The Portrayal of Artificial Intelligence in Movies in the Last Century

8 Min Read

Auruba Raki

From the advent of cinema, artificial intelligence (AI) has been a popular movie genre, quickly gaining fame among science-fiction fans. From the first German expressionist film Metropolis: Maria’s Transformation (1927) that introduced AI to cinema almost a century ago, to the highest grossing film to uphold AI futuristically — Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), we have found the quality of AI in a broad spectrum — evil to philanthropist, anthropomorphic to robotic, self-conscious to submissive, world dominating to world saving. The film industry has made a giant leap since the robotic movies of the 1920s.


The advent in the early years of 1920-1960s

In Metropolis, the robotic replica of a person has autonomous navigation and natural language processing. Its intelligence is advanced enough to use social manipulation to overthrow the titular city. In the first American AI film The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), such intelligence is represented more positively in the character Gort, who is essentially a companion to the protagonist and is chiefly friendly to the humans. We see a contrast of qualities in the aforementioned early films of AI, which shape the impression of the audience until, in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey comes into play with its alien, supercilious, calculating HAL 9000. HAL was unlike any other. Despite his inhumane disposition, he was far more human than any other robot before him, in spite of lack of a physical body. This seemingly compassionate computer, full of authentic human emotions later turns out to be a cold-blooded murderer, which was an AI game-changer to date.


The sobriety in the 1970s-80s era

America, having sent a man to the moon during the 70s, boosted an inclination towards interstellar and intergalactic alien AI which hailed from outer space to invade or be introduced to the human race. The most notable depiction of AI in that decade were the friendly droids and bots in Star Wars (1977) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Besides, owing to the antagonistic influence of HAL 9000, there was destructive AI in Westworld (1973) and Alien (1979) as well.

By the 80s, artificial intelligence became a fan-favourite and mainstream yet amusing genre. With the Replicants in Blade Runner (1982) and the Supercomputer of Superman III (1983), AI snatched the limelight. Moreover, a famous seminal AI movie series to have commenced in the 80s was Terminator (1984) with its cyborg assassin intent on changing the future. RoboCop (1987) also portrayed a potent cyborg born out of a terminally injured policeman in the crime-infested city of Detroit.


The classics of the 90s

The 90s presented us with five AI movies in one decade alone. Along with the second instalment of the Terminator series, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), there were two modern seminal classics of AI: The Matrix (1999) and Ghost in the Shell (1995). Both of these movies took the inherent theme in AI and reinvented the medium as they went. The Matrix is still one of the most admired AI films of all time. 


The new millennium

The new millennium spiced up AI with dramatic CGI. The decade began with 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. There were notable movies with distinctly modern disembodied AI operating systems, including Matrix Reloaded (2003), Eagle Eye (2005), I. Robot (2004), and Iron Man (2008). Moreover, there were friendly portrayals of AI as well in Transformers (2007) and the unforgettable WALL-E (2008). The endearing little robot motivated to alter the fate of mankind won the hearts of millions. 


The versatility of 2010s

The 2010s came with a broad assortment of AI movies. In the process of creating the first self-aware artificial intelligence, a couple accidentally puts the world in peril as the military steals their robotic technology that does no one’s bidding. I am talking of The Machine (2013). In case of Ex Machina (2014), where a young programmer is to assess artificial intelligence by interacting with a female robot, Variety reviews it as “ a sleek, spare chamber piece: Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” redreamed as a 21st-century battle of the sexes.” In the film Chappie (2015), a titular police robot becomes the first robot to think and feel for itself by virtue of advanced programming.

And, of course, there is the second instalment of the Avengers franchise and the 11th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is the highest-grossing film focused on AI domination: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Tony Stark “Iron Man”, with assistance of Bruce Banner “The Hulk”, ends up creating an artificial intelligence system named Ultron that becomes sentient and pledges total wipe-out of mankind, certain that humans were of an inferior mortal race and that AI was indeed the future. The character Vision, born out of Tony’s operating system Jarvis, is one of the more philanthropist AI who aids the Avengers in the annihilation of Ultron. 

In addition, we got Blade Runner 2049 (2017), the sequel to the 80s Blade Runner, in the same decade.


The Potential of 2020s 

The 2020s comes with a promising number of wonderful AI movies as well. Bloodshot — featuring the favourite comic book superhero and starring Vin Diesel — hit the screens earlier in February this year. However, despite the potential of the plot, it is riddled with predictable action sequences and vacant characters, wherein the central character Bloodshot vows revenge for the murder of his lover, except the memory of the murderer is altered by the corporation that resurrected him with nanotechnology to target their own enemies.

Further movies of the 2020s that you should grab your popcorn for include a documentation film Coded Bias, an H.G. Wells classic adaptation of The Invisible Man, a Christopher Nolan flick TENET (aimed to air in July this year), and a heroic sci-fi war film The Tomorrow War.


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