From the silent movie classic Metropolis to sci-fi hits like The Matrix, famous movie 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 most famous computers and computer programs ever portrayed on film.
An Incomplete List Of Famous Movie Computers & Computer Names
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”.
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 famous computer 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”.
Deep Thought – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Based upon the fictional computer 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. Instead it offers to help design a new computer capable of answering the ultimate question. Deep Thought is easily among the most famous computer names.
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.
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. HAL kills everyone on board except Dr. Bowman, who utters the most famous quote from the 1968 movie – “open the pod bays HAL”.
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.
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/hacker. Slightly resembling Jabba the Hutt, MCP controlled the digital environment within the computers’ mainframe. Intent on world domination, MCP forces programs to compete on “lightcycles” in cyberspace.
MU-TH-UR 6000 – Alien (1979)
MU-TH-UR 6000 aka Mother, was the powerful sci-fi computer of the Nostromo in the 1979 sci-fi classic Alien. After intercepting a distress from a nearby planetoid Acheron, Nosotomo sets out to investigate the signal source. Mother receives Special Order 937, a Priority One directive, to “insure return of organism for analysis. All other considerations secondary. Crew expendable”.
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. Bullock’s character becomes a victim of identify theft but eventually exposes the criminals by using their own computer while at MacWorld San Francisco.
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.
Powerbook 5300 – Independence Day (1996)
Well before this popular science fiction film opened, an enormous marketing campaign teased the American public with movie trailers. Moreover, it became the highest grossing film of the year. Despite wreaking havoc in every major international city and nearly taking control of the entire planet, the squid-like alien agitators were eventually defeated. This was because of the now famous computer virus created by David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum),
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”. Logan, portrayed by Michael York discovers his own termination date then sets out to search for “Sanctuary”. When Logan finally confronts the computer, he says there is no sanctuary, causing it to overload and explode.
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.
Red Queen – Resident Evil (2002)
The Red Queen, was the sci-fi computer 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.
Samantha – Her (2013)
Instead of a sci-fi 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 – The Terminator (1984)
The famous 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 – 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.
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. She eventually exposes the criminals by using their own computer while at MacWorld San Francisco.
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.
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 New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. During his peak years, he reportedly had a digital audience reach of 489 million and more than 5.5 million monthly visitors. His stories have also appeared in the Daily Meal, 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.