12 Movies About the Digital World

12 Movies About the Digital World

The holiday break is coming up fast but before we go offline, we have a little gift for you: a list of 12 movies to watch over the holidays. Of course, this list has a Sherman Centre twist–every film is about an aspect of digital scholarship, from data management to virtual reality to algorithms and beyond. Enjoy!

1. The Matrix (1999)

Of course The Matrix is on here. Not only is it the most successful movie about virtual reality ever made, it’s also recently been reclaimed as a metaphor for trans experience. The Matrix is all about defying conformity (symbolized through Mr. Smith) and expressing your true self (beyond Thomas Anderson’s [Keanu Reeves] discovery of his true identity as “The One,” we also have Switch, who is a man in the “real world” and a woman in the Matrix).

While The Matrix has some dire offshoots (the red pill, anyone?), it’s still a relevant exploration of how technology can be co-opted by power, a celebration of hacktivism, and a reminder to stay vigilant in an increasingly predatory and deceptive digital world.

Plus, this movie is just plain fun. Bullet time, excellent latex outfits, “I know kung fu”–it’s the best!

Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in The Matrix.
Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) look fetching in The Matrix.

2 and 3. The Net (1995) and Virtuosity (1995)

Behold two gems of ridiculous 90s cyber cinema.

The Net and Virtuosity seem like one-dimensional screeds about how the internet is scary, but they’re also (admittedly extravagant) parables about how big tech and ingrained algorithmic biases victimize women and BIPOC. See: rich white men using the internet to erase Sandra Bullock’s identity and attack Denzel Washington.

A poster of Virtuosity and a still showing Sandra Bullock at a computer in The Net
A poster for Virtuosity with the fab tagline “Justice Needs a New Program” and a still from The Net, showing Sandra Bullock looking sad at a computer (a fair summary of the movie)

4. Metropolis (1927)

Recommended by SCDS’ Academic Director Dr. Andrea Zeffiro, this striking Fritz Lang classic famously envisions a future where the rich and powerful use technology to oppress the poor and vulnerable. In a now-canonical sequence, the robotic movements of the workers show how endless labour turns human existence into machine-like automation.

If this makes you think of Amazon warehouses, welp, same. Shop local this holiday season, okay?

An anonymous worker labouring at one of Metropolis's many elaborate machines
An anonymous worker labouring at one of Metropolis’s many elaborate machines

5. Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

This camp classic doubles as a reminder to store your data securely. In the absurd plot, fallen angel Demi Moore hacks the witness protection program’s database (data breach #1) then puts the data on… interlocking titanium rings (?) which are thrown around a motorcycle chase, recovered by the Angels (data breach #2, this time from Demi Moore’s perspective), stolen back by Demi (data breach #3), and, at long last, intercepted by the FBI.

Does this movie make any sense? No. Is it a lot of fun to watch? Oh yes. Give up on any semblance of logic and enjoy the ride.

Shameless Sherman Centre plug: To evade your own version of this bananas plot, note that we offer research data management consultations and have lots of webinars about how to store, manage, and disseminate your data the right way.

The poster for Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
A poster for the unsung delight that is Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle

6. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

This movie is most famous for being a mess, but I include it here because:

a) Like Marie Kondo, I love mess
b) Like everyone, I love Keanu Reeves
c) I am determined to use this gif from Johnny Mnemonic before the year is up

A gif from Johnny Mnemonic where we zoom through Internet 2021
A gif from Johnny Mnemonic where we zoom through “Internet 2021”

d) It’s a parable about data justice (Johnny sacrifices his personal memories so his brain can store and transport data for shady corporations)
e) Aforementioned data justice angle gives me an excuse to plug this excellent article by SCDS Academic Director Andrea Zeffiro
f) It has a cyberpunk dolphin

A poster for Johnny Mnemonic
A poster for Johnny Mnemonic. It appears to depict Keanu Reeves…hurtling through the internet?

7 and 8. Ex Machina (2014) and Westworld (2016)

Please greet two of my favourite “stunning lady robots are more human than humans” movies and TV shows. Both Ex Machina and Westworld share a basic trajectory—awful men make femmebots, artificial intelligence turns out to not be so artificial, lady cyborgs break free of their constraints. Hooray!

A split image of Thandiwe Newton in Westworld and Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina
A split image of Thandiwe Newton in Westworld and Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina

Shameless plug: Read more about Westworld’s treatment of these issues, plus a plot twist about surveillance capitalism in season 2 in this blog post by past SCDS Graduate Resident Raquel Burgess.

Also—let us bask in this dancing scene, which Twitter enjoyed setting to every song imaginable back in 2014.

The dance scene in Ex Machina. In full context, as it is in the clip above, it’s not as fun as the memes made it out to be.

9. Minority Report (2002)

When it was first released, critics thought that Minority Report (one of Steven Spielberg’s only good post-2000 movies—fight me), was mostly an allegory about determinism versus free will. Twenty years on, we might read Minority Report as less of a thought experiment and more of a prediction.

By examining the disastrous intersection between predictive algorithms, surveillance, and the carceral state, Minority Report winds up being the rare sci-fi movie that gets more, rather than less, timely as it ages.

A still from Minority Report featuring Tom Cruise sifting through
A still from Minority Report featuring Tom Cruise sifting through “precog” data

10 and 11. Must Love Dogs (2005) and You’ve Got Mail (1998)

These alleged romcoms are helpful reminders to beware the way the internet masks users’ true identities. Consider the following nightmare scenarios:

A) While online dating in Must Love Dogs, Diane Lane winds up on a blind date with her own father.
B) An AOL correspondence pairs independent book store owner Meg Ryan with Joe Fox, a corporate skeeze who burns her dreams to the ground.

Tl; dr: Don’t trust strangers on the internet!

An image of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail
A promotional image from You’ve Got Mail. Meg Ryan is on a laptop on the right.
An evil hobgoblin (Joe Fox played by Tom Hanks) is pictured on the left.

12.  Hackers (1995)

Let’s end on a happier note: Hackers (1995). This mid-90s masterpiece features a group of ragtag teens who fight the power and stump for a democratic internet. May we all do the same. Happy holidays!

The cast of Hackers stand against a chain link fence
Hackers assemble in a dizzying array of 90s fashion trends

1 Comment on “12 Movies About the Digital World

  1. Wonderful eclectic basket! Also worth a viewing in this context: Eternal Sunshine, Oblivion, Strange Days, Dark City, 1990’s Total Recall and (the admittedly odd) Lawnmower Man

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