There’s an interesting poll up on Hubpages, asking visitors to vote on the best movie about Artificial Intelligence so far. It’s notable for its fairly comprehensive list of excellent movies (if I was to make a suggestion, I’d say Colossus: The Forbin Project and Bicentennial Man should rightly have been included on the list… but to be honest, if we included every movie with a robot in it, this list would be ungodly huge), but I think it’s also notable for the poll’s results so far.
As of this writing, Her has garnered the most votes, as high as twice the votes as Ex Machina and Blade Runner, the next-highest runners-up. I admit to being a bit surprised that Her has polled so well, if only because of its lackluster performance in the box office. But then, the movie did highlight the very personal (and even intimate) relationship between a human and an AI… a bona-fide inter-species love story, in which both characters—human Theodore and AI Samantha—grew and developed during their whirlwind romance. Ex Machina, while it flirted with inter-species feelings, and at least the possibility of intimacy, nevertheless never takes that plunge, preferring to remain a purely intellectual exercise instead.
Did Her get my vote? No; I gave my vote to Blade Runner, the story of robot slaves desperate to risk all for a chance at an extended life of freedom. Though intimacy isn’t part of Blade Runner, it’s no less emotional, following the robots Roy, Leon, Zora and Priss as they try to reach their creator to give them more life… and policeman Deckard and his growing love for Rachel, a robot that thinks it’s a human until the truth is rudely presented to it. The fear and anger of the freedom-seeking robots—enough to kill—is as intense as Rachel’s devastation at the collapse of her reality, and it’s very easy to empathize with their plight. To me, AIs that the audience can fully empathize with make for a pretty powerful story.
But ultimately, there are a number of deserving movies on this list… and at least one undeserving, I’d say, as they really don’t present what I’d consider a realistic or convincing AI at all. Terminator, I’m looking squarely at you: Sorry, but I’ve never bought the idea that a truly intelligent machine would conclude that the best way to get to the future was to wipe out humanity, the most clever, able, and ultimately manipulable creature on this planet. Period.
Also, I’d make a substitution which might initially surprise you: Replacing 2001: A Space Odyssey with its sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Bear with me: Though 2001 introduced us to the HAL 9000, and showed us his efforts to kill the astronauts on the Discovery (and his own sad demise), 2010 presented us with the reasons behind his actions, and in allowing HAL to choose to act on his own behalf or on the crews of the Discovery and Leonov, gave us so much more about the intelligence behind HAL’s unblinking eye. It was therefore a much more powerful AI story than its predecessor had been.
At any rate, the poll is a great jumping off point for the depiction of AI in the movies.