You'd think films that revolve around typing away at a keyboard would be dull, but these 25 best hacker films show that's anything but the case.
The Matrix (1999)
Keanu Reeves stars as computer hacker Neo, who discovers that the whole world's a computer programme designed to enslave humanity. Fortunately, he can learn Kung Fu just by loading up a bit of software. If it was that easy, we'd be black belts by now.
The Matrix spawned a generation of would-be cyber anarchists who decided to show their individuality by wearing black leather coats and hiding moody expressions behind mirror shades.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
This iconic anime based on the manga by Masamune Shirow follows a cyborg policewoman trying to track down the Puppet Master D, a hacker who's able to manipulate people's personalities. Ghost in the Shell not only looks staggering, but being one of the first films to combine cell animation with CGI, it also raises interesting questions about the nature of identity.
The Italian Job (1969)
The cheeky 1960s crime caper, a hacking film? Yup – The Italian Job's iconic traffic jam in Turin is created when Charlie Croker's gang loads a new programme onto the city's traffic control computer – with tape! Nowadays, pretty much every heist film involves hacking into a computer somewhere, albeit without the assistance of Benny Hill.
David Cronenberg's 1999 sci-fi flick takes a characteristically messy, organic approach to hacking. eXistenZ is set in a computer game where people connect to using biological computers. Cue the usual Croenebergian sprays of body fluid and squelchy bits plus some cool innovations, like a gun (made out of biological components) that shoots teeth.
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Keanu Reeves plays "the ultimate hard drive" – a courier who uses his brain to store corporate data packages. Only trouble is, he's taken on more than he can handle on his latest job, and risks psychological damage, or even death.
Based on a short story by William Gibson, founding father of cyberpunk, how could this sci-fi actioner fail? Well, when the studio heavily recut it just before release, it doomed the film to mediocre reviews and a cult following. Losing the heroin-addicted dolphin was a mistake, it turns out.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
We've included the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in our list for naming the film (OK, book) after a hacker. Who's also a girl! Righteous. Noomi Rapace plays the fierce, anti-social computer hacker Lisbeth Salander who helps journalist Mikael Blomkvist trace a serial killer in this dark and twisted thriller.
Her skills come in handy as the evidence is buried on a bunch of PCs – plus she makes off with a tidy sum in the process. David Fincher's remake was a bit pointless coming so soon after the original, but Rooney Mara made a creditable stab at playing Salander.
The Social Network (2010)
Our favourite scenes in The Social Network – last year's Facebook film – are the ones with Zuckerberg, Saverin and co sat around hacking into university databases to make hot-or-not style sites.
There's also snappy dialogue, the entertaining Winklevoss twins and a nice backstory about Sean Parker. All that and an impeccable Oscar-winning score from Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor – although the version of In the Hall of the Mountain King in the rowing scene was director David Fincher's idea.
Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) specialises in a very specific type of security – subconscious security. Actually we lied – that's what Cobb tells his targets before he and his crack team of architects, con-men and chemists hack into people's dreams to steal information or plant false memories.
Christopher Nolan's bold dream caper strays into James Bond territory towards the end, but the world he creates is intriguing enough to forgive the plot holes – and trust us, Inception improves on repeat viewing.
Source Code (2011)
Hacking into the final minutes of someone else's life may not be plausible, but it made for this decent techno-thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal reliving the same train explosion over and over again as he tries to work out how to get into Michelle Monaghan's pants. Oh, and find the bomb. Part Groundhog Day, part Avatar and part Speed, but Source Code is better than that combination sounds.
Brilliantly overblown (at one point, for instance, it is claimed that a fleet of oil tankers will capsize at the behest of a computer virus), Hackers is a fast-typing feast of illicit binary populated by people with names like Acid Burn and Cereal Killer. But will rival hackers Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie uncover the hidden code in their hearts?
There are a couple of lessons to learn from WarGames. One: it would be a bad idea for America to hand over its Cold War missile defences to the whims of an "intelligent" computer. Two: if it did, it would be a good idea if the password wasn't a name so common you'd shudder if it crossed your mind to use it for your webmail. It's not hard to see where the suspenseful hacker plot goes from there.
Revolution OS (2001)
Let's face it, if we tell you this is a documentary about Linux, you're probably not straining at the leash to get your eyes on it. But if we told you that during the course of the interviews with the open source elite, you can see a classic David vs Goliath story unfold (let's call David "Firefox" and Goliath "Internet Explorer"), your ears might prick up a bit. Fascinating as it is, it's no The Social Network.
More after the break...
Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999)
Think you're an Apple geek? You're not until you've watched this made-for-TV feature that fictionalises the era between Steve Jobs' return to the Apple fold and the building of a partnership bridge with Microsoft's Bill Gates. As a story of hackers done good, it's an entertaining ride, but if you need further endorsement Noah Wyle's portrayal of Jobs was so impressive Steve invited him to open Macworld 1999 as his double.
Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond film pits him against a criminal syndicate who want to hack into and activate the GoldenEye satellite weapon against London in a bid to cause a global financial meltdown. And they're doing it with the help of Alan Cumming. In a Hawaiian shirt. As ever, 007 prevents catastrophe with the aid of bullets, laser watches and a tank, not to mention a beautiful Russian assistant whose password-changing trickery prevents the satellite from firing.
Paranoia 1.0 (2004)
Also known as One Point O, Paranoia 1.0 revolves around an isolated computer programmer who receives mysterious brown packages, plummeting him in to a world of corporate conspiracy, mind control and interactions with his bizarre neighbours. Throw in his addictive and unexplainable craving for Nature Fresh brand milk and you have a flick that demands the full attention of your grey matter to grasp what’s going on.
Starring Kate Winslet, this WWII codebreaking tribute revolves around the bright-minded staff at Bletchley Park who worked to crack the German U-Boats’ encrypted communications after the Nazis changed their Enigma code. A possible spy among the ranks doesn’t make the task any easier. Proof that you don’t need black screens and green code to be a hacker.
Robert Redford is an electronic security specialist with a hidden history of illegal hacking. Approached by the NSA (who know about his illegal roots) he's made to recover a black box which contains an advanced algorithm capable of breaking any encryption code. After falling into the wrong hands, Redford must stop a plot to plummet the world’s economy into chaos while working to clear his name.
Office Space (1999)
While hacking may not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about Office Space, it's a key component of the film. In between vehemently despising their jobs, a bunch of employees conspire to plant a virus in the company's accounting system – dubbed the salami attack – to embezzle money when a couple of them get laid off. The best bit? When they get even with the office printer. Come on, we've all wanted to do that.
Enemy of the State (1998)
Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) is a successful lawyer who finds himself the target of a militant National Security Agent after receiving evidence of a politically motivated murder. Every facet of Dean’s existence is under surveillance from satellites, bugs, and other high-tech snooping devices designed to track his every move.
The only man who can save him (and help him put some clothes on) is Brill (Gene Hackman) – a former government operative turned surveillance expert.Fun fact – Brill is heavily inspired by Hackman's previous role as Harry Caul in The Conversation.
Die Hard 4.0: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Bruce Willis squeezes back into John McClane's obligatory white vest to catch a team of mastermind computer hackers and serve up some old-school justice. This infiltration of the US infrastructure threatens to shut down the entire country over Independence Day weekend, so with a little help from his bumbling hacker sidekick (Justin Long) McClane sets about bringing them down.
In true Die Hard style you can also expect over the top violence and an utterly outrageous terrorist plot. "Yippie-kay-ay." Yeah, they cut the swears for the PG-13 rating.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
Mr Scientology (Tom Cruise) is back as IMF agent Ethan Hunt for the fourth instalment of the Mission Impossible series. As ever, the plot is as crazy as jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch, full of live-action stunts, high-tech thrills and an evil genius determined to destroy the world for two hours of high-octane excitement.
Hacking is present in the form of cracking door codes with iPhones, iPads spying on security guards and bumbling field agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) breaking into a prison's computer system to free all the prisoners – including Mr Hunt himself.
Hacking, shooting, driving fast, cool slow-mo explosions, Swordfish has it all. There’s even that scene where Wolverine, also known as Hugh Jackman, has to hack a mainframe (or some such cliché) but while being distracted by the tender attentions of a lady. Bet Mark Zuckerberg didn’t use that technique when hiring at Facebook.
Years before the tepid Tron: Legacy, the original Tron was actually cool precisely because of its unintendedly naive originality. Times were better before Jeff Bridges played the biogital Dude whose son is thrown into a video game to fight for his life. Lightcycles, spinning discs and neon-lit worlds (shot on 70mm film) made this the iconic sci-fi classic it still is today.
The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
This virtual-reality based film about a programmer who creates a world in which he is killed was made in the same year as The Matrix, and eXistenZ. There must've been something in the water. Think of The Thirteenth Floor as a noir detective version of its contemporary sci-hack flicks.
The Lawnmower Man (1992)
While the name might deceive you into thinking grass and Haytor engines are the main themes of the film, The Lawnmower Man is decidedly more sci-fi. When a scientist (Pierce Brosnan) decides to perform computer related experiments on a simple-minded gardener, things inevitably go wrong, creating a newly-minted genius with telekinetic and pyrokinetic powers. And a sex drive, apparently.