What’s the Best Hacker Film?

By Deane Barker on October 28, 2004

I got to thinking about this today, and so I’ll throw it out there for comments. My vote is Wargames from 1983. That film introduced a lot of people to a world we never knew existed. Tron is a very close second.

Surprisingly, The Matrix isn’t even on my Top Five list (I can hear Fonder gasp from across town…). After Wargames and Tron, I’ll throw out Sneakers and The Net, just because that was the right film at the right time — just when the Web was gaining steam.

I’ll also toss in a sympathy vote for Hackers from 1995, just because it was one of Angelina Jolie’s first films and that alone makes it semi-worthwhile.

So, what’s your favorite hacker film? (No one say Swordfish, please…)

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  1. hmm… those are all good. Sneakers is probably my favorite as well for many reasons. I love the line “no more secrets Marty”. And even though I’m probably not too thrilled about the actually of having no secure communications it would definitely change our world, hopefully for the better but it make take time.

    Tron nor Matrix really hits me as realistic enough to be on my list. Although Stargate (the movie) is my favorite movie to date with the Star Wars and LOR following.

  2. I gotta throw in Independence Day. Okay, not a great movie, and not one of my favorites, but it was kinda cool to see a guy using a PowerBook to hack into the baddies’ mothership to introduce a virus. Talk about product placement in movies!

  3. Well, a custom variant. Windows XP for desktops, Windows CE for embedded equipment, and Windows UFO for alien assault fleets.

    I’m here all week folks! Tip your waitresses!

  4. What has Independence Day to do with hacking? Any school kid with access to the web can send a virus to your system nowadays (as long as your mothership runs on Windows).

    My #1 choice is Johnny Mnemonic. Sneakers is a close second.

  5. with 2 seconds worth of thought…

    1) wargames 2) sneakers 3) matrix (better movie than above two, just not as much about hacking…) 4) johnny mnemonic 5) swordfish (just for you deane) :)

  6. I’ll defend Hackers a bit by saying it’s the only movie listed here that mentions actual hacker tools (the scene where they’re sitting in the arcade discussing their street cred, and several books of various colors come out of a backpack). It’s also got a bit of a nod toward the hacker/phreaker lifestyle, just enough so that I think they knew they were doing it. Unfortunately, it devolves from there in terms of actual tools shown. Though, I’ve always wanted Lord Nikon’s desktop wallpaper. And Angelina Jolie.

    Another movie not to bust on too much is Anti-Trust. Of all of the movies mentioned, this one probably had the most realistic/usable computer interfaces. Ahem.

    On one hand, I would love the kitsch of giant “ACCESS GRANTED” messages after I guessed my own password. On the other hand, I think accessing anything worthwhile inside the computer might be difficult with the fancy but ignorant GUIs that the movie industry uses.

  7. The problem I had with Johnny Mnemonic was that it had way too much gore. Guys getting cut in half, chicks taking arrows down the throat (no symbolism there…), and people getting their hands pinned to the wall with surgical scalpels was just too much. It detracted from the hacker-ish-ness of the whole thing.

  8. why dont we face it….there is no good haxin movie!!??? eh? or are we nerds in denial about how little the world even cares about us and our status?

  9. how about: what’s the most realistic [set in ‘present’ day] hacker movie of all time.

    i remeber seeing a ‘ls -la /dev ‘ or two in swordfish.

    those ‘hackers’ kids musta been running os x 42 or sometime, cause it was elite.

    wargames makes me nostalgic of bbs days and old login: prompts, but the whole ‘global thermo nuclear war’ thing being overlooked by the NSA when implementing the system seems a little far fetched.


  10. My favorite all-time hacker film would have to be ‘War Games.’ ‘Sneakers’ would be next on the list. However, I didn’t see anyone mention the film ‘Ghost In the Machine.’ I liked that one as well.

  11. Nice thread and replies :) Some excellent movies.. but if I could just change the topic slightly from films, to books.. or at least non-plural – book! Has anyone read “The Blue Nowhere”? Jeff Deaver is the author, and the book is the only one I have read in-full for years! What an amazing book – and if there was a film made, I’m sure it would be my favourite hacking film of all time.

    Back to the topic of this thread..

    Sneakers is probably my favourite hacking film, followed up by The Net.

  12. all good movies listed execpt swordfish, but the best one is hackers 2 based on the life of one of or best kevin mitnick

  13. Well i’ve seen most of the ones mentioned about, Matrix is a hell of a film but not much on the Hacking scene soooo:

    1) Sneakers 2) Wargames 3) The Net 4) Hackers (Only because of Angelina)

  14. I am Not Sure what you guys have against Hackers. I would have to say that the 2 hackers get my vote. Hackers 1 and Take Down (Hackers 2) They are really the only 2 aside from Sword Fish ( Which I must say was an enjoyable movie to watch) that has anything to do with Hacking. The Matrix Was a top Computer Film but it can’t be counted as a hacker movie.

    Dr Satan Hack The Planet

  15. Oh sweet jesus…that is a horrible movie. And for the record…its not “Hackers 2” its just “Takedown” it never had anything to do with Hackers.

    Watch “Project Downtime”, the documentary by Emanual Goldstein did about Kevin Mitnick’s jail time and that movies being made.

  16. You can’t compete with the movie hackers cause it’s what we ALL want hacking to be like. I mean come on as interesting as the real thing is, it’ll never be ‘cool’ like it was in that movie. The colorful lifestyles, rollerblading, the music, making some fbi agent turn up legally dead, downloading 100mb worth of imagry on a 28.8k modem whats better than that :). I vote hackers cause if I had the power to change how hacking was done, thats how it’d be, looking at abunch of really cool visual effects while having sex with angelina jolie and telling everyone Mess with the best die like the rest!.

  17. Well, it’s not a “movie”, but in X-Files Season 1, there was an episode called “Ghost in the Machine”, which was really cool, it had to do with an A.I. like security system gone mad. :)

    But for movie rankings, here’s my pick

    1. Wargames
    2. Sneakers
    3. Hackers

    everything else, just isn’t woth it.

  18. Thanks guys, for these few new film ideas. I just finished my Amazon Buy with a few Hacking Movies ( < --- Hacking ain't the right word for hacking... ( :p(), So see.

  19. 1 Takedown 2 Anti- trust 3 Swordfish

    ‘In The Realm Of The Hackers’ is a fun documenary to watch. About a Australian hacker.

  20. Thanx for some hints to movies i havent seen yet. I never wanted to look Hackers 2 or 3 after seeing the joke called Hackers, but after your posts i will give them a try.

    IMO “Sneakers” and “Wargames” are fighting for the place of All Time Number One, with “23” after that and then some just fun futuristic movies like “Johnny Mnemonic” and the one with Christopher Lamberd (sp?) as a VR-Game designer, who is asked by the main figure of his new title to delete all of his copies after the figure gaines consiousness and learns that its life is just a game with constant deaths (sorry i cant remember the title of the movie).

  21. Actually swordfish is nice , because the hacker used to real technique , Approximately ;-) … and i loved the way he breaked 128bit encryption algorithm and making un-breakable one consisted of 1024bit … anyhow …

    beside that.. what about enemy of the state ?? .. will smith

  22. I bet none of you remember a wargames clone movie called ‘Prime Risk’ that was about a guy and a girl who copy credit cards to rip off banks before they stumble on a plot to bring down the central reserve. It came out just after WarGames and wasn’t that bad really.

    my favourite 5 computer movies would be;

    Wargames Sneakers Takedown ‘never released in the USA, but available on emule ;-)’ Pirates Of Silicon Valley Prime Risk

    Tron, Matrix, Antitrust and Terminator 2 are also all worth owning on DVD if you are a true geek like me. ;-)

    There was another 80s movie that i remember seeing, but i cant remember the name. All i remember is this scene where this guy gets out of bed and goes to a computer, then logs onto a BBS (remember those? great stuff) and the movie featured these remotely controlled helicopters that that could explode.

  23. Oh, man… I forgot all about that film. I loved that one when I was a kid! They used magnetic tape from cassettes to make fake credit cards or something. Good call.

  24. I would have to say top 3 would be

    1)Hackers-Face it, that movie was amazing. 2)Johnny Mneumonic-Pre-Matrix Keanu, lots of fun. 3)Takedown-Real life story of the amazing Kevin Mitnick

  25. Seriously, you guys missed one HUGE film. Takedown the story of the capture of Kevin Mitnick was a great hacker film!

  26. I don’t know exactly but I saw a film about pi or pretorians, but i don’t know it’s title can any1 help pls.

  27. if u like hacker books u can’t beat “the heretic” i enjoyed it so much i read it in 2 days lol i’ve never acted so nerdish………. :p

  28. 1) Anti-Trust 2) Wargames 3) Swordfish 4) Sneakers

    I really love the Matrix Triology but its not in my list because i do not list it as a hacker film. more like a science fiction.

  29. All good choices. But nobody mentioned pi. Not quite a hack film but it’s focused on cracking the stock market.

    1) Swordfish 2) Hackers (so cheesey) 3) Sneakers

    Thanks, I have a list of movies to watch now.

  30. don’t forget the italian job. they hack in and change all the street lights. anti-trust is probably my favorite right now. it’s more about what the word “hacker” originally meant, before the media got to it. it was, by definition, a programming term.

  31. Were there not some nerdy nerds doing some serious hacks on Revenge of the Nerds?

    James T.

    oh, and yes, War Games. I’m actually working on a screen play based on the David Lightman character in the movie. It’s a follow-up to the time and life of David Lightman… in today time.

    James T.

  32. Greets all. some excellent films here. wargames, sneakers, anti-trust and the net top of my list. with hackers thrown in for luck recently discovered Wargames 2 The dead code. a modern day sequel to wargames. really enjoyed that one. as for swordfish. the 3d multi headed 1024 bit encrypted worm was a bit to far fetched even for me. if you had stuck him in front of a couple of monitors ( Not that huge 3d cubes thing) creating it i might have been more inclined to go along with it. anyway thats my two pence worth.

    …Kev (TheHermit)…

  33. I liked Swordfish & both hacker movies. Off the topic of movies…try reading The Blue Nowhere by Jeffrey Deaver. Very good book.

  34. Phatom im afraid i would have to disagree with your based on kevin mits life though i agree with you i is a good movie however if you would like the true story watch the documentry/movie freedom downfall and see how much take down is actually like kevins hacker days i think youll find theres only 1 maybe 2 similarateys between what actually happend and hackers 2 takedown

  35. I just watched Hackers n its a pretty gud movie its got that punk hacking attitude of the low technology 90s its a gud watch

  36. I vote Wargames but I’m only posting because there is another not so bad movie about a hacker out there that is definitely worth seeing. I dug it anyhow – Moscow Chill staring Norman Reedus – 2007.

  37. I’d say Hackers (1995) without a shadow of a doubt. People are way to hard on that film, while forgetting that it does somewhat evoke the vibe of the phreaking/hacking scene. Furthermore, if you look hard enough, there are plenty of allusions to the MOD/LOD “war”, which was for the most part real.

    Sure the film has its quota of the now painfully familiar, whacky 3D representations of cyber space UIs – but then – film is a visual medium. It was never going to cater to a niche market that might actually want to sit through the laborious details of what penetrating a network really entails. Ultimately, a schoolboy fantasy version of hacking is always going to have the broader appeal, not to mention the power to put butts on seats.


    ‘Acid Burn’ and ‘Phantom Phreak’ are a possible allusion to Acid Phreak (MOD member).

    ‘The Plague’ was also an MOD Member, but in the movie is more of an allusion to Chris Goggans (Erik Bloodaxe) in that he founded Comsec and ratted everyone out. (‘The Plague’ in the movie is a hacker turned corporate net admin).

    The silly video on demand battle could be an allusion to the Thanksgiving ‘Learning Link’ crash, perpetrated by MOD.

    Seriously, the list goes on…

    … So in some ways I guess I’m saying that Hackers is not only the most fun film about hacking, but also the most realistic…


  38. what about take down and hacker .. Hacker is exact hacking movie…… Pirates of silicon Vally is not hacking movie… Die hard 4.o, swordfish, War games….is also hacking movie…..

  39. @ ironmodem : were you on of the 1980/90 phreaking/hacking scene too ? ^^

    You’re totally right man! I’ve noticed too the name “Babbage” (Charles Babbage is an engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer), and the Gibson computer is a reference to William Gibson.

    one more thing : did you notice Cosmo (Sneakers) in the movie “Hackers” ? (near the young zer0 cool and lawyer), and also the real Tsutomu Shimomura in the movie (Trackdown/K.mitnick ) ?

  40. If Independence Day gets a nod then so to should the core DJ Qualls is “Rat” and hacks the entire web not to mention gives a guy free long distance with a buble gum wrapper, D.A.R.Y.L. I Loved this movie as a child; other honorable mentions and some I can’t remember if they had a “hacking scene”: paycheck ben afleck reverse engineering; Omega Code hacking the bible; The computer wore tennis shoes… the computer hacked him; True Lies; Demolition Man Snipes hacks a few diffrent things; Office Space 2 mil worm, Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler… ;The Thirteenth Floor ;Hardwired; Cyber Wars A.K.A. Avatar 2004; Stealth; Echelon Conspiracy; Eraser; Mercury Rising; Minority Report; The Bourne Trilogy; Runaway Jury; S1m0ne?; Weird Science?; Surrogates ?; I Robot?; National Treasure?; Gone In sixty seconds the remake with Cage?; ├ćon Flux?; Bad Boys?; Blue Streak?; Chain Reaction?; Chill Factor?;

  41. The Net was about the worst film I have ever seen, except for two – Highlander 2 and Star Wars: Episode 1

    Swordfish was a great movie, but I agree is was not really a hacker movie. More a psychological film.

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