Famous Computers In Science Fiction Movies

The HAL 9000 computer system from the sci fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey




From the silent movie classic Metropolis to sci-fi hits like The Matrix, fictional computers have played significant roles on the silver screen for decades. Most any fan of science fiction movies has a top 10 list, but with just a chosen few, one could easily miss someone’s favorite, thereby becoming a source of criticism. In an attempt to pay homage to more than just 10 of the best, here is an incomplete and ever-growing guide to the greatest computers and computer programs ever portrayed on film.


The Colossus and Guardian computers in the sci fi classic Colossus: The Forbin Project
Colossus and Guardian


Colossus – The Forbin Project (1970)

Designed to manage America’s nuclear defense system, the supercomputer Colossus develops its own intelligence and links up with “Guardian”, Russia’s own supercomputer. Rotten Tomatoes describes “Colossus – the Forbin Project” as the “granddaddy of all computers run amok films” and has an 88 percent fresh rating. In a proposed remake of the 1970 classic, Will Smith is rumored to portray Dr. Charles Forbin, the creator of Colossus.


The computer system from the John Carpenter movie Dark Star
Dark Star Computer


Dark Star Computer  (1974)

This 1974 sci-fi comedy following the misadventure of four shaggy haired astronauts was John Carpenter’s directorial debut. Clearly a low budget affair, Dark Star’s computers malfunctions, causing a “triggering device” known as “bomb 20” to commence a countdown to detonate. During a conversation with crewmember Pinpack, bomb 20 believe its exists by saying “hmmm, well I think, therefore I am”. Fans familiar with the movie will recall the memorable ending with the ship’s commander “surfing” on a piece of debris.


The Deep Thought computer from the movie Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Deep Thought Computer


Deep Thought – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

Based upon the fictional computers from the popular radio and television series, Deep Thought was built to calculate the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything? After 7.5 million years of calculations, Deep Thought’s answer is 42 but professes it really doesn’t know the answer and offers to help design a new computer capable of answering the ultimate question. In the 2005 movie, Deep Thought red eye is believed to resemble the Apple logo.


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the computer system from the 2013 movie Gravity
Gravity Computer


Gravity (2013)

Computers play a backup role in this 2013 sci-fi movie starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. But if it weren’t for the computers, particularly from the International Space Station, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and Tiangong Chinese space station, moviegoers may have been disappointed with the ending.


The Hal 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey
HAL 9000


HAL 9000 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Among the greatest film villains of all time, the HAL 9000 is also one of Hollywood’s most famous computers. While in full command of the spaceship, HAL enjoyed working with humans until it’s blamed for an error, then discovers Dr. Bowman and Dr. Poole plan to disconnect it. HAL kills everyone on board except Dr. Bowman, who utters the most famous quote from the 1968 movie – “open the pod bays HAL”.


The Jarvis computer system from Iron Man


Jarvis – Iron Man (2008)

The Iron Man movie series replaces Tony Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis from the comic book series, with a supercomputer who speaks with a British accent. J.A.R.V.I.S. (Just a Rather Very Intelligent System), serves as a personal assistant, controls all home electronics, helps design and operate Iron Mask’s suits and offers expert advice on how to beat evil villains.


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Master Control Program (MCP) Tron (1982)
Master Control Program (MCP)


Master Control Program (MCP) Tron (1982)

MCP was the primary villain in the 1982 Disney movie Tron starting Jeff Bridges as a video arcade owner and hacker. Slightly resembling a red colored Jabba the Hutt, MCP controlled the digital environment within the computers’ mainframe created by Dr. Walter Gibbs, founder of ENCOM. Intent on world domination, MCP forces programs to compete on “lightcycles” in cyberspace.


Muther Computer from the 1979 Alien movie
MU-TH-UR 6000


MU-TH-UR 6000 – Alien (1979)

MU-TH-UR 6000 aka Mother, was the powerful mainframe computer of the commercial spaceship Nostromo in the spine-tingling 1979 sci-fi classic Alien. After intercepting a distress from a nearby planetoid Acheron, Nosotomo sets out to investigate the signal source. The rest, as they say, is history, as Mother receives Special Order 937, a Priority One directive, to “insure return of organism for analysis. All other considerations secondary. Crew expendable”.


The Net stars Sandra Bullock as a cybersecurity analyst
The Net


The Net (1995)

A year after starring as an unwilling bus driver in the 1994 hit Speed, Sandra Bullock portrayed a cyber security specialist in The Net. She’s given a floppy disk containing a powerful program known as “Gatekeeper” – capable of accessing national defense systems. No it’s not a computer, but in an era when the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, Bullock’s character becomes a victim of identify theft but eventually exposes the criminals by using their own computer while at MacWorld San Francisco.


Star Trek's LCARS Computer
LCARS Computer


LCARS Computer – Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

The Federation’s main computer on the starship Enterprise controls all onboard operations. Using cutting edge operating systems such as LCARS (Library Computer Access/Retrieval System), the ships computer is capable of powering everything from teleportation and launching torpedo tubes to protective force fields and maximum warp speed to go where no man has gone before. Star Trek fans may recall other memorable moments involving a computer, such as when James Kirk secretly reprograms the Kobayashi Maru simulator test in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Scotty using a 20th century computer in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.


Apple Powerbook 5300 uploading a computer virus to the evil mothership in the movie Independence Day
Apple Powerbook 5300


Powerbook 5300 – Independence Day (1996)

Well before this popular science fiction film opened, an enormous marketing campaign teased the American public with movie trailers, creating a huge wave of anticipation. After its July 1996 release, Independence Day set an all time weekend box office record for sales and became the highest grossing film of the year. Despite wreaking havoc in every major international city, killing millions of humans, and nearly taking control of the entire planet, the squid-like alien agitators were eventually defeated after a computer virus created by David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), destroys the mothership. Movie fans may recall that evil aliens met a similar fate in the 1953 classic film The War of the Worlds as well as the 2005 remake, when the common cold eradicates them.


Central computer in the movie Logans Run
Logan’s Run Desktop Computer


Logan’s Run Computer – Logan’s Run (1976)

In this post-apocalyptic world, humans live in a domed city controlled by a computer. When residents reach the age of 30, they must participate in a cult-like ceremony to be “renewed” but instead are incinerated. Logan, portrayed by Michael York discovers his own termination date then sets out to search for “Sanctuary”, a place known to shelter people who managed to escape the dome. When Logan finally confronts the computer, he says there is no sanctuary, causing it to overload and explode.


Memotech MTX512 computer from the movie Weird Science
Memotech MTX512


Memotech MTX512 – Weird Science (1985)

Two high school computer nerds develop a program on a Memotech MTX512 to create a perfect woman in this 1980s sci-fi comedy. After infiltrating a government security system and a lightning strike, the computer creates a woman (Kelly LeBrock) that most guys can only dream of. The late director John Hughes was also well known for several popular teenage movies, including  The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.


The Red Queen computer from the movie Resident Evil
The Red Queen


Red Queen – Resident Evil (2002)

The Red Queen, was a supercomputer in the 2002 movie Resident Evil, whose holographic image was inspired by the daughter of the head programmer working for the totalitarian Umbrella Corporation. Designed to oversee the secret underground laboratory “The Hive”, The Red Queen’s main purpose was to protect assets of the Umbrella and its employees. When a lab created virus breaks out, the Red Queen tries to kill everyone in the Hive, ostensibly in an effort to save humanity from the virus.


The artificial intelligence program featured in the movie "Her"
The Female AI Program


Samantha – Her (2013)

Instead of a computer it’s an operating system. But Her starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson deserves mention. The actress once voted by Esquire Magazine as its “Sexiest Woman Alive” never appears in the movie, but as the voice of Samantha, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system, develops a relationship with her co-star and falls in love.


Skynet computer system from the Terminator movie


Skynet – The Terminator (1984)

The computer system created for the U.S. military by defense contractor Cyberdyne Systems, Skynet was designed to act as a “Global Digital Defense Network”. Like some other fictional computers like HAL 9000, Skynet becomes self aware and perceived humans as a threat to its existence. Skynet responds by invoking nuclear war against Russia and setting the stage for Judgement Day and enlisting terminators to exterminate the human race.


The Machines computers system from the movie The Matrix
The Matrix


The Machines – The Matrix (1999)

Written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers and starring Keanu Reeves as Neo, humans are controlled in The Matrix, a virtual reality simulator, by The Machines that have taken over the world. Members of the hovercraft Nebuchadnezzar believe Neo is “The One”, a man prophesied to lead the humans to end the war against the intelligent machines. Although the fate of Neo is still up for considerable debate, the former computer hacker defeats The Machines in Matrix Revolutions. However a new Matrix movie is set for May 21, 2021.



The Net (1995)

A year after starring as an unwilling bus driver in the 1994 hit Speed, Sandra Bullock portrayed a cyber security specialist in The Net. She’s given a floppy disk containing a powerful program known as “Gatekeeper” – capable of accessing national defense systems. No it’s not a computer, but in an era when the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, Bullock’s character becomes a victim of identify theft but eventually exposes the criminals by using their own computer while at MacWorld San Francisco.


The WOPR Computer from the movie War Games
The WOPR Computer


WOPR – War Games (1983)

WOPR (War Operations Plan Response) is America’s top military supercomputer inexplicably hacked by a high school hacker in the 1983 movie War Games starring Matthew Broderick. After cracking the password (Joshua), Broderick accesses the backdoor and plays a video game known as “ Global Thermonuclear War”. WOPR, believes it’s the real deal and almost destroys Russia with a nuclear barrage. The most famous quote from the movie has WOPR asking “shall we play a game?” WarGames currently has a 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


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About The Author:

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS Local websites, including CBS New York, CBS Los Angeles, CBS Chicago, CBS San Francisco and CBS Washington D.C. During his peak years with CBS, he reportedly had a digital audience reach of 489 million and more than 5.5 million monthly visitors. His other stories have also appeared in the Daily Meal, Examiner.com, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com, among others. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University, U.S. Army veteran and lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County, California.





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Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering national/international travel for CBS Local and all things San Francisco for CBS San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. He is also a member of the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).

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