The awards season kicks into gear this weekend, as Hollywood’s finest rock up in London for the BAFTAs. To add to the excitement, we’ve got a selection of the finest technology-related films of all time.
Before we begin, a little bit of back-covering is required on my part. Some may be surprised by the direction the following list has taken. The absence of some of cinema’s most highly revered tech titles will no doubt stir bewilderment and anger in the minds of many. Ah, but there is method in my madness.
The Ground Rules…
Before compiling such a complex list, consideration must be given to how strongly the theme of technology runs through the film. I’ve gone with a hard-line attitude. Each film in the following list has technology at the heart of its narrative, displaying how society would differ with the injection of some realistic technological breakthroughs. As such, cinematic creations that just happen to be set during a cybernetic revolt, in a futuristic cityscape or see the harnessing of some outlandish, illogical scientific weaponry are respectfully discounted.
So, despite the brilliance of dystopian titles such as the Total Recall, Terminator and even, dare I say it, Blade Runner, they are excluded from consideration.
With that out of the way, we can now reveal the definitive list of the greatest ever tech films…
The Social Network
Alright, so maybe I’ve already broken my ground rules…but only a little. The Social Network is the real-life depiction of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise from one nerd with a (stolen) idea to the megalomanic owner of Facebook as it lives and breathes today.
Superbly written by Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, A Few Good Men) and knitted together by the masterful David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en), The Social Network tells a tale of greed, betrayal, selfishness and determination.
Sorkin’s razor-sharp script is delivered exquisitely by Jesse Eisenberg, who delivers the passive-aggressive performance required to bring the legal wrangling and vicious backstabbing between two techie twenty-somethings to life.
The Truman Show
When considering Jim Carrey comedies, the words ‘provocative’ and ‘profound’ are unlikely to sping to mind. At first glance, The Truman Show appears to have all the ingredients of a typically jolly comic romp. Thanks to Carrey, there are plenty of laughs, but these merely provide an overlay for the dark and disturbing undertones that permeate the overall message.
The titular Truman Show is centered around Truman Burbank, a man who discovers he has been the star of a reality TV show for his entire life. Released back in 1996, The Truman Show superbly predicted the explosion of the endless reality TV carousel that continues to dominate populate culture. The movie also exposed modern society’s craving for voyeurism, not to mention a good old rummage through other people’s dirty laundry.
As resonant now as it ever has been, The Truman Show is a terrifyingly ingenious satire on reality TV and the shareable life.
The Oscar-winning movie Her is a Spike Jonze-penned drama that strikes many resonant chords on love, loss and human fragility, all against an original technological backdrop.
Featuring a superbly intimate performance from Joaquin Pheonix, Her follows a recently divorced writer who, in an attempt to relieve his loneliness, buys himself a Siri-style AI built into a small device. Harnessing the power to learn and display real human emotion, Samantha, as she is called, strikes up a rather disturbingly real relationship with Phoenix’s character Theodore.
Her is an occasionally touching, occasionally creepy look ahead at the projected path of artificial intelligence, and a chilling reminder of how fragile monogamous human relationships can become.
While not widely regarded as one of Steven Spielberg’s finest creations, Minority Report barges its way onto this list by way of its remarkable level of technological foresight. Minority Report stars Tom Cruise as a Washington detective accused of murder by new crime prediction tech.
Aside from all the minor predictions, such as personalised adverts and gesture-based interfaces, Spielberg’s action epic nevertheless creates a thought-provoking narrative. Set in a world where crimes can be anticipated before they occur, writers Jon Cohen and Scott Frank pulled off a remarkable hint at the future of policing.
As we have reported before on the Ebuyer Blog, the use of algorithms to predict crime is something law enforcement agencies are already pondering. Minority Report could therefore offer a chilling insight into a future world where the authorities have increased control over the populace.
One of cinema’s most hotly-debated topics must surely be: which of Pixar’s many animated creations is the finest? No real debate is complete without considering WALL.E, the endearing tale of a small cleaning robot who stumbles into a quest through space that could save all of mankind.
Aside from the love story between the film’s two high-tech protagonists, WALL.E also says a lot about the way in which we’ve grown reliant on the many conveniences that technology brings. WALL.E features a vision of the human race that is exaggerated in every sense. Inflated by fatty foods with gormless faces firmly fixed to trash TV, they are wholly ignorant of the planet they have destroyed and left behind.
Charming, funny and yet technologically insightful, WALL.E is one of, it not the, finest of Pixar’s film.
We round off the best of tech cinema with a title that might not sound familiar to everyone on British soil. Catfish is a hugely successful reality show on MTV, yet it all began with an intriguing documentary made in 2010.
Starring three young friends from New York, Catfish documents the dangers of online relationships. It’s hard to discuss Catfish in too much detail without straying into spoiler territory. But what initially seems like a fairly harmless record of a blossoming Facebook relationship, quickly turns into a tense and gripping documentary.
The making of Catfish owes a great deal to the rise of social media, and it perfectly depicts the psychological implications the invention of such technology has on society and the stranger members of its population.
Some might say I’m teetering over the edge of my initial rules with the addition of Robocop. In fact, the very ‘dystopian future, policed by Robots’ themed films I looked to dismiss earlier, could quite easily form a decent explanation of Robocop.
But Robocop is one of those cynical visions of future civilisation that rings truer to me than efforts such as Total Recall or Terminator. Clasping great metal mech suits to existing police officers and sending them out on the street patrols. It could form the backbone of oppressing the revolts against the violent totalitarian states of tomorrow. Even the concept of incorporating robotics into the human form seems a not entirely implausible route in the future. It could happen…..maybe.
Even so, Robocop’s brutal excellence should see it sneak into this tech film countdown. Robocop’s unflinching approach is further enforced when watched back to back with the 2014 remake. Don’t ruin your love of the original and give the overly PG remake a miss.
Worst Tech Films
It’s not all rosy in the garden of tech films however. I thought I’d bring us all firmly back down to earth with a few tech films from the absolute stinkers collection.
There have been a number of dreadful gaming themed films over the years. Of the many choices, the Gerard Butler-headed Gamer will surely have seen the most heads slumped firmly into hands.
In what’s probably a rather improbable future for gaming, death row convicts are thrown into human controlled battle zones. Sat at home, gamer’s control the minds of their human-bots, fighting out to the death live on TV.
That’s about as much of these column inches I’m willing to give to Gamer. A dreadful sets the tone for a pretty awful title.
For the amount of titles produced, the hacker film is woefully short of quality titles. Even a world-weary John McClain couldn’t summon a decent hacking flick in Die Hard 4.
It does however, rank above The Net. Programmer Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) finds herself on the run from a threatening group of evil conspirators after some compromising software unwittingly falls into her heads.
Will she clear her name and keep the programme from falling into the wrong hands? Will her pursuers get to her first? Will we ever find out!?!? No, because you wouldn’t do that to yourself.
Storing information on computer chips implanted in our brains. Sounds fairly plausible right? Well, in Johnny Mnemonic, you can witness that very technology at work, then swiftly thrown under a train.
The writing was on the wall for Jonny Mnemonic when everyone’s favourite plank of wood, Keanu Reeves, was cast in the lead role. Even appearances from Ice-T and Dolph Lundgren couldn’t save the remarkably bad Johnny Mnemonic.
Suffering from pretty much every bad ingredient imaginable, Johnny Mnemonic could rival the very worst in films, no matter the genre.
Have I got it wrong? Angered by the travesty of no Blade Runner, Avatar or The Matrix? Let us know you’re best and worst tech films in the comments below.