As a kid who didn’t grow up with it, to watch Hackers (or even a trailer for Iain Softley’s 1995 techno-thriller) is to laugh. Its aesthetic, its language, and, most of all, its rudimentary vision of cyberspace is, on the surface, wildly hilarious. If you really watch the movie, however, all that coalesces into something truly singular, a film that, even beyond its inaccuracies, really feels like a portal into a time-specific counter-culture.
Don’t take it from us, though. Motherboard chatted with some real-life hackers who, despite identifying the absurdity of the film’s plot, remain rabid in their fandom of it. Security consultant Darren Martyn, for example, calls it “quite possibly the single greatest hacker film known to hackerkind,” adding that it actually took pains to engage with the era’s hacking culture. He compares it unfavorably to Michael Mann’s 2015 techno-thriller Blackhat, which he says “was basically an action movie with some vague plotline involving some kind of computers.”
Nearly every hacker interviewed for the piece agrees that the film’s efforts to not only cultivate a true culture among the characters, but also to activate it as entertainment, is the film’s greatest strength. An information security expert by the name of March sums it up thusly:
I like Hackers because, while being typically fantastical Hollywood stuff, it is actually relatively grounded in what hackers could do: playing with building automation systems to turn on sprinklers, hacking a mainframe, etc. Of course, it’s totally framed in psychedelic neon cyberpunk visuals, but that’s cool in itself. It also is one of the films that portrays hackers in a pretty good light—kids having fun, not being particularly evil, with the villain being an evil corporate turncoat white hat. Not to mention the soundtrack…bloody amazing.
Another security advisor, Cal Leeming, adds that it captures “the very essence of what hacking really is, camaraderie, wars, music, emotion and staying awake until 5am breaking into systems...”
Their reflections are enough to make us wish we’d spent more time with the floppy disks of yore. Or at least had a friend as cool as Cereal, who you can watch do his thing below.