Know hackers? This is how hackers weer depicted in films in the early days of the internet. These films shaped a generation’s view of the hacker culture, and they’re also entertaining, some are very good, films. We picked out five must-see hacker movies that will hack into your brain, and rewire how you think about hacking. From underground cyberpunk thrillers to big-budget techno-dystopias, these movies have it all. By the end of this list, you’ll either want to hack the planet, unplug your Wi-Fi forever or use a VP (according to PIA, these are the best). Ok, joke aside, let’s get to it.
WarGames (1983) – The Hacking Classic That Started It All
WarGames is the OG of hacker movies. This ’80s sci-fi thriller ignited our fascination with cybersecurity and the rise of geek culture. In the film, a teenage hacker named David Lightman gains access to a military supercomputer and unwittingly plays a game that could trigger WWIII.
Lightman, played by Matthew Broderick, is your average tech-savvy teen who loves playing around on his computer. One day, he hacks into what he believes is a video game company’s system to play unreleased games. Turns out, he’s hacked into WOPR, the Pentagon’s doomsday device. Oops! WOPR’s creator, Dr. Falken, designed it to run military simulations and games. But the clueless military is planning to actually use WOPR to automate the process of starting a nuclear war.
Lightman plays a “game” on WOPR that has it running simulations of all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The military thinks the Soviets have actually launched nukes! As WOPR prepares to launch an automated counterattack, Lightman and his friends race to stop it. After some close calls, Lightman teaches WOPR that nuclear war is unwinnable by having it run through every possible scenario. WOPR realizes that “the only winning move is not to play”.
Phew! Thanks to the quick-thinking teens, WWIII is averted. WarGames is a sobering thriller that will make you think twice about messing with government computers. No hacking allowed!
Hackers (1995) – Cyberpunk Thrill Ride for the 90s Generation
Released in 1995, Hackers is a cyberpunk thriller that captured the fascination with hacking and “cyber counterculture” of the early internet era. This cult classic features a young Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller as hackers whose paths cross at a high school for gifted students.
Hacking into corporate servers and causing mischief
When Dade Murphy (aka Crash Override) gets arrested for hacking into a major corporation’s server, his mom ships him off to a private high school. There he meets Kate Libby (aka Acid Burn) and their rival, Eugene Belford (aka The Plague). They stumble upon a plot by The Plague and his hacker gang to embezzle millions of dollars.
To stop them, Crash and Burn have to team up and use their hacking skills for good. They penetrate the hacker gang’s systems, gather evidence of the electronic embezzlement scheme, and ultimately help catch the criminals.
While the tech and hacking techniques are outdated, Hackers captures the rebellious spirit of youth in the digital age. It features slick cyberpunk visuals, references to tech culture, and a killer electronic soundtrack with tracks from Orbital, Prodigy, and Leftfield. This movie is a fun glimpse into early hacker culture and cyber counterculture. It inspired many teens of the 90s to become interested in computers and the emerging world of cyberspace.
So grab your floppy disks, dust off your 28.8k modems and hack into this nostalgic cyber thriller.
The Matrix (1999) – Hacking the Very Fabric of Reality
The Matrix (1999) is a mind-bending sci-fi action film that will hack your brain. In the movie, hacker Neo discovers that humanity is trapped inside an simulated reality called the Matrix, created by sentient machines to subdue humans and harvest their bodies’ energy.
Red Pill or Blue Pill
Morpheus, the leader of the human resistance, offers Neo a choice between two pills:
- The blue pill would allow Neo to stay in the Matrix and continue living his normal life unaware of the truth.
- The red pill would wake Neo up to the harsh reality of the Matrix and allow him to join the resistance.
Neo chooses the red pill and is freed from the Matrix, waking up to the post-apocalyptic real world where humans are at war with the machines. His mind is blown.
Bending the Rules of Reality
Once Neo is unplugged, Morpheus and his crew show him the true power of the mind within the Matrix. They are able to bend the rules of reality and gain superhuman abilities through hacking into the simulation.
The agents are powerful sentient computer programs within the Matrix that protect it from threats. Agent Smith and his cohorts are constantly trying to stop Neo and the resistance from freeing more humans from their digital prison. The agents seem unstoppable with their ability to take over the code of anyone still connected to the Matrix.
The Final Showdown
After intense training, Neo finally faces off against Agent Smith in a epic final battle. They fight using gravity-defying martial arts and the ability to manipulate the Matrix. Neo is eventually able to overcome the agent, proving that the power of human consciousness triumphs over the machines.
The Matrix is a classic sci-fi film that explores then novel ideas around virtual reality, artificial intelligence and humanity’s relationship with technology. Over 20 years later, its vision of a simulated world still seems frighteningly plausible. This influential cyberpunk thriller will leave your brain hacked in the best way possible.
Blackhat (2015) – Michael Mann’s Stylish & Cerebral Cybercrime Thriller
This slick cybercrime thriller from director Michael Mann will hack into your mind. In Blackhat, Chris Hemsworth stars as a hacker named Nicholas Hathaway who is released from prison to help American and Chinese authorities track down a mysterious cybercriminal.
As Hathaway and his partner Chen Lien search for the sinister hacker, they are drawn into a dangerous cat and mouse game in a stylish, fast-paced film that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The movie has incredibly realistic depictions of hacking and cybercrime that make it a must-see for any tech or thriller fan.
Some reasons Blackhat should be on your watchlist:
- The movie has a cerebral, thoughtful take on cybercrime and hacking that is more realistic than the silly antics you see in most films.
- The direction by Michael Mann is superb, with stylish visuals and pacing that build suspense.
- Chris Hemsworth shows a different side as the hacker protagonist in a strong, nuanced performance.
While Blackhat received mixed reviews upon release, it has become somewhat of a cult classic in cyber thriller and hacking film genres. For a stylish take on the topic, check out this underrated gem. Once it hacks into your brain, you’ll never look at the Internet the same way again.
Mr. Robot (2015-2019) – The Groundbreaking TV Series That Hacked Pop Culture
Mr. Robot is an intriguing hacker thriller that redefined the genre for the digital age. This Peabody award-winning series ran for four seasons from 2015 to 2019 and developed a cult following. Created by Sam Esmail, Mr. Robot follows Elliot Alderson, a cybersecurity engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night. Elliot is recruited by the mysterious leader of an underground hacking group called “fsociety” to help take down one of the largest corporations in the world.
Through its twisting plot and unreliable narrator in Elliot, Mr. Robot kept viewers guessing until the very end.
A Unique Visual Style
Mr. Robot is also recognized for its innovative cinematography and direction under Sam Esmail. Unconventional camera angles, distorted lenses, and surreal sequences create a sense of unease and paranoia. The show has been compared to classics like Fight Club and American Psycho.
Rami Malek’s Breakout Performance
Lead actor Rami Malek delivered an Emmy-winning performance as the socially awkward hacker Elliot Alderson. Malek’s expressive eyes and subtle mannerisms bring the complex character to life. Elliot’s internal struggles with mental illness, relationships, and morality gave the show its emotional weight.
The Perfect Binge
While Mr. Robot had its fair share of twists and turns, the tightly-woven story was always building towards a satisfying conclusion. The show is ideal for binge-watching, with each episode ending on a cliffhanger that makes you want to keep watching. Mr. Robot proved that TV shows could have the depth, nuance, and intelligence of the best films. This seminal show influenced subsequent hacker and tech-focused thrillers, but none have matched its impact. If you’re looking for a gripping thriller that will make you think, Mr. Robot delivers.
And there you have it, five thought provoking movies featuring hackers that will hack into your brain and stay with you long after the credits roll. These films pack twists and turns, intellectual challenges, and trigger questions about technology, privacy, and the human condition. And one thing is for sure—after watching any of these hacker thrillers, you’ll never think about your laptop, phone, or digital footprint the same way again.