These Robot Movies Will Make You Question Your Humanity

The best science-fiction movies build an entire world using the fantasies, fears, and fascinations of the present. In some sci-fi films, environmental damage finally manifests in a grim reality; in others, our dreams of reaching the stars land right on our laps, in gruesome alien form.

And then, there’s the ultimate sci-fi symbol: robots, androids, and every other species of Human 2.0. If a film includes a robot, the movie is bound to examine humanity’s relationship to technology, both our starry-eyed yearnings for progress, and our fear of what progress may entail.

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Each of these films handles AI differently. In the Star Wars universe, robots are slaves to humanity, and are smart enough to know it. As C-3PO begs, “It wasn't my fault, sir, please don't deactivate me!" In Ex Machina, robots are superior to humans. One character eschews all human company in favor for his set of robotic lovers. All of these stories are thought-provoking, exhilarating, and will make you pay attention to talk of automation in the news just a bit more.

Here are Hollywood’s most brilliant conceptions of this superior technology.

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Ex Machina (2015)

In Ex Machina, a brilliant young coder (Domhnall Gleeson) is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the elusive CEO of his tech startup. When he arrives to CEO Nathan Bateman's (Oscar Isaac) mountain retreat, he discovers the purpose of his visit. Nathan wants Caleb to test the mind of his new artificially-intelligent robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander). Sure, Ava's smart — but is she smarter than a human? Neither Caleb nor Nathan is prepared for just how quick Ava's computations really are.

Ex-Machina is a cat-and-mouse game between humans and androids, and an interesting thought experiment in a robot's capacity for empathy.
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Alien: Covenant (2017)

In Alien: Covenant, a band of space colonists set off to find an Earth-like planet, but plans for their colony go awry when they answer a distress call that leads them right into the xenomorph's lair. While the film is chock-full of married couples, the most charged relationship is between Walter and David, two androids both played by Michael Fassbender.

David, an older model, was designed with the capacity for emotion and critical thinking. Consequently, David becomes obsessed with creating a superior race of beings. The newer model, Walter, has none of those pesky God Complex ambitions. Instead, he's loyal to his human crew — though ultimately, his lack of imagination leads to his death.
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The Stepford Wives (1975, 2004)

Joanna (Katharine Ross in the original movie), an aspiring photographer, moves to the idyllic town of Stepford, Connecticut with her family. She doesn't fit in with the rest of the wives, who are almost choreographed in their perfection and traditional priorities. Joanna and her friend, also a newcomer, start a women's group in response to the town's men's club. It's at their women's club meeting Joanna realizes the extent of the other wives' mental manipulation. With The Stepford Wives, we get a fascinating exploration of America's prime neuroses: class, suburbia, and technology.
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Robot And Frank (2012)

This indie film invented a whole new genre: indie robot tearjerker. Once a con artist, Frank (Frank Langella) is flailing with boredom and mental deterioration in his old age. His son buys him a robot caretaker as a salve. Still possessing his old con-artist wit, Frank teaches the robot to pick locks and become his accomplice in small-time crime. Frank convinces his reluctant helper robot to join him in one last heist.
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Westworld (1973)

Before coming to HBO, Westworld was a cult-classic film, and the robot alternative to Cowboys vs. Aliens. Wealthy visitors to Westworld are free to interact with androids in any sinister way they please. In the film, two men seeking a fun time are caught in the middle of the amusement park's breakdown, as supervisors lose their grip on suddenly autonomous androids. Martin (Richard Benjamin) finds himself going head-to-head with a dangerous robotic gunslinger (Yul Brynner). This is not the fantasy Martin was paying $1,000 a day for.

Now, HBO's hit series has transformed the story of an interactive theme park populated by human-like androids into an outright phenomenon. Each episode uses androids to ask gripping moral questions.
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A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

In this devastating movie, Haley Joel Osment plays David, the robot version of Pinocchio. All David wants is to be considered a real boy. David is the latest model in the Mecha race, a group of advanced androids capable of human emotion. He's adopted by a couple whose son, Martin, is put in "suspended animation" until a cure for his fatal disease has been developed. Though David loves his adopted mother Monica, he's quickly pushed aside when Martin is brought home again.
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Moon (2009)

After three lonely years, astronaut Sam (Sam Rockwell) is preparing to come home from his mining mission on the moon. But there's something amiss. Sam experiences intense hallucinations and passes out. When he awakens, he discovers an identical version of himself. Both Sams face off against the moon base's robot operating system, GERTY (Kevin Spacey), to decipher what's really going on.

Moon has all the important elements of a sci-fi film: space, an evil computer operating system, and clones. Plus, it's directed by Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust himself.
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WALL-E (2008)

It's so like the human race to abandon our decaying planet and leave a robot to do the dirty work of cleaning up. For 700 years, WALL-E has roamed the surface of the earth, disposing of waste. Now, he's the last robot on Earth — until EVE come along, a sleek robot sent to find proof of life on Earth. WALL-E follows his crush onto her spacecraft, and shoots off on the greatest adventure of his centuries-long existence. You'll never question whether robots have feelings again.
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The Matrix (1999)

What happens when the machines we create become more intelligent than we are? What happens when sentient robots go to war with the countries of the world, conquer humanity, and imprison the remaining human survivors' consciousness in a computer system? The Matrix happens, baby.

You know the gist: Neo (Keanu Reeves) discovers that his brain's locked in a simulation, and his body is being drained for robot battery power. After choosing to take the "red pill," Neo slows down bullets with his mind, fights clones, and liberates an enslaved human race.
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Her (2013)

Here's a shout-out to all the Alexas, Siris, and robots in our pockets. In the not-too-distant future, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) grows attached to his computer operating system, voiced by an artificial-intelligence system named Samantha. Though technically Samantha's just the product of code, it's apparent that she, too, begins to reciprocate Theodore's feelings.
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Big Hero 6 (2014)

Hiro (Ryan Potter) is 14-year-old robotics genius living in the future city of San Fransokyo. An orphan with little supervision, Hiro spends his free time entering robots into illegal fights in the city's underground. In an effort to put Hiro on the right track, Hiro's older brother Tadashi introduces him to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, where Hiro can use his skills for more than android cock fights. When Tadashi is killed, Hiro, now alone in the world, is left only with Tadashi's invention: a large inflatable robot named Baymax, built to take care of those in need. In addition to featuring the best robot-boy relationship since The Iron Giant, Big Hero 6 is a moving exploration of grief.
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Blade Runner (1982)

On the surface, Blade Runner doesn't look like a robot movie. There are no metallic androids or electronic chirping noises to be found. The androids in Blade Runner are effortlessly integrated into society. "Replicants," as they're called, are only detectable through the Voight-Kampff questions, which distinguish androids from humans. Not only do replicates not know they're replicants, they also can die.
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Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

R2-D2 and C-3P0 formed the ultimate robot buddy-comedy. But aside from being entertaining, the robots in George Lucas' universe have uncomfortably human reactions to events. Robots are capable of fear, love, and pain, and yet they're passed from owner to owner. The droid underclass is the ultimate unspoken conspiracy in Star Wars.
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