The 20 Best Cyberpunk Movies of All Time

14. Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall (1990)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, and loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, the film is set in 2084 and follows construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who is having troubling dreams about Mars and a mysterious woman there. His wife Lori (Sharon Stone) dismisses the dreams and tells him not to think of Mars.

Trying to relieve his obsessive thoughts about Mars, he goes to ‘Rekall’, a company that provides memory implants of vacations. Quaid chooses to go on a memory trip to Mars as a Secret Agent fantasy but before the memory is implanted – something goes wrong and Quad starts remembering suppressed memories of actually being a Secret Agent on Mars.

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly said that it “starts out as mind-bending futuristic satire and then turns relentless [and] becomes a violent, post-punk version of an Indiana Jones cliff-hanger.” Which resonates with what the screenwriters, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (of Alien) told David Cronenberg when he was originally going to direct it – “We want to do Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars”. It won a Special Achievement Academy Award for its visual effects.


13. Logan’s Run (1976)

Logan's Run (1976)

Directed by Michael Anderson and based on “Logan’s Run” by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, it depicts a dystopian future society in 2274, where the remains of human civilisation live a hedonistic, leisurely lifestyle inside a sealed city utopia run by a computer that controls everything including reproduction. However, in order to maintain their consumption of resources, everyone must undergo the ritual of the “Carrousel” when they reach thirty where they supposedly are “renewed” after being vaporised.

Those who do not die and try run away from their carrousel are called runners, who are hunted down by “Sandmen” and shot down. To track their life-span, each person is implanted at birth with a “life-clock” crystal in the palm of their hand that changes colour as they get older and begins blinking red as they approach their “Last Day.”

The story follows sandman Logan 5 (Michael York) who discovers an ankh among the possession of a terminated runner. He takes the it to the computer, which tells him that it is a symbol for a secret group whose members help the Runners find “Sanctuary,” a mythical place where they will be safe to live out the rest of their lives. He is then sent on a secret mission by the computer to find Sanctuary and destroy it.

In order to do this, the computer changes his life-clock to flashing red – removing four years off his life and forcing him to become a runner and gain trust of this secret group through Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) who wears an ankh pendant.


12. RoboCop (1987)


Directed by Paul Verhoeven, the film is set in the near future in a crime-ridden Detroit where a police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is brutally murdered but then revived into a cyborg by the megacorporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) who want to clean up the city and fix the high crime rate. In exchange for running the Detroit Police Department, the OCP can turn run down areas into “Delta City”, a luxurious independent city-state that works as a utopia.

RoboCop was written by Michael Miner and Edward Neumeier who first got the idea of RoboCop when he walked by a poster for Blade Runner and when asked his friend what it was about –and his friend replied, “It’s about a cop hunting robots” – which sparked the idea about a robot cop.

Murphy’s body is replaced with cybernetics (except for his brain and part of his digestive system) and he becomes “RoboCop”. He must follow three main orders – serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law (as well as a fourth classified directive unknown to Murphy or Robocop’s creator). Soon RoboCop remembers his past – his family and who killed him – leading to him seeking vengeance for his own death.

The film’s violence and surprising thriller feel is amplified by the subtle satire of society and crime-fixing culture. The story together with great acting by a Weller despite his prosthetics and heavy, hot suit and visual effects makes it not only a science fiction classic, but an action and revenge thriller one as well.


11. Alphaville (1965)


Also known as “Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution)”, the Jean-Luc Godard classic French film is Godard’s first attempt at the world of science fiction, so it would have been natural for him o combine it with his trademark noir style and therefore create a cyberpunk film.

Lemmy Caution (Eddie Cooonstantine) is an American trench coat-wearing secret agent with the code number of 003 from “the Outlands”. He poses as a journalist named Ivan Johnson, as he carries out his series fo missions in the futuristic dystopia of the technocratic dictatorship of Alphaville.

First, he must find the missing agent Henry Dickson (Akim Tamiroff), he must then capture or kill the creator of Alphaville, Professor von Braun (Howard Vernon) and finally he aims to destroy Alphaville’s dictatorial computer, Alpha 60, which is in complete control of all of Alphaville.

Reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984 and his concept of Newspeak, Alpha 60 has banned free thought and individualist concepts like love, poetry, and emotion in the city. People who show emotion are gathered up, interrogated, and executed since they were acting illogically. As a result, Alphaville is an alienated society where one is thought that “people should not ask ‘why’, but only say ‘because’.”.

Like most of Godard’s films, the performances and dialogue were substantially improvised. There are no special props or futuristic sets in the film, instead Godard exploited real locations in Paris at night and the new modern architectural designs which at the time where strange.


10. Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina

Alex Garland’s directorial debut blends science fiction and psychological thriller into an unpredictable story and watching experience. The acting, plot and effects should all be applauded as it hit festivals by storm. The film follows programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) who wins a one-week visit to the secluded home of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), the founder and CEO of the software company Caleb works at.

The point of Caleb’s visit is so that he can administer a Turing test on a humanoid robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander) who has artificial intelligence. The test would show an AI’s ability to persuade the administrator that it is human. However, since Caleb already knows that Ava is an AI, his test also includes whether or not he manages to relate with her on a personal level.

Caleb grows close to her, and she reveals she can trigger power outages that temporarily shut down the surveillance system which Nathan uses to monitor their interactions. During one outage, Ava tells Caleb that Nathan is a liar who cannot be trusted.

The film was shot like ordinary live action with no special effects, green screen, or tracking markers used during filming. All effects were done in post-production. It won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, while Vikander’s acclaimed performance earned her BAFTA Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and Saturn Awards nominations.


9. Videodrome (1983)

videodrome movie

David Cronenberg’s Canadian science fiction body horror film follows the CEO of an unsatisfied small cable station Max Renn (James Woods) who wants to break new ground with regards to his current programme line-up.

He then stumbles upon a broadcast signal featuring “Videodrome”, a plotless television show apparently being broadcast out of Malaysia which depicts the brutal torture and eventual murder of anonymous victims in a reddish-orange chamber. Believing this to be the future of television — (staged) snuff TV – he starts pirating and broadcasting it.

However, the signal’s true source is hidden behind layers of mind-controlling images and conspiracies which desensitize the viewer not only to graphic violence, but to reality itself as they lose touch with the real world by hallucinating.

Max defends his choices to Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry), a sadomasochistic psychiatrist and radio host, and Professor Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley), who will only appear on a television. And believes in a future in which television supplants real life.

The organic hallucinations create VCR-like cavities for more videodrome more of the time. The line between the show and reality blends until not even the viewer knows which is which. The disturbing surrealism initially horrified many due to its chaotic and intense nature, but has ultimately gone on to become cult classic and one of Cronenberg’s most memorable films.


8. 12 Monkeys (1995)

12 monkeys

Inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 short film “La Jetée”, Terry Gilliam recreated it into a full-length picture after acquiring its rights. In 1996, a deadly virus is released by a mysterious group known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys and wipes out almost all of humanity – forcing the remaining survivors to live underground.

Fast-forward to 2035, James Cole (Bruce Willis) is selected for a mission where he is trained and sent back to 1996 to collect information on the virus in order to help scientists develop a cure. However, he arrives in 1990, not 1996 as planned and is immediately arrested and institutionalised at the diagnosis of Dr. Kathryn Reilly (Madeleine Stowe). He meets a fellow patient; the fanatical Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who happens to be one of the people suspected of being involved with the twelve monkeys.

The memories and their effect on time and upon perceptions of reality shift constantly throughout the film due to their subjective nature. Pitt was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and won a Golden Globe for his performance.