Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AI?  OR: A List of Indie Films to Teach You to Stop Worrying the Love AI

15.11.23 11:58 AM By Arianna Steigman

AI is everywhere! From Midjourney to ChatGPT, and it is time to admit that artificial intelligence technologies are here to stay. 

But even before these chatty, artsy bots leapt into our lives, they have long been part of our imagination. And indeed, we have seen quite a few examples of that in the movies. The depiction of artificial intelligence in films varies widely, with some works portraying it as a positive force while others highlight its darker aspects: In the movie "Her" the AI character Samantha is a kind and compassionate companion to the protagonist, offering emotional support and intellectual stimulation. Similarly, in "The Iron Giant," the giant robot demonstrates a childlike innocence and a desire to learn and grow. But on the other side, movies like "The Matrix" and "Blade Runner" present a nightmarish, dystopian view of AI, with machines taking over the world and enslaving humanity. In the middle ground, we have "2001: A Space Odyssey," where the AI character HAL 9000 becomes a threat to the crew of the spaceship, highlighting the danger of relying too heavily on technology. Good or bad, we certainly have a lot to think - and to say - about this new technology; So to give us even more food for thought, here is a list of some lesser-known yet amazing indie AI films! I hope you enjoy them:

Moon (2009)

Good AI or bad AI? Good AI!

Moon is a sci-fi drama that tells the story of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell in one of his best performances), a man who has been working alone on a lunar mining base for three years. The film explores themes of isolation and identity as Sam begins to unravel the mystery of his situation. AI appears in the film through the character of GERTY, a robot assistant who helps Sam. The film is an excellent exercise in thinking about the future and offers both a thought-provoking exploration of the human condition and some stunning visuals. 

In the UK, Moon is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play and many other platforms.

Upgrade (2018)

Good AI or bad AI? Independent, but helpful AI.

Upgrade is a techno-thriller that follows Grey (an excellent Logan Marshall-Green), a man who’s been implanted with a computer chip which gives him extraordinary physical abilities. When his wife is murdered, Grey uses his new powers to seek revenge on those responsible. AI appears in the film through STEM, the advanced AI system that controls Grey's chip. 

The film is full of intense action sequences and displays a creative use of technology together with intelligent commentary on the dangers of unchecked technological advancement. 

You can rent Upgrade on YouTube, Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play and several other platforms.

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Good AI or bad AI? Good and bad AI.

Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese animation and cyberpunk classic which takes place in a futuristic world where humans can enhance themselves with cybernetic implants. 

The story follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg detective who must track down a hacker who is targeting top executives. AI appears in the film through the concept of the "ghost," a person's individual consciousness and identity which can be transferred into a cybernetic body. There are also other uses of AI in the film, but you should watch it to find out. Ghost in the Shell boasts stunning animation, complex themes of identity and consciousness and an astonishing portrayal of a diverse and multicultural future. 

Ghost in the Shell is available for streaming on Funimation Now.

Robot & Frank (2012)

Good AI or bad AI? Good AI!

Robot & Frank is a heartwarming drama that explores the relationship between a retired thief named Frank (the incredibly talented Frank Langella) and his caregiver robot. As the two bond, Frank begins to use the robot's advanced capabilities to plan a heist. AI appears in the film through the character of the robot, programmed to care for Frank and help him with daily tasks. Robot & Frank is a charming and funny story of a very plausible future and offers a very realistic examination of ageing and memory loss, and also a touching portrayal of intergenerational friendship. 

Robot & Frank can be rented on YouTube, Amazon, AppleTV, and Google Play.

Ex Machina (2014)

Good AI or bad AI? Self-sufficient AI.

Ex Machina is a psychological thriller which centres on a young programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) who is invited by his boss to a remote location to participate in an experiment involving an advanced AI robot named Ava (an astonishing Alicia Vikander). As Caleb becomes more involved in the experiment, he begins to question Ava's true nature and her creator’s intentions. 

AI appears in the film through Ava, the advanced AI robot who is the focus of the experiment. The film is not only a great sci-fi story, but also a tense and suspenseful tale. Its exploration of the ethical implications of AI is very pertinent and its impressive visual effects earned the film an Oscar.

You can stream Ex Machina in the UK on Amazon Prime Video, Now TV Cinema, and Sky Go.

M3GAN (2022)

Good AI or bad AI? Hilariously bad AI.

This horror movie, which got everybody talking about crazy scary dolls for the last three or four months, is an absurdly amazing movie. 

The film's storyline revolves around an artificially intelligent doll named M3GAN who attains self-awareness and becomes hostile towards anyone who interferes with her relationship with her human companion. 

M3GAN can certainly be silly and quite ridiculous at times, but at the end of the day it is camp and fun and enjoyable from start to finish; each and every scene with the M3GAN doll is a meme waiting to happen.

You can rent M3GAN on YouTube, Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play and several other platforms.

After Yang (2022)

Good AI or bad AI? The best AI!

The 2021 American science fiction drama After Yang is a cinematic adaptation written, directed, and edited by the multitalented filmmaker Kogonada. 

The plot of the movie follows Jake (an excellent Colin Farrell), a father who seeks to repair his daughter's cherished android companion Yang after it malfunctions. 

AI is displayed in the film through the beloved android, bought by the couple as a way for Mika, their adopted daughter, to connect with her Chinese heritage by sharing stories and information. In this beautifully written story, while attempting to fix the android, Jake rediscovers the life he has been missing out on, reconnecting with his wife and child despite the physical and emotional distance between them.

After Yang is available for streaming on Now TV Cinema and Sky Go.

Of course, current real-world iterations of AI don’t come near the level of Human - AI interaction that we can see in most of these films. Also, due to the demands and needs of this visual medium, almost all of these examples have AI inside of a humanoid synthetic body. 

Will that be our future? Maybe. 

But we certainly can’t deny that AI is going to have a growing influence on our lives from now on. Who knows? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. But, for now, while we wait for this enigmatic future to materialise, let’s sit back, relax, and press play to see the possibilities imagined by these talented independent filmmakers!

Arianna Steigman