For centuries, humans have developed tools to make life easier and more enjoyable. With the advent of technology, our ingenuity has evolved faster than ever before. Technology refuses to stand still as it shapes the world around us. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t imagined the infinite possibilities of technology – both the good and the bad opportunities it presents.
Movies dating back to the early 20th century have laid the foundation for countless futuristic, tech-fuelled societies. While many IT professionals scoff at some of the interpretations, others seem to give accurate portrayals of what we can expect as humanity moves forward. With the Academy Awards around the corner, we decided to take a look at modern movies with a strong tech premise. We’ll be focusing on releases in the past couple of decades.
1. Ex Machina (2015)
This 2015 psychological thriller follows a young programmer who is selected to be the human component in a Turing test to determine the capabilities and consciousness of a new artificial intelligence robot. AI isn’t a new concept in cinema, but this recent Oscar-nominated movie has solidified itself as one of the best. It essentially warns of the not-so-distant day when robots become indistinguishable from us and the ethical implications that arise from that. Ex Machina questions how far innovation should be pursued and the morality of playing God. As corporations rush to develop better AI in real life, these are all issues that need to be given thought before the tech is unleashed on our world.
2. Minority Report (2002)
While this futuristic Steven Spielberg thriller may be forgettable as a whole, its premise of cops using people with precognitive abilities to stop crimes before they happen is definitely not. We’re a few years away from that happening, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that there are programmers working on algorithms to make it a reality in a more digital sense. Some law enforcement even see this as a blueprint of the future of preventing crime, not as a cautionary tale. The ethical implications are wide-ranging, and the legality of arresting someone who hasn’t actually committed a crime is a rabbit hole our society is surely headed down. The movie explores how tech can help keep us safer, but also how it can spectacularly backfire if not used properly.
3. The Matrix (1999)
This late ’90s movie about a dystopian future is cutting it close in the arbitrary timeframe set for this list, but it wouldn’t be complete without it. The Matrix has had a significant impact on pop culture and influenced countless other movies, shows, video games, and novels since its release. It suggests our world is an illusion; a computer simulation meant to keep humanity docile while sentient machines farm our energy to survive. A human hacker discovers the entire world is a lie and embarks on a quest to defeat the evil AI overlords. The sequels continue the battle of machines vs. humans, and they will leave you questioning just about everything in your life. It seems crazy, but maybe we’re living in a simulation right now. Woah.
4. Iron Man (2008)
Putting this Marvel superhero movie on the list might surprise some, but it’s hard to understate just how tech-savvy it is. Eccentric playboy billionaire Tony Stark develops the impressively high-tech Iron Man suit to escape captivity, and then returns home to save the world with it. Beyond the suit, the gesture-based computer system, helpful sentient robots, and cool gadgets make this one of the best celebrations of tech culture on the big screen. It’s also a good reminder of the dangers it poses when turned into weapons in the wrong hands. The more recent Black Panther and Avengers movies, or even the Dark Knight series, also fall under this category, but Iron Man was the original superhero movie built around innovation.
5. I, Robot (2004)
This 2004 science fiction thriller won’t be winning any awards, but the world it imagines is scarily close to reality. In this future, robots are common assistants to humans, which have become increasingly dependent on them. But when a robot is implicated in a murder – a seemingly impossible notion given that they are programmed to never harm a person – the threat that poses to humanity causes chaos. As the tech we use becomes ingrained in our lives, the idea of it turning on us isn’t far-fetched. Your smart fridge may not be sophisticated enough to kill you, but it could be used by criminals to hack your personal details. Just as tech helps us evolve, it can also be our downfall.
6. Tron: Legacy (2010)
Again, this sci-fi thriller sequel isn’t exactly an Oscar winner, but the 1982 original cult classic was one of the first big-screen portrayals of the world inside a computer network or video game ever made. Its influence can be seen in new movies like Ready Player One, and Ralph Breaks the Internet. The more recent Tron follows the son of a virtual world designer who goes looking for his father and ends up trapped inside the digital reality he created. The film explores the universal theme of finding a human connection in a digital world. The original also touched on the plight of real-life programmers or startup founders who have their work stolen by big names or corporations.
7. The Martian (2015)
This Golden Globe Awards-winning space movie is about an astronaut who gets stranded alone on Mars after being left behind and how he uses all of his wit, creativity, and smarts to survive long term until help arrives. The Martian is a tale of human ingenuity at its core, but how the MacGyver-esque character jerry-rigs technology to beat every threat to his existence is remarkable. The amazing novel it’s based on goes into more details but the movie does a great job capturing what humans can accomplish in the face of death. It’s one of the few movies that showcases all the good technology can do and how it, with human guidance, can save lives even in the most unforgiving of places.
8. Wall-E (2008)
Bet you didn’t expect a Disney animated movie on this list, but WALL-E is full of tech and its ramifications. Set way into the future, a lone robot is left to clean up Earth after humans are evacuated from the now-uninhabitable planet. He finds a sign of life with a visiting robot who’s looking for evidence that Earth can be saved. The two go on a journey to convince the humans – who are living in a space-based colony – to come back and fix their mess. Using advanced robotics to explore is something we’re doing right now, and the idea of using it to repair damaged earth is not far off. WALL-E is a poignant critique of our current levels of consumerism and pollution.
9. Her (2013)
You don’t often see a romantic comedy based on technological advances, but Her blends the two seamlessly. This Oscar-winning film follows a lonely man who develops a relationship with an advanced AI virtual assistant that’s personified through a female voice. Their bond escalates to a sexual level as the AI evolves, but the man is later crushed when he finds out it’s having relationships with thousands of people. Released when virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa were just getting started, Her does an incredible job of exploring the consequences of AI as it becomes more intelligent and life-like. It delves into futuristic interfaces and the emotional trauma caused by substituting something artificial for something that is real.
10. The Social Network (2010)
The list wouldn’t be complete without this 2010 semi-historical drama about the founding of Facebook by whizkid Mark Zuckerberg. The award-winning movie tells the origin story of one of the greatest technological innovations of our modern era, but also becomes Shakespearian in its themes of friendship, jealousy, and betrayal. It explores the power of new tech and new inventions; the power of social media – even in its infancy – and how that power changes people. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to watch this and then see where Facebook is now: from a dorm room website rating the attractiveness of college kids, to a marketing Goliath accused of influencing the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. It’s been a turbulent 15 years for Facebook, to say the least.