Let’s explore films from the 80s & 90s that perfectly encapsulate the raw power and thought-provoking nature of this world-changing technological breakthrough.
Part I explored films crafted from the 30s to the 60s. Part II explores films made during the 70s. Part III takes a look at the 80s and 90s, Part IV looks at feature films from the years 2000 to 2010, Part V explores films from the years 2011 to 2017, and Part VI looks at films from 2018 / 2019, Part VII takes a look at films from 2020 to the present.
Blade Runner (1982)
This adaptation of Philip K. Dick‘s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set in a dystopian future Los Angeles of 2019, in which synthetic humans known as replicants are bio-engineered by the powerful Tyrell Corporation to work on space colonies.
Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi, scripted by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, blurs the line between humans and their AI robot counterparts. Some of them are human. Some are robots. Some are robots who think they are humans.
A sequel, titled Blade Runner 2049, was released in 2017 alongside a trilogy of short films covering the thirty-year span between the two films’ settings. The anime series Blade Runner: Black Lotus was released in 2021.
War Games (1983)
This science fiction film revolves around the theme of artificial intelligence and its potential dangers. The story follows a young computer enthusiast who unwittingly hacks into a military supercomputer called WOPR (War Operation Plan Response).
David, thinking he’s accessing a video game company, starts playing a simulation called “Global Thermonuclear War” with the computer. Unbeknownst to him, WOPR is an AI program designed to strategize and simulate nuclear war scenarios. As David continues playing, WOPR interprets the game as a real threat and begins initiating preparations for launching actual nuclear weapons.
The Terminator (1984 – 2019)
Not only is it one of the most popular science fiction movies ever made, it sowed the seeds of society’s simmering fear of artificial intelligence. It’s a perfect example of an AI movie. The cyborg assassin known as The Terminator is sent through time itself by Skynet, a sentient machine that is trying to kill the human race in the future. Skynet believes that by sending the Terminator back in time and killing Sarah Connor, the soon-to-be mother of a son who rallies the remaining humans against Skynet and leads the resistance that is gaining the upper hand.
Short Circuit (1986)
The subject of AI is often dealt with in a doomy, apocalyptic tone. So thank heavens for Johnny 5, the robotic star of Short Circuit, who manages to make the arrival of self-determining killbots look fun.
Number 5, a military robot designed for warfare, becomes accidentally struck by lightning, resulting in a newfound consciousness and a quirky personality. Number 5, now known as Johnny 5, escapes from the military facility and embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
By meshing humans and advanced robotics, the scientists in Paul Vehoeven’s gory 1987 shoot-em-up RoboCop created the chrome-plated future of law enforcement, inadvertently mirroring many of the military advancements we see today.
The story follows a police officer who is brutally injured and left for dead, then transformed into a cyborg law enforcement officer known as RoboCop through a cutting-edge scientific experiment.
The screenplay was written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner.
Its success created a franchise, comprising the sequels RoboCop 2 (1990) and RoboCop 3 (1993), RoboCop (2014 – remake), a children’s animated series, multiple live-action television shows, video games, comic books, toys, clothing and other merchandise.
The Matrix (1999, 2003, 2021)
Many AI films concern themselves with the rise of robots; the moment when computers decide that they have had enough of humanity and decide to snuff us out. The beauty of The Matrix is that it starts long after the robots have already won. There are pockets of resistance, but mankind has been crushed underneath the boot of AI. Still, The Matrix offers hope. It depicts a dystopian future in which humanity is unknowingly trapped inside the Matrix, a simulated reality that intelligent machines have created to distract humans while using their bodies as an energy source.
The film’s success led to two feature film sequels being released in 2003, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, which were also written and directed by the Wachowskis. The Matrix franchise was further expanded through the production of comic books, video games, and an animated anthology film, The Animatrix, with which the Wachowskis were heavily involved. The franchise has also inspired books and theories expanding on some of the religious and philosophical ideas alluded to in the films. A fourth film, titled The Matrix Resurrections, was released in 2021.
The Bicentennial Man (1999)
The Bicentennial Man is a science fiction drama film released in 1999, based on the novella by Isaac Asimov. The story follows a household robot named Andrew (played by Robin Williams) who, through a series of upgrades and experiences, begins to exhibit unique human-like qualities.
It explores profound themes of humanity, consciousness, and the essence of what it means to be alive, leaving viewers with a poignant reflection on the nature of identity and the pursuit of individuality.