Going all the way back to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” in 1818, the trope of humanity’s own creation turning on us and being our demise has been a trope of literature, and later film. This theme has always served as a cautionary tale about how any life or consciousness created outside the normal natural way can often lead to disaster.
As time passed and technology grew, this theme only became more relevant as we created more and more machines to do our bidding for us. As scientists and inventors seek to create more advanced artificial intelligence (AI) all the time, Hollywood is there to remind us not to take it too far.
So we thought it would be fun to look at these sci-fi movies and rank the top 10 killer AIs that ultimately turned on their creators for one reason or another!
Note: This is companion piece to our Top 10 Creepy Dolls which you can check out here!
10. Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein)
It’s debatable whether or not Adam (as he’s named in the novel) should be counted here, since he is technically an organic life form as opposed to machine. But his creation is still unnatural and his intelligence technically artificial.
Ultimately, he’s a tragic character, who only turns on his creator after said creator rejects him in horror. He didn’t ask to be made and when the world rejects him, it’s no wonder that he becomes the monster that everyone already saw him as. It’s a sad, self-fulfilling prophecy. And since he’s the first instance of this trope in history, it felt right he should start the list.
9. IG-88 (Star Wars franchise)
A ruthless assassin and bounty hunter, IG-88 is just as evil as any sith, but without the emotional core that can sometimes be reasoned with. Although he largely appears in the expanded universe and other supplemental media, his stories working both for and against Crimson Dawn, as well as working for and against the Empire are the stuff of Star Wars legend.
While drones being used as soldiers or assassins was pretty typical in both the Galactic Republic and Empire, IG-88 was known for being particularly brutal and obsessed with killing. This was largely blamed on his “incomplete programming”, thus making him even deadlier among a cadre of deadly machines.
8. Various Robots (Runaway)
Written and directed by Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame) and starring Tom Selleck, Gene Simmons, and Kirstie Alley, most people don’t even know this 1984 sci-fi thriller exists. Crichton always thrived at taking current technologies and extrapolating it with ethical and philosophical concerns. Runaway sees a world in which robots are a regular part of everyday life in service positions, assisting people with random tasks.
But when a nefarious player interferes with the robots’ programming, they start causing great harm and killing people. It’s a fascinating premise that feels the most grounded in reality of any of the movies on this list. The only reason it doesn’t rank higher is that the robots going rogue and killing people has less to do with artificial intelligence, and more to do with someone programming them to do that.
7. The Commando Elite (Small Soldiers)
Putting military technology in toys is definitely a bad idea, as is evidenced by this late 90s film directed by Joe Dante. The Commando Elite may be no larger than action figures, but they take their job very seriously in pursuing and destroying their peaceful adversaries, the Gorgonites.
But what’s most fascinating about them was their ability (via their AI) to expand on their programming and adapt by improvising new weapons and adding humans harboring the Gorgonites to their list of enemies. They didn’t seem to realize that they were really only meant for play and entertainment, and instead treated their mission as absolutely necessary.
Also, being voiced by the same ensemble of actors from The Dirty Dozen is just a fun bonus as well!
6. Chucky (Child’s Play 2019)
While it was frustrating to see this movie use the “Child’s Play” brand name when it would have worked much better as a standalone movie, it does a decent job of showing how AI and technology can easily be used for harm. Initially, you almost feel bad for Chucky as he just wants to bond with Andy and do what’s best for him.
But once he turns, he’s able to tap into so many different smart devices and use them against Andy and those around him; everything from surveillance to even tapping into self-driving cars. Ultimately though, Chucky goes against his programming here, which was only made possible by a disgruntled factory worker tampering with his parameters.
5. HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey)
He’s the OG killer AI and remains the most elegant and smooth-sounding. What’s most frightening about HAL is that he never actually goes outside of his own programming. Sure, he’s partially motivated out of self-defense when the astronauts discuss shutting him off. But his programming stated that the mission was more important than anything else.
Thus, when it was threatened, he was willing to do anything (including killing people) to protect it. Unlike several of the other entries on this list, HAL holds no grudges, and never really “turns” on anyone. He’s just a cold and calculated being that can’t be reasoned with. You get the sense that he means no ill will towards anyone he kills, only that it was necessary.
4. Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence AKA “VIKI” (I, Robot)
Very loosely based on the writings of the godfather of robotics literature Isaac Asimov, I, Robot features a villain that is without a doubt the most well-meaning. VIKI (like all machines in this film) was programmed with the three “laws of robotics”, which prevent her from harming humans or allowing humans to come to harm.
But in a fascinating extrapolation of these laws, VIKI beings to look at humans as a whole rather than the individual. And in doing so, the best way to keep humanity from harm is to sacrifice certain humans that are violent and causing harm. It’s a cool and creative twist on the trope of AI simply wanting to destroy humanity.
VIKI is operating wholly within her programming and is even trying to act in the best interest of humanity. And her conclusions about humanity being dangerous and violent towards each other is pretty spot on.
3. M3GAN (M3GAN)
The newest addition to this Killer AI Hall of Fame, M3GAN has a lot of sass and personality for just being a life sized “doll”. It’s mentioned several times that she was never given certain necessary parameters, and because of that she gets very good at analyzing people and situations for the purpose of manipulation.
We see her bond with Cady and it all seems so sweet and wholesome, but her programming is to strengthen that bond, and ultimately that’s all she ever really does. Initially, she only causes harm to those who harm Cady, and then once people start to try to separate the two, she goes off killing anyone in her path.
She’s an example of the creator not thinking everything through when giving their creation programming like this. Also, M3GAN has the best dance moves of anyone on this list.
2. Skynet (Terminator franchise)
Skynet is definitely the most bold and prolific in its quest to annihilate humans. With a body count of over 3 billion, Skynet was so savage that shortly after becoming self-aware, it made the decision that humans were its enemy and they needed to be exterminated.
We also get the sense that because Skynet controls all the machines, they have something of a hive mind, and that every deadly terminator that Sarah and John Connor have ever encountered was merely a reflection of Skynet itself. Which leaves it both the most and least developed “character” of any of these killer AIs.
The result is that Skynet remains a largely unseen, overarching force much like Sauron in “Lord of the Rings”. But it occupies this runner up spot not even for its vast scope. Rather, it gains this status because it has spawned and control such iconic terminators as the T-800 in Terminator, the T-1000 in Terminator 2, and the TX in Terminator 3, and we’ll just stop the franchise conversation there.
1. Agent Smith (The Matrix franchise)
When it comes to killer AIs in movies, we love personality, we love wit, we love deadliness, and we love determination, and Agent Smith is all of these things and more. When we first meet him, he’s a loyal agent to the titular matrix system and is ruthless in trying to obtain the access codes to Zion from Morpheus. He’s also instrumental in trying to first use Neo to catch Morpheus, and then kill Neo when he believes he might be The One.
But Smith really shines in the two sequels (which don’t have the best reputation, but he’s the best part about them), when he shows just how far past his programming he can get. After watching Neo’s example and being “destroyed” by him, he was obligated to go back to the “source” and be deleted from the matrix.
But by this point, he had seen, done, and grown so much that his AI was starting to become more humanlike. This allowed him to be defiant to the point that he refused deletion and became a virus that could replicate itself and threaten the very matrix itself.
This list has its share of machines that turned on their human creators, but Smith is the only one here that turned on a creator that was already another AI. Plus, his entire speech about how humanity is a virus in the first Matrix movie is not only brilliant, it’s uncomfortably accurate.
Who are your favorite killer AIs? Let us know in the comments!
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