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12 Movies to Watch After You See Ex Machina

By  · Published on April 16th, 2015

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It may be original sci-fi, but Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is the kind of movie that will remind you of a ton of other movies. That’s not its fault. Concepts of artificial intelligence and mechanical men go back way before the invention of cinema, and at its foundation this movie is basically the story of God and Adam and Eve – the primordial creation narrative, similarly centered on the maker, the man and the female devised chiefly to be a companion for the man.

I could easily devote this edition of Movies to See on other movies involving A.I. or sexy robots, but that wouldn’t be very interesting. Just watch the recent supercut of robots in cinema going back nearly a century. For a fine list of fairly obvious brainy sci-fi to watch after Ex-Machina, I recommend Jacob S. Hall’s piece at Movies.com. I shouldn’t have to tell you to see Metropolis or Blade Runner, though my actual list does have some particularly easy and famous selections in order to reference specific points or parts of Garland’s directorial debut.

As always with these features, the entries below could include SPOILERS, so you’re best off seeing Ex Machina before even skimming through the dozen titles. And you definitely should see Ex Machina, even if once again Garland has a third act problem, relative to what comes before it.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

It’s coincidental that the first movie on this list is the same as the first movie on Adam’s list of stupid A.I. in movies. My reason for its inclusion has nothing to do with the spiteful computer. Instead it’s for the way Ex Machina begins, with a boy (Domhnall Gleeson) winning a contest to visit with a mysterious and enormously wealthy genius (Oscar Isaac) who is ready to share some wonderful inventions but only as a test of sorts. And of course there’s a contract that the guest has to sign without full examination under the circumstances. Those first few minutes also reminded me of Jurassic Park.

Sleuth (1972)

Another movie that begins with one rich man inviting another man to his strange and somewhat secluded residence with a crazy scheme in mind, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s final feature, starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, has been mentioned by many a critic in discussion of Ex Machina. It barely has any mechanical creations in it, though, so what’s the reason? There’s the tension between the two male leads in their talky scenes together that gives it a similar feel. And it’s not just being felt by fans randomly. Garland told Nerdist, “in the back of my mind I guess I was thinking about films like Sleuth …where you have shifting allegiances as a viewer and it’s hard to settle too hard on what a particular character is saying or meaning in any particular moment. I tried to keep that shifting eyes, closed structure alive in it.”

Ghostbusters (1984)

You’ve probably already seen Ghostbusters, but after seeing Ex Machina you need to watch it again and focus on that oral sex scene that Isaac’s character alludes to. Garland hasn’t just made a movie involving unreal objects of male fantasy, he’s constantly showing that he’s aware that he’s made a movie involving unreal objects of male fantasy.

Mannequin (1987)

Speaking of male fantasy, like Ex Machina, this seemingly innocent Oscar-nominated (for best song) comedy owes a lot to the myth of “Pygmalion and Galatea,” about a sculptor who falls in love with his sculpture of a woman, which is granted life by Aphrodite. Of course, there are tons and tons of other examples, especially if you factor in Shaw’s adaptation of the myth. But Mannequin is particularly fascinating and bothersome. Andrew McCarthy builds a mannequin (Kim Catrall) and falls in love with it, and it/she basically just exists as his sexual plaything. Yet she’s not just an object come to life by magic or mechanics. She has the soul of an ancient Egyptian girl. She’s always been human.

Making Mr. Right (1987)

Released soon after Mannequin, this comedy starring John Malkovich and John Malkovich offers a relatively feminist take on the basic plot we see again in Ex Machina, courtesy of filmmaker Susan Seidelman. Here we have a male robot that becomes the object of affection for a human woman. Malkovich plays a scientist who creates the machine in his own image, and it winds up with more human qualities than his maker typically exhibits. Ann Magnuson plays the woman, who is hired by the scientist for PR and is tasked with getting to know the robot and test his ability to fit in with society. Not to spoil it too much, but I will say it has a happier ending than Ex Machina.

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

I’d like to give credit to an IMDb user by the name “rawheadz,” not because he’s the only person who has mentioned this anime classic in discussion of Ex Machina, but because he went so far as to ask Garland about its influence at a screening of the new movie. The filmmaker claimed to have never even heard of it, which is strange given that it’s been so much in the news lately for the Hollywood remake that will star Scarlett Johansson. Anyway, rawheadz specifically compares the A.I. Ava (Alicia Vikander) to Ghost in the Shell’s Puppet Master A.I., how she built her mind and consciousness through all the information available with open access to an internet search engine’s data. He was also reminded of the 20-year-old manga adaptation during the Ex Machina scene revealing all the partial bodies of previous A.I. prototypes.

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

This is the movie that first came to mind for me during that scene with the old A.I. models. There’s a part in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien franchise installment where the new Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) discovers a room filled with failed attempts to clone the original Ripley. It’s a scene that’s both terrifying and sad, just like the one in Ex Machina, and it’s one of a number of moments in Alien: Resurrection that have kept me defending its positive elements. The sequel also features a character who is secretly an android, and she’s played by Winona Ryder, my celebrity crush of the time, and it was then that I found myself understanding how someone could fall in love with a robot.

Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollack? (2006)

Maybe you asked that titular question during Ex Machina when Isaac’s character alludes to the artist’s iconic drip paintings. I won’t judge if you’re not familiar with him, though you should acquaint yourself with his stuff and also see the biopic about him, titled Pollack, starring Ed Harris. I’ve chosen this documentary in place of that, though, because the main subject did not know who the #$&% Pollack was when she bought an original work of abstract art that might have been done by the famous artist. The process that ensues to determine or dismiss the chance that it’s a genuine Pollack is even more complex than the Turing Test.

The Singularity is Near (2010)

If you’re just interested in learning about Ray Kurzweil and his ideas about A.I. and the singularity, I first recommend Barry Ptolemy’s Transcendent Man, which is based on the futurist’s book “The Singularity is Near.” But this other, admittedly hokier film based on the same book that Kurzweil co-directed with Anthony Waller and Toshi Hoo is worth looking at for the way it qualifies as a documentary set in the future as well as for its closer relevance to Ex Machina. In addition to featuring interviews with experts on the subject matter, including Kurzweil of course, there’s a fictional element running through the doc about a sexy A.I. (NCIS star Pauley Perrette) who strives to become more independent and more human.

Anna Karenina (2012)

Everybody has been talking about how the two male stars of Ex Machina will also share the screen in this year’s most anticipated movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But right now you can see the underrated movie that previously paired one of those male leads with the female lead. Gleeson and Vikander not only shared the screen in Joe Wright’s Tolstoy adaptation but they played another romantic couple. He portrays Lenin, a landowner in love with the princess, who isn’t initially interested but eventually settles with him in the country. If you were disappointed that Ava leaves Caleb to die at the end of Ex Machina, this movie may, ironically, give you a happy ending.

The Machine (2013)

Before seeing Ex Machina, a lot of people have brought up this recent British sci-fi indie for how much the new movie on the surface sounds like a rip-off or remake. Sure, The Machine also features a character named Ava (Caity Lotz), though she’s the human who becomes the basis for an A.I., and that A.I. eventually seeks freedom, but there’s not much else to directly link the two with plagiarism accusations. They’re two varied approaches to similar concepts, though, and both worth seeing. Fortunately, The Machine, in case you’re not familiar with it, is streaming on Netflix.

The Future of Work and Death (2015)

Garland’s initial inspiration for Ex Machina came from reading “Embodiment and the Inner Life: Cognition and Consciousness in the Space of Possible Minds” by cognitive robotics expert Murray Shanahan. He even sent the script to the renowned professor to make sure he got the science right. I’m surprised Shanahan hasn’t already been a talking head in any documentaries on the subject matter, but he is featured in this one that’s still in the works following a successful Kickstarter campaign last year. The good thing for you is that while you wait for the completed doc, which applies theories of A.I. and the singularity to the titular topics of work and death, to be released, possibly this December, you can watch a clip of Shanahan from the film below.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.