Best AI movies of all time (Image Credit: Space.com)
AI is a hot topic at the moment, something which a fair few sci-fi works have dabbled with, so we’ve collected the best AI movies you can watch right now.
Much is being done and written about AI, but artists have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to these ideas and the discussion surrounding them. It started with literary works, but nowadays we’re used to watching movies and TV shows about artificial intelligence and how it can change (or destroy) our lives.
One big issue with media that explores the matter of AI and its future uses is that, most of the time, it’s strictly linked to robots so that audiences can follow (or fear) physical characters. However, many works go above and beyond to make us really think about the implications of human-made consciences and whether they can truly be like us.
In the case of movies, we can expect action most of the time (which doesn’t erase the points being made when the scripts are good), yet some famous AI movies have allowed themselves to be brainier and create suspense without resorting to expensive, flashy sequences. In our AI movies ranked list, we’ve included a bit of everything.
If you’re looking for more of the finest sci-fi movies ever made, we suggest exploring our best alien invasion and space horror movies of all time lists. On top of that, gamers can enjoy plenty of sci-fi and space-set goodness with the best alien invasion games and space settlement games available now.
- Release date: October 24, 1973
- Cast: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin
Yes, the HBO show-remake of “Westworld” of sorts was much better, but we’re talking about movies here. Now, the original feature written and directed by Michael Crichton (author of “Jurassic Park“) remains a very interesting exploration of both artificial intelligence and the transition into the modern conception of amusement parks.
It’s also a nice, off-beat Western flick, with actor Yul Brynner delivering an iconic performance that informed much of the earlier episodes of the HBO series. Mind you, the 88-minute runtime didn’t allow for a proper exploration of themes such as creation and evolution, but it’s a pulpy romp that doesn’t sacrifice its brain to be entertaining.
Unlike most of Crichton’s works that made it to the big screen, this movie was born from an original screenplay he wrote and chose to direct. It was also the first feature film to use digital image processing to “pixelate photography to simulate an android point of view” (an idea that James Cameron’s “Terminator” would later expand on).
9. The Creator
- Release date: September 26, 2023
- Cast: John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe
Gareth Edwards’ “The Creator” is the most recent movie in this list, and it’s one we’ll be recommending for a while to make up for its poor box office performance. Amidst far too many empty sequels and nostalgia-bait franchise revivals, it’s the kind of ambitious, original sci-fi feature that rarely happens anymore.
The movie is largely set in 2070, years after a nuclear detonation destroyed Los Angeles and a war against AI started. An ex-special forces agent is brought back into the fight to find and kill the man who has supposedly created a weapon which can end the war and give the AIs and their New Asia allies the win. While its elements may be too familiar for some, the final result is engaging, emotional, and even surprising at times, plus it looks stellar despite a constrained $80 million budget.
8. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
- Release date: June 29, 2001
- Cast: Jude Law, Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor
“A.I.” was often brought up as one of Steven Spielberg’s lesser works, but it has gained a following over the years. Eventually, it became a modern classic, with many now calling it one of the director’s best movies. In our honest opinion, this is a movie ahead of its time, and it’s aging like a fine wine.
Unsurprisingly, Stanley Kubrick was originally attached to the project; he acquired the rights to Brian Aldiss’ sci-fi short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” in the early 1970s. Around the mid-1990s, the project hit development hell, but Spielberg picked up the baton and eventually made the movie and dedicated it to Kubrick.
In broad strokes, the story is a modern retelling of sorts of “Pinocchio,” with David, a very advanced robotic boy, hoping to become a “real boy” in order to win back his human mother’s love after being abandoned. If this sounds really sad to you, that’s because, well, it’s a really sad movie.
7. The Mitchells vs. the Machines
- Release date: April 23, 2021
- Cast: Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Maya Rudolph
“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is a movie you might have thrown into your Netflix watchlist without doing much research, but it’s genuinely one of the streaming platform’s best recent releases. It was a project they acquired from Sony Pictures Animation after the theatrical release was dropped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s a shame we never got to see it on the big screen, because it’s a looker.
On the surface, this animated flick looks charming and quirky as we follow the dysfunctional Mitchell family on their journey after a global uprising of robots. This movie has plenty of heart and some very interesting thoughts about how we interact with each other in modern times and the importance we give to the latest technologies.
6. Ex Machina
- Release date: April 24, 2015
- Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac
Everyone loves a good psychological thriller which also happens to be an easy-to-digest sci-fi tale. “Ex Machina” was Alex Garland’s (of “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine” fame) directorial debut, and it remains one of the most memorable takes on the matter of artificial intelligence and robotics in recent memory.
The lean script and tight runtime allow the story to move at a rapid pace despite its calm setting and more philosophical tone. But, of course, the secret sauce here was a small but stellar cast led by Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac. It follows a shy programmer invited by his CEO to a remote location to study and connect with Ava, a humanoid robot who has passed the Turing test. Things get weird and dangerous fast, and aren’t as predictable as they may at first seem.
- Release date: June 27, 2008
- Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Sigourney Weaver
Widely considered to be one of Pixar’s greatest movies ever, as well as one of the best animated space movies for kids, “WALL-E” also easily earns a top spot on our list of the best AI movies. The studio was brave enough to let a solitary robot carry a good chunk of the movie and explore the topics of consumerism, corporatocracy, and human environmental impact, all through the lens of a seemingly innocent kids’ movie about cute little robots.
While “WALL-E” doesn’t feature a super deep exploration of robots’ consciousness in a hypothetical future or anything like that, it’s an excellent adventure that highlights how AI doesn’t have to eventually “replace us,” with the most likely outcome being that AI and robots will allow humans to become “more” of what we already are. As a bonus, we also got a fantastic (and unexpected) space odyssey.
4. Blade Runner & Blade Runner 2049
- Release date: June 25, 1982 / October 6, 2017
- Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young / Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas
It’s impossible to do a best AI movies list without mentioning the two excellent “Blade Runner” movies. It all started with Ridley Scott’s adaption of Philip K. Dick’s famous 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and culminated with Rutger Hauer becoming a sci-fi icon with a killer monologue recited under an unforgettable rain.
Against all expectations, Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” successfully brought back the replicants as well as the secrets and conspiracies that shaped the same world decades later. Harrison Ford was as good as always as Rick Deckard, but it was Ryan Gosling’s nuanced performance as K and his relationship with the holographic AI Joi (Ana de Armas) which elevated the sequel to new heights and gave it a voice of its own.
Humans take two steps back here because the plot and worldbuilding demand so, yet there are heaps of humanity to be found in K’s “artificial” role in the larger story.
3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
- Release date: July 3, 1991
- Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick
There are many Terminator movies, and only two remarkable ones: James Cameron’s. Why have we ignored the first one for this list? Because it wasn’t about AI, how Skynet was created, or the evolution of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800. The sequel, however, subverted most expectations by giving the killer robot – now turned ally – humanity and warmth in order to face a more dangerous threat.
The reprogrammed Terminator, played once again by Schwarzenegger, is at the center of the story alongside Sarah and John Connor, and not just as an almost perfect killing machine from the future; he also becomes John’s father figure and a progressively human-like companion. If the first “Terminator” was an ambitious sci-fi twist on the slasher formula, “Terminator 2” is an all-timer of an action movie with a beating heart in the most unexpected of places.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Release date: April 3, 1968
- Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester
Circling back to Stanley Kubrick, we can’t ignore the massive impact of “2001: A Space Odyssey” not just on science fiction and cinema as a whole, but also on the topic of AI on the big screen. HAL, the computer with a human-like personality, has often been considered the true star of the movie given his layered role and prominent presence during most of the runtime.
The screenplay was written by Kubrick and renowned science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, and was inspired by Clarke’s 1951 short story “The Sentinel” and a handful of others. While most cinephiles and more casual viewers have always praised it for its impressive sets, pioneering special effects, masterful use of music, and ambiguous imagery, there was something really special and foreboding about its depiction of a rogue AI messing with human jobs and lives. That’s also why it’s earned a spot on our best sci-fi movies based on books list.
1. The Matrix
- Release date: March 31, 1999
- Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
“The Matrix” (as in the first movie) was a lot to digest at first. Beyond establishing a distinct audio-visual style that would impregnate countless sci-fi and action movies in the 2000s, it presented several big questions and themes weaved together using the trippiest worldbuilding mainstream fiction had seen in years. Things were taken up a notch in The Matrix sequels, but the 1999 original is virtually perfect and feels like a once-in-a-lifetime miracle.
There’s a “Terminator”-like dystopian future in which humanity lost a war against the machines and are trapped inside a simulated reality also populated by AI designed to monitor and control the illusion of free will. Then we also have a traditional and messianic story of good vs. evil, rebels vs. an empire, in a real world that looks like a metal nightmare hellscape. Somehow, Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith and the Matrix’s Agents, a bunch of secret service-looking men in black, are the perfect embodiment of an oppressive artificial system looking to squash the human element.