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Haxploitation: the complete Reg guide to hackers in film

The first crypto-porn movie and Star Wars joins the list

updated Register readers have come up trumps again by pointing out the various omissions in our list of 20 films featuring hackers or hacking.

You managed to come up with a list of 20 films of your own in the hacker-film sub-genre, or as Reg readers have christened it, Haxploitation flicks

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey - OK it's more a slash'n'burn job than a hack but Dave Bownman's dismantling of HAL means this seminal film can also be included in our list of movies about hacking. Way ahead of its time and still a great movie today
  • Prime Risk - a pair of hackers figure out a way to rip off ATM machines before coming across a fiendish plot to destroy the US economy
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day - a young John Connor also figures out a way to hack into an ATM. Can he and his mother survive against the new prototype liquid metal Terminator while preventing the creation of Skynet? Arnie chips in his bit
  • Colossus: The Forbin Project - an ultra-sophisticated defence computer reckons it ought to be running the world after it get linked up to its Russian counterpart. Its inventor Forbin, and other scientists, plot to work out how to thwart its ambitions. Colossus predates the similar Skynet supercomputer of Terminator fame by 15 years
  • The Demon Seed - a scientist working in artificial intelligence creates a computer, called Proteus, which eventually grows so powerful it rapes his wife (Julie Christie) who gives birth to a mutant baby. A film with many similarities to Polanski's Rosemary's Baby
  • Jurassic Park - greedy software developer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) unleashes Dinosaur-inspired chaos when he hacks in the parks systems in order to shut off its security and steal Dino embryos. 13 year-old girl brings systems back online after delivering the mirth-inducing line, "I know this, it's Unix"
  • eXistenZ - a computer programmer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) creates a virtual reality game that blurs the boundaries of reality for its participants. Merits inclusion in this list because it features hacking into (visceral) computer games. Far from the director, David Cronenberg's, best work though
  • Weird Science - a pair of college nerds use their hacking skillz to generate the perfect woman (Kelly LeBrock) who then puts them in ridiculous situations which are designed to boost their confidence. Great fun
  • 23 - German film about a group of hackers from Hanover. Karl Koch, based on a real character, graduates from an interest in conspiracies about the Illuminati (which derive from Robert Anton Wilson's books), to breaking into government and military computers. He then gets involved in a scheme to sell data to the KGB. The film is a look back at the 80s: The cold war, Olof Palme's assassination and Chernobyl
  • Real Genius - Two teen prodigies resort to desperate measures when their professor steals their laser research project and sells it to the military. A young Val Kilmer plays one of the students who gain revenge on the professor and a rival by hacking into the laser's control mechanism.
  • Smart Money - After his father is wrongly convicted, his son team up with an arcade ace and a 14 year old hacker to get revenge on the man responsible.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - conspirators against Kirk succeed in using a spot of hacking to cover their tracks and get Kirk and McCoy sent to a prison camp at Rura Penthe, wrongly convicted of assassinating a top Klingon official. Not the first film you think of when you consider hacking, but as one of our correspondents points out, after all the episodes when Kirk crashes alien computers "by talking nonsense to it and behaving absurdly" he surely earned his place in the hacker hall of fame.
  • Charlie's Angels - three lovely ladies in the employ of the mysterious Charlie try to retrieve stolen voice recognition software. The work of these private detectives involves hacking into mainframes and dealing with blokes that look like Larry Ellison, while all the while trying to keep their hairstyles in shape. Mindless fun
  • The Score - Robert De Nero plays an ageing thief whose plans to retire are postponed by a young whipper-snapper (Edward Norton) who blackmails him into one last blag. The film has a few scenes involving "some amusingly neurotic hackers", we are told. There is no release date on this film for the UK as yet
  • Mission: Impossible - Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) hacks into the CIA mainframe to recover a list of spies. Uneven but entertaining blockbuster, with plenty of technology all the way through to the Channel Tunnel climax
  • X-files - Mulder and Scully up to their necks in fighting aliens and shadowy conspirators, aided by the 'Lone Gunmen', a group of Mulder's hacker pals (Frohike, Langly and Byers)
  • The Fly - Jeff Goldblum discovers the disastrous effects of having a bug in your technology. His attempts to reverse-engineer his mutation using computers earn the film a place in this list. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
  • Office Space - put-upon office worker decides to bunk off work at a time when his firm is axing jobs. After his two best friends are shown the door, he hatches a plot with them to steal money from the firm by planting a money-siphoning computer virus within its system
  • Fled - Stephen Baldwin, as a computer hacking doing hard time, who hooks up with the street-smart Larry Fishbourne to escape from a chain gang. Baldwin is trying to prove his innocence in the film, but he reportedly has to deal with a missing floppy disc, beautiful women and the Cuban Mafia before he can pull this off. The film was paned by critics
  • Looker - a plastic surgeon, played by Albert Finney, gets suspicious when his clients suffer mysterious deaths after operations. The trail leads back to a conglomerate, which is using virtual reality technology to sinister effect
  • Cryptographic Seduction - the first cryptographer produced porn movie. Master cypherpunk Bill Dylan (Horner), inventor of an invincible quantum-computing chip, the Desdemona, faces off against sultry NSA agents trying to charm the chip - and the pants - off our hero. Features such classic lines as "I am going to suck the secret key right out of you." Maybe that was the technology Hugh Jackman's character used to break RSA encryption in SwordFish?

So, with the list of films in our earlier story, we've now got a comprehensive list of Hollywood's various attempts to create a convincing portrayal of hacking on celluloid. Armed with the two lists, which make up 40 films, we decided to take a poll of the office in order to come up with a Register top ten list for you to disagree with. ®


After we closed the list of films to vote on a fresh batch of nominated films came in from readers. Here's some the best of them...

  • Star Wars - Numerous acts of unauthorised access by R2D2 are needed as our heroes battle the forces of the evil empire, to say nothing of the Death Star.
  • Three Days of the Condor - Robert Redford, as a bookish CIA researcher caught up in a murderous conspiracy, hacks into the phone system in order to make difficult to trace calls.
  • Jumpin' Jack Flash - Whoppi Goldberg, playing a bank worker, becomes the world's most unlikeliest hacker after she decodes a message, sent to her in code, which leads to her involvement in an espionage ring.
  • Clear and Present Danger - Harrison Ford hacks into another CIA official's PC during the course of his the intrigues he gets into while fighting a Colombian drugs cartel.
  • Entrapment - Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones find that a spot of hacking has the potential to make them $8 billion richer.
  • Hot Millions - Peter Ustinov plays a cockney con artist who steals millions by hacking the code of a mainframe belonging to an insurance company. This is possible because he replaces one of the firm's software developers. Made in 1968 this is one of the first computer hacking movies.
  • South Park: Bigger, Louder and Uncut - Kyle hacks a German porn site (whose main attraction is Cartman's Mum) in order to gain unlimited access. This is a bit tenuous for inclusion in a list about hacking (if this list was about Canada-baiting it'd be a shoe in) but we liked the film so it gets a mention.
  • Battle Royale - high school students are trapped on a desert island and forced to kill each other to survive. In one scene a student writes an exploit to inactivate the system that is monitoring them.
  • Eraser - Arnie has to protect a witness who has to hack into a corporate database in order to reveal the treasonous wrongdoings of a firm developing a powerful new weapon.
  • Under Siege 2 - A hacker, who is offered $1 billion dollars by Middle Eastern Terrorists, tries to hack into a top-secret government outer space super-weapon. Brainless Steven Seagal action flick.
  • Runaway - A tough cop (Tom Selleck) fights robots reprogrammed to kill. This film, directed by Michael Crichton, hasn't survived the passage of time particularly well.
  • The Thirteenth Floor - A computer scientist involved in creating a virtual world, which mimics the 1930s, finds out more than he bargained for when his boss is murdered. After he starts investigating the activities of his boss in the virtual world, he finds out he is chief suspect in his murder. The film predates many of the themes about virtual reality that feature in The Matrix.
  • Manhattan Project - High school student defeats security system with a frisbee in order to get plutonium for a science project. Really this is all getting a bit silly...
  • Overdrawn at the Memory Bank - the mind of a programmer (Raul Julia) is transferred into that of a computer. It gets really silly after that as Julia's character reprograms himself into a simulation of Casablanca and brings the finances of the firm that placed him in this state to its knees. No, we haven't made this up ourselves, honest!

Movies like Star Wars and Three Days of the Condor would have probably made our top 10 list if they'd arrived before our deadline. But we had to draw the line somewhere. Thanks for all the readers who contributed with ideas for this list, which was fun to draw up, but is now closed.

External Links

Internet Movie Data Base - excellent site for everything to do with films
Essay on why films about computers are all rubbish

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