The 10 Best Computers in Science Fiction Movies
For nearly a century, the best computers in science fiction movies have set standards for real-world computer engineers to live up to. Unfortunately, the most advanced practical super-computer we’ve come up with is a smart phone that sometimes gets service. But that won’t stop science fiction movies from constantly dreaming of bigger, better — and sometimes badder — super-computers to accompany, assist, and attack our celluloid heroes.
The Great Machine
from Forbidden Planet
The Forbidden Planet is a quintessential 50’s sci-fi film, and it stars a very young Leslie Nielsen to boot. The plot of the movie revolves around a mission to a distant planet, where a human colony had settled decades before. Upon arriving, an unfunny Leslie Nielsen and team discover that the planet is virtually abandoned, except for a few remaining humans and a giant computer, The Great Machine, that’s capable of bringing a person’s thoughts to life. Unfortunately, it turns out that people think of monsters a lot, so a monster shows up and they have to kill it by blowing up the computer and (obviously) the entire planet. Despite The Forbidden Planet‘s dangerous message regarding futuristic technology, it would still be awesome if you could just think of a chili dog, and then you’d have one. I’d fight off a thousand thought monsters a day for that computer.
In contrast to her incredibly pro-feminist public persona, Jane Fonda starred in Barbarella, which is basically just a perverted voyeur show posing as a crappy science fiction movie. Jane is naked and/or scantily clad for the entire film (even when she’s wearing a snowsuit, somehow) and it’s basically just her running around in lingerie, having sex with alien dudes, and talking to her gay computer friend, Alfie, who takes care of ship business and manages everything while she’s out whoring it up like an intergalactic Jersey Shore cast member. Alfie’s pretty cool though, and his patience with Jane’s slutty ways are an attribute that any futuristic super-computer should possess.
from the Terminator Series
Computers in sci-fi movies tend to go one of two ways: either they’re the all-purpose helper who handles everything for its owner so that they can focus on fighting evil aliens, not going crazy, or banging their way through the galaxy, or they quickly become sentient, realize that humans are a pestilence, and dedicate all of their programming to the destruction of mankind. SkyNet is the poster child for the latter type of sci-fi computer. SkyNet is basically the internet if it went rogue on us and had lots of guns. As the all-knowing antagonist of the Terminator film and TV series, SkyNet manufactures and controls an unending army of militarized robots hellbent on the destruction of humans. It’s self-sustaining, self-programming, and self-aware. SkyNet is the reason why your iPhone still has an off button. You may never use it now, but you’ll be very thankful it’s there if and when you have a “oh crap my smart phone became sentient and is now trying to murder me” moment.
from Dark Star
Dark Star is a strange must-watch science fiction movie from the twistedly awesome mind of John Carpenter (who later did The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live, along with every other movie you love). Dark Star is a dark sci-fi comedy about a spaceship crew whose job is to destroy troublesome planets by dropping self-aware nuclear bombs on them. Trouble arises when one of the bombs, Bomb #20, becomes belligerent. The bomb refuses to drop out of the bomb bay door, and it also refuses to disarm itself. It’s the Charlie Sheen of nuclear bombs. Now the crew is faced with a real problem: there’s an armed nuclear weapon on board and they can’t get it off. In the end, the bomb starts thinking that it’s God and explodes, killing everyone on board. This seems completely ridiculous until you compare it to another running plotline, the mischievous pet beach ball (not kidding) that rolls around the ship causing trouble. Dark Star is a definite must see.
WarGames is a movie about how scared people were in the 80’s. As with all movies about what people were scared of in the 80’s, WarGames focuses on the Cold War. In the film, the government has created a super-computer that will manage the dispersal of nuclear warheads in the event that the Soviets start the fight. There’s only one problem: in the 80’s, all computers ran on DOS, and any kid with a Commodore 64 could just hack into military data networks and play the missile defense system like a game of Oregon Trail. In WarGames, that kid with the Commodore is a young Mathew Broderick, who thinks he’s playing a video game but actually almost starts World War III, then has to try to stop the computer from blowing up the entire world. Luckily he does, and a few years later he’s able to skip school and have the best day of his life with his best friend Cameron, his girlfriend Sloan, and his high school principal who turned out to be a pedophile in real life.
from Alien & Blade Runner
Alien is one of the most recognizable science fiction movies of all time. Depending on who you ask, the film is either about the horrors of mouth rape (which is pretty obvious), or about black people destroying the world. Either way, none of the story would have been possible without MU-TH-R, the super-computer that controlled and monitored every aspect of the Nostromo, the ship that carried Sigourney Weaver and friends to their destination/tragic demise at the hands of the nastiest mouth-raping alien we’ve ever seen on film. Ridley Scott directed Alien just three years before he directed Blade Runner, and MU-TH-R’s control panel was used in both films. When asked about the super-computer crossover later, Scott claimed that he had done it on purpose because both films probably took place around the same time in the future, so it made sense that the computers would be similar. It’s either that, or he still had the control panel footage from Alien laying around when he forgot to shoot coverage for Blade Runner. His version sounds way cooler, though.
Master Control Program
Tron was a crappy movie, but the special effects were light years ahead of their time. Therefore, it only makes sense that the major antagonist of the movie, a super-computer program called Master Control Program, should look like a CG mash-up of The Kool-Aid Man, one of those giant Easter Island heads, and Scotty Pippen. Despite how ridiculous MCP looked and how easy it was to destroy in the end, the idea of a sentient computer program controlling reality was a fairly revolutionary concept in the film world when Tron was released in 1982, and Tron was the only sci-fi film that ever utilized an all-knowing computer program antagonist like this in a—-oh wait, no it wasn’t. Here’s another movie that did the same exact thing :
from The Matrix
The Matrix is a lot like Tron. A LOT like Tron. But there’s one huge difference that sets it apart and makes it infinitely cooler: in Tron, our hero gets sucked into a computer-generated reality. In The Matrix, our hero discovers that his reality is already computer-generated. The Machines, the villains of The Matrix series, are a collection of sentient robots created in the early 21st century (so, right now) that became got pissed and started using humans as a power source. In order to keep us busy while they sucked our life force out, they created a computer program, The Matrix, to simulate reality. It’s up to constantly-in-awe computer programmer Neo to stop the program and wake people up. That makes for an entertaining and super-cool film, but I’d much rather stay asleep and pretend to live a normal life than wake up looking like a Road Warrior extra and have to hide from self-aware robot squid in the sewers all day. No thanks, Neo. Keep your stupid colored pills and let me dream about inventing that chili dog computer.
from 2001: A Space Odyssey
HAL 9000 is easily the most recognizable sentient computer-gone-bad in science fiction movie history. As the villainous computer from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL was directly responsible for making your parents afraid of computers. What made HAL creepy wasn’t just the fact that he killed people or disobeyed orders, it was that we as viewers got to watch him transform from a helpful computer companion into a soulless murderer. The tone of his voice never changed. His mannerisms (subtle as they were) stayed consistent. His giant red eye never turned a more evil shade of red, but we could just tell that he was thinking, and that he was bad. There’s a reason why HAL is the universal symbol of evil sentient computers: because he’s the best there ever was.
Gerty 3000 is the super-computer from Moon, the 2009 British sci-fi movie starring Sam Rockwell and directed by David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones. Gerty’s success as a sci-fi movie super-computer rests entirely on the shoulders of HAL 9000. Gerty has a similar look to HAL (with the exception of the charming emoticon facial expression screen), has a similar voice to HAL (except that it’s Kevin Spacey’s voice), and exhibits much of the same behavior and mannerisms that HAL displayed in 2001. The comparison is subconscious, and it was done that way on purpose. The effect is subtle, but incredibly effective: as a viewer, you know that you’ve seen this kind of sci-fi movie computer before, and you know exactly what it’s going to do: it’s going to become evil at some point, and you’re waiting for it the whole movie. Then it doesn’t happen, and you realize that you’ve been fooled. Unlike HAL, Gerty performs exactly as he’s supposed to. He follows commands even when they’re against protocol. He’s an exemplary sci-fi moonbase robot. Plus, he has adorable emoticons to make him more personable. What more could you want?
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