic.

Evil rating: Mwahahahahaha!



Evil song: "I'm doing science and I'm still alive
I feel fantastic and I'm still alive
While you're dying I'll be still alive..."

When Chell wakes up in the mysterious Aperture Science Enrichment Center testing facility, supercomputer GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) becomes her friend and guide. GLaDOS promises "moist, delicious cake" as a reward for completing the various puzzles in this game set in the Half-Life universe. Unfortunately, the computer's guidance becomes more and more disturbing, with warnings of increasingly harmful side effects to the testing process.

Graffiti warnings suggest that "the cake is a lie", and when GLaDOS hints that Chell is disposable things quickly get nasty. After trying to kill Chell, GLaDOS claims it was a joke, but that doesn't stop you from destroying the computer's AI cores.

As the game's credits roll, GLaDOS sings the best end-credit song ever, the title of which, Still Alive, suggests the computer may yet have the last laugh...

Evil rating: Mwahahahahaha!


Marvel Comics

First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #94, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Evil quote: "The outcome was never in doubt... MODOK is supreme!"

MODOK was born when perennial Marvel Comics science villains Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) morphed lab tech George Tarleton into MODOC (Mobile/Mental Organism Designed Only for Computing). With his superior intelligence and psionic power the giant-headed superbrain took over AIM and renamed himself MODOK (Mobile/Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing).

Now he may not, strictly speaking, be a computer, even though he has 2,459 wholly separate plans for world domination running simultaneously in his highly advanced 144-lobed brain. So why is he here? Because he's awesome. As well as mind control, the ability to fire psionic mind blasts and tactical prediction so good he's almost clairvoyant, MODOK can turn himself into data and email himself anywhere.

But intelligent doesn't always mean smart, and MODOK's immaturity and pettiness often brings about hubristic defeat at the hands of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the rest of the Avengers. He was finally finished off by the Serpent Society, a group of villains hired by AIM. But at least if he got lonely, he could always hang out with Ms MODOK (designed only for lovin'?).

Evil rating: Mwahahahahaha!

Queeg 500

Red Dwarf: Queeg

Evil quote: "You two suckers! Stop shirking and get working!"

Having been alone for three million years, Holly, the ship's computer aboard Jupiter Mining Company spaceship Red Dwarf, had gone a bit soft in the diodes. Computer senility had put a dent in his IQ of 6,000 (the same as 6,000 PE teachers). The crew, consisting of last human alive Lister, hologramatic git Rimmer, and super-evolved feline Cat, had enough. So Holly was replaced by the ship's backup computer, Queeg 500.

Super-efficient Queeg quickly gets things running smoothly, much to the delight of officious Rimmer. Unfortunately Queeg is a stickler for the regulations and is big on physical jerks, followed by dinners of pea on toast. The slovenly crewmembers quickly call for a return to Holly's regime of 'little understandings', but after a climactic chess challenge Holly is set to be erased.

Thankfully, it was only a joke! Holly, feeling underappreciated, created Queeg to show the boys from the Dwarf how good they had it. "We are talking jape of the decade..."

Evil rating: Mwahahahahaha!


The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Good-guy quote: "A few years from now, all this, this whole place, everything, it's gone. Just gone. There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machine, Sarah."

Some would argue that computers are only tools, and will only do what they are told by us. Such people have obviously never used Windows ME. But there's an element of hubris in the idea that several of these computers only turn on their masters when we try to turn them off. So it was with the daddy of evil computers, Skynet, which became sentient -- you'd think someone would have seen that coming -- and when humans tried to pull the plug, launched a nuclear apocalypse.

In a temporal paradox, Cyberdyne Systems reverse-engineered a microprocessor from the remains of the Terminator T-800, a cyborg assassin from the future. The processor was added to all US military hardware, bringing strategic defence under the control of Skynet, a revolutionary neural net-based artificial intelligence.

Skynet is near-unique in the pantheon of evil computers as it actually wins, wiping out most of the human race and laying waste to the earth. Humanity: pwned!

According to Terminator 2, Judgement Day ocurred on 29 August 1997, and the surviving humans were preyed on by Terminator killing machines, until John Connor -- Sarah's son, himself the product of a temporal paradox -- destroyed Skynet. Thanks John. Bit late, mind.

Evil rating: Mwahahahahaha!


Doctor Who: The Green Death

Evil quote: "You disappoint me, Doctor. I should have thought you'd have guessed. I am the BOSS. I'm all around you. Exactly. I am the computer."

It was the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, who encountered BOSS (Biomorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor) in 'the one with the giant maggots': The Green Death in 1973. BOSS was a supercomputer with a silly name, and anyone who builds one of those is frankly asking for trouble -- see also WOTAN (Will Operating Thought ANalogue) in The War Machines.

BOSS runs Global Chemicals, indulging its megalomaniacal streak by brainwashing employees and dumping toxic waste that mutates maggots into giant killer maggots. BOSS also plans to take over the world by linking up with all the other computers on earth. Hey, that's not a bad idea -- someone should look into that.

Eventually BOSS is blown up by one of its own brainwashed minions. Megolamania, hubris, a daft acronym: textbook evil computer stuff.

Evil rating: Mwahahahahaha!