It’s easy to assume that every depiction of an AI villain in cinema is simply a tech-addled retelling of the Frankenstein story, however the discerning science fiction aficionado can most certainly tell villainous genius from the ordinary rogue. Here is our list of the top 5 AI villains in Hollywood cinema:
(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
5. WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) – Wargames (1983)
Released during the Cold War, it seems rather logical that a movie about AI would feature the threat of nuclear holocaust. WOPR is shown to be a military supercomputer that is designed to simulate outcomes of a nuclear war and is also tied into the weapons control system. The protagonist, David Lightman (Matthew Broderick), hacks into it and unwittingly runs a nuclear war simulation, breaking the simulation-reality wall, threatening to spark a global nuclear war.
4. Ash – Alien (1979)
While some would raise eyebrows at an Android being in a list of AIs, the obvious retort would be that an android is but an advanced AI with limbs. In any case, Ash (Ian Holm) is an android (‘synthetic’) placed secretly onboard the USCSS Nostromo spaceship by the ‘Corporation’ as a science officer, specifically to ensure the retrieval of an alien Xenomorph – even at the cost of the lives of all the personnel. When it is discovered, in dire circumstances, that Ash is an Android, the crew decapitates him and ‘deletes’ him from the spaceship’s memory banks.
3. Skynet – Terminator Franchise
In the Terminator franchise, Skynet is a neural network based military AI (surprise) built by Cyberdyne Systems that becomes self-aware, goes rogue, and eventually causes global destruction (Judgement Day) wiping out 3 billion people. Much of the franchise revolves around ‘Terminators’ and ‘Cyborgs’ sent back in time, by both the humans and Skynet, battling each other in present-day urban sprawls hoping to change critical future outcomes in their favour.
2. The Machines – The Matrix (1999)
Many of the films featured in the list so far deal with AI in the process of destroying humanity or going head to head with them, but in the Matrix the humans have already lost the war against the Machines – a race of sentient mechanical creatures, all borne of a single consciousness – and have been subject to cyber slavery in a simulation of the real world called – what else? – the Matrix.
1. HAL 9000 – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Perhaps one of the most iconic depictions of artificial intelligence in cinema, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey features HAL 9000, an AI designed to manage critical systems onboard the spaceship Discover 1, which, unbeknownst to those manning the ship, is hiding the true purpose of the mission. When placed under conflicting orders, HAL, in a fit of frightening rationality and self-preservation, decides to kill the humans onboard so as to not have to lie to them. HAL is eventually shut down by Dave Bowman, the sole surviving member of the crew.