6 great early movies about early computers (and 3 terrible ones)

Sneakers movie

It’s been exactly 20 years since Sneakers had Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix and David Strathairn scampering to secure the ultimate code-breaking device.

While Slate’s recent four-part series on the importance of the movie to tech culture may have been overkill, there is one eerily prophetic clip worth watching (or re-watching).

Remember, this monologue performed by Ben Kingsley was written before Google, before Facebook, before the Internet as we know it today. Which got us thinking. What were some of the earliest movies featuring computers or coding? Here’s our list (spoilers are possible):

The great

1. The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

Kurt Russell stars in this Disney film about a malfunction that turned him into a walking computer with secret knowledge of misdeeds.

When it debuted: 1969

Our favorite clip: This being 1969 Disney, this might be the most exciting scene in the entire movie.

2. War Games

Perhaps we’re showing our age (or lack thereof) here, but this was the most common answer. Matthew Broderick stars as a precocious hacker who almost starts World War III.

When it debuted: 1983

Our favorite clip: This one, because when a computer asks if you want to play a game, “Global Thermonuclear War” is always the right answer.

3. Ragewar: The Challenges of Excalibrate (a.k.a. The Dungeonmaster)

IMDB says that in this movie, “a demonic wizard challenges a modern-day computer programmer to a battle of technology vs. sorcery, with the programmer’s girlfriend as the prize.” So, yeah, that.

When it debuted: 1984

Our favorite clip: Just, the whole thing. So here’s the trailer.

Did you notice the look of disgust on the programmer’s girlfriend’s face when she says, “Every time I think about that experiment you were involved in and how you were able to link up…”?

4. Sneakers

Robert Redford runs a security company that breaks into businesses to test their defenses. All is well until the NSA comes calling with a special request.

When it debuted: 1992

Our favorite clip: The blind guy figures it out. And then he figures it out again.

Bonus fun fact: Long before Words With Friends, people would try any possible combination of Scrabble letters to make any possible word. What’s the anagram of SETEC ASTRONOMY? Watch Sneakers and find out.

5. Hackers

Before Gia, before Girl, Interrupted, there was Hackers, where Angelina Jolie co-stars as a… hacker. The plot of this movie is somewhat superfluous to rollerblading, punk emo-ism and the evil computer genius played by Fisher Stevens.

When it debuted: 1995

Our favorite clip: For some reason, people keep posting entire-length versions of the movie on YouTube. So no clip. But if we had one, Angelina would be in it. Favorite line might be, “Wow. Burns’ wetware matches her software.”

6. The ‘Net

Sandra Bullock: good guy. Jeremy Northam: bad guy. Both: hot.

When it debuted: 1998

Our favorite clip:

Because it used to be a novelty to order a pizza online on the Internet.

The terrible

There were three more movies remembered affectionately by Raven staffers, but they didn’t make the cut above for being too off-topic, or terrible.

1. Cherry 2000

Too robot-oriented. Note: the link above may not be safe for your work. You might have trouble explaining why you’re watching a clip of a man making (fully clothed) love to his android wife in the bathtub. You also might have trouble understanding why a man would make love to his android wife in the bathtub. Surprise twist ending, if you don’t know how water interacts with electronics.

2. Cloak and Dagger

Too video-game oriented. Also, it’s really too embarrassing to admit if you like this.

3. The Cat from Outer Space

Too… “supurr-natural!” Skip the movie, but don’t miss the trailer.

What have we forgotten?

Which one of your favorite cyber/computer/code movies from the 1980s and 1990s (or earlier) didn’t make our list? Be sure to share details and a link in the comments.


Arienne Holland

Arienne has spent 20 years in communications, ranging from graphic design to journalism to PR to marketing and formerly Raven's Director of Marketing and Education.

Arienne has spent 20 years in communications, ranging from graphic design to journalism to PR to marketing and formerly Raven's Director of Marketing and Education.