Hackers have been a part of Hollywood’s movie-making tradition for decades, and while real-life ones tend to have bad reps, Hollywood counterparts are often depicted as heroes whose valiant efforts save the world and humankind. To get in touch with your inner geek and to celebrate the release of “TRON: Legacy,” here is a top 10 list (in no particular order) of the coolest movie hackers. You may not learn any real hacking watching these folks, but you will be entertained witnessing early portrayal of computer security.
1. Lisbeth Salander/Wasp in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
When Swedish author Stieg Larsson created hacker Lisbeth Salander for his Millennium trilogy, he whipped up a complex persona, much different from previous fictitious hackers. A sullen savant with a photographic memory and phenomenal close-combat skills, Lisbeth, aka Wasp, hacks into computers of whomever she investigates. Never to adhere to societal standards, Lisbeth looks more like a emaciated teenage boy with tattoos and a pierced nose than the security researcher she is during the day. But don’t let her looks fool you: Thanks to her boxing skills, she becomes a fierce fighter when threatened, never hesitating to take to violence when cornered–even when it means killing someone.
2. Dade Murphy/Zero Coo/Cash Override in “Hackers”
Dade Murphy is not your typical script kiddie: At the tender age of 11, he managed to crash more than 1,500 systems and cause havoc on Wall Street. In other words, that boy is good. An over-the-top cyber Dennis the Menace, Dade acts like any other teenage boy with pranking friends, flirting with a girl and disrespecting authorities, all done while looking very mid-’90s cool. But because of his loyalty to his family and friends and his sense of justice, Dade becomes the hero of the day and, naturally, gets the girl in the end.
3. Glen Whitmann in “Transformers”
A dork whose biggest joy involves hacking and playing DDR, Glen Whitmann knows it is a bad day when his friend Maggie barges into his basement, asking him to look at some classified data. But before he gets a chance to view the whole thing, FBI agents crash through the front door and sweep him off to custody. When interrogated, Glenn panics and blames Maggie for being a bad influence. Buckling under pressure, he tells agents the worst he has ever done is download a few thousand songs off the Internet, but “Who hasn’t? Who hasn’t?!”
4. Lyle in “The Italian Job”
Bitter after his college roommate stole his idea for Napster and became a multimillionaire, Lyle has spent most of his time thinking of how he will ever regain respect. Thanks to his hacking skills, Lyle gets involved in his friends’ scheme to recover gold from a former associate who has double crossed them. The gang manages to successfully pull off the heist, with Lyle hacking into the Los Angeles traffic system and manipulating the lights. Not a bad skill to have, if you live in LA, one of the worst cities for traffic in America. In the end, Lyle not only gets paid but he also gets the well-earned respect from his peers who agree on calling him by his desired nickname: The Napster.
5. Kevin Flynn/Clu in “TRON”
It is probably every geek’s dream: to be sucked into a cool computer game. When that happens to hacker Kevin Flynn, he quickly discovers his digitized environment is controlled by an evil program, Master Control. Flynn, who programmed a number of features of the environment he got into, partners with a bookkeeping program and his ex-girlfriend, and together they try to replace the megalomaniacal Master Control with Tron, an honest security system. Flynn realizes that as a programmer, he has magic powers in this digital word, and he is able to resurrect dying programs and rebuild broken vehicles, among others.
6. David Lightman in “Wargames”
If anyone should be blamed for the stereotype of a dorky computer whiz who operates out of his bedroom, it should be Matthew Broderick, who portrays 17-year-old David Lightman in “Wargames.” David spends most of his time at the arcade or trying to figure out ways to hack into places for his own entertainment, including changing his grade in the school computers. As with most awkward teens, he does not have many friends. Not that it matters: He’s the only one who can stop the world from going up in flames in a World War III.
7. Angela Bennett in “The Net”
Doe-eyed Angela Bennett may look like the t-shirt-and-sweatpants kind of gal, perhaps little on the dowdy side, but do not let her looks fool you: Not only is she a software analyst and hacker but she also knows how to use guns and elude cyber terrorists who are out to kill her. Spending most of her time with her online friends and very little real-life interaction, her low-key life takes a dramatic turn when she gets drawn into a plot that tests her survival skills. Angela transforms from being a shy, mousy telecommuting software analyst to a heroine who outsmarts the villains and brings down a network of web terrorists. All while looking nerdy chic: If anyone can look good playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game in high-waisted mom jeans, it is Angela Bennett.
8. Theodore “Rat” Donald Finch in “The Core”
For those who have seen the movie, it may not come as a huge surprise that in a poll of hundreds of scientists about bad science fiction films, “The Core” topped the list. With a plot like this, the only saving grace is a strong character. Enter Theodore “Rat” Donald Finch, a hacker who has been brought in by the feds to help to cover up the biggest impending catastrophe of all times. A super elite hacker, Theodore can break into almost anything, including FBI and NSA, and even — drum roll, please — planet Earth. As he says, “You want me to hack the planet? OK, if I decide to do this, I'll need an unlimited supply of Xena tapes and HotPockets.“
9. Jack Stanfield in “Firewall”
In the animal kingdom, mothers are fierce protectors of their young to a point when they are willing to sacrifice their own lives. In the movie “Firewall,” the role of protector falls on Jack Stanfield, an ethical hacker whose family has been taken hostage. While risking being implicated in an embezzlement scheme, Jack hacks his employer’s computer systems and transfers $100 million to the villain’s offshore bank accounts. When it becomes clear his family won’t be released despite his cooperation, Jack transforms from the all-American dad to hacker extraordinaire who stops at nothing to save his family. As the tagline of the movie goes, “they will make him steal, but he will make them pay.”
10. Trinity in “The Matrix” movies
Exotic and beautiful yet lethal, Trinity is the kind of woman who can make men stop dead in their tracks — literally. Part cyber warrior, part vixen, Trinity is gal no one messes with. While she is able to kill a roomful of agents, she still has a vulnerable side. But as it becomes evident Neo is the chosen one, Trinity seamlessly steps to the side to take her role as his sidekick, somewhat in the shadow. Nonetheless, this ass-kicking heroine deserves a mention as a memorable hacker character who actually uses real-life hacking resources, such as Nmap.