Twenty Years Later, Hackers is Still One of the Best Films of the 90s

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Hackers is not the best movie ever made, but it is one of the most deliriously entertaining. The pulpy classic is finally coming to Blu-Ray with a 20th Anniversary Edition set to hit shelves on August 18 after years of circulation on bargain basement DVD, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s officially time to remedy that mistake.

Of course, Hackers is not a perfect film. It has, at best, a loose understanding of hacking and computers. Everything it knows about technology is either dated or flat out wrong, which seems like it would be a problem in a movie about hacking.

And yet, Hackers has only become more beloved in the years since 1995, largely because the movie doesn’t let science get in the way of a good time. What it lacks in accuracy it more than makes up for in energy and style.

It starts with the young, likeable cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Matthew Lillard, and Jonny Lee Miller, as well as Wendell Pierce and Marc Anthony in supporting roles before they became famous for The Wire and “I Need to Know,” respectively. The plot is filled with loopholes, but there are plenty of quotable lines – “Hack the Planet” has become a rallying cry – and the characters manage to do lots of slick stuff with computers.

In that regard it’s like an action movie. It doesn’t make any sense from a technological perspective, but if Bruce Willis gets to have superhuman endurance in Die Hard, then the audience is more than willing to forgive a few feats of computational wizardry in a film like Hackers. We want to believe in the impossible, which is usually more important than realism in a cinematic context.

Hackers doesn’t teach you how to hack, but it does teach you how to behave like a hacker, and it makes that seem like it would be a super cool and fun way to be. The fashion is probably just as inaccurate as the technology, but it is unique and consistent. Hackers presents hacking as a lifestyle that goes along with a distinct set of values, communicating a benevolent anarchy that prioritizes freedom, creativity, and curiosity over cruel, corporate conformity.

That ethos has become increasingly prevalent in the years since 1995, paradoxically allowing Hackers to become more relevant even as the physical trappings have become more dated. People may not use rollerblades anymore, but Hackers is bursting with an envious individuality. Crash, Burn, Cereal, Phantom, and Nikon want to be themselves in a world that constantly pressures them to adhere to a set of restrictive expectations. Everyone can relate to that struggle with self-expression, making Hackers a movie that can resonate with programmers (or game designers) despite its complete lack of programming acumen.

Even the villain’s cheesy plot – he wants to cause an oil spill to cover the fact that he’s been cooking the books – has become eerily plausible in the past two decades. The heroes are positioned in direct opposition to that greed, standing as compassionate, independent vanguards with impeccable style and virtually limitless potential. Hackers makes intelligence seem cool and sexy, and that’s why it remains one of the best films of the 90s.

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