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Cover image for 10 Tech Movies to Get You Coding Again
Zach Alexander
Zach Alexander

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10 Tech Movies to Get You Coding Again

Every creative person goes through phases where they question their commitment to their work, and software developers are no different. Maybe a recent project failed, maybe a simple app turned into a beast, or maybe you've been up to your eyeballs in debugging for weeks and you're wondering, "Why do I do this again?"

During these times of disrelish, we tend to forget about the spark of excitement that got us coding in the first place. We become so focused on the excruciating details of whatever issue we're fighting with that we fail to see the magic we create when we write software.

Oftentimes when you're feeling unmotivated, the best thing to do is step away from your work and get some perspective. You have to rediscover the "why" behind what you're doing. My strategy? Watch a movie about tech. When I see characters discovering the magic of computers, it reminds me of my own intoxicating journey into the world of software. Here's a list of my 10 favorite movies about computers and technology. Every time I watch them I can't help but get excited about coding again. I hope they have the same effect on you.

10. The Social Network

The Social Network still

No list of great tech movies would be complete with out David Fincher's The Social Network. The movie is adapted from Ben Mezrich's 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal, and fictionally portrays the founding of Facebook and the mess of lawsuits that followed. The film is beautifully shot, impeccably written and masterfully edited. It touches on a number of powerful issues such as desire for acceptance, intellectual property rights, misogyny in tech and the dark side of university social culture. At the Oscars, it received eight nominations, including Best Picture (which it should have won), Best Director (Fincher), and Best Actor (Eisenberg). It ended up winning three for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing.

One of my favorite things about this movie (and all David Fincher movies, for that matter) is the director's impeccable attention to technical detail. During Zuckerberg's soliloquy about creating FaceMash, for example, Fincher could have just thrown together a bunch of nonsense tech jargon and called it a day. Instead, Eisenberg's lines actually outline a technologically viable plan for creating the website, and he even references using technologies that Zuckerberg was familiar with at the time. I really appreciate that in a film, and it's one of the reasons why this one sucked me in as much as it did.

Obviously the film is a work of fiction. Nevertheless, it always gets me raring to go. Every time I watch it I end up thinking, “What am I doing with my life? I should be building something RIGHT NOW.”

9. WarGames

WarGames still

1983's WarGames is a classic. It stars a young Matthew Broderick as an 80's kid hacker who unwittingly accesses WOPR (War Operation Plan Response), a United States military supercomputer programmed to predict possible outcomes of nuclear war. Thinking it's a computer game, he gets WOPR to run a nuclear war simulation, causing a nuclear missile scare that nearly starts World War III. Oops.

This movie has everything: clever hacker kid who outsmarts the grown-ups, awesome 80's music and some pretty decent cinematography as well (it was actually nominated for an Oscar). It's a ton of fun, and will make you yearn for the days before everyone had computers in their pockets and kids had to hack into government servers in order to find decent video games.

8. Her

Her still

While Spike Jonze's Her doesn't directly address working with computers, it does serve as a fascinating meditation on the role that technology plays in our lives. Her envisions the technology of tomorrow not as a dominating centerpiece of our physical world but as a graceful supplement to it. Instead of 7" phablets and clunky wearables, the characters sport only wireless earbuds and tiny viewing screens. The movie makes it clear early on that humans of the future maintain a deep nostalgia for analog media. The main character makes his living, for example, by writing traditional handwritten letters for customers too lazy to write their own. People in Jonze's future don't want their gadgets to dominate their lives.

Nevertheless, human attachment to technology has grown stronger than ever. In street scenes, for instance, we see that the average person spends most of their time engaged with their computers, rather than with the world around them. Subway riders chat idly, but into their earpieces rather than with one another. Her is predominantly about loneliness and the search for meaning, but it provides a rich and engrossing take on what computing might look like in the future. Given the recent explosion we've seen in voice-based personal assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant, it might not be too far off.

7. Primer

Primer still

Primer will not hold your hand. It was not written for the average audience. It was made by engineers, for engineers. And for that, it is brilliant. Produced for only $7,000 dollars, the film uses an experimental plot structure to chronicle the accidental discovery of time travel by two small time hardware engineers working out of a garage. Before long, their use of the invention has spun out of control, and they must contend with the very real, very serious consequences of their world-shattering discovery.

I have to say, this film is extremely difficult to follow if you aren't paying close attention. Esquire critic Mike D'Angelo argued that “anybody who claims he fully understands what's going on in Primer after seeing it just once is either a savant or a liar.” Yet this is precisely why the film rings true. Watching Primer really feels as though you are watching two engineers make the biggest “holy shit” discovery of their lives. If you've ever built something you were proud of and watched it come to life in spectacular fashion, you'll know the look on their faces and the quickness in their speech all too well. There is an electricity in this film that bring even the most apathetic engineer back to life. A must watch.

6. Revolution OS

Revolution OS still

Revolution OS is basically the authoritative documentary about the free software movement. While it's a bit dated (released in 2001), the film should be required viewing for anyone who cares about open source. Revolution OS features lengthy interviews with OSS heavyweights like Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds and Eric S. Raymond, and does a deep dive on both the movement's history and philosophy.

Whenever people ask me what I mean when I say “I work with open source software,” I always recommend this documentary. Show it to your mom, show it to your friends, show it to the least technical person you know and the most technical person you know. Nothing explains the movement more clearly and concisely than this film. If you don't believe me, go watch it yourself.

5. Ex Machina

Ex Machina still

Ex Machina is a refreshing take on the tired AI-gone-wrong sci-fi trope. Whereas most movies about artificial intelligence get stuck on the surface question of where draw the line between what makes intelligence "artificial" versus "real", Ex Machina goes deeper. The plot is essentially one big Turing Test, using the fictional discovery of "strong AI" to explore a fundamental anxiety that underpins all social interaction: does the person you're talking to really like you, or are they just faking it?

Beyond its fascinating story, Ex Machina is a beautifully made movie. The cinematography is breathtaking, which is unsurprising given that the film was shot in a real remote hotel in Norway. Every time I watch this film I'm reminded of the power we software developers have to create beauty and meaning in the world, and tremendous responsibility with which this power comes. Ex Machina makes a subtle but powerful statement: be careful what you say to your computer.

4. The Matrix

The Matrix still

1999's The Matrix is pretty much the quintessential sci-fi hacker movie. It depicts a dystopian future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually computer simulation called “the Matrix”, created by sentient machines in order to subdue the human race. Hacker “Neo” (Keanu Reeves) is discovered and freed by a group of human rebels who regularly hack into the Matrix to fight the machines and free minds. The Matrix pretty much single-handedly introduced the concept of “hackers” into the mainstream, all while providing an unparalleled modern rework of Plato's allegory of the cave.

This movie has it all: hacking, future dystopian tech, awesome fight scenes and groundbreaking film techniques. It has inspired thousands of people to become interested in computers, and to this day remains one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made. I'm almost certain that you have seen The Matrix before, but if you haven't, watch it now. And if you really enjoyed it, consider checking out The Animatrix, which I personally feel explores the fundamental concept of the Matrix in much more interesting ways than the original film (oh boy, here comes the flame-war).

3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo still

A warning: this movie might be a little disturbing to the more sensitive movie-goer.

Nevertheless, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a fantastic thriller follows journalist Mikael Blomkvist on his quest to find out the fate of a woman from a wealthy family who disappeared forty years prior. Blomkvist recruits the help of an enigmatic female computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander, and together they slowly unravel the violent history of a seemingly sleepy Nordic town. While I typically dislike murder mystery thrillers, I have found myself watching this film again and again, enthralled by Rooney Mara's performance as the hacker Lisbeth Salander.

Mara's character is brilliant and unscrupulous, yet her dark past lends her a fascinating complexity. The survivor of a traumatic childhood, Salander is highly asocial and has difficulty connecting to people and making friends. Nevertheless, her ability to exploit computers combined with her excellent social engineering prowess makes her an inspiring figure for anyone interested in computer security. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is honestly one of the most realistic portrayals of computer security I have ever seen in a Hollywood film. If this movie doesn't make you want to dust off Metasploit and try to spy on your friends, nothing will.

2. Noah

Noah .gif

Noah is a groundbreaking short film that explores the way modern youth interacts through social media. The film's most notable aspect is its medium: the whole thing is a screencast. Created by Canadian film students Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg, the film begins when our high school senior protagonist opens up his laptop, and the narrative takes place entirely on his computer and phone screens. Through the course of the film we watch “Noah's” relationship with his girlfriend fall apart through social media in a way that I'm sure many viewers of the film have actually experienced in real life.

Noah still

The attention to detail here is impeccable. Whether because of the apps used or the way in which the user interacts with the computer, this film should look all too familiar to the average tech-using 20-something. While I should point out that the film does have a slightly amateurish quality – it was made by film students, after all – I would highly recommend Noah to anyone who has an interest in the way that social media affects our everyday relationships. You won't find a more realistic and compelling take anywhere else.

1. TPB AFK

TPB AFK still

TPB AFK (The Pirate Bay: Away From Keyboard) is by far my favorite movie about tech, and one of my favorite documentaries of all time. Unlike most documentaries, which seem to be shot on GoPros by jackhammer crews, TPB AFK‘s cinematography rivals that of big-budget feature films. It really feels like you're watching a big-budget Hollywood movie – only, what you're actually watching are the three people that Hollywood hates most. Combined with its masterful editing and ominous, captivating soundtrack, TPB AFK is worth a view for its cinematography alone.

What really makes this documentary stand out, however, is its nuanced portrayal of the ongoing debate about intellectual property. TPB AFK makes some compelling arguments for copyright reform; yet, the film most definitely isn't pro-piracy propaganda. The filmmakers don't shy away from openly displaying some of the shortcomings of the protagonists' viewpoints on intellectual property. Even the most staunch proponent of information freedom cannot come away from this film without questioning whether a no-holds-barred, grab everything and run approach to copyright really makes sense. Likewise, even the most strong opponent of copyright must concede the validity of many of the points made by TPB proponents in the film. Given the most recent Pirate Bay kerfuffle, this film is an especially timely watch for the holiday season this year. If you can only watch one movie on this list, it should be TPB AFK.

Top comments (43)

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Thanks so much for this, Zach. I feel like this is just what I need before holiday vacation. The one movie I'd definitely add is The Imitation Game. Pretty much brilliant from start to finish, and a celebration of one of computer science's most important people.

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rubyandcoffee profile image
Alexandra Wolfe

I agree with this - great post, there's a couple of movies on there that I'm going to check out tonight... but yes, the Imitation Game should definitely be on there.

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jeroen1205 profile image
Jeroen Jacobs • Edited on

If I might add one: "BBS - The Documentary". Bulletin Board Systems were popular back in the days when the Internet was too expensive for the common people. Lot's of clever hackers back then, which is no surprise given the limitations of the hardware and connection speed.

If you grew up with Fidonet and still remember the noise of an analogue modem handshake, you're gonna love this.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Cool!

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tomoznow profile image
tomoznow

You forgot "Swordfish" where Hugh Jackman must hack the department of defence in 60 seconds while enduring a blowjob from unknown bad girl, with bad boys pointing guns at his head. At one point he almost blows his load, but holds it together and completes the hack before zipping up and walking off leaving John Travolta very impressed. So bad it's good.

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Anthony Reilly

It's right up there with "The Net" with Sandra Bullock on the run from the prying eyes of the internet and magic identity erasure.

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anthonyreilly profile image
Anthony Reilly

A few others that are on my list:
Tron and Tron: Legacy
Hackers (Silly, I know, but I still love it - Even though technically ridiculous, I feel it accurately captured the tech zeitgeist.)
Sneakers.

Honorable mention: That CSI episode where they made a GUI interface using visual basic to track the killers IP address.

Tangentially related, books: Neuromancer and Snow Crash.

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the97th profile image
Chad

Hackers got me interested in programming. After watching that movie, I went and bought a C How to program book. That movie changed my life.

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theburgerclubin profile image
The Burger Club • Edited on

My life also bro I created this site after this movie
nova launcher

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aasifmalik783 profile image
aasif malik

Noah was an inspiration for the youth. The way we youth wasting our time on insta and fb is not good therefore I started blogging and started earning little money from social media. Though I am still struggling.
website

uber coupons

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sebastiankerben profile image
Sebastian K. Erben • Edited on

I know I am late to the party and Tron Legacy and Hackers have already been mentioned. Some other movies:

  • Takedown (Movie about Kevin Mitnick)
  • Pirates of Silicon Valley
  • The Internet‘s own Boy
  • IndieGame The Movie
  • Jobs
  • Steve Jobs

Series:

  • Mr Robot
  • Silicon Valley

Books:

  • Little Brother
  • Masters of DOOM
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roh777 profile image
Rohit Yadav

Also the Soundtracks of some of the mentioned movies are worth listening while coding. My personal favourites are :

  • Bunsen Burner from Ex Machina
  • In Motion - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)
  • Clubbed to Death - Matrix
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corvusgn profile image
corvusgn

Thank you. There are so much to see, I'll recommend a couple of films.

*Zero Days (2016):
"A documentary focused on Stuxnet, a piece of self-replicating computer malware that the U.S. and Israel unleashed to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility, and which ultimately spread beyond its intended target."

*Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016):
"Werner Herzog's exploration of the Internet and the connected world."

*Snowden (2016):
"The NSA's illegal surveillance techniques are leaked to the public by one of the agency's employees, Edward Snowden, in the form of thousands of classified documents distributed to the press."

And why not?

*Chappie (2015):
"In the near future, crime is patrolled by a mechanized police force. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself."

@corvusdf

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javabob61 profile image
Robert Van Housen • Edited on

I really enjoyed this post, thanks for the ideas.
I'd like to add "Pirates of Silicon Valley" to the list. If you aren't familiar, it's a film about the birth of personal computing and the rivalry between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

If you enjoy dystopian films you might also enjoy "Colossus: The Forbin Project", a film about 2 supercomputers put in control of the nuclear arsenal of Russia and the U.S.,. Both computers start cooperating and decide that human beings can't control their own fate because we're a danger to ourselves.

"Demon seed", is a film about an AI controlled smart home run amok that terrorizes it's female inhabitant. Rather gruesome and controversial, the Simpsons even made a Halloween special clip based on it.

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Pert Soomann

Good to see Sneakers getting some love, awesome movie.

I did like both Jobs movies and The Social Network because it kind of gave that "if you dedicate yourself to it, you can do anything" feeling, however they also highlighted the possibility of betrayal when it comes to big business.

Mr Robot, tho it's getting well weird now. I liked when he was hacking dog-snatchers in first few episodes, but kinda hooked now to see how they explain it all (bet it's - oh it was just a VR game lulz :D )

If you want something funny, IT Crowd series is very good. There was also the Codemonkeys animation quite few years back.

However if it's inspiration you want, I've been watching Mark Cuban QA sessions last few weeks ;)

Also, apparently Blackhat with Chris Hemsworth is good and realistic, haven't seen it myself yet.

Aaaand now all that has been typed in, time for another morning coffee :)

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Kim Arnett 

I nominate Hidden figures
😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍

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k0che profile image
Marcus Zippka

Halt and Catch Fire, i like this Series from AMC

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diamondfdk profile image
diamond sharma

this is a great list. i watched just 3 of these. gonna check out Fortnite Apk rest soon

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nerdhardware profile image
Olayiwola Ayinde

I think we should also watch this TV series, Scorpion. For hardware and software developer

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asharirfan profile image
Ashar Irfan

I love the Matrix Trilogy 💯

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Keith

Hackers & Hackers 2 , The Net .... Side note Hackers 2 was not as bad as you might expect.

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Avneesh Panwar

thanks

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ppapiter profile image
PPapiter

Now I know what I will be doing for the next few evenings

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Daniel A. Fernández

Hackers is missing, that one will get you coding again to try and hack a Gibson.

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doshirae profile image
Doshirae

Jeez I have to add like 7 movies to my must-see list

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atomicrobotmonster profile image
Andy Hull

Not a movie, but the TV series Halt and Catch Fire deserves an honorary mention.

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Estuardo Morales

Great list will add a couple to my watch list

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andlewis profile image
Andrew Lewis

Sneakers should be in all 10 spots.

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akkip6526 profile image
Avneesh Panwar

thanks.

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theapache64 profile image
theapache64

TPB AFK, perfect selection mate. (y)

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Nizar

What do you think about Transcendence ?

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k4ml profile image
Kamal Mustafa

Close to Her is Operator (2016) and I like it more compared to Her ;)

imdb.com/title/tt5052524/

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