Cyberpunk is a profound and unsettling sub-genre of science fiction, reflecting some of the bleakest predictions of a technologically advanced future.
The worlds these movies inhabit may seem beyond repair, but many of the films offer hope. The protagonists fight for freedom and a world where humans and technology peacefully co-exist.
To guide your journey into this often bleak vision of the future, we’ve rounded up the best cyberpunk films to watch online.
1. The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix is considered one of the most influential actions movies of all time, and for a good reason. Starring Keanu Reeves as the hacker Neo, and directed by the Wachowskis, the original film spawned two sequels and gave us the eye-popping visual effect known as bullet time.
The movie takes place in a dystopian future where machines rule the world and humans exist in pods, connected to a simulation known at the Matrix. When Neo learns the truth, he joins the rebellion against the machines.
2. RoboCop (1987)
In a near-future, crime-ridden Detroit, hard-working cop Alex Murphy is tortured by a gang of criminals and pronounced dead at the scene. While this would generally spell the end for most mortals, Omni Consumer Products (OCP) has been working on a prototype cyborg for crime prevention known as RoboCop. OCP implants Murphy’s brain into the machine, and RoboCop heads out onto the streets.
3. Total Recall (1990)
Douglas Quaid, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, has a recurring dream about a trip to Mars, so he heads to Rekall Inc. to buy a virtual holiday to the Red Planet. Rekall sells implanted memories, which Quaid gratefully accepts. However, the memory implant goes awry, and he has memories of being a secret agent fighting the Mars administration.
4. Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner is based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and features Harrison Ford as cop Rick Deckard. Replicants, which are synthetic humans created by the Tyrell Corporation, are used for off-world work. But when a rogue group of replicants escapes to Earth, it’s up to Deckard to hunt them down. Blade Runner 2049, a sequel released 35 years after the original movie, was also praised for advancing the genre.
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5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange predates much of the cyberpunk movement, but certainly sowed the seeds for the genre. The film is set in a dystopian future and based on the novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess. It follows the delinquent Alex and his gang of thugs as they commit crimes and acts of ultra-violence.
However, they are eventually apprehended. The authorities attempt to rehabilitate Alex through psychological conditioning known as the Ludovico Technique.
6. The Terminator (1984)
Most people agree that T2: Judgement Day, the sequel to 1984’s The Terminator, is a superior film. This may be true, but The Terminator was the prototype for many of the cyberpunk movies that followed
The Terminator, a cyborg assassin played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is sent back from the future to kill Sarah Connor. The film also gave us Arnie’s now legendary catchphrase, “I’ll be back.”
7. I, Robot (2004)
In the year 2035, humanoid robots serve humanity, but when leading roboticist Dr. Alfred Lanning dies by apparent suicide, homicide detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) steps in to investigate. The technophobic Spooner soon uncovers the hidden agendas and secrets of the U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men (USR).
I, Robot is an original screenplay based on the work of Isaac Asimov, who created some of the best science fiction books for geeks.
8. Minority Report (2002)
In the year 2054, the specialized Police department PreCrime uses three psychics known as precogs to predict crimes before they even take place. The PreCrime officers then apprehend the criminals before any crime has been committed. Starring Tom Cruise, this Steven Spielberg film examines free will and determination.
Minority Report is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story The Minority Report, further cementing his contributions to the cyberpunk movement. Worryingly, we may not be as far from this privacy-invading future as you may think.
9. Judge Dredd (1995)
In the year 2080, Judge Dredd is a street judge in the dystopian metropolis of Mega-City One. Dredd and the other street judges have the power to arrest, sentence, convict, and execute criminals to keep crime under control.
Judge Dredd’s roots stretch back to 1977 when the character first appeared in the comic book 2000 AD. However, it wasn’t until 1995, when Sylvester Stallone donned the Dredd outfit, that he made his bigscreen debut. Although it is considered one of Stallone’s worst films, it was widely praised for its cyberpunk stylings and action scenes.
10. ABE (2013)
One of humanity’s greatest fears is that robots will one day learn to think and feel as humans do. Abe, a robot programmed to experience love and with a desire to be loved in return, believes he has found his true love. But when his love isn’t returned, the programmed robot can’t deal with the rejection. This excellent short film from Rob McLellan is available for free, in its entirety, on YouTube.
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A Fitting Introduction to Cyberpunk
If these films have piqued your interest, and you want to know more about this genre, then take a look at our introduction to cyberpunk.
However, if you prefer TV shows to movies, then you may want to check out Black Mirror. The anthology series, set in the near future, explores our relationship with technology and how it’s already changing our lives.
The latest installment, titled Bandersnatch—everything you need to know about Black Mirror: Bandersnatch—is a choose-your-own-adventure feature-length film well worth watching.