Movies about hacking can be all over the place, to say the least. The ones that are fun are rarely realistic, meanwhile truth and accuracy rarely translate into entertainment.
Not to mention the stereotypes that come with hackers, whether they're computer nerds who live and breathe video games and coding, or anonymous rebels who hide in the shadows and want to disrupt the world at large for whatever reason.
Computer hackers can be shady individuals with weak morals, or they can be helpful side characters who aid the heroes, or they can be the heroes themselves—if they don't slip into anti-hero territory.
Skilled hackers have dangerous weapons at their disposal. The difference between black hat hackers and white hat hackers lies in how they choose to wield those weapons.
Here are my picks for the best movies about hackers, who get involved in all sorts of hacking and cybercrime activities.
10. Hackers (1995)
Directed by Iain Softley
Starring Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Jesse Bradford
Crime, Drama, Romance (1h 45m)
Hackers came out at a time when hacker culture was just reaching headlines, so in some ways, it was important for there to be authenticity in pop culture depictions of hacking.
To be clear, Hackers was not an exemplar of those ideals. Critics have piled on this film before, but we're feeling nice so let's just say this film is a well-intentioned baby step in that direction.
Hackers ended up being a cheesy cult hit about Kate Libby (Angelina Jolie), one high school hacker who inadvertently releases a virus.
A product of its time, Hackers combines the sleekness of a 90s tech thriller with teenage angst, right down to the cheesy nicknames and 90s internet. But real hacking? Not so much.
9. The Italian Job (2003)
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Starring Donald Sutherland, Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton
Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 51m)
The original The Italian Job from 1969 is mostly known for gems like the "bloody doors" line, Quincy Jones' soundtrack, and its literal cliffhanger ending that likely wouldn't fly today.
The 2003 remake of The Italian Job did its best to capture the magic of the Michael Caine original (including the Mini Cooper chase) while adding a few modern touches—like hacking.
Among the charming cast of Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Jason Statham is Seth Green's Lyle, who claims to be the real creator of Napster. While he mostly serves as comic relief, Lyle is pivotal to the crew, especially when he interferes with the LA traffic system.
8. Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Directed by Len Wiseman
Starring Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant
Action, Thriller (2h 8m)
A PG-13 version of Die Hard may make your eyes roll, but Live Free or Die Hard proved that limitations can help freshen up stale action formulas.
In this film, John McClane (Bruce Willis) is pitted against a cyberterrorist named Thomas Gabriel, who plans to crash the nation's cyberinfrastructure for reasons. And in order to take him down, McClane turns to Matt Farrell (Justin Long).
Previously a hacker, Matt now uses his hacking prowess to build cybersecurity systems. His brains balance out McClane's brawns, and they both end up complementing each other's wits.
With Matt being a Justin Long character, it's no surprise that his nerdiness is played for laughs—but as far as hacker characters in film are concerned, he's one of our favorites.
7. The Fifth Estate (2013)
Directed by Bill Condon
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, Carice van Houten
Biography, Crime, Drama (2h 8m)
Online privacy and security were super hot topics back in 2013, making it the perfect year for this real-life exposé of Julian Assange.
The infamous WikiLeaks founder (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is known for his crusade to bring transparency to global institutions of power. Alongside him is his trusted colleague and spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg (played by Daniel Brühl).
Benedict Cumberbatch has a habit of playing flawed geniuses, and Julian Assange is no exception. Amidst his rogue personality and sharp perception, Cumberbatch infuses him with humanity.
The Fifth Estate delivers a thriller narrative that's far from airtight, but I'm including it because it's an important movie about the ethics of hacking and the use of cybercrime for political action.
6. Blackhat (2015)
Directed by Michael Mann
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Tang Wei
Action, Crime, Thriller (2h 13m)
Michael Mann's hefty action skills are put to use in Blackhat, a cyber thriller starring Chris Hemsworth as convicted hacker Nicholas Hathaway, who cooperates with American and Chinese authorities to stop a network from interfering with government systems.
As basic as it is, Blackhat is worth watching for its depth of style. Michael Mann took inspiration from the likes of Fritz Lang and J. Robert Oppenheimer for his take on cybersecurity and mass surveillance.
Dystopian in every frame, yet Mann is able to keep his vision balanced in a way that paints a more complex illustration of the profession of hacking than we normally see in cinema.
5. Tron (1982)
Directed by Steven Lisberger
Starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi (1h 36m)
Now let's jump into the earliest movie about hacking on our list, one with an imaginative take on cyber networks.
Tron centers on a kind of cyber dimension that's created by Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a computer programmer who ends up transported into this world he developed. In order to escape, he must navigate the titular advanced security program called Tron.
This sci-fi classic is notable for being one of the first films to use CGI, most famously for its Light Cycle scenes.
But more relevantly to this list, Tron gives us a glimpse of early computer programming and the politics surrounding it. Kevin Flynn might be a hacker, but he's framed as a successful hero.
4. Citizenfour (2014)
Directed by Laura Poitras
Starring Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Ewan MacAskill
Biography, Documentary, History (1h 54m)
Edward Snowden is one of the most notable whistleblowers in modern history, famous for uncovering the NSA surveillance program.
The entirety of Citizenfour involves him sharing details to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, plus the aftermath of it all.
Despite being a documentary, Citizenfour is a gripping watch that follows the tone and tension of a top-notch thriller. Being watched is terrifying, and Poitras knows it.
In Citizenfour, Poitras proves her skill in knowing when—and how—to focus on Snowden, giving him the floor to share his cybersecurity expertise. To this day, Snowden leads on as a hacktivist.
3. Sneakers (1992)
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson
Starring Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Sidney Poitier
Comedy, Crime, Drama (2h 6m)
Sneakers is a classic thriller that blends the spy genre with the heist genre, centering on team of security specialists who are tricked into stealing a crucial item from the government.
This prompts their ring leader Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) to confront his past in order to restore his team's good name.
Almost every heist film has a hacker on the team, but Sneakers is unique for involving an entire team of white hat hackers and computer programmers who act in pursuit of noble causes.
Within this crack team, we have standouts in technician/conspiracy theorist Darren (Dan Aykroyd) and young hacker protégé Carl (River Phoenix)—basically the two extremes of hacker archetypes.
2. The Matrix (1999)
Directed by Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Action, Sci-Fi (2h 16m)
It's time to take the red pill, put on your darkest trench coat, and hack into the servers of The Matrix.
At release, the Wachowskis' sci-fi action flick was regarded as a masterpiece and cultural milestone for its groundbreaking use of special effects and its themes of reality and mortality.
But in terms of hacking, The Matrix is a higher-concept film that depicts all of it through the character of Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves).
Thomas Anderson (also known as Neo) enters the Matrix and fulfills his destiny by applying his knowledge as a programmer to take advantage of the Matrix's features.
1. WarGames (1983)
Directed by John Badham
Starring Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, John Wood
Action, Drama, Sci-Fi (1h 54m)
The Cold War wasn't a war in the traditional sense. Instead of military clashes and razed battlefields, it was a battle of wits and progress.
With all the advancements of computers at the time, paranoia grew and evolved into cyberwarfare—and that whole idea serves as the foundation for the iconic tech thriller WarGames.
Matthew Broderick stars as a high school hacker named David, who inadvertently gains access to a military system that controls a nuclear program, which escalates tensions between the US and USSR.
As a layman's introduction to hacking in movies and all the politics that come with it, WarGames is undoubtedly the most relatable with its true-to-life stakes.
Is WarGames perfect? No, far from it. But is it still one of the most memorable and watchable movies about hacking? You bet it is.