7. eXistenZ (1999)
By the time eXistenZ was released, video games had increased in their popularity and the exploration of virtual reality was well underway. David Cronenberg’s film uses both technology and organic material to create a masterful tech geek thriller. Croneneberg fans will undoubtedly get into huge debates with Wachowski fans about how this film compares to The Matrix.
Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the world’s leading video game designer. She is preparing to test her new game, eXistenZ on a eager focus group. People have been scanned for recording devices. As the group begins to interact with the game, one of the members pulls out a strange looking weapon and shoots Allegra. Ted (Jude Law) grabs the weapon and takes Allegra away.
The “bullet” turns out to be a tooth as the weapon was made of flesh and bone so it was undetectable by security. Allegra is concerned that her gamepod has been damaged and wants Ted to accept a gameport into his own body so she can examine it. The two then proceed to enter into a world where it is hard to separate reality from virtual reality.
True to form, David Cronenberg blends technology with flesh in the creepiest of ways. The film moves at a brisk pace and the visuals are engaging is not repulsive at the same time. Ultimately, it is a well thought out existentialist piece that looks at society’s ever growing fascination with technology and fantasy and how some people cannot distinguish or separate fantasy from fiction.
Technology actually is part of the flesh in this film and users have still have the same violent urges they have in the game even after they have unplugged from it. This is a great piece of social commentary that is drawn out in a visceral way.
6. Blade Runner (1982)
The phrase tech noir never really did seem to take even though there are a lot of films that fit this genre released in the last thirty years. It is bleak, dark, and utterly fascinating. Based on another Philip K. Dick novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), this movie is a huge favorite amongst tech geek fans.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is part of the LAPD’s Blade Runner unit. Humans have the technology to create androids at this point. In the year 2019, he is tracking down replicants (human clones), which were declared illegal after a rebellion on an Off-World Colony. He is supposed to terminate four replicants who have managed to hijack a ship and return to Earth to find their creator.
This film is so dreary and depicts the antithesis of what we normally see in films taking place in L.A. It makes sense given the subject matter but it really casts a pall on an already heavy film. The attention to detail and Ridley Scott’s idea of what 2020 L.A. would look like also add to the atmosphere but it is the special effects and technological aspects of the movie that are the driving force behind it.
5. Akira (1988)
Before The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell, there was Akira. Akira was light years ahead of its time in terms of subject matter and spellbinding animation. The beauty of animation is there are truly no limits to what you can do. Katsuhiro Otomo takes full advantage of this with stunning piece of animated sci-fi.
Three decades after WWIII, Neo-Tokyo has risen from the ashes. It is filled with despair and violence. The economy is down and there is civil unrest. The film centers on Tetsuo, a member of a biker gang who gets caught up in a classified government project known as Akira. Kaneda, the biker gang’s leader, has to save Tetsuo before he gets in too deep with this project.
Tetsuo has the ability to turn into a psionic. This technology allows him to have superhuman powers. Tetsuo cannot always control his emotions and Kaneda has to save him before it is too late.
The movie takes a relatively ubiquitous comic book trope about a man who feels small and ineffectual who somehow has been gifted with super powers and turns it on its head. He could use the powers for good but has his own selfish agenda. The plot is dense and filled with odd characters, but this is definitely a film that tech geeks cherish to this day.
4. Alien (1979)
The original Alien was released in the late 70s but has a much more modern feel to it. Directed by Ridley Scott, this film is about as close to perfect as they come. We seem to be catapulting toward another Golden Age of Science Fiction and this film will long be held up on a pedestal in this genre. The technology in the film is second only to the dormant alien that is lurking on the crew’s ship.
In yet another distant future, a crew aboard the space vessel, Nostromo receive a distress call from a distant planet. The crew is awakened from their hypersleep when the ship lands on the planet. A team of three investigates an abandoned ship and finds a colony of eggs. A parasite from one of the eggs attacks a crewmember and they bring him back aboard the ship. The parasite dies and the man appears to have recovered. The crew is unaware that they now have one unexpected guest on board.
This film has a lot of horrific elements to it in addition to the obvious sci-fi and technological aspects of it. It is a unique blend of genres that create the perfect film. The opening sequence shows how isolated we appear to be in the universe. It takes a while to build up to the scene that everyone is naturally waiting for but the pacing and tension are just right. This movie is fantastic.
3. The Matrix (1999)
Anyone who was in high school or college around the time of this film’s release was probably very intrigued by the ideas posed in this film. The Matrix was not necessarily the first film to depict alternate realities but was one of the first to suggest the reality that we are living in is indeed not real at all. Part tech noir, philosophical diatribe, and action film, this movie set the bar for movies of its kind.
Keanu Reeves plays Thomas A. Anderson. Thomas is a computer programmer by day and a hacker known as Neo by night. Morpheus contacts Neo with a request that could potentially send him down quite the rabbit hole.
When the police reach out to Neo, he has no one to rely on but Morpheus for help. Morpheus opens Neo’s eyes to the Matrix, an artificial reality that machines created while they use humans as batteries. The real world is now a barren wasteland. Neo has the ability to destroy the agents of the machines and restore hope for humanity.
The special effects in this film are second to none. The camera angles and action sequences were the first of its kind. The technology in the film is terrifying but the questions the film pose are noteworthy? What is reality? What does it really mean to be human? Where has Carrie-Anne Moss been hiding for the past fifteen years? The Matrix set the bar for any high tech/sci-fi films. It may be best to avoid the sequels, however.
2. Star Wars (1977)
George Lucas has managed to keep renewed interest in this franchise for about 40 years, which is no small feat. The original Star Wars is now the fourth Episode in the series. Star Wars geeks and Trekkies will battle over which series has sci-fi/tech supremacy. That’s not to say that there aren’t fans of both, but usually people lean to one side or the other. A long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away, George Lucas created some of the most memorable characters in cinema history.
Luke Skywalker is a farm boy who lives with his foster family on Tatooine. He wants to leave this planet and be with his friends and the Academy but his uncle needs him for the next harvest. Darth Vader, in the meantime, has created a Death Star that is capable of taking out whole planets.
Rebel leader, Princess Leia has been captured by the Galactic Empire. She puts the Death Star plans in the droid R2-D2 and sends him to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke eventually teams up with the droid, C-3P0, and a whole cast of characters to defeat the Galactic Empire and destroy the Death Star.
This movie was released during the Oil Embargo and a time where America was on a downswing in terms of morale (post Vietnam, Watergate). There wasn’t really a lot for American crowds to cheer for and then this movie came along. It really was a rallying cry for many people and still speaks to the power that cinema has today. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is due in theaters later this year. We will see what magic George Lucas has left in him.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick is a genius. This is one of the greatest films ever made. Everything from the score, the sound editing, the cinematography, and the performances are just dead solid perfect. Even visually engaging films like Gravity don’t come close to what Stanley Kubrick achieved in 1968.
There is a monolith on Earth that has given prehistoric man the nudge in evolution he needs to discover tools. Later, another monolith is discovered beneath the moon’s surface that originated from near Jupiter. Astronaut Dave Bowman and four other crewmembers travel to Jupiter to locate the origin of the monolith.
HAL 9000 is the latest model computer that helps navigate a spaceship. HAL is just as intelligent, or more so, than the humans on board the ship. HAL has its own consciousness and puts the crews’ lives in danger in regards to the mission.
The film is about evolution. Not just about evolution of man but evolution of technology as well. As humans have evolved, so have our relationships to technology. This brilliant film explores these relationships in one of the most beautiful ways imaginable. The film makes you wonder, what future are we racing toward? What really lies in store for humanity? It is stark, awe-inspiring, and terrifying all at once. This is a cinematic masterpiece that should not be missed.
Author Bio: Edwanike Harbour has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an avid film buff and currently writes for Madison Film Forum. When she’s not in front of a movie screen, she is usually listening to indie rock and reading Don Delillo novels.