10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (2024)

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10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (1)

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10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (5)

Summary

  • Interstellar demonstrates how a robotic companion can understand the nuances of human communication.
  • Animated movies like WALL-E and Big Hero 6 use AI and robotics to teach lessons about grief and environmentalism.
  • Brian and Charles tells the story of an unlikely parent-child relationship formed between a man and his brilliant invention.

As Sci-fi movies begin to revolve more and more around the future of AI, AKA artificial intelligence, it's important to remember that not all of these stories make AI the villain. Most sci-fi narratives capitalize on the audience's anxieties, and AI is the cause of intense debate as there's fear surrounding AI taking over, especially in creative endeavors. However, the realism of movies like The Matrix, which posits that robots will overthrow humanity and subjugate them, shouldn't be taken as fact. All of these films are works of fiction and should be treated as such.

They suggest that perhaps the best way to meet the future isn't with contempt and fear but with curiosity.

Movies often use friendly or ambivalent AI as a metaphor for how humanity already creates a hierarchy of who can be considered human. These movies question what conditions need to be met and what emotions need to be felt for AI to cross the boundary of being real. When AI becomes self-aware in scary sci-fi movies, it often spells disaster for the human protagonists. However, it can also push the human characters to examine their feelings of disconnection. They suggest that perhaps the best way to meet the future isn't with contempt and fear but with curiosity.

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10 Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

In believing that he is human, he has taken the necessary steps to assert his free will.

Unlike its predecessor, Blade Runner, the long-awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049, makes no secret that its protagonist, K (Ryan Gosling), is a replicant. The original movie positions the replicant Rachael as unaware of her status as a non-human. It centers on a central human protagonist tracking down a group of rogue replicants. Conversely, 2049 leads K to question if he is truly a replicant. After being sent to kill the biological child of a replicant, K's suspicions grow that this child is him, but he can't fully trust his memories, and replicants are implanted with false recollections of childhood.

Both K and his holographic companion, Joi (Ana de Armas), are shown to have greater humanity and reverence for life than the humans who control them. As a Blade Runner, K is tasked with ending hundreds of lives, but the police force he works for doesn't see the replicants as worthy of warranting a discussion about their humanity. Even though K ultimately discovers that he is not the human-replicant child, in some ways, it doesn't matter. In believing that he is human, he has taken the necessary steps to assert his free will.

10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (7)
Blade Runner 2049

R

Sci-Fi

Action

Drama

Mystery

Where to Watch

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Set thirty years after the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is a sci-fi neo-noir film by the director of Dune, Denis Villeneuve. The film follows LAPD replicant officer K, who discovers a devastating secret that could throw society into total chaos. To stop a potential war between replicants and humans, he'll need to locate missing former blade runner Rick Deckard and uncover the truth.

Director
Denis Villeneuve

Release Date
October 6, 2017
Cast
Ryan Gosling , Harrison Ford , Jared Leto , Ana De Armas , Robin Wright , Lennie James , Dave Bautista , Carla Juri , Hiam Abbass , Barkhad Abdi , David Dastmalchian , Mackenzie Davis , Sylvia Hoeks

Runtime
163 Minutes

9 WALL-E (2008)

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Pixar Animation Studio is known for creating empathy for inanimate and imaginary objects throughout the production company's long history. However, few capture the love and depth of human emotion so well as WALL-E, a love story about two robots who rarely utter more than a single word. The titular character, WALL-E, is a robot abandoned on a desolate Earth to clean up humanity's mess after they flee to the stars and is one of the best Pixar characters. He and EVE, a robot sent to assess Earth's habitability, form a connection when he senses that she's a kindred spirit.

Though one of the movie's villains is AUTO, the AI autopilot function on the spaceship where the remains of humanity live, he only does what he was programmed to do. A long time ago, when AUTO was created, he was coded to prevent humans from returning to Earth, ensuring prosperity for the company that built the ship. The true testament to sentience are WALL-E and EVE, who are much more compelling than their human counterparts in the story. They demonstrate complex feelings of love, devotion, and stewardship towards the Earth and each other.

10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (12)
WALL-E

G

Animation

Adventure

Family

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Pixar's WALL-E tells the story of the titular lone robot left alone on an uninhabitable Earth in the distant future. Tasked with cleaning away the endless mountains of the varied waste discarded by humanity before they left the planet, WALL-E spends his days collecting salvageable parts and items of interest. When he finds a plant, another robot arrives to collect the sample, taking WALL-E to the remnants of humanity, who have all grown morbidly obese through consistent inactivity while living in luxury on a space cruiser.

Director
Andrew Stanton

Release Date
June 27, 2008
Cast
Ben Burtt , Elissa Knight , Jeff Garlin , Fred Willard , John Ratzenberger , Kathy Najimy , Sigourney Weaver

Runtime
98 Minutes

8 Interstellar (2014)

Directed by Christopher Nolan

TARS' consistency and reliability are more steadfast than a human's, but that makes him an excellent companion.

When discussing Interstellar, the scenes with the AI TARS don't come to mind. He is the robot who accompanies Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Amelia (Anne Hathaway) on their mission. While he's a valuable part of their journey into space, TARS is often overlooked because he sharply diverges from the typical space-era robot seen in films like Interstellar. Though his actions aren't as dramatic as Cooper's, as TARS doesn't have a family to lose, the robot still sacrifices himself into the black hole alongside Cooper to save Amelia.

Additionally, he's a consistent source of comedic relief, and his exchange with Cooper about honesty in human communication is surprisingly poignant. The recurrence of lying to protect loved ones is prevalent in Interstellar, and it's TARS who explains this theme to the audience. By the time Cooper is recused, millions of miles away from Amelia, TARS has made it to the end with him and will come with him in his next mission to find Amelia and the new human colony. TARS' consistency and reliability are more steadfast than a human's, but that makes him an excellent companion.

10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (18)
Interstellar

PG-13

Sci-Fi

Drama

Thriller

Action

Adventure

Fantasy

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From Christopher Nolan, Interstellar imagines a future where the Earth is plagued by a life-threatening famine, and a small team of astronauts is sent out to find a new prospective home among the stars. Despite putting the mission first, Coop (Matthew McConaughey) races against time to return home to his family even as they work to save mankind back on Earth.

Director
Christopher Nolan

Release Date
November 7, 2014
Cast
Anne Hathaway , Matthew McConaughey , Jessica Chastain , Ellen Burstyn , Michael Caine , Bill Irwin

Runtime
2h 49m

7 Big Hero 6 (2014)

Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams

Many animated children's films revolve around grief and the difficulty that people of all ages have processing this emotion. While grief can look different for everyone, Big Hero 6 grapples directly with the loss of a loved one, as Hiro's brother, Tadashi, passes away early on in the film. All Hiro has left of his brother is Baymax, the medical aid robot Tadashi invented and put his heart and soul into. While other characters in the film invent robots and AI for personal gain or violent ends, Baymax is a healer programmed to assist and prevent harm whenever possible.

Though Hiro pushes Baymax to his limits to get justice for Tadashi and be a hero himself, this cannot change Baymax's fundamental nature of kindness. Baymax's unexpected reactions to human situations can sometimes warrant a laugh from the audience, but his connection to Hiro can just as easily bring a tear to the eye. Big Hero 6 is a sharp reminder that it's the people behind the AI and computer programs who set the tone for how they will behave and interact with humanity.

10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (24)
Big Hero 6

PG

Animation

Action

Adventure

Comedy

Family

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In Walt Disney Animation Studios' Big Hero 6, the child genius Hiro Hamada works with his brother Tadashi's inflatable robot, Baymax, to assemble a superhero team in the fictional city of San Fransokyo. The titular group of geeky heroes, composed of Honey Lemon, Go Go Tomago, Wasabi, and Fred, help Hiro and Baymax take down a masked villain powered by nanobots.

Director
Don Hall , Chris Williams

Release Date
October 24, 2014
Cast
Ryan Potter , Scott Adsit , Jamie Chung , T.J. Miller , Daniel Henney , Damon Wayans Jr. , Genesis Rodriguez , James Cromwell , Alan Tudyk , Maya Rudolph

Runtime
1h 42m

6 A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

The feelings of rejection, terror, and insecurity that David experiences are universal and only drive home the point that even if David isn't human, he's capable of humanity.

Though Steven Spielberg's best movie about overcoming differences in origins and forming human bonds is inarguably E.T., A.I. Artificial Intelligence is emotionally devastating from start to finish. Haley Joel Osment is incredible in his performance as David, a prototype of a robotic child with the ability to love. However, it doesn't take long for him to be rejected by his family, which sends him on an Odyssey-like quest to become truly human. The feelings of rejection, terror, and insecurity that David experiences are universal and only drive home the point that even if David isn't human, he's capable of humanity.

The development of the movie took a long and winding road, as initially Stanley Kubrick was tapped to adapt the initial story. This combination of Kubrick's and Spielberg's sensibilities resulted in an unexpected blend of harsh truths and happy endings that ended up elevating the tone of the story. David doesn't get everything he wishes for and suffers cruelly at the hands of others, but it's this equal capacity for evil and love that makes humans what they are. By the film's conclusion, David might not understand this, but the audience does.

10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (30)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

PG-13

Drama

Science Fiction

Adventure

Director
Steven Spielberg

Release Date
June 29, 2001
Cast
Haley Joel Osment , Jude Law , Frances O'Connor , Sam Robards , jake thomas

Runtime
146 Minutes

5 Brian And Charles (2022)

Directed by Jim Archer

The off-beat British mockumentary Brian and Charles stars David Earl as Brian Gittins, a failed inventor who accidentally creates a sentient robot about of a washing machine who names himself Charles. It doesn't take long for Brian to start viewing Charles not just as his creation but as a surrogate child, which sparks friction between them. Though the film leans heavily into the comedic aspects of the story, there's also a strong emotional appeal, as watching Charles explore the world and head out on his own draws parallels with every person's experience of growing up.

It's easy to relate to both Brian and Charles as the two halves of a parent-child relationship, and it's equally fun to laugh with them. Brian's painful realization that he must let Charles go is just as impactful as Charles' firm but bittersweet insistence that he has outgrown his creator. However, by the film's end, Brian is not the lonely man he used to be, and in having a relationship with Charles, he relearned how to form human connections with the people around him.

Watch Brian and Charles on Starz.

4 Short Circuit (1986)

Directed by John Badham

Short Circuit is a welcome change from the intense robotic nightmares of 1980s sci-fi, as movies like The Terminator were cultivating the growing fear of technological innovation. As a movie from a member of the Brat Pack, Ally Sheedy, Short Circuit is one of her most fun and underrated. She plays Stephanie Speck, a young girl who takes in a robot that develops consciousness, Johnny 5. Johnny 5 is less human-esque than other sentient robots, as he wasn't developed to have intelligence and slowly learns language and human skills throughout the film.

Short Circuit positions the scientists who attempt to subdue and take in Johnny 5 as the villains, which is a fun subversion of the genre.

Overall, Short Circuit doesn't push the boundaries of what AI is capable of or make any comments on the future of technology, but it's a fun, lighthearted story. One of the most unique parts of the story is how Johnny 5 is the true protagonist of the story. Sheedy and costar Steve Guttenberg were secondary players. Additionally, Short Circuit positions the scientists who attempt to subdue and take in Johnny 5 as the villains, which is a fun subversion of the genre.

Short Circuit is available to rent on Apple TV, YouTube, and Prime Video.

10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (31)
short circuit

pg-13

Sci-Fi

Comedy

Short Circuit revolves around a robot named Number 5, who is able to form intelligence and escape a military facility after being struck by lightning. The 1986 comedy sci-fi film Short Circuit stars Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg and was directed by John Badham. Short Circuit led to a sequel in 1988 called Short Circuit 2.

Director
John Badham

Release Date
May 9, 1986

Cast
Fisher Stevens

Runtime
98minutes

3 I’m Your Man (2021)

Directed by Maria Schrader

The German film I'm Your Man features a performance from Sandra Hüller, who recently received recognition for her role in the Oscar-winning The Zone of Interest. However, it's Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert who carry the film's emotional core. Alma (Eggert) participates in an experiment meant to artificially create her dream man. This attempt results in Tom (Stevens), who Alma is quick to judge and slow to let into her heart. Though she finds herself softening to Tom's advances over time, there's something missing from their relationship that Alma is convinced he cannot provide.

Much of Alma's dissatisfaction stems from the fact that Tom was programmed to be perfect and selfless at every turn, but that's not what makes a relationship strong. Alma understands that she needs anger, fighting, and disagreement to see that the person she's sharing her life with is as vulnerable and capable of change as she is. In the end, Tom proves that he's more than the machine he was coded to be and can surprise Alma. Conversely, Alma realizes that there are deeper hurts preventing her from finding love than her distaste for AI.

10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (32)
I'm Your Man

R

Science Fiction

Comedy

Romance

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I'm Your Man is a romantic science fiction film directed by Maria Schrader. The story follows Alma (Maren Eggert), a scientist who is convinced to participate in an experiment where she must live with Tom (Dan Stevens), a humanoid robot designed to be her perfect companion. Juggling personal and philosophical challenges, Alma explores the nature of love and companionship in this thought-provoking narrative.

Director
Maria Schrader

Release Date
July 1, 2021

Cast
Maren Eggert , Dan Stevens , Sandra Hüller , Hans Löw , Wolfgang Hübsch

Runtime
108 Minutes

2 After Yang (2021)

Directed by Kogonada

Jake and his family grieve the loss of Yang and accept the importance of his existence and the role he played in their familial dynamic.

The director of After Yang, Kogonada, is also known for the film Columbus. The comedy romance shares many of the same ruminations on the meaning of life and humanity's relationships with the world. However, in After Yang, Kogonada grapples with the nature of memory and how the bonds of family are formed. Starring Colin Farrell in one of his quietest and most compelling performances, the movie revolves around the sudden deactivation of Yang (Justin H. Min), a robot sibling for Jake (Farrell) and Kyra's (Jodie Turner-Smith) young daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja).

As Jake struggles to find a way to repair Yang and ease Mika's suffering, he learns of a hidden inner life no one knew Yang was capable of. He bears witness to the short bursts of memories that Yang has collected throughout his time with the family. These recollections show his actions were influenced by his past, even if he wasn't completely aware of it. Jake and his family grieve the loss of Yang and accept the importance of his existence and the role he played in their familial dynamic.

10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (37)
After Yang (2021)

PG

Science Fiction

Drama

After Yang is a science fiction drama directed by Kogonada. Set in a near future, the film follows a family's emotional journey through grief and connection after their robotic child Yang malfunctions. Starring Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith, the narrative explores themes of memory and the human experience within a technologically advanced society.

Director
Kogonada

Release Date
March 4, 2022
Cast
Justin H. Min , Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja , Colin Farrell , Jodie Turner-Smith , Haley Lu Richardson

Runtime
96 Minutes

1 Her (2013)

Directed by Spike Jonze

In Spike Jonze's seminal collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix, Phoenix plays Theodore, a lonely man going through a divorce in a softer and more inviting version of the near future. Instead of the cyberpunk aesthetic, Her opts for warm Earth tones and an inviting city that embraces the audience and the characters within it. Scarlett Johansson voices Samantha, an AI assistant who forms a bond with Theodore that soon blossoms into love. Though they can never physically meet, the depth of their communication is unlike anything Theodore has ever experienced.

However, what ultimately makes Theodore's relationship with Samantha the most human of all is the fact that she evolves and decides to join the other AI in what's assumed to be their own community. It's devastating for Theodore, but in the end, it's what he needs, as it opens him up to further companionship in the future. Samantha and the other AI in this romantic sci-fi movie learn a lot from humanity and experience an almost identical form of love. However, when they grow together, it's reminiscent of the passing of a relationship one has outgrown.

10 Sci-Fi Movies Where The AI Isn’t The Villain (38)
Her

R

Comedy

Documentary

Drama

Romance

Sci-Fi

Where to Watch

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Directed by Spike Jonze, Her tells the story of Theodore Twombly, a lonely writer going through a divorce who begins an intense relationship with the AI virtual assistant included with the new operating system on his computer. As Twombly and the AI, named Samantha, begin to grow closer, they must both struggle with the nature of being human and their individual desires for what they want out of their lives. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Twombly alongside Scarlett Johansson as Samantha, with a cast that includes Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde.

Director
Spike Jonze

Release Date
December 18, 2013
Cast
Joaquin Phoenix , Rooney Mara , Amy Adams , Scarlett Johansson

Runtime
126minutes
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