We’ve all seen at least one film about hacking. Usually, such films involve all the elements of a classic Hollywood hit and try to over-fictionalize or idolize hackers, cyberattacks and cybercrime. So there’s a constant question – should such films include more authentic cyber realm or more action and plot twists.
The issue with any film that focuses on tech, is that it might outdate nearly right away. But some even then become part of pop culture. Not all being super accurate in tech terms, a fews films on cybersecurity managed to predict the future. Is it more scary or thrilling, that what seemed to be a conspiracy theory a few decades ago, today is a reality?
Below we list some of the top hacking movies that are most likely to be appreciated by security professionals. So get inspired by some good old classics, engaging documentaries and compelling cybercrime flicks!
- WarGames, 1983
A well known 80’s classic that inspired a generation of hackers and cybersecurity enthusiasts. The movie stars Matthew Broderick as a high school student David who accidentally hacks a US military supercomputer and accesses the WORP (War Operation Plan Response) system. And since it reminds of a simulation game, the young hacker takes on the player role of the Soviet Union and the virtual Third World War begins. Shall we play?
The film was released when the Cold War was still intense and the global atmosphere was full of tension about nuclear weapons, spies and evolving technology.
First cinematic reference to a “firewall” – a security measure used in computer networking and Internet security.
The film is still a favorite in Silicon Valley. In 2008, Google held a 25th-anniversary screening.
- Sneakers, 1992
Another cybersecurity movie that is often called the best of such kind. Robert Redford plays Martin Bishop who leads a team of computer experts testing the security of San Francisco companies. The story begins when they discover a top-secret black box that can crack any encryption. It’s well written, both entertaining and gripping crime movie with an interesting spin on the Internet of Things.
While it was released in 1992, it’s still captivating and became a cult favorite of the Internet generation.
- Hackers, 1995
You may not like it, but surely you’ve heard of this cultural marvel. Despite receiving rather negative reviews, the film has gained a cult status and has loads of fans worldwide. The movie is obviously a product of the 90s, both stylistically and technologically. Inspired by cyberpunk culture, the story follows a group of high school hackers being framed for a major hack on an oil company. The movie, starring the amazing Angelina Jolie, reflects the ideals written in the Hacker Manifesto quoted in the film: “This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity.”
Watch this to get a picture of how cyber crimes have evolved since the beginning. The movie pictures some unbelievable hacks, like hijacking a payphone (you just need to watch how the character Phreak does it. And this technique existed for real!)
Oh, and another reason to watch Hackers is because of the soundtrack by the Prodigy!
- The Net, 1995
Probably everyone recalls the name of Angela Bennet and her stolen identity. A geeky workaholic software engineer (Sandra Bullock) accidentally comes across top-secret documents hidden behind a pi symbol on a website. Soon she’s involved in a web of computer espionage and needs to prove her identity to the world. It’s a classic cheesy Hollywood action drama, but watching Bullock’s acting is splendid and engaging as always!
- Ghost in the Shell, 1995
Seems like 1995 was a great year for hacking movies. This beautiful animated Japanese sci-fi movie is based on a cyborg policewoman Major and her partner hunting a cybercriminal called the Puppet Master, who hacks into the brains of cyborgs to get information and use it to commit crimes. Definitely, one to watch for its deep gripping mood and quite a philosophical approach to evolving cyber advancements.
In 2017 a remake was released starring Scarlet Johanson. Although it received mixed reviews, you can check on that too.
Trivia fact: “Ghost in the Shell” inspires many action scenes in “The Matrix”. There’s a rumor that Carrie-Anne Moss got the role in The Matrix because she resembles Major Motoko.
- Enemy of the state, 1998
Who doesn’t know and love Will Smith? Or Gene Hackman? This might be a Hollywood flick, but a splendid one. It has all the classic elements, like catchphrases or over-dramatic scenes, but the amazing cast and well-written script delivers the important message about the loss of our privacy.
A lawyer (starring Will Smith) becomes an unknowing player in a secret government conspiracy. When he becomes the target of a corrupt NSA official and his life begins to fall apart, he enlists the help of an ex-intelligence operative.
- The Code, 2001
This documentary cybercrime movie will engage you in the history of Linux. You’ll learn more about ideologies that underpin GNU and Open Source. The picture explains why Linux became so popular with users and dwells upon the giFT peer to peer network. Though created for a Finnish audience, the movie has its fans worldwide. In this film, Linux’s leaders are talking about their fateful decisions and ideals. It’s a good reminder of how several people can change the world.
Filmmaker Brian Knappenberger documents the hacking group “Anonymous”, including interviews from the group members: some recently returned from prison, some still waiting for trial.
Strong, mesmerizing and confusing, this film gives an insight to all of us what these organizations are doing and what is valuable to them.
How many times per day do we click ‘I Agree’ when visiting random websites? This eye-opening documentary investigates such issues, and what may happen when we give ourselves up to control of free services such as Google and Facebook. Or what enables them to be free after all.
Premiered in 2013, five years before the Cambridge Analytica exposure, this doc clearly states the death of privacy on the web.
- Who Am I, 2014
No system is safe. It’s one of the most mind-blowing cybersecurity movies everyone should watch. Film follows the story of Benjamin who is a cliche computer geek (with no friends or social life). His only passion is coding and hacking. After running into a guy who shares his values, he establishes a community that speaks on behalf of the entire young generation. His virtual power and influence increasingly grow until one day he appears on the list of the most wanted cybercriminals in Europe. What will Benjamin do to get away with it? Will he manage to use his hacking talent to maintain his potency?
- Citizenfour, 2014
A documentary film about Edward Snowden. The original one. Created by Laura Poitras this film includes actual interviews of Snowden in Hong Kong in 2013 and features work by journalist Glenn Greenwald.
After this, you might wanna watch a fiction version starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The story of Reddit co-founder, programming prodigy, and information activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life at the age of 26. Folks on Reddit call it deeply moving, disturbing, and worth hearing.
You’ll need to sit down to watch this one.
- Blackhat, 2015
Another movie loved by real hackers. A well crafted and cutting edge movie about a dangerous code that was written a long time ago and has now affected the world on a global scale. Chris Hemsworth starring as an ex-con hacker who joins a team of American and Chinese technical experts to track down the people behind major cyberattacks in Chicago and Hong Kong.
During the shooting of this film, hackers served as on-set consultants. Also, producers state that all of the hacking terms and procedures used in the film are from real life. Well, watch and check it yourself.
- Snowden, 2016
Most of the cybersecurity scandals have taken place lately and Hollywood still needs some time to catch up. This is why there are not so many movies covering recent historical events, and why Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” created such a buzz worldwide when premiered. It follows the story of the former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden who became a whistleblower leaking classified surveillance programs. Director Oliver Stone always loved provocative political dramas (remember JFK!) and this time he delivers us an intense and well-crafted portrait drama with no intention to judge or paint anyone as a villain, but rather to fill us with doubt of what are the boundaries between security and privacy.
- Zero Days, 2016
This documentary brings into focus the computer worm named Stuxnet, or “Operation Olympic Games”, that was developed by the US and Israel to damage Iran’s nuclear program. Director Alex Gibney handles the storyline so powerfully that it makes viewers question – is it reality or fiction?
To put this fascinating insight into cyberware, filmmaker Gibney interviewed former high-ranking US and Israeli security officials, analysts from Symantec who teased the code apart, personnel from Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, and many others, including CIA/NSA/DoD officials unable to speak on camera.
This one comes on the list mainly because of its director Werner Herzog. A german romantic filmmaker is well known for his mad curiosity and unorthodox approach to any topic. In this informative documentary, Herzog explores the history and fundamentals of the Internet as well as its future. He dives into the wonders of what is possible while reminding of its dangers.
Honorable mentions from our team: