It’s not often that a summer TV series gets heaped with hype and critical praise. But that’s exactly what happened to Mr. Robot, the political thriller from USA Network that released in 2015. The series follows Elliot (Rami Malek), who’s a computer hacker by day and a vigilante hacker by night. The series has been praised by tech bloggers for its exciting and often accurate look hacking and cyber terrorism.
Part of the draw of a show like Mr. Robot is how timely its subject matter is. It seems like there are stories in the news about major corporations being hacked every day. But while Mr. Robot tackles these issues with aplomb, it’s not the first time Hollywood has taken on the secret lives of computer masterminds. In fact, there have been movies and TV shows featuring hackers since computers became a major fixture in our culture.
1. WarGames (1983)
In the early ‘80s, the idea of owning a computer, let alone being able to use it for anything other than playing Frogger, was still a novelty to most. So WarGames, about a young man who hacks into a government military operation through his PC, didn’t feel that far-fetched. Matthew Broderick stars as David, the teen who unwittingly taps into a government program designed to simulate responses to nuclear attacks. The problem? He thinks he’s playing a game, and doesn’t realize he’s actually playing with millions of lives around the world.
Given recent hacks into major government databases, WarGames taps into fears that we’ve actually come to live with today. While the technology is outdated and the premise ultimately implausible, it’s still an entertaining thriller that can appeal to gaming enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys a good political thriller.
2. Sneakers (1992)
Hollywood has a tendency to portray hackers as young and brilliant — but in Sneakers, the older generations got a chance to prove their salt in the hacker scene, too. The film follows a team of former hackers turned intelligence specialists who become embroiled in an NSA plot. It’s fun to watch Hollywood legends like Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, and Dan Aykroyd navigate the complicated world of computer technology. And with the brains of computer nerds and the hearts of Summer of Love hippies, their Robin Hood-esque motivations give Sneakers a surprising number of entertaining twists and turns.
3. Hackers (1995)
Hackers were a hot topic long before they regularly made the news. The film, Hackers follows a group of young teens who use their gifts with computer engineering to commandeer corporate systems and wreak havoc on the World Wide Web.
The film is flashy, stylish, and high-energy, and makes the hijinks within the film look like fun. Hackers was a breakout vehicle for Angelina Jolie, who plays ringleader Kate. While it, like WarGames, now feels dated and the scientific basis for many of the hacks are flimsy at best, it helps elevate the status of computer prodigies from geeky to seriously cool.
4. The Net (1995)
Most hacker films usually focus on a savvy computer genius who sets out to take down the government or a large organization. In The Net, Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) uses her computer skills to fight back against the government after they try to take her down. After she unwittingly gains access to information that would expose a government conspiracy, her identity is erased — and she has to use every trick she knows to get her life back. The Net is an effective thriller, and one that reminds us that as long as our information is out in the open, anyone has the ability to use it for evil.
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Most hacker-themed Hollywood movies deal with conflicts with the government, as evidenced by the list above. But one of the most memorable and brilliant hackers ever to hit the big-screen had her sights set on a much more insidious target. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the main character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has been abused and mistreated most of her life. So she takes pleasure in using her genius knowledge of computers to take down a wealthy, but corrupt Swedish family with a history of hurting young girls. Few characters in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo end the film without blood on their hands — but the brutal take down of people that are the embodiment of evil is well worth the watch.
6. The Matrix (1999)
This sci-fi movie shows computer hacker, Neo, learning about the virtual reality which is kept to imprison him. It takes the hacking to a very surreal level, yet still is able to keep you drawn in. That’s probably due to the movie’s impeccable graphics. The movie was very successful with audiences and critics. It led to a longer franchise and is probably the most popular hacker movie out there.
7. Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
This sequel shows John McClane partnering up with a young hacker to fight back after an attack on the Fourth of July. The movie keeps the action that has made this franchise so successful, but the technology also brings a new obstacle for the main character. It’s certainly over-the-top, but was liked by both critics and fans.
8. The Score (2001)
An older thief gets pulled into doing one last heist with a younger man. The stars are Edward Norton and Robert De Niro, who are both definitely talented. The movie will get you nostalgic for heist films, and brings in newer hacker technology. If you’re in the mood for a good thriller, then this film should be your choice.
9. The Italian Job (2003)
This remake retells the story of a group getting revenge on a former ally by pulling a heist. It gives a nod to the heist movies that came before it, but also includes hacker technology. The proclaimed inventor of Napster is a character in the movie, which is definitely a throwback.
10. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)
This franchise installment shows Ethan Hunt and his team going rogue after the Impossible Missions Force is shut down. The series is pretty good at coming up with fantastical technology to use on Hunt’s missions, but the mission is also carried out through hacking. This movie didn’t let fans or critics down through its fun story and numerous stunts.
Additional reporting by Nicole Weaver.
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