For decades, movies have portrayed hackers in a romantic—and sometimes puzzling—manner.
Movies like Tron and WarGames first introduced the idea of manipulating computers to achieve greatness or wreak havoc, and this concept became a mainstay in cinema for years to come.
Sometimes, Hollywood got it right. But other times? Well, they were certainly entertaining.
So, put on your sunglasses, add Darude’s “Sandstorm” to your Spotify queue, and check out five of the most ridiculous depictions of hackers in movies.
1. Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day, one of the original urban destruction summer blockbusters, had a lot going for it in terms of property damage and Will Smith one-liners. However, the movie is almost universally mocked for its climax, when Smith and the ever-popular Jeff Goldblum fly a captured alien ship into the attacking mothership, where they upload a virus that wipes out the entire invasion.
It’s really quite a feat that our relatively primitive ‘90s technology just happened to be compatible with the far-advanced alien tech. And it was even more impressive that a virus designed on an Apple Powerbook could even affect the aliens’ infrastructure. Maybe the military was able to develop a computer virus in the decades the captured ship sat at Area 51 (in a movie about aliens razing entire metropolises, we’re willing to suspend our disbelief that much), but at surface value, the premise of an advanced alien race neglecting to invest in some good antivirus software is hysterical.
2. Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park is one of the greatest man versus nature films ever released. After all, it caused an entire generation of dinosaur-obsessed kids. The film focuses on a group of scientists stranded at a theme park with dinosaurs (resurrected with science!) after one of the park’s developers launches a massive cyberattack that manages to shut down the entire park. The power, telephones, and even door locks all stopped working.
In the film’s climax, however, the day is saved by preteen Lex, who apparently knows the park’s needlessly flashy UNIX OS better than park programmer Ray Arnold (portrayed magnificently by Samuel L. Jackson). Lex restores the park’s systems just in time to prevent a velociraptor from chewing off Dr. Grant’s face. Life, uh, finds a way, indeed.
3. Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
John McClain is no stranger to taking down terrorists, and his 2007 adventure took his fight to cyberspace. In Live Free or Die Hard, a group of terrorists threatens to take down the United States’ power grid—and the stock market—through a series of cyberattacks. Only McClain (and Justin Long) can stop them!
The amount of technobabble in this movie is a crime in itself, but what little realism there is to be had in a Die Hard movie falls apart with the apparently godlike powers the terrorists wield through hacking. Directing natural gas to a specific location by hacking into the gas lines? Identifying names by IP address? And how can you hack something that doesn’t exist, like the national power grid? Not to mention the unnecessary lengths the terrorists went to in order to essentially commit identify theft.
4. Swordfish (2001)
Too often, Hollywood gifts hackers with the ability to make their way into private, top-secret data in mere seconds. Such is the case in Swordfish. In one memorable (for a lack of a better word) scene, John Travolta’s Gabriel Shear instructs Hugh Jackman’s Stanley Jobson to hack a government server in a mere minute.
“The best crackers in the world can do this in 60 minutes,” Shear says. “Unfortunately, I need someone who can do it in 60 seconds.” Cybersecurity measures in 2001 weren’t nearly as complex as they are today, but even then, 60 seconds to hack a Pentagon server by typing super fast is ludicrous.
5. Hackers (1995)
If you’re looking for the prototypical cheesy hacker flick, look no further. This has it all: the flashy, unrealistic hacking interfaces, the technobabble, the speed-of-light typing, and the techno… oh lord the techno. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific scene in this gem, but believe us when we say this film is wall-to-wall bonkers, and for that, we salute you, Hackers.
Did we miss one? Let us know which cinematic hacking scene cracks you up in the comments!