Hollywood vs hackers: Vulture cracks Tinseltown keyboard cornballs

Cracking code was never like Blackhat in my day

Where would we be without the Magic USB stick

Skyfall, 2012

I picked on this one because it’s fresher in many peoples’ minds but I could have picked on almost any Bond flick of the post-internet era. Skyfall’s an example of the cinematic crime of gloriously pretty data visualisation. Real code is (occasionally hilarious bracketed comments aside) profoundly dull to gaze upon.

In one pivotal scene in Skyfall Ben Whishaw (as Q) scrolls through a very cinegenic jumble of code on villain Silva’s captured laptop. Bond (Daniel Craig), who is generally presented in the films as a sort of anti-nerd luddite, spots a word in plain text in the middle of this whirligig of Unix jibber-jabber and uses that as a key to decrypt the whole thing.

Woman looks immensely happy while staring into blank screen of unplugged monitor

No visible cabling? WE love that SH*T here at The Reg... Photo via Shutterstock

That and Silva’s “server farm” that is apparently operating on Japan’s Hashima Island without any kind of cooling or visible cabling. Oh, and the repeated intrusions into M’s laptop that never stimulate a shocked sysop to spirit it away for testing, disinfection, and/or destruction.

And there’s a Stuxnet-inspired gas explosion in this one too.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014

This most recent entry in Marvel’s all-conquering suite of superhero flicks reprises two popular IT-related conceits. There’s the “personality uploaded into a computer” trope, with a pleasing retro twist. And there’s the Magic USB stick.

The Magic USB stick is a perennially popular meme in modern cinema. The Magic USB stick has all the functionality of an Intel Compute Stick plus some extra tricks from War Games and Lord Of The Rings. Captain America’s one features the ever-popular GUI-powered traceroute function that we know and love from every hacker and phone tapping scene in movie history.

It also works in reverse, phoning home when it’s being accessed. Nothing impossible there, just needlessly pretty. Plus you can’t help thinking that editing the computer’s hosts file to loop the cry for help back might have shaved 20 minutes or so off film's 136 minute run time.

Hackers, 1995

Jonny Lee Miller

If you’ve ever seen a film where a computer nerd has about nine monitors all hooked up to one workstation. If you’ve ever seen a film where the screen flashes the words “ACCESS DENIED” and then the nerd types the words “OVERRIDE PASSWORD” as fast and hard as he can for abut 22 seconds, before announcing “We’re in”. If you’ve ever seen a film where hacking involves having as many vaguely videogame-looking windows open as possible and shouting randomly-combined words from Windows 95 For Dummies, then you probably don’t need to see 1995 piffle-festival Hackers.

But see it anyway. It’s really rather droll.

Swordfish, 2001

Named, as far as I can tell, after the password in a Marx Brothers movie, the 2001 IT fantasy Swordfish is notable for casting Hugh Jackman as some sort of computer expert. Six foot, handsome as all get out, socially functional Hugh Jackman. That’s more improbable than all the really fast typing. ®

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