Hackers, a 1995 movie starring Angelina Jolie’s haircut, hit theaters exactly two decades ago. Its themes have never been more relevant or concerning to our connected society. Can you remember them? I almost can.
Rather recently, I revisited the movie Hackers in the context of reviewing its 2015 counterpart Blackhat, starring Thor. My piece referenced the varying depictions of hacking in movies but also reminded me that I ought to rewatch the classic, and I will later this evening in the company of my closest friends.
But first, let’s try to piece together the plot line based on my fading memories—just for fun.
Hackers stars a guy who likes to wear sunglasses while using his computer. I don’t remember his name, but I do recall his status as an outcast, an “other.” [Ed. note: His name was Zero Cool, probably the best hacker handle of all time.] He hammers away on a microwave-shaped computer, while his mom yells at him. It seems like the father is not in the picture. Obviously, he gets into trouble for hacking into something serious, and the government says he can’t use a computer until he’s 18, an age when all young people stop doing bad things.
Hacker guy moves to a new city and goes to a new school, where he seeks out the friendship of misfits who dress like they’re ready to rave. (I think maybe they actually do go to a rave at some point.) The gang of nonconformists he meets is led by a very lithe Angelina Jolie [Ed. note: Her character’s name was Acid Burn, the second best hacker handle of all time.] and a typically goofy Matthew Lillard. They find out that they all love hijinks, and in order to win respect, hacker hero guy violates his probation and hacks the school sprinkler system. I have an unreliable memory of him dancing through the hallways with an umbrella, but he might’ve just been standing there.
Then the conflict heats up. As the flirtation between hacker hero and Angelina Jolie—both of whom wear pixie cuts—blooms, an evil villain in a dark room decides to frame them for inciting a global disaster. The plot probably involved derailing a train or blowing up a dam or causing an oil spill, but it was definitely a bad one, as far as hacking goes. A less destructive hack would’ve been, like, stealing the identities of millions of government employees which actually happened 20 years after the film’s release.
I’m pretty sure this is when things get really cybertronic. Hacker hero dude has emerged as an obvious coding prodigy and displaces Angelina Jolie as the leader of the gang, stays up super late and drinks lots of soda while he thwarts the evil villain’s plans. Angelina Jolie probably doesn’t mind that he’s upstaging her because I’m pretty sure they’re making out at this point in the movie. Either way, there’s maybe a chase scene, and the phrase “HACK THE PLANET!” and maybe a limousine ride or rollerblades involved.
I recall the ending of the movie much less clearly than the beginning, but I’m pretty sure it’s a happy ending. I’m pretty sure the hackers prevail, turning the hacker heroes earlier conviction into a clear indication that the government should’ve hired him instead of taking away his computer.
This is still sort of how this shit works, funnily enough. The government sometimes overreacts to hacker hijinks and bans them from using computers for years at a time. In some cases, the consequences of authorities threatening coding geniuses is nothing short of tragic. Either way, it’s more apparent than ever that hackers like the hero of the eponymous 1995 film can help save us from a massive cyberattack. The government doesn’t seem to know what the heck it’s doing.
Discouraging politics aside, I remember very clearly that Hackers is an exciting and enlightening movie. I’ve heard that the plot pretty much holds up after all these years—except for the rollerblades and floppy disks, of course. So if you don’t have any other plans for this fine Tuesday night, find some cans of OK Soda and put on your favorite rave suit for a Hackers tribute party. Angelina Jolie really does look very lithe.