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Hackers have had a long history in movies, even if Hollywood doesn’t quite know how hacking really works. From good guys to bad guys, breaking into a computer has made for many great movie moments. Here are 9 of the best.
We must start with the obvious. It’s got the work Hacker right in the title. The story of genius boy who creates a virus that gets him banned from computers until he is an adult, he and his friends eventually discover a plot that will capsize a fleet of oil tankers. Putting their skills to the test, and enlisting the help of hackers from around the world (because hackers are good people) they go to work to stop the real bad guys. A spectacularly cheesy 90s delight with a ridiculously oblivious concept of what hacking is, the script is a barrage of nonsense computer words and terms with ‘hacking’ visuals that look like a bad video game. In other words, it’s a must-watch.
Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman), a hacker just out of prison for infecting a CIA program, is recruited by Ginger Knowles (Halle Berry) and her boss Gabriel Shear (John Travolta) to create a hack to steal billions from a government slush fund, but first, he has to prove his worth. Thrust in front of an impressive display of computers, he is given one minute to break into the complex security system guarding it. To raise the stakes, Shear has a goon point a gun at Jobson’s head and has a beautiful young woman drop to her knees and perform oral sex on him as well. Talk about your overstimulation. Fast-paced, tension-filled, sexy, and even a little funny, this hacker moment is the best moment in the movie.
A very rich and narrow-minded magnate creates an island amusement park full of very real dinosaurs with plans to serve guests as a buffet apparently as everything goes wrong on the trial run and the place is swarmed with big teeth. As the dinosaurs slowly retake the park, the surviving people, including paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and the owner’s grandkids Timothy (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) become trapped in the control room with some very hungry raptors trying to break in. While the door won’t lock, it’s up to Lex, a computer nerd who sits herself down at a console and bangs out some code to override the security system and lock themselves in because of course she can. In a film involving bringing back dinosaurs from 65 million years ago, this one moment stands out as the most unbelievable, but also the most fun as the tension is unbearable and Steve Spielberg knows best how to build an action scene.
Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) leads a team of computer and technical experts who earn a living testing the effectiveness of complex security systems. Blackmailed by NSA agents over a crime he did decades earlier, he’s ordered to steal a top secret ‘black box’ supposedly about to land in the hands of the Russians. When they acquire it, the team decides to take upon themselves to learn just what it is they’ve stolen and together, hack into the box, discovering it is the code-key to every computer security program in the world, able to decrypt any software any where. As they dig deeper into its power, they find they have access to banks, but also more frightening, control of any airport traffic control tower. This gripping moment is the centerpiece of this film.
Fresh out of prison, Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) learns of another heist to steal the payroll of a car company in Italy. To do the job, he needs a lot of help, mostly that which deals with Mini Coopers. Once the plans are in place, they need a way to keep the cops off their tracks. In comes Peach (Benny Hill) who, using a hack with magnetic tape(!), redirects the traffic lights in the city of Turin and causes a massive jam. This was reproduced in the remake with Lyle (Seth Green) doing the same, only with a much more modern software hack. Both Peach and Lyle are the comedy relief of their respective movies and make their hacking scenes some of the best in their films.
The origin story of one the most successful companies in the world, the start of Mark Zukerberg’s (played by Jesse Eisenberg) networking site Facebook story begins with him getting dumped by his girlfriend. Angered and hurt, he returns to his dorm room and sits at his computer while a few boys party behind him. He begins to hack into local university network sites and steals the images of all the girls on campus to create a site where users rate their attractiveness. Sure it gets him in heaps of trouble, but it also gets the attention of some fellow Harvard classmates and an interested businessman looking to create a social networking site for the university. We all know how that turns out.
U.S. Army pilot Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) suddenly wakes up on a train though his last memory was in Afghanistan as a soldier. He is traveling with a beautiful woman and in a little shock, heads to the bathroom where he discovers his face is not his. Just has he begins to get a grip on what is happening, the train blows up and everyone dies, though he wakes up again, this time in reality where he’s inside a mechanical cockpit and told to get back into the mission and find the bomber. He discovers that he is being hacked into the mind of another person using a device that creates another timeline. Complicated? Yup, but the film’s commitment to the premise and some great hacking moments throughout make this a great thriller.
Cobb (Leonardo DiCapri0) leads a team of specialists who tap into people’s dreams and steal their ideas. Now, they are tasked with doing something unheard of: putting an idea in. The movie is basically an entire sequence of hacking moments but the best is clearly the finale when the team goes layers deep into their target. The complexity of the schemes and the nuance in which writer/director Christopher Nolan weaves this intricately spun thriller makes it a compelling watch from start to finish, never making it clear just where we and who is in control. This classic film is (almost) the pinnacle of hacker’s movies, combining the action and suspense of a top crime drama with the wicked brain-twisting fun a, well, Christopher Nolan film.
Bow down to the grandaddy of them all. A smart but unfocused computer whiz kid thinks he’s hacking into a computer game company to get his hands on the latest new games before they are released but discovers he’s actually snuck in the backdoor of NORAD and is connected to their brand new missile defense system. While we’ve already seen David (Matthew Broderick) hack into his high school computers and change grades, now he’s gone and worked his way into the the game company, or so he thinks. With his new girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) beside him, he meets Joshua, the system’s AI, and while Joshua is actually WOPER, the NORAD defense computer running continuous nuclear war games scenarios, the kids think it is an innocent welcome software for the game company. The now iconic “Shall We Play A Game” is asked by Joshua and David’s hacking inadvertently begins what could be global thermonuclear war. The best of them all.