100 Years of AI

Although AI is now a reality, it started life as speculative fiction a century ago when German writer Thea von Harbou wrote Metropolis for her filmmaking husband Fritz Lang.

Let’s explore films that perfectly encapsulate the raw power and thought-provoking nature of this world-changing technological breakthrough. Part I explores 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.

Born Into a family of minor nobility and government officials, German screenwriter, novelist, and film director von Harbou was a child prodigy who started her writing career at the age of 13. Her first collaboration with Lang began in 1918 with the film The Indian Tomb, and M (1931), She also wrote the screenplay for The Master of the World (1934) dealing with the ethical replacement of human labor by robots and the threat to humanity by robots used as war machines.

Thea von Harbou’s 1925 novel was written with the intention of being adapted for film by Harbou’s husband, the director Fritz Lang. Harbou collaborated with Lang on the script for the film, also titled Metropolis. Shooting began before the novel was published. Metropolis is a silent German expressionist movie, a cult classic ahead of its time, is set in a highly stylized futuristic city where a beautiful and cultured utopia exists above a bleak underworld populated by mistreated workers, where a robot aims to take over the city.

Lang and Harbou in their Berlin apartment in 1923 when they crafted the scenario for Metropolis.
Metropolis is one of the first portrayals of AI in movies, and it has inspired many filmmakers to make movies with a similar trope. When a privileged youth discovers the horror of AI in Metropolis, he becomes intent on helping the workers, befriends the rebellious teacher Maria that puts him at odds with his authoritative father, leading to greater conflict.

Robots are a common factor in many sci-fi movies as they’ve always seemed like something a futuristic society would have. While this topic remains fictional, there are many movies that toy with the idea of robots coming to life and gaining their own sentience, making them good, bad, or anywhere in between, there are a lot of good stories to make, and there are a lot of good movies that have already been made.

Cinema has spent decades imagining our wildest dreams and worst nightmares surrounding the limitless potential of artificial intelligence. Over the years, sentience on screen has taken a variety of forms – but as technological advances bridge the gap between science fiction and science fact, one thing remains clear: AI is already with us.

A.I Movies That Will Transport You To An Alternate Reality

Let’s explore films that perfectly encapsulate the raw power and thought-provoking nature of this world-changing technological breakthrough. Part One explores films crafted from the 30s to the 60s. Part Two (published on 14/9/23) will explore films made during the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and Part Three will feature films from the year 2000 to the present (published on 27/9/23).

The Master of the World (Der Herr der Welt) 1934

The themes of this German SciFi classic are the ethical replacement of human labor by robots and the threat to humanity by robots used as war machines. The crazed Wolf is an assistant to the inventor of robots, murders his master, and attempts to take over the world with his death-ray-equipped robots. He then proceeds to lend industrial robots all over the world for high fees. It was directed by Harry Piel and made by Ariel production.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

From a screenplay written by Edmund H. North, based on the 1940 science fiction short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates, the story is set in the Cold War during the early stages of the nuclear arms race, the storyline involves a humanoid alien visitor who comes to Earth, accompanied by a powerful robot, to deliver an important message that will affect the entire human race. The film was re-imagined in 2008, directed by Scott Derrickson from a screenplay by David Scarpa, with Keaunu Reeves as an alien messenger in human form sent to try to change human behavior in an effort to save Earth from environmental degradation.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Directed by Fred M. Wilcox from a script by Cyril Hume that was based on an original film story by Allen Adler and Irving Block, it pioneered several aspects of science fiction cinema. It was the first science fiction film to depict humans traveling in a faster-than-light starship of their own creation. Robby the Robot character is one of the first film robots that was more than just a mechanical “tin can” on legs and displays a distinct personality as an integral supporting character. A group of space troopers investigates the destruction of an Earth colony on a remote planet.

The Invisible Boy (aka S.O.S Spaceship) 1957

This black and white science fiction film is the second film appearance of Robby the Robot, the science fiction character who “stole the show” in Forbidden Planet (1956). In the film a ten-year-old boy only wants a playmate. After a peculiar encounter with a supercomputer operated by his father’s research lab, he is mysteriously invested with superior intelligence and reassembles a robot that his father and other scientists had been ready to discard as irreparable junk. The supercomputer had manipulated Timmie into altering Robby’s programming and, over many years, manipulated its creators into augmenting its intelligence. It can control Robby electronically and later uses hypnosis and electronic implants to control human beings, along with intending to take over the world using a military weapons satellite.

The Creation of the Humanoids (1962)

The film is not based on the plot of Jack Williamson’s novel The Humanoids, to which it bears little resemblance, but on an original story and screenplay written by Jay Simms. In a post-nuclear-war society, blue-skinned, silver-eyed human-like robots have become a common sight as the surviving population suffers from a decreasing birth rate and has grown dependent on their assistance. A fanatical organization tries to prevent the robots from becoming too human, fearing that they will take over. Meanwhile, a scientist experiments with creating human replicas that have genuine emotions and memories.

Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution (1965)

A French New Wave science fiction neo-noir film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. A government agent is dispatched on a secret mission to Alphaville, a dystopian metropolis in a distant corner of the galaxy to find a scientist named Von Braun, the creator of Alpha 60, a computer that uses mind control to rule over residents of Alphaville, his quest is to destroy the despotic computer ruler.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

This epic masterwork was produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. The screenplay was written by Kubrick and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. Noted for its scientifically accurate depiction of space flight. It pioneered special effects and ambiguous imagery. Kubrick avoided conventional cinematic and narrative techniques; dialogue is used sparingly, and there are long sequences accompanied only by music.

Inspired by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke‘s 1951 short story “The Sentinel” and other short stories by Clarke, who also published a novelisation of the film, in part written concurrently with the screenplay, after the film’s release.

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, large, indestructible obelisks seem to exist throughout space, radiating certain frequencies that humans are very interested in. The first one held the secrets of technological advancements, showing early humans how to create weapons out of bones. When another is discovered on the Moon and suddenly sends a radio signal out into space, efforts are made to begin exploring the mysterious signal. A team of astronauts is sent on this mission without being told exactly what they’re doing, leading them to soon distrust their computer system, HAL 9000, as he knows the secrets and will do anything to keep the mission going.