How the 1995 Angelina Jolie Movie 'Hackers' Predicted the Future

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Go ahead, make fun of the 1995 thriller Hackers all you want. Make fun of the campy portrayal of New York’s teenage tech-whiz underground; make fun of the goofy superhero hacker handles (Zero Cool and The Plague are particularly tantalizing targets); and especially make fun of the rollerblading. But as you’re yukking it up, realize that Hackers — which starred a young Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller as crusading young computer geeks — was actually pretty prophetic about modern technology. Not about everything, of course. Computer viruses don’t have voices and faces and the ability to taunt those trying to stop them. And rival hackers don’t really compete in real-time battles that necessitate trash talk. Still, despite making the inside of a computer look like an amusement park, Hackers nailed more than a few things about the way we live with technology now. Six things, to be exact.

1. On demand TV

For Dade, a.k.a. Zero Cool, a.k.a. Jonny Lee Miller, watching what he wanted on TV was much more complicated than it is for us. By hacking a local TV station and replacing a ranting racist gasbag with an episode of The Outer Limits, Dade previewed the on-demand era ushered in by BitTorrent and other web streaming services.

2. Tech world sexism

When Dade first meets Kate, a.k.a. Acid Burn, a.k.a. Angelina Jolie, he’s clearly interested. If we assume the camera represents his eyes, it’s her lips that grab him. Their first encounter is unremarkable. But then they meet again at the after-school club for rollerblading gamer geeks, where Kate is playing a video game on a big-screen TV. Dade walks up as she dies and says, “That’s a nice score for a girl.” Oof. The egalitarian nature of the script — Kate is arguably the best hacker in the movie — isn’t reflected in Dade’s thinking, which is, in fact, a pretty good reflection of the juvenile sexism women regularly encountered in gaming, hacking culture, and Silicon Valley.

3. Virtual reality gaming

While Dade and Kate are playing a glorified arcade game, the movie’s villain Eugene, a.k.a. The Plague, a.k.a. Fisher Stevens, is at home inside a virtual reality world. And his set-up looks remarkably familiar to anyone following the developments of The Rift, a head-mounted virtual reality device under development by Oculus VR. It’s not just the mask that’s familiar. Eugene is standing on a device that looks just like the OMNI, a virtual reality peripheral that allows users to move through virtual worlds just as they would move through the real one: on foot. Then there’s the controller, which has a modern corollary in the Sixense Razer Hydra. A decade ago, the VR set-up in Hackers would have looked hopelessly unrealistic. Today, it’s just around the corner.

4. Simple passwords put people in danger

The hacking in Hackers is made possible by good old fashioned password guessing, which is in turn made possible by terrible passwords. It's just like real life, where pilfering weak passwords remains the most common method hackers use to access information. As for predicting the most common passwords, Hackers actually whiffed on that. The four most used passwords are not “love,” “sex,” “secret,” and “God,” as the movie suggested. They’re even simpler: In 2013, the most common passwords were “123456,” “password,” “12345678” and “qwerty.”

5. Hackers as hired guns

When Ellingson Mineral Company wanted to protect the sophisticated computer programs that control its oil tankers, it turned to a hacker who calls himself The Plague. Sounds like a dumb move, and in the movie it was, but that kind of thing is actually pretty common. Companies regularly hire hackers who can seek out vulnerabilities in hardware and software and then fix those vulnerabilities. The federal government does the same. The FBI hires so many hackers to fight cyber criminals that last May director James Comey suggested the agency may relax its rules against smoking marijuana to expand the applicant field.

6. Global alliance of hackers

When our hacking heroes need help battling Eugene, they call on a ragtag group of hackers cast across the globe. Together, they harness the power of good to derail the plans of evil. It’s like Anonymous without the masks. Hackers’ vision of an international hacking alliance, rallied by the call of “Hackers of the world, unite,” might be it’s most prophetic prediction of them all. Where it erred was in how the loosely organized group disseminated its message. Why take over TV signals when you can just upload a YouTube video?