Film: Hackers

"Hack the planet!"

A 1995 movie about a small group of underground computer hackers who discover a scheme being run by the security chief of a large corporation. In a prologue flashback, lead character Dade Murphy (Jonny Lee Miller), age eleven, is found guilty of crashing 1,507 computers. Fast forward seven years, where his mother has just moved both of them to New York. Dade, reluctantly at first, falls in with a new hacking crowd. One of the hackers breaks into a supercomputer where, in a Contrived Coincidence, he downloads a virus/worm program that the aforementioned evil security chief is using to steal many millions of dollars. In response, the security chief tries to frame the hackers for both the theft and a planned environmental disaster. Thanks to assistance from hackers world-wide, our heroes manage to prevent the disaster, clear their names, and Dade gets the girl.

Hackers is known for referencing top-of-the-line computers of the time (now horribly, horribly outdated) and unrealistic depictions of hacking, but it nevertheless remains quite entertaining. It's also notable as one of the earliest roles for Angelina Jolie. While real computer hackers will sneer at the movie in public (except for those who find the research failure to be funny as HELL), secretly they desperately wish that it were true: it's a world where hackers are slim and trendy, hackers save the world from evil corporations, and most importantly, Angelina Jolie ditches her jock boyfriend for a hacker.

Also shows a prototype of the racing game "WipEout."

This film provides examples of:

  • Adorkable: Dade's shy and nervous around Kate from when he first meets her. But then he covers up his crush by acting cocky and competitive around her.
  • Badass Boast: "Mess with the best, die like the rest." With the skills to back it up.
  • Badass Bookworm: The hackers. They're not action heroes, but are active, smart, skilled, and ready to fight evil. Kate's even set on going to MIT.
  • Badass Longcoat: The Plague works longcoats into his wardrobe constantly, although they're a bit more flamboyant than the usual example.
  • Beard of Evil: The Plague.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Razor and Blade get their moment, leading an army of hackers from around the world.
  • Blatant Lies: Cereal Killer fingers Joey as the fiend who finished all the french fries. Nobody falls for it, since Cereal has been munching on them for an entire scene.
    • Cereal and Phreak deny knowing who Acid Burn is. They even share a knowing look when asked who "he" is.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The pool on the roof is used as a gag twice, then as a romantic locale in the final scene.
    • Phreak uses a tone recording in Cyberdelia to avoid paying for a payphone. Later, Razor and Blade's Hack the Planet show has them explaining how it works.
  • Buffy Speak: "It's in that place where I put that thing that time."
  • Calling the Cops on the FBI: The title computer criminals harass their arch enemy, Secret Service agent Richard Gill, by creating a fake criminal record for him that causes the police to arrest him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The discussion of common passwords both serves as setup for a soon-to-follow scene and a Brick Joke.
    "'God' wouldn't be up this late..."
  • Chekhov's Gunman: "Welcome to Hack the Planet..."
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Cereal Killer, partially crossed over with Bunny-Ears Lawyer.
    "Meet Cereal Killer. As in 'Froot Loops.'"
  • Contrived Coincidence: Joey finds the worm before it finishes his run — and can't complete the download because his mother switches off his computer.
  • Coolest Club Ever: Cyberdelia, an appropriate 'cyber-nightclub that has a full complement of skate ramps, a video game console about as large as a mid-sized room (featuring an alpha version of Wipeout), and of course, techno music ("Cowgirl" by Underworld). It's also by invite only.
  • The Cracker: The Plague.
  • Credits Gag: Special Agent Richard Gill is listed in the credits as "Dick Gill."
  • Cursed with Awesome: Lampshaded by Lord Nikon regarding his Photographic Memory, after he explains that he has memorised the addresses and phone numbers of every girl at the party they attend:
    • Played a bit more straight later on when he's spent an entire day accumulating data to the point that he honestly isn't sure what's useful and useless.
      "I dunno, man, I got a lot up there. My head hurts."
  • Cyber Punk Is Techno: The soundtrack (released over three volumes) was pretty much a pantheon of 90's electronic music.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: How our hackers were cleared after being framed.
  • Dueling Hackers: Part of the climax.
    • Earlier, the duel between Crash and Burn.
  • Embarrassing First Name: It's "The Plague." Definitely not his real name of Eugene.
  • Erotic Dream: Kate has an especially erotic dream about Dade.
  • Everything Is Online: Including school sprinkler systems.
  • Fanservice: Angelina Jolie has a brief topless scene that does not advance the plot in any way.
    • Later, in the pre-duel montage, she's wearing a very sheer shirt.
  • Foil: The Plague, for Crash Override. Dade is an altruist who uses his hacking skills to help others and fight corruption, Plague sells out other hackers to cover his tracks. Dade got probation for a youthful hack that unintentionally caused a seven point drop in the stock market, Plague works for a major mineral and Wall Street company and is intentionally ripping it off. Plague even reprises Dade's "You talkin' to me?" line in the final duel. Also, Dade uses rollerblades, Plague skateboards.
  • Foreshadowing: A poster for Razor and Blade's show can be seen behind Dade when he enters Cyberdelia.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • When the FBI agent is being interviewed on the news, he is going on about how hackers are dangerous criminals, while Joey, who they just arrested, can be seen in the background sucking his thumb.
    • Although neither Kate, nor Dade, is shown doing this, during the scene in the restaurant where Gill's credit card is being cut, you can also see his car through the window. Being towed.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: During the climatic last battle of the movie, Razor and Blade (who suggested this plan in the first place), along with hackers from England, Japan, Russia, and Italy (and presumably other countries as well) digitally join in with the crew in New York to 'kill' the Gibson under Plague's — by this point almost manic — control.
  • Hacked by a Pirate: All over the place. The viruses launched by the hackers all have some malicious and/or cute animation that's displayed while they're mucking about in the system.
  • Hidden Depths: Did anyone expect Cereal Killer to use a Bible quote in a motivational speech?
    • In universe, the heroes have no idea that Dade (who they think is a talented amateur) is the Famed In-Story Zero Cool.
  • Hollywood Hacking: The Movie. Not just Rapid-Fire Typing, but in spinning phone booths with VR goggles!
    • Albeit oddly averted for one scene where they trace through page after page of hardcopy coredump, something familiar with many people trying to figure out why the OS entered kernel panic.
    • Probably at least a little justified, as Roger Ebert pointed out in his (positive!) review. What real hacking looks like, and what real hackers can actually accomplish are both pretty boring, at least for an audience to watch.
    • That said, in the final hacking duel, Dade has to read the full file code to Joey, with roots and slashes and all.
    • Director Iain Softley said the visuals were meant to be metaphorical rather than accurate, trying to capture an LSD-like look for the hacking scenes.
  • Hollywood Nerd: All of the hackers are slim, attractive, and dress in trendy geek-chic clothing.
  • Humiliating Wager: Dade Murphy and Kate Libby have a contest to see who's the best hacker. If Murphy wins then Kate will go on a date with him, if Kate wins Murphy will do scut work for her. In a later round of the contest they make another bet: whoever loses will have to wear a dress during their date.
  • Impractically Fancy Outfit: Given the nature of the movie and the counter-culture being represented, it's hardly surprising that quite a few of the outfits in the movie, while stylish, come off as impractical.
    • Oddly inverted when Dade runs after Plague's limo after giving him the floppy. It's clear from the lighting that there is a strap connecting the legs of his pants near the knee but it doesn't seem to hamper his running abilities.
    • During the club scene where Crash and Burn go to recruit Razor and Blade, one extra is prominently seen...dressed as a chandelier. Her headwear alone is this trope up to 11.
  • Ironic Echo: "You talkin' to me?"
  • It's All About Me: Gill really doesn't know anything about computers, but he loves giving TV interviews where he can puff himself up.
  • It's Personal: Dade, having an existing criminal record, avoided getting involved... until The Plague threatened his mother.
    • Subverted since in the final hacking duel, the Plague targets Dade specifically and cuts him off, but Joey is the one who manages to download the garbage file. And then it's Cereal (with the help of Razor and Blade) who expose the Plague's crimes.
  • Jerkass: The Plague. And Gill.
  • Kick the Dog: Does the FBI really raid hacker dens with SWAT teams and rip computers apart to the individual boards?
    • Yes, they actually do.
      • And given more recent reports of SWAT teams being used to raid things like low-wager friendly poker games and unlicensed barbershops, the Truth in Television factor will only increase with time.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: The four main hackers learn of the scheme, agree to stop The Plague, and kick into gear.
  • Living a Double Life: Although it remains largely unexplored, there are a few dots of fairly substantial evidence that imply Agent Ray (Marc Antony) is perhaps a hacker, or if not, is at least a part of the local subculture surrounding it. He's at least reasonably knowledgeable about computers, especially compared to his co-workers, if his brief conversation with Agent Gill during Joey's arrest is any indication, and when Agent Bob is reading him an excerpt of the Hacker's Manifesto, he simply states that he thinks it's cool. More to the point though, he's very conspicuously present at Kate's party a little later on in the film, but certainly doesn't seem to be undercover, simply smoking, dancing, and checking out a hot girl.
    • He does seem to be undercover; he was just part of a raid on Dade in the scene beforehand, and appears to be staying close to him to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. But considering he ignores Dade and co. when they go to mess with Kate's computer, he seemed to give up on the job and instead party.
  • Meaningful Rename: The whole point to hacker handles.
    • Dade got arrested ("crashed") but now he's back ("override").
      • Also , 'Lord Nikon', to reference the hacker's photographic memory'.
  • Mobstacle Course: The heroes use the crowds at Grand Central Station to their advantage against the Secret Service who are coming to arrest them.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Kate.
  • One Phone Call: When Ramon gets arrested.
  • Online Alias: Most people use two word phrases, like Acid Burn or Crash Override. Which leads to...
  • Only Known By Their Nicknames: ...the hackers mostly refer to each other by their handles. In fact, while each of the main characters' real names are used at least twice, Nikon's real name (Paul Cook) is said only once in passing, so he really is only known by his nickname.
    • Averted with Dade. He doesn't really want to advertise that he's Zero Cool, but beyond Kate saying his new handle once in a dismissive fashion, no one calls him Crash Override. He's just "Dade" to everyone else.
  • Parents as People: Dade's mom gets a lot of development as her own person, rather than simply "a parent."
  • Photographic Memory: Lord Nikon has one. Among other things, he has memorized the addresses and phone numbers of every girl at the party they attend.
  • Portmanteau Couple Name: invoked Played with, as parts of Dade's ("Crash Override") and Kate's ("Acid Burn") handles come together to make an amusing title. ("Crash and Burn")
    • Dade even gets the lights of the buildings across from the pool to spell out "Crash and Burn."
  • Public Secret Message: After being arrested, Dade slips the floppy disk with the evidence into a trash bin. Taken outside, he sees Cereal Killer in the crowd and goes off on a rant, "They're TRASHING our rights, man! They're TRASHING the flow of data! They're TRASHING!...." Cereal gets the message, and is next seen rummaging through the trash bin.
  • Playful Hacker: There's even a quote from Loyd Blankenship's famous "Hacker's Manifesto".
  • Rapid-Fire Typing: every main character in the movie does this, but one particular scene is notable: when Dade uses Kate's new computer and the camera shows us that he's operating several Viewer-Friendly Interface programs at blinding speeds.
    Kate: I hope you don't screw like you type.
    • Amusingly enough, it's painfully clear (especially in the TV station scene) that Jonny Lee Miller is a very slow typer.
  • Samus Is a Girl: For the first half of the film, neither Dade nor the audience know that Acid Burn is actually Kate Libby.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Dade to his mother, "I'm taking over a TV Network."
  • Shipper on Deck: Cereal, and to a lesser extent, Phreak and Nikon, get a kick out of matchmaking Crash and Burn.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Kate's boyfriend refers to Dade and his friends as 'Leopard Boy and the Decepticons.'
    • Cereal Killer's real name is "Emmanuel Goldstein," likely a reference to 2600 founder and editor Eric Corley (a consultant on the film), who himself uses the name as a reference to the figurehead enemy of Big Brother in George Orwell's "1984."
      • Cereal himself namedrops 1984 in an early scene.
    • Plague's alias in the aircraft was "Mr. Babbage." Charles Babbage was credited as the originator of the concept for the programmable computer.
    • The elite supercomputers of the movie are called "Gibsons" which is a nod to William Gibson. This also counts as artistic license, as such machines are more typically called "Big Iron".
    • ''You talkin' to me?''
    • Right before the assault on the Gibson, Cereal lets out a shriek, calling it a "tension breaker." This mirrors a scene before the final exam in the 1987 Mark Harmon comedy Summer School.
    • Crash Override's TV show of choice is The Outer Limits.
    • One film from the montage of fight scenes in the first Crash and Burn duel is the climactic sword fight from Captain Blood.
  • Skyscraper Messages: The finale has Crash having rigged windows visible from their Rooftop Swimming Pool to read "Crash + Burn", which really impresses Burn that much more.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Due to Dade's nervousness over his crush on Kate, their relationship ends up like this.
  • Smart People Play Chess: With only a few hours until everyone's plans go into effect, Nikon and Cereal spent their free time playing chess in the park. And winning.
  • Smug Snake: The Plague. Oh goodness, The Plague.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": He's "The Plague," not "Mister Plague." (At which point, Penn follows up with "Mister The Plague")
  • Tech Marches On: 28.8 Kbps used to be fast. No more.
    • Also, crashing 1507 computers in a day is no longer that impressive.
  • Television Geography: On their way to Grand Central, Cereal and Nikon run down Macdougal St (just off Washington Square Park, where they were playing chess) and turn the corner directly onto...what looks like South Broadway at 23rd St. Impressive.
  • The Password Is Always Swordfish: Or at least it is when whoever chose the password didn't think things through.
    The Plague: Someone didn't bother reading my carefully prepared memo on commonly-used passwords. Now, then, as I so meticulously pointed out, the four most-used passwords are: love, sex, secret, and... GOD. So, would your holiness care to change her password?
  • The Power of Friendship: Or the power of community, anyway.
    "You're not good enough to beat me!"
    "Yeah, maybe I'm not. But we are, asshole."
  • The '90s
  • Those Two Guys: Razor and Blade, hosts of "Hack the Planet".
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Agents Bob and Ray. Not really bad, since they're secret service agents, but they're definitely antagonists and Bob is definitely a Jerkass.
  • Title Drop: Yeah, the word "hackers" gets tossed around a lot throughout the film. There is also a Tagline drop, too (the "Their Crime Is Curiosity" one on the poster above): it's part of Loyd Blankenship's "Hacker's Manifesto", which is read aloud by Agent Ray during a stakeout early on.
  • Truth in Television: The Secret Service actually did engage in widespread raids and arrests in the years before this movie came out. Hackers were mostly harrassed in similar ways as those shown in the movie. At least one of these cases led to the foundation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: How Dade and Kate celebrate their victory. In a pool on a roof.
  • Wager Slave: If Kate Libby wins the contest to see who's the best hacker, Murphy will do scut work for her: "Scan, crack copyrights, whatever I want."
  • Waistcoat of Style: Part of The Plague's standard attire.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Phreak's last appearance was his phone call to Acid Burn, and he's never mentioned directly again.
    • He mentions that they're charging him with "some serious shit". He probably got denied bail and had to sit in jail for a few days until The Plague's plot got revealed.
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: In the course of stopping the tankers from capsizing (the crime for which they were framed) and obtaining the evidence of the real villain's embezzlement scheme, the heroes wreck an incredibly expensive supercomputer, but the Secret Service apparently doesn't prosecute them for it, since we see the main character and his girlfriend living (more or less) happily ever after at the end. This is most likely because the truth (which was broadcast worldwide by other hackers) embarrassed the SS to no end — The Plague manipulated the SS into assisting him in terrorism-for-blackmail.
  • Xanatos Gambit: At one point, Dade and Kate have a bet to see whose the best hacker. If Dade wins, Kate has to go on a date with him. If Kate wins then Dade has to do scutwork for her, but the bet is later changed that if Kate wins Dade has to wear a dress during their date. Either way, Dade gets to go on a date with Kate.