As of now, no machine has “passed” the Turing test. In the movies, however, that’s a completely different story, as we’ve seen literally dozens of artificially intelligent characters whose programming functions at a level that is indistinguishable from that of a human brain. I did my best and ranked what I thought were the top 10 artificially intelligent characters in movies, but I had to lay down a ground rule first. To qualify, the “machine” in question can’t have started off as a human. Its programming can be based on a human mind, but building around a human mind is off limits…so no Darth Vader or RoboCop. Next, this isn’t a rankings of just any robot – only sentient machines. Got it? Cool. Keep reading to see the top 10 artificially intelligent characters in movies, presented in descending order.
10. WOPR – WarGames
WOPR is a military computer and an acronym for War Operation Plan Response. WOPR was programmed to effectively respond to an enemy nuclear attack, but its programmer also gave it sentience. When teenage hacker David Lightman contacts WOPR and engages in a game called Global Thermonuclear War, the military thinks it’s the real thing, not just a simulation. To prevent a nuclear strike against the innocent Soviets, WOPR is tricked into playing tic-tac-toe against itself millions of times. Likening the game nuclear war, WOPR decides that the only way to win is not to play at all.
9. WALL-E – WALL-E
WALL-E is a robot programmed to clean up trash on Earth, which has been rendered a vast wasteland. He can do more than just clean, though, as he’s a very emotional being. WALL-E falls in love with another sentient robot named EVE, abandoning his duties on Earth and following her wherever she may go. WALL-E may not be as bad ass as a lot of the other AIs on this list, but he’s definitely the most adorable. Just look at him.
8. Sonny – I, Robot
Voiced by Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Dodgeball), Sonny is suspected of murdering the founder of U.S. Robotics. He does what he can to clear his name – such as claiming to abide by the Three Laws of Robotics – and comes across as an articulate and thoughtful being. That’s all well and good, but when push comes to shove, Sonny can throw down with the best of them. For a being with a pleasant demeanor, Sonny can throw a mean right hook.
7. R2-D2 – Star Wars movies
R2-D2 has been through more tough times that every other AI on this list. Without R2, Leia would have never been able to contact Obi-Wan, Luke would have never been able to escape from Jabba’s clutches, and C-3PO would have to direct all his whining elsewhere. R2 makes the top 10 because he’s incredibly loyal, can serve literally dozens of functions, and is handy whenever something – or someone – needs repair. Unlike c-3PO, the ultimate AI ninny.
6. Bishop – Aliens & Alien 3
Like R2-D2, Bishop is an incredibly resourceful being. The android volunteers to crawl through over a mile of disgusting piping – with deadly xenomorphs swarming everywhere – so that he can access a remote control and guide a dropshipto collect him, Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and anyone else who might survive off the surface of LV-426 before it explodes. Yikes. And what does he get for his efforts? Torn in half by an alien queen. If that doesn’t convince you, the awesome “knife trick” he performs on Hudson should seal the deal.
5. Roy Batty – Blade Runner
Roy Batty, quite simply, is a bad, bad dude. As leader of the Nexus-6 replicants, Batty is a combat model used for military battles, and so his speed, strength, and combat skills are far beyond those of a human being. He also has a genius level intellect, which he employs to torment Deckard. He eventually shows empathy for Deckard, though, and Batty himself appears to be more human than the humans who sought out to have him destroyed.
4. ED-209 – RoboCop
Alright, the ED-209 is pretty easily the “dumbest” of the AIs in this article, but it more than makes up for it with its guns, design, and voice. Oh, that voice. The first time I saw RoboCop, I could hardly believe my eyes when this massive monster of a robot ordered an OCP board member to put down his weapon…and then made the same order once the weapon was thrown to the ground. Totally neglecting the board member’s submission to its authority, the ED-209 filled him with holes, to the horror of everyone else (and to my delight). If only ED-209 could manage to negotiate stairs…
3. Agent Smith – Matrix Trilogy
Originally, Smith was programmed to serve as an agent of the Matrix and maintain order within the system itself. After a failed attempt at destroying Neo, though, Smith became freed from the Matrix and, no longer an agent, was able to act on his own and fulfill his own desires. Smith becomes somewhat of the antithesis of Neo (or Antichrist,if you’re into Biblical allusions) and grows in power, eventually taking control of almost the entire Matrix. The best part? Smith seems to really relish his freedom and dominance, and he shows a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing. “Cookies need love, too.”
2. T-800 – Terminator movies
Sure, Skynet itself becomes self-aware – which leads to the almost complete annihilation of humanity – but it’s the T-800 that is the real draw in the Terminator movies. Covered in living tissue, the T-800’s central processing unit is a neural-net processor, which enable it to learn. In a deleted scene in T2 (and I don’t know of a good reason as to why it was deleted), John and Sarah remove the “buffer” from the T-800’s chip, which had been placed by Skynet to prevent the T-800s from learning “too much.” John Connor’s personal T-800 eventually learns about human emotion and empathy, but still maintains its ability to function as a lethal killing machine. Very, very cool, but the top spot undeniably belongs to…
1. HAL 9000 – 2001: A Space Odyssey
HAL 9000 really has no physical form, but it is easily recognized by it numerous red “eyes” located throughout the Discovery. HAL is joined on the ship’s journey to Saturn by a pair of astronauts who soon come to distrust the AI, as they fear he is malfunctioning and is no longer fit to continue the mission. As a self-aware intelligence, HAL becomes somewhat paranoid and – in an effort to preserve his “life” – kills the astronauts sleeping in suspended animation, as well as Dr. Poole. HAL, to me, is the most accurate portrayal of an “AI gone wrong,” and couple with the creepy yet soothing voice, is about as terrifying a movie villain as you will find. There have been numerous homages to HAL, and I am sure there will continue to be. The fact that this “character” can be instantly recognized by just a single, staring red eye speaks measures about his place in movie history.
Honorable mentions/Cool AIs that couldn’t crack the top 10: GERTY (Moon), The Iron Giant (The Iron Giant), Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still), Daryl (D.A.R.Y.L.), Gigolo Joe (A.I.), Data (Star Trek: The Next Generation movies), Ash (Alien)
Didn’t get an honorable mention because he’s annoying as f*ck: Johnny 5 (Short Circuit) – any claim to the contrary will fall on deaf ears.
Agree with my order? Think I made a glaring omission? Let me know, and remember to take it as a personal slight and respond with hostility. It gets me off!