While programmers don’t get represented in films more than say lawyers or cops, they are still depicted on the big screen more than you’d imagine. Think about it. Every crime show has some hacker character helping the cops break into a victim’s phone or security system. That’s what programmers do, right? I know, software developers don’t always get the best representation. But that’s not to say there aren’t some badass characters in the mix.
Through my vigorous research (watching a bunch of stuff), I’ve found a catalogue of movies and series that feature a programmer, software developer or hacker as a protagonist and/or central figure. To make the cut of being considered a ‘software developer movie,’ the programmer has to be front and centre – no goofy side characters. And it makes sense to include hackers in this one – because without them, we don’t have any action movies, which would be a huge problem. Let’s get into this!
A computer hacker discovers the shocking truth of the 'real world' and his destined role in a rebellion against its controllers.
Some people think the Matrix (1999) is more of a documentary than a piece of fiction — we kind of do live in a simulation, don’t we? But what does this hugely cultural film have to do with software development? Well, if you were paying attention, Thomas Anderson (AKA Neo), was working as a computer programmer before he got unplugged from the Matrix. Basically, he was an engineer at Facebook. And outside his day job, he would hack computer systems. That’s how he gets introduced to the Matrix. So, one of the most iconic characters of all time is a computer developer 🤯. Just don't watch the fourth film though, that’s not included in this recommendation.
IMDb rating: 6.0/10 Director: Irwin Winkler
A computer analyst finds her identity stolen and changed, which plunges her into a treacherous game of cat-and-mouse in the digital world.
What you are going to love about The Net (1995) is all the awesome UX design from the 90s. It’s wild. If you’re a frontend dev, take some inspiration. And while Sandra Bullock’s character has the title of ‘computer analyst,’ you’ll see that she’s basically a programmer. The film itself is about the dangers of a digitalised world. Everything being digitalised means that crazy things can happen, like people shutting down your bank account or locking you out of society… which would never happen in our world.
IMDb rating: 6.5/10 Director: Dominic Sena
A covert counter-terrorist unit enlists the help of a brilliant hacker, leading him into a web of cyber espionage and danger.
The Swordfish (2001) is an epic film. Hugh Jackman as the good guy, John Travolta as the bad guy. Need I say more? Jackman is this ripped hacker who can basically hack anything, he’s forced into this world of white collar crime, and it’s pretty fun because he’s making money and doing what he does best, writing software. I’m not going to spoil it any further, so if you want to see Hugh Jackman crush beer while programming for days on end, go watch this film.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
IMDb rating: 7.8/10 Director: David Fincher
A disgraced journalist and a tormented computer hacker unravel a disturbing family mystery, uncovering secrets darker than they imagined.
There are two versions of this film, the Swedish version and the version everyone saw. That’s a joke but also true… The English version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) was a remake a few years later which stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara and is directed by David Fincher. Fincher is great, he’s known for making cult classics like Fight Club and Seven – this film is also top-tier. One of our main characters is an investigative hacker who commits cybercrimes and blackmails people.
Die hard 4
IMDb rating: 7.1/10 Director: Len Wiseman
John McClane fights against time and a deadly cyber-terrorist who threatens to bring the United States to its knees.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007) is the fourth instalment in the Die Hard series. Bruce Willis is back saving the world from cyberterrorists. This was sort of the theme in most action movies in the early 2000s. It turns out that John McClane’s sidekick is a black-hat hacker who helps the old school New York cop with tech-related issues. Their relationship kind of feels similar to that of a product manager and senior dev. “You have two minutes to do this impossible thing or everyone dies!”
IMDb rating: 6.2/10 Director: Wally Pfister
A pioneering AI researcher's consciousness is uploaded into a supercomputer, raising questions about identity, love, and humanity's relationship with technology.
I only mention this film because it fits the criteria outlined for a ‘software developer movie’, but please don’t think I actually like this movie. It’s not good. It’s really really bad. But if you like hate-watching things or simply have terrible taste, this film is going to be up your alley. How can I describe it in as few words as possible? … Imagine captain Jack Sparrow trapped in the Metaverse without his monkey. That sums it up pretty well.
IMDb rating: 5.4/10 Director: Michael Mann
When a high-level cybercrime threatens global security, a furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners go on a high-stakes chase across the globe.
Blackhat (2015) is the second film on this list that features an Australian actor on steroids. In this film, we get Thor from marvel. I like Chris Hemsworth and Michael Mann, but this film falls short. It’s something to do with the pacing and script. Maybe you’ll like it though!
The Fifth Estate
IMDb rating: 6.2/10 Director: Bill Condon
The story of Julian Assange and the rise of WikiLeaks, navigating the line between exposing the truth and risking lives.
The Fifth Estate (2013) is the story of WikiLeaks and the two main guys that started the whole hacktivist operation. The story told in this film is more relevant than ever. The deep state, political assassinations, foreign wars — Julien Assange put everything on the line to expose a political agenda that is still prevalent today. In the film, you’ll see a lot of Berlin, a lot of the dark web, and a lot of hacking.
The Social network
IMDb rating: 7.8/10 Director: David Fincher
A brilliant but socially awkward Harvard student (Mark Zuckerberg) creates the social networking site Facebook, leading to unprecedented success and numerous legal controversies.
The Social Network (2010) is about Mark Zuckerberg and his famous app Facebook. Thankfully, the screenplay was written Aaron Sorkin, so we’re not watching someone code for 90 minutes (which is probably closer to the real story). Instead, we get to witness the conflict between co-founders and investors, plus lots of verbal sparing (great writing from Sorkin). This is also the second film on this list directed by David Fincher — I’d even go so far as to say The Social Network is one of his best films.
IMDb rating: 7.7/10 Director: Alex Garland
A young programmer is chosen to evaluate the human qualities of a highly advanced humanoid A.I., leading to unexpected and dramatic consequences.
Both the protagonist and antagonist are programmers. One’s super rich and cool, and the other is young and naive. It’s like a senior developer, junior developer relationship. The conflict in this film is AI and ethics. What do you do when you fall in love with a robot? Should a sentient AI be treated the same as a human? A lot of these questions are one's our Trusted™ leaders are discussing right now! So pretty relevant. This film also has one of the best dance scenes in cinema history.
IMDb rating: 6.3/10 Director: Shawn Levy
Two washed-up salesmen land internships at Google, where they must compete with tech-savvy youngsters for a shot at employment.
Hollywood stopped making funny movies 10 years ago. So while The Internship (2013) is categorised as a ‘comedy’ you’re probably not going to laugh (unless you work at Google). But since developers love Google so much, I thought I’d include this two-hour advertisement so that you can get a fictionalised glimpse into what it’s like to work at the Googleplex. Personally, I don’t want to sleep in a pod or be called weird names like Noogler, but maybe you do.
🎬 Series about software developers
IMDb rating: 8.5/10
A group of aspiring tech entrepreneurs in the mecca of the tech industry faces ups and downs in their quest to strike it big.
When it comes to developer television shows, Silicon Valley (2014–2019) is at the very top of the iceberg. Why? Because it’s literally about a team of developers building a product. The show’s also hilarious – there’s a lot of relatable stuff that will have you chuckling. The good thing is that there are six seasons of this show to binge-watch, so lots of material to keep you busy. You might have to go to HBO max for this one… I’m not sure.
IMDb rating: 7.7/10
The trials and tribulations of a video game development team, as they navigate through egos and eccentricities while striving to create a successful game.
With Mythic Quest (2020–), Apple did their best to copy the blueprint of Silicon Valley. It’s got the eccentric tech entrepreneurs and the conflict of creating a good product. It’s also a comedy, though, less funny than Silicon Valley. Still, if you want to chill and watch the funny dynamics of modern office culture, this show can be fun. There are three seasons out, with a fourth on the way.
IMDb rating: 7.3/10
The rise and fall of WeWork, one of the world's most valuable startups, and the charismatic, controversial figure at its helm.
WeCrashed (2022) is a miniseries produced by Apple about the crazy co-working space company, WeWork. This show is not about programming, but I added it to this list because it’s epic, and anyone working in the startup scene or tech is going to appreciate a lot of what happens in this show. You get to see the crazy startup culture, office politics, and the stress of running a business.
The Billion Dollar Code
IMDb rating: 8.0/10
In the 1990s, two computer scientists claimed that Google stole their idea for a 3D city scanner, resulting in a legal and moral battle.
The Billion Dollar Code is a German Netflix miniseries based on a real lawsuit brought against Google in 2014. It’s semi-fictionalised, but the claim was that Google Earth was developed using patented tech. If you can get past the subtitles, it’s a great watch, it’s only four episodes, so you can bury it in a weekend.
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber
IMDb rating: 7.3/10
This series chronicles the tumultuous journey of Uber, highlighting the relentless ambition of its CEO and the controversial tactics used to propel this startup to a global phenomenon, sparking a myriad of ethical and legal issues.
Uber single-handed disrupted an entire sector. We’re at a place now where you can call someone to pick you up with a wait time less than five minutes. That’s incredible. But the Uber revolution didn’t come easily. The behind the scenes is crazy, and this show portrays the conflicts in an entertaining way. If you like WeCrashed, you’ll like The Battle for Uber (2022–). There’s one season out currently and another on the way, you can find it on Showtime.
IMDb rating: 7.5/10
The intertwining love lives of different characters, each connected by a common thread - a certain mysterious playlist.
You might be starting to notice a trend here. Miniseries being created about big tech companies. Maybe Hollywood is running out of ideas. I actually don’t mind, as long as we get more movies about the tech we love and less movies about ant man and his small family. This particular miniseries (produced by Netflix) is about your favourite music app, Spotify. It’s a Swedish production (yes, that means subtitles), but it’s a Swedish company with Swedish founders, so get over it.
IMDb rating: 7.8/10
When a controversial tech idea falls into the wrong hands, a desperate banker, a Haitian-American gang lord, and a Cuban-American hacker are forced to work together.
Did you like Martin Freeman as the Hobbit? Well, you’re going to love him as *checks notes* an FBI agent. That’s right, he’s not a developer. BUT one of the main characters is a developer, a crypto developer. And the show is set in Miami, so it’s kind of similar to all the Sam Bankman-Fried stuff. Imagine FTX without the Adderall and the incest. Cool show, unfortunately we only got three seasons, probably something to do with it being on Crackle…
Person of Interest
IMDb rating: 8.5/10
A mysterious billionaire and a former CIA operative use a superintelligent AI to prevent violent crimes before they happen, challenging the notions of privacy and surveillance.
Full disclosure, I haven’t watched every episode of Person of Interest . There are 103 episodes, and between CSI, Criminal Minds, and Law and Order, there’s simply too much crime solving happening. It’s hard to keep up. Anyway, in this show, a CIA agent partners up with a programmer, and they go around solving crimes. There are five seasons and a lot of cyber crime, so you should be busy for a good few weeks.
Have we missed any?
Did we get all the movies and series in this list? I feel pretty confident that I’ve covered all the new shows plus all the classic films like Matrix and Social Network. But if you think I’ve missed a legendary film (which I probably have!), send me a message, and I’ll add it to the list.
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