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This story first appeared in the Jan. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Along with Disney’s Tron, which was released the year before, John Badham’s WarGames heralded the arrival of a new genre: the hacker-gamer action flick. Grounded in Cold War jitters and the rise of the video arcade, this coming-of-age thriller became a box office smash that helped launch 20-year-old Matthew Broderick into the spotlight. Its catchphrase would forever haunt 80s children raised on Pac-Man and Space Invaders: “Would you like to play a game?”
An Ocean’s 11 for the techie set, this hacker heist vehicle featured a cast toplined by Robert Redford and Ben Kingsley, alongside Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd and River Phoenix in one of his final roles. Smartly conceived by the team behind WarGames and carried by Phil Alden Robinson’s jazzy yet suspenseful direction, Sneakers has aged better than the gimongous computer mainframes that Redford and his geek squad try their best to crack.
THE NET (1995)
Remember when it was still called “the net?” At the time, this Sandra Bullock thriller felt relatively new, introducing viewers to chat rooms, online pizza ordering and a heroine who mastered the keyboard much better than the gun. Two decades later, it plays like a lightweight riff on Alfred Hitchcock marked by Bullock’s tomboyish charms and Irwin Winkler’s cool filmmaking, not to mention a rare turn by Dennis Miller as a kvetching shrink with a major medicinal malfunction.
THE MATRIX (1999)
A hacker’s sci-fi wet dream and definitely the best blockbuster grounded in computers, the Wachowskis’ high-impact mindf— would raise the bar on Hollywood action flicks for the next decade, combining state-of-the-art effects with an original story that’s part Plato and Jean Baudrillard, part Hong Kong shoot ‘em up. It would also help to relaunch Keanu Reeves’ career, making his leather-clad Neo a brand new hero for the Y2K era. Red or blue pill? You choose.
Hacking was given a whole new face — one with multiple piercings, thick black eyeliner and a hoodie — in this Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling thriller. As kickass computer whiz Lisbeth Salander, Noomi Rapace brought terabytes of punch and pathos to the role of a damaged heroine challenging a world ruled by powerful men with evil lineage. David Fincher would shoot his own, frigidly perfect version two years later, but this one has more heart.
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