You youngsters won’t believe us, but there was a time when people didn’t even know what the internet was. Let’s flashback to the early-1990s when people were just learning how to register domains. New users were learning to install their AOL CD-ROMs to dial into services and check their electronic mail. These were a halcyon days where the value of information at scale hadn’t been truly realized and exploited.
Enter Hackers, a wild and crazy dive into the subculture the movie not only failed to influence, but instead heavily mischaracterized and depicted as juvenile and almost entirely criminal. This action-adventure flick tells the story of a group of teenage hackers who have to clear their own names before they are arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. The movie bombed at the box office, bringing in $7.5 million against a $20 million-dollar budget. Those things don’t matter, because they left us with an over the top depiction of hacker culture at the height of the mythos’ origin. But that doesn’t matter either, because seriously, you need to see this movie.
The World meets 1990s Hacker Style
The movie is loaded with sense of style and lingo that make being a hacker seem . . . “l33t” (we can talk about that later).
A mixture of rave culture and Hollywood’s half-baked understanding of what Gen-X cusp millenials were actually up to in those days makes the characters seem larger than life. From the shocking hair of Matthew Lillard’s punk-rock”Cereal Killer” to Acid Burn’s (Angelina Jolie) Asian-themed biker paired against Crash Overdrive’s (Johnny Lee Miller) modern Gothic, each of the hackers has their own sense of style. Their alternative clique stands out from the other students of their New York City high school. They’re obviously on a whole other level as Young Angelina Jolie’s character leads this band of misfits on their merry quest.
Also, there’s a ton of rollerblading in this movie. Like . . . a whole ton of it, and while obviously it looks like something the cool kids would do, I don’t want people thinking we actually did roller skate that much in the 90s. We definitely didn’t.
The Hacker As Trickster
Most of the comedy in Hackers is at the expense of Special Agent Dick Gill, played by Wendell Pierce. He’s an inept secret service agent running the cyber crimes investigations, but he’s absolutely in over his head. At one point, the “Crash and Burn” chemistry builds into a friendly rivalry, and to settle the bet on “who is hacker supreme?,” the pair take turns pranking Agent Gibbs.
Their pranks involve everything from faking a criminal record, posting his work phone number into an early BBS-version of Craigslist’s “casual encounters” to listing him as deceased in the employee logs. It’s a great montage that shines a bit of light into the various things a hacker could do to someone if they really wanted to. The montage also makes for some great lighter moments in this cyber-heist movie.
You Want a Heist Movie? Because this is How You get a Heist Movie!
The pace and fun of Hackers ultimately follows the formula of all great heist movies. New guy meets and befriends a crew, falls in love, screws up, bails out the team, reveals his dark secret, saves the day but still gets caught, but the big reveal shows that it was all part of the plan. That’s the kind of awesome thing about a cult movie. It’s full of holes but hard to look away.
Hacker Possibilities and Hacker Potential
Hackers doesn’t explicitly rely on it’s technology. It’s not clear what’s real, it just feels plausible. This isn’t one of those science fiction films where they shout a bunch of words to each other in a way that makes even the smartest person in the room feel lost. The team quotes the protean programming books and lifts directly from the Hacker’s Manifesto, yet the movie works a weird middle ground of what is possible through hacking and what isn’t but could be. They say in simple terms a lot of time what they’re doing, and they explain the parts of the film that might dive too technical. While they do take some liberties with what a picture-perfect memory is like, they otherwise make the story seem grounded in a reality we can all identify.
One thing they did manage to do in 1995 is make hacking seem hip. The film somehow still feels fresh. However, the younger viewers need to ask their parents what the item is that the hackers keep handing back and forth.
It’s a floppy disk, kid. A diskette if you want to be a dork about it.
With a cast of people who would go on to make big money in many movies down the road, it’s odd to see them so young and so oddball cool in a movie that was so poorly received. It’s hard to understand how Hackers wasn’t a bigger hit at the time, and it’s even more complicated to understand how modern day nerds haven’t seen it multiple times.
So, get out a notepad and jot down hacker tips while enjoying the coolest movie from 1995.
We know cyberpunk movies, so let us tell you what you’re missing. What’s timeless? What didn’t age so well? Share this article, and we’ll make the case for Hackers.
Did we miss something here? Was there an unforgettable scene or classic one-liner that just shouldn’t be left out? What are your favorite parts of this movie? Leave us a comment below, and we’ll try to update the article with your suggestions!