How Hollywood sees AI, in 16 films

From evil computer overlords to helpful droids, here's a look at how artificial intelligence has been portrayed in movies, for better and for worse.

Carrie Mihalcik
Carrie was a managing editor at CNET focused on breaking and trending news. She'd been reporting and editing for more than a decade, including at the National Journal and Current TV.
Carrie Mihalcik
1 of 17 Warner Bros.

AI goes to the movies

Artificial intelligence has been a Hollywood staple for years. Often, films dealing with the technology involve robots rising up to destroy humanity. It's all in good fun. Except for the possibility that, well, maybe it could happen? After all, the goal of AI, really, is to foster machines that think like humans, and heaven knows we're capable of some very nasty thoughts.

AI experts, though, say most of these films don't offer a realistic portrayal of how we'll actually get along with the technology. The dangers just might not be exactly what we're expecting, or as dramatically dire, and those wise-cracking robot sidekicks might not be as sexy.

Filmmakers have seized on the uncertainty and let their imaginations run wild. Here's a look at some great, and not so great, movies that have tried to envision the power of AI.

2 of 17 Warner Brothers and Dreamworks LLC

"A.I. Artificial Intelligence"

No subtlety in this title. The 2001 movie from director Steven Spielberg focuses on David, a robot designed to resemble a human child and packing the ability to love. Will AI systems ever actually experience emotions? Hollywood seems sure of it. AI experts -- not so much.

3 of 17 Courtesy of Mongrel Media/Universal Pictures

"Ex Machina"

A young programmer is invited by his eccentric employer to evaluate the human qualities of a breathtakingly humanoid AI. Things don't turn out great for the flesh-and-blood folks in this 2015 sci-fi thriller.

4 of 17 Columbia Pictures

"Bicentennial Man"

Andrew, played by actor Robin Williams in this 1999 comedy, is a robot designed to perform household tasks. He also begins to experience emotions. Over the span of 200 years (hence the movie's title), he endeavors to become human.

5 of 17 Warner Bros.

"The Terminator"

This is pretty much the first movie that pops into people's minds when they think of AI, especially the kind gone bad. In the seemingly never-ending Terminator franchise, an AI defense network called Skynet becomes self-aware and attempts to exterminate the human race. In the original, "The Terminator," from 1984, Skynet sends everyone's favorite cyborg/California governor to the past to murder a waitress whose unborn son will lead humans in a war against machines. Mayhem ensues throughout the films.

6 of 17 Marvel

"Avengers: Age of Ultron"

Whaddya know. We're in trouble again. The Marvel superhero flick, released in 2015, pits the good-guy Avengers against Ultron, an artificial intelligence system hell-bent on causing human extinction.

7 of 17 Lucasfilm

"Star Wars"

Robots are much friendlier in a Star Wars universe full of intelligent mechanical beings, aka droids. Headstrong R2-D2 and the ever-anxious C-3PO have been popular staples of the series, but perky BB-8 from the new "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" may win the title of fan favorite.

8 of 17 Syfy

"Battlestar Galactica"

The sci-fi television series, which had a first foray in the late 1970s and was rebooted for a half-decade run in 2004, features an AI race known as the Cylons. Created by humans, the Cylons evolved into self-aware beings and engaged in a lengthy war with the human race. The show may yet become a movie.

9 of 17 Samuel Goldwyn Films/Stage 6 Films

“Robot & Frank”

This 2012 movie escaped pretty much everyone's attention, but it offers a thoughtful look at dilemmas that might really arise as AI creeps further and further into our everyday life.

10 of 17 Twentieth Century Fox.

"I, Robot"

In this 2004 movie, which borrows its name from a collection of short stories by legendary sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, an AI supercomputer called VIKI decides that the only way to ensure the survival of the human race is to strip individual humans of their free will. Fun!

11 of 17 Warner Bros.

"The Matrix"

Agent Smith, one of the main bad guys in this dystopian trilogy, is an AI program that hunts down the humans who haven't already become mere wetware for an all-powerful machine. The first of the three movies came out in 1999, when we were especially open to millennial fears.

12 of 17 The Film Stage Media


This award-winning 2013 movie offers a fascinating look at our close relationship with technology. The main character, played by actor Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with an AI operating system named Samantha. But eventually Samantha, along with a group of other OSes, evolves beyond her human companion.

13 of 17 Warner Bros.


The consciousness of AI expert Will Caster is uploaded to a futuristic quantum computer in this poorly reviewed 2014 flick. Caster's digital form works to eradicate pollution and disease...and also starts to control people's minds.

14 of 17 WarnerArchive/YouTube screenshot by CNET

"Demon Seed"

In this 1977 horror movie, an AI supercomputer becomes obsessed with its creator's wife.

15 of 17 Warner Bros.

"Blade Runner"

Harrison Ford plays main character Rick Deckard in this 1982 sci-fi classic. Deckard's job is to hunt down and kill rogue replicants, the sometimes lonely and often pissed-off humanlike androids with a short life span that return to Earth, from which they've been banned.

16 of 17 Warner Bros.


A space crew looking to ensure humanity's survival in this 2014 film is assisted by two AI-driven robots, TARS and CASE. The blocky robots (which were actually really big puppets) have settings for both humor and honesty.

17 of 17 MGM

"2001: A Space Odyssey"

This may be the ultimate take on humanity confronting a self-aware computer looking out for its own best interests. The star of Stanley Kubrick's classic 1968 space thriller is the HAL 9000, an AI computer responsible for maintaining the Discovery spacecraft and willing to stop at nothing -- even murder -- to complete its mission. HAL delivers one of the most iconic lines in sci-fi movie history: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

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