The Matrix Is the Best Hacker Movie

illustration with Matrix inspired objects leather coat wires sunglasses arms and keyboards. - ILLUSTRATION: OLEG BUYEVSKY

The Matrix Is the Best Hacker Movie
WIRED, December 1, 2021
By Andy Greenberg

“Most people point to Sneakers, Hackers, or WarGames. They’re all wrong. The Wachowskis actually invented the ultimate cyber superhero.”


In the spring of 1999, a 20-year-old hacker named Eva Galperin and her boyfriend walked into a screening of The Matrix at a theater in San Francisco, and walked out with a sense that they had just seen themselves—or, at least, who they could be. Galperin, at the time a Unix-focused systems administrator with black and blue dreadlocks, promptly bought herself a long, black, flared coat. Her boyfriend purchased a pair of Oakleys.


But it wasn’t just the movie’s fashion sense that spoke to them. Galperin felt it represented the experience of hacking in a way she’d never seen before. Neo seemed chosen to undertake his superheroic journey because he understood that “by interfacing with this black screen with glowing green writing on it, he could change the world in ways that it was not necessarily meant to be changed,” says Galperin, who works today as the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “I definitely came out with the feeling: Our people made a film.”


For years the generally accepted canon of classic hacker movies has been a kind of holy trinity: 1983’s WarGames, with its digital delinquent caught up in Cold War geopolitics; the 1992 computers-and-cryptography heist film Sneakers; and 1995’s teen cyber-hijinks thriller Hackers. With a couple of decades of hindsight, however, it’s well past time to recognize that The Matrix has in some ways eclipsed that triumvirate. As other hacker films ossify, turning into computer cat-and-mouse-game time capsules, The Matrix has become the most abiding, popular, and relevant portrayal of hacking—a brain-plug jacked so deeply into our cultural conception of the genre that we’ve almost forgotten it’s there.

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About the Author:

Andy Greenberg is a senior writer for WIRED, covering security, privacy, and information freedom. He’s the author of the forthcoming book Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency. His last book was Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers. The book and excerpts from it published in WIRED won a Gerald Loeb Award for International Reporting, a Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, two Deadline Club Awards from the New York Society of Professional Journalists, and the Cornelius Ryan Citation for Excellence from the Overseas Press Club. Greenberg works in WIRED’s New York office.

See also:

  • WIRED Peers Into the Future of Reality: Two decades after The Matrix, technologies have emerged that make us question what is real—in ways stranger, if less sinister, than the movie imagined. (The Future of Reality.
    The world of the Matrix is here. It’s nothing like what we imagined.)