For a long time, Hollywood has followed a tradition of taking mundane, everyday tasks and highly dramatizing and simplifying them to create an engaging plot. Unfortunately, most of the compromises needed to make such films involve leaving out details that make legitimate experts cringe. Hacker movies are some of the worst offenders.
Yet not all hacker movies resemble something out of a bad soap opera. A select few contain at least enough real details to not appear completely unauthentic to people in the know, and it’s those films we’re interested in today.
Whether you’re a hacker, coder or just someone that’s interested in learning about how hackers genuinely operate, these are five hacker movies you don’t want to miss!
As the most recent addition to the world of hacker movies, “Blackhat” truly makes an effort to make the world of hacking attractive to a regular audience while still leaving enough detail intact to interest real tech insiders.
Despite doing poorly at the box office, “Blackhat” demonstrates both an acceptable plot and several clever instances of hacking, including the bank scene where Chen Lien (Tang Wei) succeeds in fooling the guard into inserting a USB drive into the bank’s systems.
Physically breaking into a system with a program on an actual device is far more realistic than old classics such as “War Games,” where a couple of innocent students “accidentally” hack into a government supercomputer and nearly initiate nuclear war.
Of course, most hackers don’t get to be quite as up close and personal as the film portrays, but experts in Silicon Valley seemed to agree that most of the movie’s portrayals were accurate. Either way, it’s a good film to check out, especially if you enjoy action and thrills mixed in with a believable story.
Everyone loves a good comedy, and what better to watch than one whose plot also matches up well with real hacking? “Sneakers” is a 90’s hacker movie classic where Martin Brice (Robert Redford) is approached by the NSA to work as a white hat (white hats are the “good” hackers) in exchange for a clean slate.
Naturally, the NSA largely works as the film’s antagonist, much to the chagrin of real hackers and tech security experts everywhere. While “Sneakers” isn’t without its stereotypical tropes or clichés, that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch. Despite mixed criticism, Rotten Tomatoes reviews have pegged “Sneakers” considerably higher than most hacker movies at 81%.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)
For the record: there are two films titled “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but the version we’re interested in is actually the Swedish version (and in my opinion, the better of the two). You’ll find this choice a bit more graphic than the American film, but with no less intrigue.
Our story follows Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), both from very different worlds but brought together by unique circumstances. Salander is a “mentally disabled” hacker and investigator that encounters Blomkvist on an investigation.
Their relationship gradually becomes more personal as they discover that their mutual employer is manipulating them. Much of the film’s plot advancement, on the other hand, relies on Salander’s technological know-how and cunning wits.
As films go, you’ll find “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” to have a much more intricate plot, but the movie’s accurate depiction of hacking layered with excellent writing and acting make watching it a valuable use of time.
Track Down (2000)
Although “Track Down” isn’t exactly praised for its historical accuracy, its characterization of two real hackers (Kevin Mitnick and Tsutomu Shimomura) lands it a well-earned spot in the field of realistic hacker movies. That doesn’t make it a particularly great film; reviews are relatively mixed, and the creative license taken with real world names and events definitely make parts of the film questionable.
However, “Track Down” (“Takedown” outside of the US) does do a good job highlighting the massive impact Kevin Mitnick had on the world of hacking and how popular media views real hackers. Take the story with a grain of salt, but realize that as hacker movies go, “Track Down” still does a decent job with its portrayal.
The Fifth Estate (2013)
“The Fifth Estate” is yet another example where, like “Track Down,” Hollywood managed to capture significant realistic elements while dropping the ball on the plot. Depicting the now famous WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, “The Fifth Estate” aims to bring the public into a much more intimate relationship with the two.
WikiLeaks has since been vocal in denouncing the film as little more than propaganda against their company, so approach with caution and an open mind. In spite of some disagreement over the film, “The Fifth Estate’s” depiction of Assange is surprisingly accurate, and many techie elements are realistic if a bit slanderous.
While, as a whole, hacker movies usually sit somewhere between highly unrealistic and highly inaccurate, that doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining. Some of what is depicted in “The Matrix,” for instance, is very reminiscent of real hacking, but in a very fantastic world. Even scenes from “Live Free or Die Hard” do some justice to hacking, although I can’t say I was personally a big fan of the overall film.
What do you think? Have you ever sat down to watch a film about hacking and thought to yourself either “this doesn’t seem quite right” or “this looks pretty accurate?” Tell us about your favorite hacker movie in the comments section.
Author Bio: Caroline is a writer who primarily writes for Secure Thoughts. Her topics regularly include different strategies and tips regarding cybersecurity for both individuals and businesses.