Everything seemed to be going well in the Hollywood universe until The Interview. Even with an announcement months before about the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy set inside North Korea (and revolving around killing its dictatorial leader), no one could have expected that its studio, Sony, would suffer from one of the most embarrassing hacks ever. Unknown cyberterrorists released the company’s many secrets, threatening revenge for the soon to be a household name farce. Now, nearly a month later, Michael Mann has Blackhat in theaters, reminding us once again that not all high tech thrillers are… thrilling. With that in mind, here are the 10 films we feel do the best job of pitting man vs. motherboard, bringing us right to the edge of our home theater seating with their sci-fi like speculation.
Shia LaBeouf is a college dropout who discovers his U.S. Air Force officer twin brother has been killed. While trying to uncover what happened, he learns of a government computer network that has “run amok” and infiltrated almost every aspect of daily life, all with a desire to take down the entities responsible for a horrid war crime. Turns out, our hero’s DNA may hold the key to unlocking this high tech coup, and this angry AI entity with an agenda wants it.
Though many mistake it for a pure video game film, this early example of CG experimentation is really about cyber crime and the stealing of ideas. After all, our reluctant hero (Jeff Bridges) would never have been sucked into the computer world of the title character (Bruce Boxleitner) had the CEO of his company (David Warner) not stolen all of his encrypted ideas. The journey into light cycles and sentry droids is merely a metaphor for the eventual internal corporate cat and mouse game.
It’s Denzel Washington vs. a computer generated Russell Crowe in this early attempt at showing the dangers of giving artificial beings “intelligence.” The former is an ex-cop in trouble for killing the terrorists that destroyed his family. The latter is a computer program, emulating a serial killer, that manages to manipulate its way into the real world. While some of the storytelling is hokey, with a foundation that requires a hefty bit of suspended disbelief, the overall effect is fun, and on occasion, frightening.
Before she scored an Oscar for the gripping Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow was following in then-boyfriend James Cameron’s footsteps, offering up a misunderstood sci-fi epic in which technology has advanced to the point where people can record and rewatch their memories. A very young Ralph Fiennes is the black-marketeer who discovers the inherent dangers of such biological linkages, with Bigelow offering a Blade Runner level look at LA circa… 1999? Dismissed at the time, it is now considered groundbreaking and visually inventive.
Robert Redford leads the typical ragtag group of computer geeks and former activists as part of a legitimate security force helping companies shore up their possible information leaks. When his past comes back to haunt him (he was a hacker in the ’60s, breaking into banks and sending money to liberal causes), he must use his abilities and those of his team to take down the bad guy. Really a caper film within a comedy, it still stands up as an intriguing pre-tech cautionary tale.
A post-adolescent Matthew Broderick is our floppy disc computer nerd who just so happens to hack into the U.S. Government’s Defense systems and “accidentally” sets off a nuclear panic. At the time of its release, the whole idea of taking personnel “out of the loop” and replacing them with computers was a hotly contested topic. While the film itself offered up a fairly hopeful message (even an artificial intelligence understands that WWIII would be a “no win” situation), the premise was prescient, and still quite chilling today.
This excellent anime centers on a future world where everyone is interconnected, almost all using cybernetic bodies (or “shells”) to access information and, in return, provide superhuman capabilities. Into this tripwire time comes The Puppet Master, a hacker with an agenda. It’s up to the forces of Public Security Sector 9 to discover the criminal’s identity and motive. Visually overwhelming and loaded with portents of technology’s possibilities and perils, this remains one of the most intriguing “what ifs?” to come out of the pen and ink genre.
A true masterpiece of our modern social network. A group of college kids discover a website that promises a chance to interact with the dead. Instead, all who click on said server end up unleashing restless, angry spirits back into the real world. Soon, it becomes apparent that the survivors will have a choice — kill themselves and live in this new semi-supernatural realm, or fight for their own reality. Loaded with shocking images and thought provoking ideas, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film far surpasses the passable U.S. remake.
Corporate espionage is mixed with mind-blowing forward thinking to turn Christopher Nolan’s exploration of inner space into a edge of your seat high tech thriller. The idea of entering one’s mind and picking through the pieces in order to unlock real world secrets is really nothing new (it’s the basis for hundreds of future shock tales), but the British auteur uses such calculated concepts as the basis for his visual panache, and the results are often breathtaking. And brilliant. And far beyond the norm.
Yes, this movie was made in the early ’70s, but tech is only as “high” as the era in which it is being used, and Francis Ford Coppola made the most of the burgeoning surveillance subculture in this excellent effort. To think that he made this “small” movie in between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II and created something equally excellent speaks to his talent at the time. Gene Hackman’s work as an expert who accidentally records a murder puts the whole post-Watergate worry into perspective.