This article was originally published on .cult by Eli McGarvie. .cult is a Berlin-based community platform for developers. We write about all things career-related, make original documentaries, and share heaps of other untold developer stories from around the world.
Last year we put together a list of the best hacking movies, and obviously, the next logical step from there was to catalog the coolest movies and series about developers. So, after putting in hours and hours of screentime watching all of these so-called ‘developer films’ from the last two decades, I’m pretty confident I’ve got a solid list of movies that will meet most of your expectations (I hope).
The criteria to meet this list was pretty straightforward, the movie (or series) had to feature a programmer as the protagonist (or antagonist), not a supporting character like those used to hack the mainframe (looking at you Mission Impossible).
Sign up to the TNW Conference newsletter
And be the first in line for ticket offers, event news, and more!
Without taking any more of your time, here are my top 10 picks for the best developer movies and series that I’ve seen.
1. The Social Network (2010)
The Social Network, more like the un-social network if you ask me… I can’t wait to live in a pod and eat bugs in the Metaverse. But that has nothing to do with this film, which, is actually really, really good. Directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin (who’s a legend), it tells the story of Facebook from the perspective of its founders, Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, and Sean Parker.
Whatever your feelings are towards the tech giant and its great track record of user privacy, I think you’ll appreciate this film since it’s not a glorification of Zuckerberg but really a story about friendship and betrayal. And the story is made even better with a great ensemble of actors including Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, and Armie Hammer — Hammer plays the Vanwinkle twins and, fun fact likes to eat people.
The dialogue is great, the soundtrack is thrilling, and the coolest thing is that all these guys are still around today. The Winklevoss twins are into crypto, Zuck is testifying before congress, and Sean Parker serves on the board of Spotify.
2. Matrix 4 (2021)
Yeah, just kidding this is film trash.
3. Tron: Legacy (2010)
I only recently (yesterday) found out that Tron: Legacy is a sequel. How did I not know that? I always assumed it was the Disney spin-off of the Tron arcade game I used to play in high school whenever the teacher gave us access to the computers.
This one is pure nostalgia, bright lights, and animation — but I think it’s still a fun movie. It’s about Sam Flynn (played by Garrett Hedlund), the son of the tech genius and software engineer from the first movie, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). Sam is pulled into his father’s video-game-like world in search of his long-lost father and is immediately thrown into digital combat scenarios and motocross racing as he discovers the hidden secrets of his father’s past.
4. The Fifth Estate (2013)
The reviews on this one are mixed, but I enjoyed the film mostly because it’s still relevant and Julian Assange is still making headlines and pissing off politicians even from his prison cell. The Fifth Estate takes you back to the founding of Wikileaks, the now-infamous website that publishes news leaks and classified media provided by anonymous sources. As you’ll see in the movie, it began with two programmers on laptops in Berlin and ends with the subsequent arrest of Assange, which I guess is still an ongoing thing.
This is not a spoiler but if you pay close attention you’ll see the characters constantly drinking Club Mate (a terrible drink but typical Berlin), which I thought was a really funny easter egg.
The film is partly based on a book written by the co-founder of Wikileaks who seems to have had a falling out with Assange, so keep that in mind as you watch it. Either way, this whole movie revolves around the moral grey zone of privacy and political ethics, very similar to what we saw with Edward Snowden and the NSA files.
Assange was a programmer, and his partner in crime Daniel Domscheit-Berg was also a programmer. So of course, you’ll see a lot of programming and get some insights into the technology underpinning Wikileaks and its anonymous activities. Regardless of your opinions on the whole Wikileaks situation, I think we can all agree there’s something pretty cool about a small group of programmers and hackers exposing governments for what they really are.
5. Ex Machina (2014)
Ex Machina is focused on AI and the kinds of things Elon Musk has been warning us about for years. The movie’s not specifically about programming but it is about a program (AI) and a programmer, and their interactions.
A programmer from a huge tech company wins a competition and gets to spend a week with the CEO of the tech company. He’s taken out to this retreat in Alaska (basically in the middle of nowhere) to meet his reclusive boss, only to find out that he’s not there to chill but participate in a strange experiment with the world’s first AI (similar to what Google’s doing with DeepMind…). This AI takes the form of a beautiful robot girl (Google, take notes) and I’m sure you can imagine what happens next…
6. Office Space (1999)
Office Space is awesome and, even though it’s two decades old, the underlying message is still relevant to a lot of people today. And it’s been meme’d to hell, so if you haven’t seen the movie you’ve probably seen one of those, ‘if you could just go ahead and do that, that’d be grrrrreat,’ memes.
This one’s about a programmer who hates his boring office job and one day just decides not to work anymore. Not quit or anything just not show up for work or give a f**k. It’s a really funny movie and if you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment, you’ll appreciate the humour and characters even more. Useless managers, annoying watercooler jargon, cringe department birthday gatherings — it covers everything that’s wrong with that soul-sucking suit and tie environment.
7. Silicon Valley (2014-2019)
Silicon Valley is an HBO original comedy series, about a group of programmers in Silicon Valley starting a tech company based around a new compression technology. It’s like the Big Bang Theory if it was created for adults that understand nuance and don’t need a laugh track to cue them in on jokes written for an audience with the collective IQ of a chimpanzee.
It’s also HBO and created by Mike Judge (Office Space and King of The Hill), so they can get away with dark humour, sexual innuendo, and the f-word (if that’s still a taboo these days) — which makes the show far more entertaining in my opinion. But it’s obviously not everyone’s cup of tea…
Anyway, there are six seasons to binge so if you have some time on your hands and want to sit back and laugh at characters with huge personalities talking about programming and startups, plus experience the exaggerated tech cliques of Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook, then this is the show for you! ALWAYS BLUE.
8. Mr. Robot (2015-2019)
Anarchist hackers. Need I say more? Mr. Robot was kind of an underground series when it first launched, I didn’t know many people who knew about it since it didn’t have big stars in it (Rami Malek was hardly known back then). Since then it’s obviously gained notoriety and won a bunch of awards. Even though it doesn’t share the same budget as other series it’s really well written and quite original and thought-provoking.
I found it had a Matrix vibe in the first season. You’ve got a cyber security engineer, Elliot (Rami Malek), who’s pulled from his corporate world into the shadowy underground of exposing corporate corruption with a team of anarchist hackers all the while dealing with delusions and paranoia which overlap to create a mixed reality. I think you’ll also love how the VP of Engineering is portrayed, similar to a lot of managers I know. 😂
9. Snowden (2016)
I’m not a big bio-pic guy, so Snowden was never on my radar, but I forced myself to sit through it this week just because it kept popping up and had some pretty high reviews. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it. The lead-up story (his professional and personal life) was just as interesting as what we know now about the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Snowden was directed by Oliver Stone, who also did Platoon and Wall Street, and it features a bit of Nicolas Cage’s bombastic acting which we’ve all grown to love. You’ll find similarities between this movie and The Fifth Estate because they deal with similar topics like digital privacy and government overreach. But because Snowden comes from a very different background compared to Assange, it’s more focused on a personal moral dilemma as opposed to ethics and journalistic integrity.
I also didn’t know that Edward Snowden was 29 when he blew the lid on the US government. I can barely expose my ex-wife for cheating on me let alone the entire industrial-military complex.
10. The IT Crowd (2006-2013)
The IT Crowd is a classic which you’ve probably seen, but I’m still adding it to this list for anyone that might have missed this British sitcom. Obviously, the IT helpdesk isn’t the same as programming, don’t worry I’m well aware you haters! I’ve added it for two reasons, firstly, it adds some comedic relief to this otherwise serious catalog of movies, and secondly, it rounds out this list to a nice even ten.
The IT Crowd is a British sitcom about two tech geeks working for Reynholm Industries. They get a new supervisor who doesn’t come from a tech background and together they get into a bunch of hilarious situations. Maybe you’ve seen The Mighty Boosh or Toast of London, it’s got a lot of familiar faces and similar situational humour, which is a breath of fresh air compared to comedies these days.
These developer movies and series aren’t listed in any particular order, they’re just in my top ten. I’ll let you decide which one’s the greatest of all time (if that even exists). And if I missed a really good one or you just completely disagree with my opinion, you can call me out, I’m sure there’s plenty of room to expand this list.
What’s that? You’re looking for some wise, meaningful developer entertainment that’s based in this universe? Well, you can check out some of Honeypot’s developer documentaries or this list of documentaries we put together. Or maybe you want to re-live the thrill of the first Matrix? Not this cold soup we’ve recently been delivered (Matrix 4), but something is a little more hackerish? Then check out the Best Hacker Movies to watch.
Hope you enjoy the flix ✌️