On July 28 this year, the film The Net, starring Sandra Bullock, celebrates its 20th anniversary. This was one of the first feature films that featured the Internet as a prominent plot device. With a 5.8 score on IMDB and a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, we probably won’t see it in any criterion collection, but it grossed more than twice what it cost, and that’s a hit in Hollywood terms!
Looking back, there have been many movies that featured the Internet, connectivity, computers, and virtual reality over the years. We thought it would be fun to look back and compile a list of the top 20 movies where technology was a major component of the film, and see how they’ve held up over the years.
So sit back, grab some popcorn, and see which ones make your Netflix queue, how many are in your DVD collection, and which ones make you cringe from the memories. Because the best of them all actually came out before The Net though, we’re going to go back just a little bit further, to a time when the ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet, might have actually grown up to be Skynet!
1. The Net (1995)
We should start with the movie that inspired this list. Computer programmer Angela Bennett, played by Sandra Bullock, runs afoul of a criminal element that essentially erases her from society by taking over her identity. With elements of identity theft, fraud, and the dependence modern life has on technology, it was a chilling, if somewhat far-fetched, look at how much of who you are is virtual.
2. WarGames (1983)
The first movie to make computer geeks cool! High school genius David Lightman hacks into what he thinks is a game company, only to come very close to starting World War III. This movie was amazingly true to what hacking is, showcasing David’s persistence and detective work, war dialing, social engineering, and illustrating a number of poor security practices we still see today (like writing passwords down). I hope the only fictional thing in this movie was that a single computer controls the US nuclear arsenal, but even that may have been portrayed more accurately than we would like to think. Thirty years plus but this movie is still considered to be true class amongst many movie geeks.
3. Hackers (1995)
The movie that gave us “Hack the Planet!” and The Hackers’ Manifesto, a supercomputer named The Gibson and Angelina Jolie. The most preposterous part of the entire movie wasn’t the hackers’ aliases, which are all aliases that were in use by real hackers, it was that the Secret Service would not only investigate a cybercrime and catch the child behind it, but that his punishment would only be that he was grounded until he turned 18!
4. The Matrix Trilogy (1999 – 2003)
Few would disagree that the first film in the series, The Matrix, was groundbreaking in every way imaginable. The special effects were amazing; the premise was unique, and the cinematography was unrivaled. Even the bad second film and the not so great third film offered mind-blowing visuals and fight choreography that set the bar higher than ever before. The idea that our reality is truly virtual, and that machines have been running the planet and our lives for centuries, still resonates in a deep, dark part of our collective psyches that feels just a little too plausible.
5. Virtuosity (1995)
Russell Crowe stars as a malicious AI, synthesized from the personalities of 150 serial killers, which becomes corporeal. Denzel Washington is the one sent to capture him before he starts on his very own killing spree.
6. Lawnmower Man (1992)
Research into learning disabilities and AI help turn a simple-minded but kind man into a maniacal genius who then becomes the singularity. What’s not to love about this classic 99% NOT based on a Stephen King short story? Brosnan and Fahey were both great, but… we will NOT discuss the sequel.
7. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Keanu Reeves and William Gibson both feature prominently in this list, which should come as a surprise to no one. One of the best gimmicks from this entire movie is that Mnemonic had to dump all his memories from before the fifth grade in order to make room for more data.
8. Swordfish (2001)
Everyone would love to have the computer setup hacker Stanley Jobson, portrayed by Hugh Jackman, uses to break into the unbreakable. That rig and John Travolta as a high-as-a-kite seeming rock’n’roll bad guy who’s actually out to save the world make this movie a guilty pleasure. The heist to top all heists is heavily rooted in cybersecurity, but the “blink and you miss it” twist will keep you asking if you really saw what you think you just saw into the third or even fourth viewing.
9. The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
Take one part modern day murder mystery and one part 1930’s genre detective story, mix them together with a hero who has amnesia and must solve the crime he’s accused of, and you get The Thirteenth Floor. Of course, the twist that gets it on this list is the 1930’s is a virtual reality populate with self-aware AIs. Trust me, it is way cooler than it sounds, and you’ll love it!
10. Gamer (2009)
This movie has one jaw dropping twist, if you haven’t seen this one yet, it puts a whole new spin on MMORPGs and the characters we love to build, save, and reset.
11. Tron: Legacy (2010)
The first movie came out when many of us weren’t even born, but those that were only dreamed of owning a computer, never imagining what just a few short years would bring. This sequel came too late for some, but still invokes the same charm and retro visuals that made the first one amazing. Imagining an entire world of sentient programs running inside your computer can be fun, but it also makes you question the morality of CTRL-ALT-DEL!
12. Sneakers (1992)
An all-time favorite, Sneakers spans a couple of decades of crime and hacking. It posits the existence of a device capable of defeating any and all encryption, and shows the lengths governments and corporations are willing to go to in order to obtain that. Too many secrets are revealed as the team of security pros, most of whom are felons on the lamb, must hack their way in both physically and virtually to save the day and earn redemption.
13. Untraceable (2008)
A serial killer streams live video of his murders online, and an FBI agent played by Diane Lane must track him down before he kills again. The Internet, viral videos, streaming and mirrors all play a prominent role in this dark thriller. And there’s Diane Lane!
14. The Italian Job (2003)
Seth Green as the real Napster; and we’re done here. Well, that and Mini Coopers. Watching how this team pulls off a grand heist with a combination of hacks, social engineering and explosive,s and then make their getaway in some awesome cars makes this remake one of the few that may be better than the original!
15. Firewall (2006)
How do you defeat a bank’s cybersecurity, thought to be the state of the art? Kidnap the family of the guy in charge, and make him take it down for you. It’s an interesting twist where hacking and cybersecurity don’t play quite as strong a role as you’d think from the title, but it’s still a good action movie and worth the time to watch.
16. Takedown (2000)
If you have even a passing interest in cybersecurity, you have to watch Takedown. It’s the story of how Tsutomu Shimomura helped the government take down Kevin Mitnick, the most notorious hacker of all times and the inspiration for many who work both sides of the information security field today.
17. Goldeneye (1995)
Not the best James Bond movie, or even the best James Bond actor, but this entry in the James Bond universe did bring us one of the coolest hackers of all times… Boris Grishenko – “I am INVINCIBLE!”.
18. Die Hard 4/Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
“Hi I’m a Mac,” “and I’m a renegade cop who loves to shoot bad guys and quote old westerns.” I really wish that they had gone with that premise in at least one trailer, but they didn’t. Still, hacking systems and using computers to do amazing things features in almost every scene, except the ones where Bruce Willis’ Detective John McClane shoots someone.
19. Moon (2009)
Kevin Spacey voices one of the most calming, and yet disturbing, computer systems to ever feature in any movie, and gives HAL a run for his money in this very limited cast movie with a heck of a twist.
20. Blackhat (2015)
The newest movie on our list, Blackhat follows the story of the Australian god of thunder hacking away as he takes on a worldwide network of cyber criminals. It is actually a good movie with a prominent display of hacking, identity theft, cybercrimes and investigations.
21. The Terminator series (1984 – present)
When the machines become self-aware and they control all the world’s defense systems, it’s going to be a very bad day for people. The first movie did not spend a lot of time developing the backstory of Skynet, but the second one more than made up for it. Arguably, one of the most original scripts of all time, this is the move that launched Schwarzenegger’s career. One thing you can count on, and that’s he’ll be back!
In addition, here’s a bonus for you – check out ALGORITHM: The Hacker Movie, available on YouTube. The brainchild of BrandX Movies, it’s a full length feature film that is only available online. It is well worth the 90 minutes to watch, and shows you don’t have to be a big studio to put out some quality entertainment.
So, which ones do you love? Which ones do you hate? And more importantly, which ones are those you cannot believe made this list? Leave a comment below and let us know. You might even suggest a movie some of us have missed, and we’re always on the lookout for a fun flick for the weekend or a rainy afternoon.