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The Reg guide to hackers in film

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Our recent stories about the movie Swordfish, which goes on general release in the UK tomorrow have encouraged us to take a look at the whole hacker-film sub-genre.

Hollywood's various attempts to create a convincing portrayal of hacking on celluloid (cracking exists for Tinseltown only in the Marx Brother's Animal Crackers) created a lot of interest in the office.

We've come up with our own list of 20 films featuring hackers or hacking, good and bad (in no particular order), for your perusal...


  • Superman III - Richard Prior uses the command "transfer all monies to my account". Dontcha just wish every OS included this useful feature?
  • Italian Job - Benny Hill crashes Turin's traffic system (motivated by a love of 'large ladies') in this classic British heist caper
  • Bellman and True (starring Bernard Hill) - a bank robbery using computers in a downbeat movie that came out years before Tarantino explored similar themes
  • The Conversation - not strictly about hacking but Gene Hackman's painstaking recreation of a partly-recorded bugged conversation paint him as a character which much the same obsessive traits as today's hackers. Probably the best film (in terms of quality)
  • Enemy of the State - Gene Hackman again, as a paranoid informant (certain knowledgeable about intelligence and hacking) that Will Smith comes to for help when he unwittingly becomes involved in a murderous conspiracy
  • Die Hard - Bruce Willis in a vest versus 'extraordinary criminal' Alan Rickman and hacker cohorts. Terrorism as a cover for hacking
  • Independence Day - Jeff Goldblum finds viruses can defeat alien invasion (and we're not talking the common cold here)
  • Tron - floated ideas about virtual reality that were only realised with The Matrix. Jeff Bridges plays a games developer who tries to regain copyright of his work by hacking into the firm that pinched it off him
  • The Matrix - Keanu Reeves finds hacking can seriously alter your view of reality
  • WarGames - Matthew Broderick hacks into the US Army's nuclear defence mainframe and plays "Global Thermonuclear Warfare". The film that really established the genre and created the public's perception of hackers as dysfunctional teenager kids breaking into government systems from their bedrooms
  • Sneakers - Robert Redford leads a rag-tag gang of hackers who are duped into retrieving a black box which can crack encryption codes. Came out around the time of the Clipper Chip controversy and convincingly portrayed a world of hackers living in the shadows
  • Goldeneye - James Bond fights Russian (state-sponsored) black-hat hacker and Femke Janssen for control of a satellite weapon. A return to form for Bond, and the first outing for Pierce Brosnan
  • Billion Dollar Brain - plot to overthrow Communism using IBM supercomputer comes a cropper when Karl Malden feeds the machine a pack of lies. Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) looks on bemused by the whole shindig
  • Hackers - Angelina 'Acid Burn' Jolie and future ex-husband Jonny Lee Miller star as teenage hackers fighting both sides of the law in an attempt to stop a dangerous virus spreading. Despite featuring the gorgeous Jolie, the film is let down by poor plot and weak dialogue - does this sound like another film you might have seen recently?
  • The Net - Another beautiful woman fighting computer viruses. This time it's Sandra Bullock, who has to deal with malicious code - and a very nasty case of identity theft...
  • AntiTrust - hacker gets involved in, and then resists, plans of sinister multi-billionaire software tycooon, a thinly-disguised Bill Gates (as played by Tim Robbins), to destroy his competitors
  • Swordfish - Hugh Jackman co-opted into the plans of dark super-spy John Travolta. It's amazing what you can do with a gun to your head and a pretty girl in your lap...
  • Takedown - much ridiculed straight-to-video film based on the arrest of Kevin Mitnick. Risible
  • Ferris Beuller's Day Off - slacker hacks into school computer using primitive form of social engineering in order to take day off. Does this make Matthew Broderick the greatest teen hacker ever?
  • Johnny Mnemonic - Keanu Reeves challenges Broderick for the hacker-prince crown. Hacking goes cyberpunk in a tale of a man who puts a computer chip in his brain, and no the film has (thankfully) nothing to do with Kevin Warwick

OK so that's our list and doubtless they'll be countless omissions, errors or things you plain disagree with here. If it sparks a discussion down the pub then this story will have done its job... ®

External Links

Internet Movie Data Base - excellent site for everything to do with films
CNN: How Hollywood portrays hackers

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