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  • Writer's pictureManish Nepal

10 edge-of-the-seat cyber crime movies you should watch

If you push through the clutter of over-rated Hollywood action flicks and rom-com, there are movies that offer a twisted taste of entertainment.

Movies about hackers and cyber crimes are one such faculty and I have painstakingly compiled a list of the best of the best cyber crime movies that are guaranteed to grab your attention towards the dark dungeons of hacking and cybercrime. Enjoy them a la carte at your own pace, or binge-watch them as a feast.

Antitrust (2001)

A true representation of its time, Antitrust was able to capture the mood of the 90s and augur the cybersecurity issues of the new millennium in a lucid narrative.

It is based on the premise that codes should be free for all instead of being monopolized for business. Antitrust showcases the clash of interests between the free-thinking, yet aspiring, programmers and the overzealous, business-minded mega corp.

It has the usual dose of Hollywood flavor in it, but the many intriguing plot twists captivate anyone with an inclination for crime thrillers. Besides the show of might between good vs. evil, there are a lot of reality-inspired cues in the movies (like Tim Robbins representing Bill Gates, college grads running a startup from their garage, etc.) which makes this movie even more entertaining.

Enemy of the State (1998)

This is one of the finest Tony Scott movies, if not his magnum opus. Late movie critic Roger Ebert said in his review of the movie that Scott “films technology the way the National Geographic films wetlands.”

The movie is a riveting tale of government highhandedness to hunt down a lawyer (Will Smith) who accidentally happens to possess the evidence of a political murder.

It is one such movie that brought out the US government’s ability to penetrate into the deepest crevices of society and breach data privacy. The movie showcases plausible use of computers and other smart gadgets in the movie, which is why it struck a chord with movie lovers, especially those with an understanding of data security.

Hackers (1995)

Now here is a movie that doesn’t distract the audience with subplots. Sure, it revolves around a political conspiracy, but only as a backdrop for the story to build on. True to its name, Hackers is all about computers, viruses, and the unsuspecting lives of young hackers.

The movie’s protagonist, Zero Cool (Jonny Lee Murphy), is a whiz-kid who was convicted at 11 years of age for bringing down a network of over 1,500 computers, leading to a million-dollar loss in NYSE.

After overcoming his abstinence to stay away from computers, he enrolls in college and meets like-minded hackers who, despite their individual differences, gel well together. When one of their friends lands into trouble, they unite to seek vengeance.

What follows is a fast-paced drama of code talks, hack plots, and unraveling tales of young minds on a mission.

Bonus score: A boyish-looking Angelina Jolie who brings substance to the story as the only female geek in the gang.

Takedown (2000)

A lot of movie lovers see Takedown as a sequel to Hackers (1995), and there is a good reason for them to do so. Both movies are brilliantly-made and zero in on the underbelly of hacking circles, and the motives that pull them into hacking.

Takedown is loosely based on the true story of real-life hacker Kevin Mitnick, portrayed by Skeet Ulrich, and the movie was released outside the US as Track Down.

The movie is a book adaption of the same name which puts you on the edge of your seat till the very end. For the most part, it is interesting to watch two cyber minds—Mitnick and computer security expert Tsutomu Shimomura—on either side of the law trying to overpower each other for obtaining different objectives.

Blackhat (2015)

The latest entry to this list is a high-octane cyber crime movie drama that builds on a story about an accident in a Chinese nuclear plant facility and a data breach in the American trade exchange, both caused by an online hack.

Although the film wasn’t well-received by critics, it has its cyber-thrilling moments. The story revolves around the premises of Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) being offered an early release in return for his service to the FBI and CIA to hunt down the culprits behind the said cyber attacks.

As the movie progresses, the audience is pulled into the usual Hollywood mixture of the suspect chase, pyrotechnics involving gun fights and car explosions, a bit of romance, and the spiraling narrative that unravels a sinister ploy.

Sneakers (1992)

Sneakers deals specifically with the information security sector. A team of experts headed by Martin Brice (Robert Redford), are hired by people “to break into their places to make sure no one can break into their places.”

The team is pressurized by a couple of rogue officials from the National Security Agency (NSA) to take up a high-profile job of finding a “little black box”.

They soon learn that they don’t have a choice but to reject the offer and walk the tightrope of searching for the mysterious box that holds encrypted information that's valuable to them.

Despite its relevancy to the early 90s when issues related to cybersecurity were in the infant stage, this might be the classiest, most enthralling, and most plausible movie on this list.

Tron (1982)

Tron is a true-blue virtual reality movie that came out at a time when the cyberworld was taking baby steps in terms of computer simulation.

One of Jeff Bridges' classics, who portrays computer genius Kevin Flynn, the movie plots overlaps issues relevant to the contemporary cyber world, like; gaming, AI, code plagiarism, and loosely enough, corporate dominance, and government security.

The movie director, Steven Lisberger, is quoted as saying that he “was frustrated by the clique-like nature of video games,” and thus, “wanted to create a film that would open this world up to everyone.”

It’s an open secret how successful he was in doing so, substantiated by the popularity of its 2010 sequel “Tron: Legacy” which got a phenomenal reception from the Millennial audience.

Wargames (1983)

Now here is a movie with a clever yet realistic scenario, which suggests the consequences if computers go beyond human control.

When a high school student David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) hacks into the US military network, he poses as Soviet Russia to play a game of Global Thermonuclear War, inadvertently leading the US side to an actual warlike situation with Russia.

Wargames is still considered one of the ionic cyber crime movies.

When he realizes the ripples created by his frivolous prank, he somehow manages to reach the creator of the program Stephen Falken (John Wood), to disable the automation. The nail-biting drama offers a glimpse into what a man versus machine situation can look like.

Despite being nominated under three categories of the annual 56th Academy Award in 1984, Wargames couldn’t bag any award.

Sleep Dealer (2008)

Sleep Dealer is (surprisingly) the only futuristic sci-fi on the list, which envisions a militarized world akin to the Orwellian society.

The movie’s backdrop is a spin on the Mexican immigration problem in the US, with the main plot revolving around “cyber labor” and memory selling.

It’s a depressing story of Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Peña), a young Mexican cyber enthusiast who spirals into the complexity of selling his labor for robots to the northern, elite side of the border.

The movie is primarily based in Mexico, and the story ends when 3 strangers including Memo unite for a cause to destroy a corporation’s control over a, err…water dam. Enough said.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

This is the only entry for a movie with a sole focus on a female hacker (Rooney Mara), albeit as a sidekick to a male lead (Daniel Craig).

It’s a murder mystery based on a Swedish best-seller novel of the same name set in— you guessed it—Sweden.

A millionaire (Christopher Plumber) assigns Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) to investigate the 40-year-old murder of his niece. Craig offers Lisbeth Salander (Mara), a perturbed but talented hacker, to join him on his quest and thus begins her spree of hacking computers, defeating email encryptions, rerouting money from bad guys’ bank accounts, and so on.

Critics and experts of internet security alike appreciated the movie’s portrayal of rational hacking scenarios.

Honorable mentions:

Some of the greatest cyber crime movie documentaries. Below are some documentaries (and a movie) that reveal the tell-tale stories behind controversial cyber laws, hackers, and their geeky ways.

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists (2012)

Anonymous (2015)

Zero Day (II) (2015)

CitizenFour (2015)

The Fifth Estate (2013 movie)

The Internet’s Own Boy (2014)


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