5 Important Things The Movies Teach Us About Self-Driving Cars

Published July 2, 2015

Autonomous cars have been featured in motion pictures since the 1920s. Are there lessons about self-driving cars we can learn from these movie vehicles?

Total Recall  (1990)


In Arnold’s second Johnny Cab ride in Total Recall (the first is the image above), he’s running from the group out to kill him. He hops into the Johnny Cab and  instructs the autonomous, robotic driver just to start driving, which it cannot do without an address. Eventually, the then future Governor of California, frustrated and under fire, pull Johnny out by its root and drives the cab himself.

The lesson: there are no Sunday drives with autonomous cars, every trip will require data points. One will have to wrestle control from the car to make an unplanned stop or turn around to go back and view the largest ball of twine (in Cawker City, KS BTW).

Minority Report (2002)


As one watches the scene of Tom Cruise in his car dropping down out of his apartment, blending with traffic (did he just go backwards?) and over what can only be described as the highway equivalent of Niagara Falls, no one seems to be disoriented or nauseous.

The lesson: already there are reports of a significant number of passengers experiencing queasiness while riding in autonomous cars, traveling on normal roads and at normal speeds. I don’t think humans will be ready to travel in the style of “The Minority report” in a brief 39 years.

Christine (1983)


A nerdy young man restores a 1950s Plymouth (too many intricacies of which models and which years were used in which scenes) which turns out to be processed by evil and drives around killing people . Spoiler alert: at the end of the film the Plymouth unfolds itself from being crushed into a cube, which make you wonder why the car needed the kid in the first place. Anyway …

The lesson: if your autonomous car achieves sentience, either through evil doings like this Plymouth, or because of a software glitch at Google, pack your bags and move as far off the grid as you can because the game’s pretty much over.

I, Robot (2004)


Early in the film, Del Spooner, a Chicago police detective played by Will Smith, develops a distrust of robots after a car crash ended in a robot saving him over a preteen girl based on their individual chances of survival. Already ethicists are pondering the same issues in regards to autonomous cars. Faced with a situation where a malfunctioning autonomous car has only two choice: plow through a group of school children or run the car into a wall, killing the driver, what decision does the car make? (it a version of the old Trolley Dilemma thought experiment). No longer just an ethicists’ puzzle, it will soon become a real issue that will need to be resolved fairly soon.

Ender’s Game (2013)


The Audi Fleet Shuttle Quattro designed for Ender’s Game, existed only as pixels, current model Audis were used in the filming and replaced with the futuristic concept in post production. Other than some cool wheels and spherical tires there was no technology attributed to the car – it was a bare (virtual) shell.
The lesson: this is what cars will become under autonomous driving, simply shuttles that ferry us from place to place. A beautiful design, but for a car enthusiast, an empty shell.


The future is not going to be easy or simple. Make sure you learn Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics before head into it.



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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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