Your guide to the 40 best hacker movies and movies about cyber crime or cyber security from the past 5 decades
“Shall we play a game?”
When I think of my list of favorite hacker movies, one of the first that always comes to mind is “WarGames.” It hearkens back to my childhood when my mom, sisters and I would crowd around the TV in the living room. We’d eagerly watch (and re-watch) as a young Matthew Broderick hacks his way into nearly triggering a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
But WarGames isn’t the only great (albeit perhaps cheesy in a 1980s-movie-so-of-way) hacker movie that has graced the big screen over the past 50 or so years. Nor is it the only cyber security-themed movie to make an impact. Since we know that our audience includes a way variety of individuals from a wealth of different backgrounds, we thought it would be fun to create a list of some of our favorite hacker movies. Although, we’ll also include movies about cyber crime and cyber security overall as well.
So, what do you say?
Let’s hash it out.
A Comprehensive List of the 40 Best Hacker and Cyber Movies or Movies About Cybercrime (By Decade)
Since Hollywood has put out so many great hacker movies, it’s hard to choose what would be considered “the best.” So, I thought it best to approach this list by listing each title by decade and by name. Furthermore, I reached out to get the top recommendations from IT industry experts to see what makes their lists of favorite live-action hacker and cyber movies. This list includes fictional motion pictures; I’ve not included documentary films on this list of cyber security movies because I believe they would be better suited to a separate list. Note: Not every hacker movie is a completely realistic representation of hacking or the cyber security industry as a whole.
To really make this a fun topic, I’ve decided to enlist the feedback of industry experts — people like you. Their insights and thoughts about these hacker movies are sprinkled throughout the list.
Get your popcorn ready — we’re going to dive right into this cyber security and hacker movie list:
Cyber and Hacker Movies of the 1960s
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)
In The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Kurt Russell stars as an underachieving college student whose intellectual capabilities skyrocket after an electrical accident with a computer when its “brain” fuses with his own. (Note: you’re going to notice this type of theme with multiple movies on this list — someone gets zapped during a storm or electrical overload and, bam, something major happens as a result… yada, yada, yada.)
The Italian Job (1969)
The Italian Job stars Michael Caine as a recently released convicted criminal who enlists the help of infamous computer hackers in the U.K. to steal a shipment of gold in Turin, Italy — all while avoiding the police and Italian mobsters. They do this by hacking the city’s traffic light system to cause a massive city-wide gridlock. This is one of the classic hacker movies that should definitely be included on any list of cyber films.
Cyber and Hacker Movies of the 1970s
Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
In Colossus, the United States has developed a massive supercomputer (Colossus) to protect the nation from nuclear attacks. However, Russia has created a similar supercomputer, called Guardian, and the two machines begin a dialog. The communication between the two artificial intelligences (AIs) leaves its creator, Charles Forbin, worried about what could result, and so he severs the connection. This leads to Colossus threatening global destruction unless the link is restored. Considering the heightened political tensions going on around this time in our history, it’s understandable why this cyber movie highlighted issues of concern surrounding artificial intelligence (AI).
The Conversation (1974)
The Conversation, which was nominated for three Oscars, stars Gene Hackman as a highly regarded surveillance expert whose work leads to the death of a woman and child and, he fears, will lead to the deaths of a couple if he doesn’t intervene. (Note: Hackman gets to reprise his role as a high-tech wizard again a few decades later in another movie that you’ll see further down the list.)
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
In Three Days of the Condor, Robert Redford stars as a CIA codebreaker who discovers all of his coworkers were murdered. Soon, he realizes that individuals higher up in within the agency are responsible. He then goes into hiding to avoid being killed by a hired hitman while trying to figure out why his own employers want him dead. If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s definitely one to add to your list.
Cyber and Hacker Movies of the 1980s
The 1980s and 1990s were an amazing time for hacker movies and other cyber security movies. You’re talking about incredible plots, tons of action, and numerous A-list stars on the big screen in movies that we’re still talking about nearly 40 years later. Here’s a list of some of the best hacker movies and cyber security related films during the 1980s:
Prime Risk (1985)
In Prime Risk, a female engineer and her friend (played by Julie Collins and Michael Fox) figure out a way to scam ATM machines. In the process, however, they realize they’ve stumbled upon a way to destroy the U.S. Federal Reserve as a whole.
Tron stars Jeff Bridges, who plays a hacker/arcade owner whose physical body is transformed into a digital form by a software pirate called Master Control. There, he’s forced to participate in gladiatorial-style games. To outmaneuver his enemy and attempt to escape, Bridge’s character has to team up with a computer program character.
Ah, yes. My beloved WarGames. This hacker movie focuses on Matthew Broderick’s teenage genius character as he hacks his way into secret U.S. military program and interacts with its artificial intelligence (AI) system. He thinks he’s playing a video game with the system, not initially realizing that the actions he set into motion, if left unaltered, would lead to a global meltdown as the result of a nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Although, by today’s standards, it looks incredibly cheesy and lacks the flashy action we’re used to in Hollywood, it’s still a lifelong favorite of mine.
It should come as no surprise that the single best hacking movie ever made is War Games. I know what you’re thinking. This is completely unrealistic. This could never happen. A high schooler hacking into NORAD? Except that, at the time this movie was made, it wasn’t impossible. Times have changed a lot since the 80s. Up to this point, those that used computers were portrayed as nerds with broken glasses, pocket protectors, and pants with impossibly high waistbands. If a character even knew how to use a computer they were going to be the helpless friend of the main character who would clearly have to save them at some point. War Games changed that. Suddenly the computer hacking nerd WAS THE HERO. And he didn’t fit into the stereotypical look that we created for computer nerds. Broderick made me realize that I could be a computer geek AND be cool at the same time.— Jason David, CEO at Software Portal
And it scared Reagan so much that he signed the CFAA into law so there’s that too.”
My favorite is definitely WarGames. I saw this movie about a year after it came out on VHS right around the time I experienced BASIC for the first time and it was the inspiration that shaped the next few decades of my life. It’s also what inspired many of the early FidoNet hackers and thus inspired the culture surrounding conferences like DefCon. I would not go on to be as cool as Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off though. But life is always better in the movies!”— Charles Edge, author, public speaker and engineer
‘SHALL WE PLAY A GAME?’ #WarGames is the best #hacker movie by a long shot! And it warns of weak, easy to guess #passwords like ‘Joshua,’ the name of the scientist’s son, way back in 1983.”— David Hatter, an Intrust IT cyber security consultant with more than 25 years in IT
Don’t Get Breached
91% of cyber attacks start with an email, which can leave your business open to devastating data breaches. Not securing your email is like leaving the front door open for hackers.
Cyber and Hacker Movies of the 1990s
23 is a movie that’s based on the story of real-life hackers from Hannover, Germany, in the 1980s. In the film, an orphan invests part of his inheritance in a home computer. He initially uses it to discuss conspiracy theories inspired by a novel on online web forums but soon finds himself hacking military and government computers with a friend.
This is definitely not one of the hacker movies to watch with your kiddos. In Disclosure, a computer expert goes on the offensive when he finds himself the sexual harassment target of ex-lover-turned-boss who sets out to destroy his career, reputation, and personal life. This star-studded cast includes Michael Douglas, Demi Moore, and Donald Southerland. While the focus of the movie is more on sexual harassment in the workplace, cyber security and technology still play a critical role in Douglas’s character’s efforts to discredit his attacker.
Enemy of the State (1998)
As someone who is a huge fan of Will Smith (and others in this star-studded cast), there’s no way that Enemy of the State wouldn’t make my list. Smith plays a lawyer who is (unknowingly) in possession of video surveillance evidence of a politically motivated crime. He finds himself the target of corrupt politicians who do everything in their power to destroy his reputation, life, and eventually frame him for murder. That’s when he turns to a former high-tech spy and tech expert (played by Gene Hackman) for help. Reminiscent of Hackman’s role in “The Conversation? I believe intentionally so.
The sexy action-thriller Entrapment, starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, is about a renowned thief and an undercover art investigator who team up to steal priceless works. The movie is one elaborate caper after another and involves them eventually hacking into a server room or vault to reroute traffic for a high-level stock exchange. Although the technical processes in the movie aren’t necessarily accurate — which I won’t get into without giving away spoilers — it still doesn’t take away from the appeal of the film. Therefore, it stays firmly planted on my list of favorite hacker movies.
Ghost in the Machine (1993)
Ghost in the Machine is about a serial killer whose consciousness transfers to an MRI machine due to a freak accident during an electric storm. In his new form, continues his killing spree using computers, kitchen appliances, and other technologies that are attached to networks and power grids. The title of the movie refers to a phrase from British philosopher Gilbert Ryle in reference to Rene Descartes’ concept of mind-body dualism to describe how a person’s consciousness is its own entity that’s exists independent of the physical brain.
In Hackers, a child hacker-turned-18-year-old meets up with a group of teenage hackers who, together, uncover evidence of a massive embezzling scheme. Unfortunately for them, their cyber intrusion is discovered, and they are blamed for creating a virus that will capsize an oil fleet. They must work together to gather proof of their innocence and to save themselves. Although the “high-tech” data center servers hilariously look like just some colored glass pillars, this movie still claims a place in our hearts.
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
In Johnny Mnemonic, Keanu Reeves plays a data trafficker who uses his brain as a mule for a computer chip to securely store and transport data too sensitive for regular computer networks. However, when he gets a valuable package that exceeds the chip’s storage capacity, he must find a way to deliver the data within 24 hours or die. And to make matters worse, there are assassins who are trying to kill him in the meantime.
Jurassic Park (1993)
While this classic dino movie may not be a hacking movie or cyber security movie in the traditional sense, Jurassic Park definitely involves hacking in a roundabout way. The actions of a hacker-turned-criminal (think insider threat) cause the park’s defense systems to malfunction, allowing the dinosaurs to escape and terrorize the park’s visitors. But it’s also the actions of another young hacker that ultimately reboots the park’s security systems and saves remaining survivors.
As a movie aimed at teenagers, Masterminds follows a cat-and-mouse battle of wits started when villainous security expert (played by Patrick Stewart) takes an exclusive school full of high schoolers hostage for ransom. His biggest challenge? A rebellious teenage hacker who snuck into the school’s basement just before everything went down. He finds himself in the position of using his wits and prank skills to outwit this criminal mastermind.
In Sneakers, Robert Redford plays the head of a group of computer and espionage experts — think penetration testing experts to the extreme — who are hired to steal a computer program that’s designed to serve as a universal code breaker. However, things go awry when the device’s creator gets murdered — they become suspects and must do everything within their power to clear their names.
Terminator 2 (1991)
No list of tech, cyber security, or hacker movies would be complete without at least mentioning The Terminator franchise and Skynet, the advanced artificial intelligence that everyone uses as an analogy today for concerns about AI threats. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a cyborg identical to the one from the first movie, is sent to protect Sarah Connor’s son, John Connor from an even more advanced model. In this movie, John demonstrates advanced technical skills by bypassing the security systems at Cyberdyne and hacking an ATM machine.
The Matrix (1999)
This science fiction movie blew minds and made millions question reality. The Matrix, which stars Keanu Reeves, is about a hacker who learns that he — and the rest of mankind — is living in a simulated reality constructed by super intelligent and evolved computers that intend to keep humanity its prisoners of war to use their bodies as a source of organic fuel. Reeves’ character, known as Neo, teams up with a small group of mysterious rebels to continue their war against the controlling forces.
As a CEH (certified ethical hacker) that regularly uses nmap this one is an easy choice. All hackers love and use nmap so watching Trinity in the Matrix correctly use nmap to find a vulnerable SSH server was awesome. Too often hacking is depicted in the movies with a lot of 1s and 0s flying by on a big flashing screen. Trinity shows what it is really like in the down and dirty world of real hacking.”— Dustin McEarchern, chief information security officer at ProTechnical
I’m not sure if this totally counts, but my long time favorite movie in this genera has to be the original Matrix. The concept of living in side a simulation is so out there, but entirely feasible at the same time. As technology advances it will be important to stay on top of security protocols, and really making sure we are in control of our technology not the other way around.”— Greg Toler, marketing manager at Medicus IT
It’s no surprise that The Matrix comes in at number one. The Matrix might not be a hacker movie per se, but the way it tackles the existential riddle of living in a computer simulation, and its depiction of an advanced and oppressive AI, make it a truly iconic movie. I am sure many of you have already seen this massively successful film, but for those of you who haven’t, I recommend watching it as soon, And then ask yourself: Will you take the red pill or the blue pill?”— Kenny Trinh, founder, CEO and Managing Editor of Netbooknews
The Net (1995)
This hacker movie is a personal favorite from my childhood, although its theme of identity theft is all too real for many nowadays. In The Net, Sandra Bullock plays a reclusive computer programmer who is just looking to enjoy a little time off when she finds herself tangled up in the conspiracy of a group of cybercriminals. Some of her colleagues mysteriously die, her identity is erased, and her life — and the lives of those around her — hangs in the balance.
Cyber and Hacker Movies of the 2000s
Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of this movie (despite it starring Gerard Butler and Michael C. Hall, aka Dexter Morgan from the TV show Dexter). However, I’ve seen it included on multiple sites’ lists of the best hacker-related movies, so I figured I’d put aside my own feelings and (begrudgingly) include it as well. In Gamer, a death-row inmate is controlled by a teenage gamer’s remote device and is forced to battle fellow prisoners in a violent online game each week. He seeks to find a way to gain his freedom, free his wife and take down the game’s inventor.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
This fourth installment of the popular Bruce Willis movie franchise involves a disgraced Department of Defense employee-turned-cyber terrorist (played by Justin Long) launching a large-scale cyber attack to disable the U.S.’s vulnerable computer infrastructure and crash the economy. The main character, John McClane — the NY detective who is “always in the wrong place at the wrong time” (played by Willis) — once again finds himself in the unenviable position of having to save the day. Only this time, he does it with the assistance of a young hacker (played by Timothy Olyphant).
Minority Report (2002)
Minority Report, which takes place about 25 years from now, follows a specialized police division known as Pre-Crime that is authorized to arrest people who before they commit future crimes. The unit’s chief, played by Tom Cruise, himself is accused of being responsible for a future murder and winds up going on the lam to escape capture and arrest by his own team.
In Swordfish, an elite hacker (played by Hugh Jackman) who was imprisoned for infecting an FBI program was recently released from prison. He’s recruited by a woman and her criminal employer (played by Halle Berry and John Travolta) for the purpose of getting him to write a worm to steal $9.5 billion from a government slush fund. But not everything is as it seems.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
The Bourne Ultimatum, the third movie in the Bourne series, involves operative Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon) teaming up with an investigative reporter to track down those who betrayed him. In the meantime, a ruthless CIA official and his team seek to assassinate Bourne before his memory returns.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009 and 2011)
There are actually two versions of the same film that came out just two years apart. Because they’re so close together, I’m just lumping them into one callout. The first version of the film stars a Swedish cast, and the second version was released two years later and stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. The premise of the films follows a journalist who enlists the help of a young hacker in his quest to track down a woman who has been missing for several decades. The movies are based on one of the books in the bestselling novel series “The Millennium Trilogy.”
The Italian Job (2003)
This version of The Italian Job, which is a different take on the plot of the original 1969 film, stars Mark Wahlberg, Ed Norton, and Donald Sutherland. Rather than being a comic caper movie about the planning of a heist in Turin, this involves the main character being betrayed and left for dead in Italy, and then planning a heist against a former ally. Although it borrows from much of the original screenplay, it does take creative license and takes the story in a different direction. For me, though, it’s an interesting film on its own merit but I still prefer the original.
V for Vendetta (2005)
Funnily enough, V for Vendetta, which is based on a 1980s graphic novel by Alan Moore, is set to take place in 2020. In it, the population of the U.S. is nearly wiped out by a virus, and Britain is a police state that’s ruled by a dictator “who promises security but not freedom.” Natalie Portman’s character, Evey, is saved from being raped by plainclothes police by an unknown actor known only as V (played by Hugo Weaving), and she ends up joining him in his mission of overthrowing the government in power. Although the movie doesn’t technically involve a hacker, per se (he hacks into the fate computer in the graphic novel series but not in the movie adaptation), it’s what inspired the use of the Guy Fawkes masks that are used to represent members of the real-world international hacker group Anonymous.
The horrifying thriller Untraceable stars Diane Lane as an agent in the FBI’s Cyber Crimes Division who is trying to track down a hacker who is brutally killing people while the world watches via live streaming. And to make matters worse, the more people who view his site, the faster his victims die.
Don’t Get Breached
91% of cyber attacks start with an email, which can leave your business open to devastating data breaches. Not securing your email is like leaving the front door open for hackers.
Cyber and Hacker Movies of the 2010s
In Blackhat, when a nuclear power plant in Hong Kong and the Mercantile Trade Exchange in Chicago are hacked, the FBI and Chinese government team up to track down the cybercriminals responsible for the cyber attacks. They bring in a convicted hacker (played by Chris Hemsworth) to help with the investigation. This hacker movie was lauded much acclaim within the cyber security and hacker communities because of its accuracy in some aspects of the film — for example, (SPOILER ALERT) the way that a bank network hack occurs from a compromised USB drive. It’s a must-see and guaranteed title for this list of hacker movies.
This mind-bender of a movie follows a professional thief, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who uses a form of information-extracting technology to steal corporate secrets from the subconsciousness of victims. However, he’s also a fugitive father who misses his kids. So, when he’s offered a chance to make his criminal history go away in exchange for “hacking” a CEO by implanting a false idea in their head, he initially agrees but soon realizes that things are not what they seem and gets second thoughts.
In I.T., a corporate executive and millionaire, played by Pierce Brosnan, finds his life turned upside-down when he works with an I.T. consultant and finds him getting too close to him and his family. When he fires him, things go wrong very quickly.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
This is definitely one of my favorite hacker movies. Ghost Protocol, the fourth movie in the popular Mission Impossible series, involves a decent enough helping of hacking, password cracking, cryptography, and network hijacking action for any thriller and tech fan. When Ethan Hunt (a role reprised by Tom Cruise) is blamed for a terrorist attack on the Kremlin, both he and his employer agency IMF are disavowed by his government. He’s forced to go off the grid and teams up with other fugitive IMF operatives to prove their innocence.
It is another one of my favorite cybersecurity movies. In this fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible series we see a lot of hacking, hijacking and everything else that brings joy to the security professionals who love this series. Just as in all the other movies in the franchise, Ghost Protocol is action-packed from the very start.— Kenny Trinh, founder, CEO and Managing Editor of Netbooknews
You’ll see iPhones used to crack door codes, hijack networks, break into a prison’s security system and other scenes of glorious hacking action. This movie is great fun for all the action lovers out there. And its decidedly high-tech hacking scenes make it a highly entertaining hacker movie to watch.”
Skyfall, the 23rd movie in the James Bond movie franchise, brings Bond (played by Daniel Craig) back to memories of his own childhood and tests his loyalty to M (played by Judy Dench) when her own past comes back to haunt her. When MI6 becomes compromised, Bond is the only ally M can trust to face down a mysterious hacker genius. This movie includes some big hacking scenes, although I’ll leave evaluating the accuracy of the actual hacking to the experts.
‘Skyfall’ (2012) was one of the best entries in the James Bond franchise in years. In it, there’s an exciting scene where gadgets master Q plugs a laptop from criminal mastermind Silva into the MI6 network and a skull appears on the screen with a “system security breach” banner. The malware installed immediately begins deleting files as Q and Bond race to disable the system.”— Eric A. Williams, founder and CEO of Ijura
Snowden is a biopic of the real-life former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who became one of the world’s most famous whistleblowers. He uncovered and shared with the world about the virtual mountain of data that was being collected on ally foreign governments and American citizens alike. It’s a must-have for any list of must-see hacker movies.
‘Snowden’ (2016) is Oliver Stone’s engrossing fictionalized version of Edward Snowden’s conversion from naïve CIA IT nerd to disillusioned whistleblower. You’ll doublecheck the cover slide on your laptop camera after seeing this movie.”— Eric A. Williams, founder and CEO of Ijura
The Imitation Game (2014)
The Imitation Game is about a time during World War II when MI6, the newly created British intelligence agency, recruits mathematician Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his team to crack the Germany’s Enigma code.
The Social Network (2010)
While Facebook now always seems to be making headlines for one reason or another — often not positive ones — there was once a time when no one had heard of it. Largely, because it didn’t yet exist. This movie The Social Network is based on the story of Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg), the Harvard computer genius-turned-creator of the social networking site that was once known as “The Facebook.” Whether you love or hate Facebook, regardless, you can’t deny the popularity of the platform which is used by 2.4 billion users as of Q3 2019. So, on the list of hacker movies it goes!
Who Am I (2014)
Who Am I is a German techno-thriller hacker movie about a subversive hacker group in Berlin that’s intent on gaining global fame. They invite a young computer whiz to join their ranks.
How I Picked the List of the Best Hacker Movies
Now that we’ve covered the list of movies about hackers — or relating to cyber security and IT technology in general — I think it’s important to explain how I chose the films on this hacker movie list. For me, it comes down to the entertainment factor and not necessarily aiming for the most accurate representation of specific technical processes (although having movie creators at least putting in some effort in that area is important).
While it’s true that many of these cyber and hacker movies shouldn’t be taken as the real-world representations of how the cyber security industry works — and some lean in the direction of paranormal, paranoia, and tinfoil hat wearing at times — they’re still highly interesting and entertaining films nevertheless. Hence why they’re on my list of hacker movies. They have the interest factor, and in some cases the technical accuracy, and are all-around great entertainment.
What films make your top hacker movie list? Share your thoughts and list of favorite cyber movies in the comments below.