Question of the Week: What’s your favorite film(s) on Man-Machine relationship?


I saw The Machine back in April and while I didn’t think it was perfect, it’s a pretty darn good sci-fi that’s worth your while. I think the concept is intriguing, with fantastic acting [Toby Stephens, natch!] and compelling direction. I have been re-watching clips of this film recently, especially the scenes between the scientist Vincent (Stephens) and his robotic creation Ava (Caity Lotz). At the core of it, it’s the relationship of man and machine that makes the story memorable.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie

Sci-fi classic Blade Runner, which The Machine undoubtedly paid homage to, explores that man-machine relationship brilliantly. I actually love the original title of Philip K. Dick novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?‘ Now it doesn’t sound as cool but it’s effective as it immediately makes you think about the humanity [or lack thereof] aspect of man-made machines better than Blade Runner.

All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain …

I love sci-fis, especially those that explore this topic, perhaps even more so than sci-fis involving aliens from outer space. So no doubt I love movies like Terminator, Iron Giant, The Matrix, A.I., Her and the Battlestar Galactica (BSG) TV series, which is a big space soap opera of Cylons (android race) and humans. I think there’s something about ‘men playing God’ aspect that captures my attention, as in some ways these androids are part of us humans who create them, in the same way that we’re created in the image of our Creator. But of course the fantastical aspect of seeing machines somehow developing consciousness is what I find fascinating AND entertaining.

Often the depictions of these androids actually remind us of what it means to be human, as the Blade Runner ‘tears in the rain’ scene so poignantly illustrates. In this scene in The Machine, Vincent [a scientist akin to Dr Frankenstein] asks his own robotic creation…

‘Just who are you really? How do I know that you’re alive and not just some clever imitation of life?’

Now even Vincent himself probably realizes he might never find the answer. Now another the burning question being asked time and time again is can man and machine co-exist? In the BSG series, the Cylons threaten human extinction, forcing the humans into deep space confined in a spaceship. The tagline of The Machine says ‘They Rise. We Fall.’ which suggest that the much-more advanced and powerful machines are more dominant and that the future seems uncertain for the humans.

So what are your thoughts on this topic? What’s YOUR favorite movies about man & machine?

61 thoughts on “Question of the Week: What’s your favorite film(s) on Man-Machine relationship?

  1. Fun question, Ruth 🙂 I think of Star Trek: First Contact with Data and the creepy Borg Queen who is part organic and mostly robot. Data had the friendliest relationship with humans. A different slant to the philosophical questions raised in The Machine can apply to another cool film that had potential was the film ‘Surrogates’ starring Bruce Willis–while that’s not about robots so much as learning to get along with a clone and the issue of what’s real and what’s human. And ‘The Island’ — again, with clones, do clones have freedoms and rights and are they real or just parts to the “real” host human.

    1. I always forget that Data is not an alien… or is he?? I guess I don’t watch enough ST series to know, ahah. Oh I’ve heard of Surrogates, but haven’t got around to seeing it. I remember not liking The Island but another movie about clones that REALLY got to me was Never Let Me Go. Have you seen that one? In any case, I highly recommend The Machine 😉

      1. The Machine sounds great. Data is not an alien. He’s a robot. Surrogates is not a good film, but the premise is. Never saw, Never Let Me Go, so I need to add that to the list, too. 🙂

        1. Yeah I heard Surrogate is crap, which is too bad as the premise sounds intriguing! I hope you check out both The Machine and Never Let Me Go, they’re very different but both have the emotional weight that make it linger after the end credits.

          1. I’ve got them in the Netflix queue ;).
            Oh, I turned on the Sci-fi channel on TV last night and I noticed there are new series advertised (Dominion) and I wondered if you watch that channel or like any show? I rarely watch T.V. shows. I don’t have HBO so completely missed Game of Thrones. Movies and baseball occupy most of my daily viewing. How about you?

      2. Ted S.

        Yeah Ruth, like Cindy said, Surrogates was not a good movie, in fact I thought it’s one of the worst films of 2009. I wouldn’t recommend you waste your time with it. The film has a great concept but the execution was awful! The film appeared to have been made by an amateur filmmaker but it’s actually made by a professional, Jonathan Mostow, whose previous film was the expensive Terminator 3. I never thought he’s a good director but his other films were watchable but this one was just dreadful. It pretty much ruined his big budget movie making career, he’s now doing a TV mini series.

  2. Well, does Her count? Else my favourite would be the first two Terminator movies. Have not seen the Machine, but you are the second person to state it has its flaws, but is worth checking out, so will do that.

    1. Oh absolutely! I mentioned Her in the article as one of my faves 🙂 The Machine is well worth a look, surely it’ll look fantastic on Bluray too.

  3. Ted S.

    I’ll definitely give The Machine a watch once I found a house and have my home theater again. I haven’t watched a movie at home in a long time!

    As for my favorite Man & Machine movie, Blade Runner and Terminator 1 & 2 are some of my favorites. But my absolute favorite is 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL the “evil” machine in the film was probably more realistic then in any other films.

    1. I hope to get the BD soon so you can borrow it from me 🙂

      I still haven’t seen 2001, maybe you can lend me your BD, surely you own that one right?

      1. Ted S.

        Oh yeah I have 2001 on BD, it’s the disc I play often on my BD machine, I’ll lend it to you. Just a heads up before you watch it though, it’s not your typical space movie, it doesn’t really have a plot but you’ll recognize some visual images that other films imitated, like Star Wars and the recent Gravity. Like Blade Runner, it also has many filmmakers played homage to.

    1. Ahah, I’m sure you and a whole lot of other guys 🙂 But yeah I thought Scarlett did an amazing voice work, their relationship was quite emotional. Love that film!

  4. Victor De Leon

    Great question and post, Ruth! As you know, I was a big fan of “The Machine” and it is a very fine example of the man / machine motion picture. This is a tough one, though. Blade Runner is very good one, too. A very deep and thought provoking parable.

    I, do, though, really liked the John Conner / Terminator relationship in Cameron’s “T2” as well as the Dave Bowman / HAL 9000 affiliation in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Boy, you made me use my noggin on this one, Ruth. Great job! 🙂

    Oh and I LOVE that quote from Vincent you added. He was such a great character and so caring and real.

    1. Hi Vic! I love that we share an appreciation for The Machine! It’s amazing what the filmmaker could achieve with a tiny budget. Toby’s a tremendous actor and he brought so much to the role of Vincent, I’ve never seen him in a sci-fi before but I hope he’ll do more!

      I really need to see 2001, it’s one of the biggest viewing hole I need to fix 🙂

  5. I see Ted and Vic already mentioned it, but I have to say 2001: A Space Odyssey. I fear that we are not too far off from having our own HAL 9000-like AI systems.

    Also, I really liked The Iron Giant, which I just saw recently.

    1. I’m curious when that day would come when we have an AI operating system like in ‘Her.’ I haven’t seen 2001 yet so I should do that soon!

  6. Great question and answer, Ruth. Yeah, Blade Runner came to mind immediately, along with The Iron Giant. I’d only add Terminator 2: Judgment Day for its story of John Connor’s relationship with the machine sent back to protect him.

    1. Hi Michael. I have to thank YOU for turning me to see The Iron Giant, it’s such an emotionally-gratifying movie, just like Wall•E! T2 is my fave of the Terminator franchise, too.

  7. jackdeth72

    Intriguing question, Ruth:

    I’ll go with the original super computer, Colossus from ‘Colossus: The Forbin Prjoect’. That is, until it connected with its Russian counterpart and developed an instant God Complex.

    Also a fan of the original 1960s Japanese Anime, ‘Gigantor’ and its later, ‘8th Man and the recent ‘Megas XLR’. Toss in the HAL computer from ‘2001’ and robots Huey, Dewey and Louie from ‘Silent Running’.

    Not much of a fan of Rutger Hauer in ‘Blade Runner’ or Data from ‘ST:TNG’. Too pacifistic and logical when the Terminator or Marauder Combat Suit from ‘Starship Trooper’ would be a much better fit.

    1. Not a fan of Roy Batty?? I really like his tortured-soul quality of him despite not having an actual soul obviously. There are robots called Huey, Dewey and Louie? I have to see that movie now 😀

      1. jackdeth72

        Hi, Ruth:

        Roy is way too soulful for my tastes. Even those he has no qualms about murder and breaking Harrison Ford’s fingers.

        ‘Silent Running’ is a very decent medium budgeted sci-fi film. Whose interior shots were done on a de-commissioned aircraft carrier. And is a premiere directing effort by Steven Bochco.

        The premise is that there is a large satellite with geodesic domes containing the last trees on earth. Bruce Dern is a crew member who jettisons a dome outside Saturn and enlists the aid of three small robots who aid the crew, fixes the ship and plants trees.

        Dern names the robots (Who have small, handicapped people inside) Huey, Dewey and Louie after Donald Duck’s nephews.

  8. The Iron Giant always makes me cry. “Suuuuupeeeerrrrrmaaaaaaaaan!”

    Hell, i damn near choked up just writing that.

    So yeah, Iron Giant for me.

    Best actual, realistic, “it’s possible” depiction of human/robot synthesis for me would have to be Spielberg’s AI.

    1. It’s such a tearjerker indeed Rodney! Have you seen ‘Her’ btw? I think that’s quite plausible in the not-so-distant future I think, to have an AI like that.

  9. I would have said ‘The Iron Giant’, but although the Giant is a machine, he’s alien too so I’m gonna disqualify it (still way much better human-machine relationship than Transformers though).
    I’d go for T-2: Judgement Day with Her close behind. Come to think of it, there’s another human-OS that’s nearly as good as the one in her…. Tony Stark and Jarvis!

    1. Oh I forgot Iron Giant is actually an alien. Hmmm that doesn’t count then as I was thinking more of a man-made machine w/ the *creator* as their relationship is quite trickier I think. Oh yeah, Jarvis is a great one, love him!

  10. Really interesting question Ruth! I think you’ve probably mentioned a lot of my favourites, including The Matrix, Terminator and Her. I really liked Robot & Frank too. It’s a great little sub-genre, primarily I think because a lot of the time it doesn’t feel as if it’s that far away from the realms of possibility.

    1. Hi there Chris! Can’t believe I didn’t mention Robot & Frank but that’s a great example of a man-machine relationship that’s explored nicely on film. You’re right it is definitely very plausible.

  11. Great question Ruth. I’m a big fan of Bladerunner and, as Chris has just said, Her. The other film that immediately springs to mind is WALL-E (if animations count?). I find it really interesting how this explores our over-reliance on machines and how this is tied up with the destruction of our own planet. It’s one of my favourite Pixar films too.

    1. Wall•E is one of my fave movies but I don’t think he had any relationship with a human, as Eve is another machine. But yeah it’s a lovely movie!

    1. “I do like The Machine” Yay!! I knew there’s a reason I like you Tim 😉

      And yeah Robot & Frank bantering is so fun to watch!

  12. If you had picked a different movie, I would have been disappointed. This is on my to-do list as well. Hello because you totally put it in my head, “must watch Toby,” but think in a robot voice. I love sci-fis too I keep meaning to check out Battlestar Gallactica, I hear it is pretty cool. My favorite would have to be Terminator 2 and Total Recall, the old school version not the new.

    1. Ahah yes, ‘MUST WATCH TOBY’ in robotic voice. That must be what I’ve been hearing in my head the past few months! 😉

      BSG is awesome, lots of crush-worthy men in that one too, esp. Jamie Bamber [oh la la!]. The two movies you mentioned are great, but yeah not the TR remake, blech!

      Btw, not sure if you’re on tumblr a lot but I posted some stills from The Machine lately, LOVE this shot of him as a grieving father: and this one is a memorable (and quite sexy) scene:

      1. Yes that robot has been quite persistent, he made me watch Jane Eyre. But what a smart robot he is! I know you don’t watch a lot of shows, so if you liked it, I need to check it out (because I need more shows to watch umm hmm).

        Yes I love Tumblr, I forgot to post on mine though as I should. Great stills he looks so sweet as always. So Perf!

        1. Mwahahaha!! There’s a naughty little *robot* in my head that’s clearly been taking over my existence.

          I’ve just been so preoccupied w/ Toby that other guys, even those I used to have a crush on just pale in comparison. If you like British comedy, he’s in this cop comedy show Vexed that’s just hilarious! He looks so good but oh so goofy!

          1. I know that robot is uber naughty! I can’t even tell you some of the things he has told me. HAHAHA

            Yes I heard about Vexed! The hard part is finding how to watch a lot of these brit shows. How do you see some of these?

            1. I know, indeed very naughty 😉

              Well right now my only source is Youtube, some kind people posted ’em, but I might end up buying the dvd of Vexed as they’re just so funny!

              Here’s one of the funniest episode from Season 1:

              Season 2 there’s a new partner for Toby’s character, but it’s still funny. I mean his character is just unbelievably vapid and proudly un-PC! Toby looks even better in season 2 so that’s a bonus 🙂

    1. Hi Sati! You’re right, a lot of the times the execution doesn’t live up to the concept. I think a lot of the man-machine sci-fis have a great deal of pathos and sadness, so yeah I think AI is heartbreaking indeed.

  13. You mentioned it already, but I’m gonna go with her, because it takes a different path to the discussion. The machines, in that one, aren’t going to kill us. I appreciate the difference.

    Then I’ll say the Matrix, for taking the familiar and doing it better than most anyone else.

    1. Hi Josh! Ahah yeah, Samantha isn’t out to kill us that’s true! I like the unconventional aspect of ‘her’ and what strikes me is how plausible it is given how reliant we’ve become to technology.

  14. It really hard to talk about this topic and not automatically gravitate to the Terminator series. That’s the first one that always comes to mind. But you’ve mentioned several other beauties!

    1. Hi Keith, pardon the tardy reply. Terminator is definitely a popular answer and rightly so. I just hope the upcoming Terminator 5 is not crap tho.

  15. Great question, Ruth! I’d definitely put Blade Runner and A.I. Artificial Intelligence at the top of the list, as those films are the most powerful and memorable for me. Her is a great recent example, though.

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