In honor of new movies ‘The Social Network’, ‘Catfish’, and ‘TRON: Legacy’, the latest film forays into bringing your computer screen to the silver screen, let’s take a look back at some of the other movies about the power of computers and the internet. So are computers good or evil? Are they helpful or harmful? This look back at the movies about our beloved machines shows just how much they’ve captured our imaginations and impacted our lives over the years, for better or for worse:
Desk Set (1957) – Who needs an immaculate memory when you’ve got a colossal computer?
In one of the oldest computer movies you’ll ever see, the job of the head of a reference library is put in danger, thanks to a man and his massive machine. So will her amazing memory prevail over the computer in then end? (With the way I rely on the internet these days to remember things, I wish I could have a Google of a brain like Katherine Hepburn’s character here).
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – In space, only your ship’s computer can make you scream.
One of the best movies ever made features one of the most evil computers ever designed, personified by a blinking red light and a calm, calculating voice. So will the world ever see a real-life HAL? Stanley Kubrick was definitely way ahead of his time with his computer that lost its “mind”, something that is looking like a feasible concern in the future.
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) – So this is how Katherine Hepburn’s character remembered all that stuff in that other movie.
You’ve got to love early movies about computers where a jolt of electricity could unleash their true power. Here that power is the gift of memory, as a young Kurt Russell finds out. So can his new encyclopedic memory help he and his fellow students win a big cash prize on a quiz show? It may be one of the earliest movies about a computer, but it’s already a good example of why you need to clear your hard drive before passing your computer on to someone else (they might get shocked and shock you by knowing something they shouldn’t).
Logan’s Run (1976) – Our computers may not be killing us at thirty just yet, but the sedentary lifestyle they encourage might be getting us there.
The really scary thing about one of the computer movies here featuring some of the most powerful machines is that they would probably mechanically reason out that all humans should die by age thirty (so you need to step away from that screen and start sprinting).
TRON (1982) – A computer is all fun and games until you get sucked inside of it (then it becomes fear and games).
Before computers were inhabited by blood elves and trolls (of many kinds), the insides of the machines were a glowing world populated by programs dueling to the death in gladiator games, including a light bike ride that looks a lot like a multi-player version of the classic cell phone game “Snake”. I know I’m dating myself with that one, but this is one of the computer movies here that’s ahead of it’s time, being sort of an early imagination of RPG’s (and it’s scary how much truth there is to the way the real world and the computer world can collide).
WarGames (1983) – Maybe we should let computers rung things after all.
This is one of the first computer movies to feature a hacker, set back in the days when getting into the U.S. government’s supercomputer was easy (and leave it up to Ferris Bueller to almost start World War III; he just couldn’t be satisfied with sitting around at home and playing tic-tac-toe against his own crummy computer). So will a computer one day actually try to decide the world’s fate? Fast forward to 1999 to see another way computers could destroy the world as we know it. (Oh yeah, you’ve got to appreciate the message about nuclear war here, too).
Weird Science (1985) – Remember the days when computers could create killer curves?
Forget Kurt Russell’s electricity-generated knowledge; the geeks with bra headgear in this sci-fi classic are the real winners when lightning strikes, bringing their dream woman, Kelly LeBrock, to life. But sorry, boys; while computers now have thecapability to print in 3D, we haven’t quite got there yet (although I can only imagine what creative and creepy minds will come up with when there are 3D printers in every household).
Total Recall (1990) – Is the Governator real, or are we all stuck in some kind of bizarre virtual world?
Someday will we take virtual reality trips and all have a hard time telling reality from a world created on a computer? It’s something a few movies have explored, and it is seeming more and more like a possibility as computer and video games get more and more realistic. But the real question this movie raises is this: will bras with three cups be a need of the future?
Hackers (1995) – Who said hackers can’t be hotties?
This is one of the most unrealistic movies about computers you’ll ever see, as Angelina Jolie stars as a hacker. That’s about all I have to say about this one, having never had the desire to see it despite Angelina Jolie, but I have a feeling real hackers out there aren’t exactly fans of what goes on in the film.
The Net (1995) – Who said program system analysts can’t be hotties?
This is one of the most amazing computer movies you’ll ever see, as one of the only action-filled thrillers about using the internet. There’s cyberterrorism, murder, and identity theft; in other words, it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of what the internet would become (minus the cats, of course).
You’ve Got Mail (1998) – Somehow people used to meet and fall in love on the internet without the help of Match.com and Facebook.
If only the words “You’ve got mail” could have been so meaningful for all us back in the days when e-mail spam was still on the lighter side and people actually paid for AOL. But, alas, this internet-themed retelling of ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ (and really expensive AOL advertisement) would become just as dated as we were introduced to more sophisticated ways of staying in touch like succinct text messages and Facebook posts meant to make our lives seem better than they really are. (And it sure seems sad that once upon a time hearing the “You’ve got mail” guy actually used to make me feel a little less lonely.)
The Matrix (1999) – Ted goes on a most excellent adventure to a world ruled by machines.
Before he was the subject of an internet meme almost as depressing as the last statement I made about the movie above, Keanu Reeves was starring in one of the best movies about computers controlling humanity you’ll ever see. And if that wasn’t enough, it also featured computer graphics that wowed the sci-fi crowd. Unfortunately, this film couldn’t escape the trilogy curse, and Keanu Reeves now has to console himself by morosely munching on cupcakes.
American Pie (1999) – Webcam + Faulty Foreign Exchange = Guy who needs to exchange his name.
Before sexting, there was this movie that showed the world what webcams were really being used for. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anyone learned anything from one of the most embarrassing scenes in cinema.
Office Space (1999) – Computer virus error in your favor.
Computers are magical machines that can whisk you away to worlds inhabited by cute kitties and beautiful women, while also making you feel better about yourself by showing you epic failures at life. But the computers at work are another story, with their boring businessy words, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations. So when ‘Office Space’ came along and showed these oppressive computers being breached, cubicle-dwellers everywhere cheered, and this is one of the computer movies that they still can’t get enough of today, keeping red Swingline staplers on their desks as reminders that there’s something better out there.
Hard Candy (2005) – Juno makes Chris Hansen proud.
This is one of the creepiest movies about internet chat you’ll ever see, as the tables are turned on an assumed sexual predator. With movies about meeting over the internet like this, it’s amazing that internet dating sites still exist.
Ben X (2007) – If only all internet bullying cases could end up like this.
Here’s one of the best movies about MMORPG’s you’ll ever see, as a bullied boy with autism retreats from those that torment him by becoming a hero in an online world. But as things get worse for him, he eventually finds a way to make his real life better with a little help from his happier world. This is a great movie about internet bullying and the dangers it poses, and hopefully it could be a great inspiration for those dealing with this problem themselves.
Up in the Air (2009) – Firing people online was so 2009.
Am I the only one who still preferred George Clooney’s way of life by the end of this movie? Anyway, it’s a great statement on how impersonal our world has become, thanks to the internet, and how there are still some things that need to be done face-to-face.
Kick-Ass (2010) – The internet has the power to help create superheroes without superpowers.
This is another of the movies here that’s a testament to the power of the internet, as a wannabe superhero’s beatdown video becomes a YouTube sensation, prompting a whole “real” superhero movement. And hate on Hit-Girl all you want; I’m sure there are girls out there her age typing things that are a lot worse than what she says in the film.
So from computer games to video and social networking, the movies on this list all capture a little slice of the history of computers and how they’ve affected our lives. So what’s next? A YouTube movie? A ‘Not Another Internet Meme’ flick? ‘4chan: The Movie’? The possibilities for computer movies to come are endless (and just a little bit unnerving).