Hollywood often looks to the fringes of society for inspiration, creating fantasy worlds based on the reality of a select few. Almost no genre of movie represents this better than the hacker flick: from “War Games” to “The Matrix” — and even “Jurassic Park” — technology and the seemingly supernatural powers of those who control it are a popular fixture in TV and film.
To the uninitiated viewer, the hacker world can be a fast-paced exotic universe, fraught with dangerous locales and mysterious connections, shadowy government agencies and back-alley clubs. With an explosion of new technology available in the 80s and 90s, a new genre, cyberpunk, arose to house these characters and lifestyle. According to Lawrence Person, a science fiction author and editor, “cyberpunk” focused on “characters [who] were marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body.”
The movies that have endured as fan favorites and cult classics took hacker culture and distilled it for mass consumption, adding a dash of good looking celebrity and enough technical fudging to keep the story light. One such film at the vanguard of these mainstream hacker epics was “Hackers,” and this week it turns 20 years old.
The film stars Angelina Jolie in one of her first roles and Johnny Lee Miller as a hacking whiz kid, who crashed 1,507 systems at the tender age of 11. The action of Hackers centers on a convoluted plotline involving the malicious machinations of the Ellingson Mineral Company security officer who goes by “The Plague.” The surprisingly prescient nod to the dangers of ICS/SCADA systems lend a modern dose of reality to an otherwise downright silly movie.
Although the subliminal cut scenes and overwrought “dives” into the inner workings of the machines and operating systems are pure ’90s sensationalism, “Hackers” inspired a generation — the generation that is now hitting the workforce — to learn more about the budding Internet and the technology that runs it, and to dream about breaking computers and phreaking phones.
In a post celebrating the movie’s 20th anniversary, writer Simon Chetrit said, “Despite being wildly inaccurate, the film was hugely inspiring to many members of Hack Manhattan for creating a certain mystique around hacking culture that other tech films never quite matched.” One of the Hack Manhattan crew added, “When I first saw this movie, I was inspired to learn about computer hacking. I actually learned Assembly because of this movie.”
To mark the 20-year milestone of “Hackers” and its contribution and inspiration to hacker culture, we used an app called Dubsmash and put together a short clip of our own hackers here at OpenDNS reenacting their favorite lines from the movie.
Enjoy, and feel free to post your own by searching the hashtag #Hackers in the Dubsmash app, and share them on Twitter using the hashtag #HackersDub.