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February 22, 2013

10 Movies Tech Geeks Must Watch

By movie

Time travel, crazy special effects, virtual realities—technology pairs with filmmaking like popcorn pairs with film-watching.

With the 85th Annual Academy Awards taking place this Sunday, we thought it was the perfect time to declare our favorite 10 tech movies of all time. These are the flicks we keep watching time and time again because of their innovative filmmaking and tech-skewing storylines.

10. “Iron Man” (2008)

What separates this movie from most other superhero movies is that it feels real or at least somewhat plausible. There are no magical powers. Instead, Iron Man is created through the technological innovation of its creator, from the electromagnetic chest plate (that kept him alive) to the armor and weaponry, such as repulsors and flame throwers. In terms of the actual film, it is a well-constructed, if mainstream affair with plenty of special effects to boot, not to mention, a well-fleshed out character played by Robert Downey Jr.

9. “Back to the future” (1985)

Probably the most popular movie on this list, “Back to the Future” can be a little hammy at times, but that adds to the charm. For its time, it had a lot of technological pizzazz—the flux capacitor, the photo fading as the future rewrote itself— to go along with its quintessentially ‘80s comedy. It also offers one of the most iconic portrayals of a tech inventor via Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown character.

8. “Avatar” (2009)

Not only is “Avatar” the top-grossing movie of all time, but it also one of the most technologically innovative movies to come out in the modern era. Yes, it is essentially a science-fiction version of “Pocahontas,” but “Avatar” is a treat on the eyes, thanks to director James Cameron’s realistic CGI and its new 3-D technology. The plot centers on the idea of technology destroying the world, with people controlling avatars to mimic and take advantage of another species. Despite its flaws, you can’t deny that “Avatar” is one of the best technological achievements in filmmaking in quite some time, even if it did bring upon the overdone 3-D revolution.

7. “We Live in Public” (2009)

The only documentary on this list is a solid film about a major innovator of the ‘90s boom: Josh Harris, creator of the first internet television network What’s intriguing about this movie is that it shows how Harris, well before all social networking sites existed, predicted that eventually people would let go of their privacy in exchange for popularity.  It’s a fascinating riches-to-rags character study of one of the internet’s most influential men.

6. “Minority Report” (2002)

This was a film we were skeptical about when it originally came out. Why? Simply put, it’s a bit out there for subject matter, which deals with a technology that allows law enforcement to arrest murderers before the acts take place. What’s crazy about this film is how less unrealistic it seems today, just a little over 10 years after it came out. It made use of touchscreen computers well before the era of iPads and smartphones, and the idea of being able to predict actions is no longer so far-fetched, with defense contractor Raytheon recently announcing new technology that claims to do just that. The special effects directed by Steven Spielberg are also absolutely gorgeous.

5. “Primer” (2004)

“Primer” is a very highbrow movie about a group of inventors who stumble across a valuable technological innovation, which ultimately creates dissention among them. The dialog is extremely high-tech and nonstop (it’s like a techy Robert Altman film), but the movie remains captivating, thanks to the talented actors involved.  It’s mesmerizing to see these men converse and try to figure out this new technology, despite the audience not knowing what the heck they’re making or trying to make—but that’s not the point. If you have the patience to watch it, you will be rewarded, but go into this movie knowing it’s no big-budget, special-effects flick. It’s an art film to the core.

4. “Tron” (1982)

“Tron” is arguably one of the most influential tech movies ever made, and it was a unique concept for 1982. Video games had just been introduced, so the idea of injecting a person into a computer mainframe was pretty radical. In fact, at the time of its release, it wasn’t well-received because the concept went a little over people’s heads. The actual production of the film was a huge technological achievement at the time, with it being one the first movies to use computer graphics to such an extent. Much like the plot, people didn’t know what to think of these effects, which is likely why it wasn’t recognized in the Special Effects category at the 1983 Oscars. Had it not been for “Tron,” who knows if we would have CGI to the point we do today in films like “Jurassic Park,” the “Star Wars” prequels or “Avatar.”

3. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction masterpiece is the ultimate man vs. technology film. This movie too was far ahead of its time. It was made not long after men entered space and before man landed on the moon. It’s remarkable the outer space portions of the film look so realistic and not hokey, despite it not being computer generated. The technical achievements were like none seen before. Amazingly, to this day, the film is not dated. What’s interesting also is how Kubrick essentially predicted our growing reliance on technology and its consequences. This is a no-brainer for this list.

2. “The Social Network” (2010)

No, it isn’t a special-effects movie—not even in the slightest. But, “The Social Network” is probably the best film ever made that follows the story of a tech genius. It’s a tech movie for the modern generation, and it’s truly fascinating to see how Mark Zuckerberg, for better or worse, was able to create the empire that is Facebook. It’s a true actor’s movie, with Jesse Eisenberg putting on a legendary performance as Zuckerberg, and a solid supporting cast that includes Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake. With one of the most consistent modern directors, David Fincher, and a script by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin (“Sports Night,” “West Wing,” “The Newsroom”), “The Social Network” is not just one of the best tech films ever, but also one of the best movies to come out in the last five years.

1. “The Matrix” (1999)

“The Matrix” is the quintessential tech movie when it comes to both the filmmaking and the storyline. At the time of its release, its unique filmmaking technique was a huge technological achievement. Known as “bullet time,” it involved 120 cameras and two motion-picture cameras that captured every angle and panned around the action in slow motion. The film is crisp, clear and also has plenty of CGI eye candy.  The crux of the plot, which features a world where humans can jump into artificial reality (borrowing a little from “Tron” before it), is perfect for hardcore sci-fi fans. But even mainstream moviegoers can appreciate it. It’s one heck of an action movie that keeps anyone’s interest, even if they can’t keep up with the complex, technical and, at times, philosophical plot. For these reasons, “The Matrix” will remain a classic. Just do yourself a favor and avoid the two meandering and worthless sequels.

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments field or tweet us @TrainSignal.

About the Author

graduated in 2006 from Benedictine University with a B.A. in communication arts and film studies. He has written for several publications covering the topics of travel, technology, business, sports and politics with specialties in film and music. Currently, he runs two blogs entitled "The Chicago FIlm Snob" and "Chicago Metal Head." You can find him on twitter at @chicagofilmsnob and @chicagometalhd.