20 times Hollywood got hacking right (and oh so wrong)

We break down who knows their code...and who's faking it, from Mr. Robot all the way back to Angelina Jolie.

Joal Ryan
1 of 23 Peter Kramer/USA Network

'Mr. Robot' and beyond

Hacking, as with other real-world activities, like police work, journalism and being human, is something that Hollywood sometimes depicts accurately, and sometimes depicts with a lazy flurry of "rapid-fire typing."

Here are 20 examples of movies and TV shows that nailed -- and screwed up -- hacking, starting with "Mr. Robot."

2 of 23 Christopher Saunders/USA Network

'Mr. Robot' (2015)

What it gets right: Pretty much everything. This thriller about a vigilante hacker recruited to take down the 1 percent feels authentic right down to its binary-code-referencing episode titles.

"It is refreshing to see a television show making an effort to not only highlight capabilities of current hacking techniques but trying to stay reasonably close to reality," praises HackerTarget.com.

3 of 23 MGM Home Entertainment

'Hackers' (1995)

What it gets right: Hackers have a soft spot for this thriller from the prehistoric 1990s featuring a teenage Angelina Jolie.

"The hacking is relatively realistic," judges the blog Null Byte. "It gets points for portraying hackers as the good guys (thwarting the plans of the evil corporation) and as hip, rather than nerds."

4 of 23 Paramount Pictures

'The Italian Job' (2003)

What it gets right: Nobody's pulled off a citywide hack of red lights yet, but university researchers have demonstrated it can be done.

5 of 23 CBS

'NCIS' (2003)

What it gets wrong: TV's crime procedurals are frequently cited as leading producers of laughable hacking technique. Exhibits A-Z is a scene from a 2004 episode of "NCIS," The Bone Yard. How laughable are we talking? Well...

In it, Abby (Pauley Perrette) and McGee (Sean Murray) respond to an attack on Abby's computer by double-teaming on the keyboard: Abby takes everything right of "H," apparently; McGee handles "G" and leftward.

6 of 23 MGM Home Entertainment

'Skyfall' (2012)

What it gets wrong: The scene where MI6 gets hacked is a mess. As Hackaday points out, James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are looking at encrypted data when 007 somehow recognizes a word. (Sort of not the point of encrypted data, yes?) In short order, everything gets decrypted, and even more ridiculously...

7 of 23 MG Home Entertainment

'Skyfall': Now that's some data viz

...a cool-looking schematic of underground London appears because, well, dumb. "When you decrypt code, you get code," Hackaday observes. "Sure, you might be able to then RUN that code to get some kind of a visualization, I guess. What you don't get is your encrypted code morphing into a visualization of a map."

8 of 23 Sony Pictures

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' (2011)

What it gets right: On its blog, cybersecurity company Avast praises the US take on the Swedish thriller for having Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) score a key password by finding it on a stray piece of paper.

"Simple techniques work," a senior virus analyst says in the post. "People write passwords on a sticky note or use the same ones multiple times, which puts them at risk for stolen data."

9 of 23 Warner Bros.

'The Matrix'

What it gets right: According to the Wall Street Journal, what attracts the cyber crowd to this mind-bending 1999 classic is its portrayal of Keanu Reeves' everyday life as a hacker.

"That's the most realistic scene: You've been slacking at work, sleeping on the job," one expert tells the paper. "A lot of it is really glorified [in other films.]"

10 of 23 Universal Pictures

'Blackhat' (2015)

What it gets right: This Chris Hemsworth box-office bust won over at least one audience: hackers.

"It's the first crime-thriller to hinge so heavily on hacking without becoming silly," a once-imprisoned hacker-turned-Wired editor says. One particularly authentic thing: The screens filled with code, and fancy (and fake) graphics are absent.

11 of 23 Twentieth Century Fox

'Independence Day' (1996)

What it gets wrong: Producer Dean Devlin has an explanation for how Jeff Goldblum's tech guru helps defeat an alien attack by uploading a human virus to a space-alien system: The E.T.s use binary code that Goldblum's character can decipher.

Sure. Right. Whatever you say.

12 of 23 Sony Pictures

'Swordfish' (2001)

What it gets wrong: It's not that all hackers are socially awkward, hoodie-covered schlumps, it's that no hackers outside of Hugh Jackman's "Swordfish" self get their hack on while listening to German soul, wearing their slickest Structure threads, and tapping away like Sheila E. on the drums.

13 of 23 Sony Pictures

'The Net' (1995)

What it gets wrong: Like "Hackers", this Sandra Bullock vehicle is mostly remembered fondly. It's also remembered, however, for a scene that, according to Wired, teaches us that "the secret to ultimate cyberhacking is clicking on a link while pressing Control and Shift...at the same time."

14 of 23 Warner Bros.

'Firewall' (2006)

What it gets wrong: This Harrison Ford thriller is basically guilty of not hacking enough. In the movie, the bad guys go to a whole lot of trouble over the course of days to coerce Ford's bank exec character to steal $100 million.

15 of 23 Warner Bros.

'Firewall': Not typey enough

Speaking to the site CSO, information-security consultant Ira Winkler says, "The reality is that organized criminals regularly steal millions of dollars from banks and get away with it. They don't have to resort to exposing themselves to charges of murder, extortion and blackmail."

Also, as Winkler notes, Seattle techies do not wear suits and ties to the office.

16 of 23 Universal Pictures

'Jurassic Park' (1993)

What it gets wrong: We guess what Samuel L. Jackson's engineer character is trying to do is hack into Jurassic Park's disabled security system. But is it really hacking if you type in variants of "ACCESS SECURITY" or if you get an animated taunt in response?

17 of 23 Twentieth Century Fox

'Office Space' (1999)

What it gets right: When the disgruntled cubicle occupants of this comedy drop a reference to "Superman III" (itself a maligned hacking film) and steal money from their tech company, a fraction of a penny at a time, they engage in the real-world hack that is known as "salami slicing."

18 of 23 Sony Pictures

'GoldenEye' (1995)

What it gets wrong: James Bond flunks the hacking test again, this time for a much-mocked scene in which a Russian hacker (Alan Cumming) sends a power surge to a US network by merely typing "Send Spike."

"We wish it were that easy to hack into the systems and even get out of it if caught," MoviesonHacking.com writes.

19 of 23 Dimension Home Video

'Takedown' (2000)

What it gets wrong: Famed hacker Kevin Mitnick says this movie "sucked" and is "untrue." The movie is about Mitnick.

The film, about Mitnick's arrest on federal hacking charges, went unreleased for years in the US before finally being dumped directly to DVD.

20 of 23 Sony Pictures

'The Social Network' (2010)

What it gets right: This take on the rise of Mark Zuckerberg wins plaudits for its depiction of Facebook's origin the night Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) hacked into Harvard's residential houses to steal photos of female students.

The mission is doable; the vibe is right; the keyboard action is fast, but not too fast.

21 of 23 Twentieth Century Fox

'Live Free or Die Hard' (2007)

What it gets wrong: The "Die Hard" franchise, which pits Bruce Willis' cop against cybercriminals in its fourth installment, stands accused of overkill.

"[A] bunch of evil terrorists...hack into the United States and shut everything down," says the geek blog Terminally Incoherent. "I did not skip a word there...These dudes hack into everything!"

22 of 23 Sony Pictures

'Untraceable' (2008)

What it gets right: This thriller about FBI cyber-agents on the trail of a serial killer gets points from the security company Tripwire's blog for sounding the part. "Most of the language was true to the tech culture," it says.

23 of 23 MGM Home Entertainment

'WarGames' (1983)

What it gets right: This film about a kid (Matthew Broderick) who unwittingly hacks into a military computer and nearly sparks a nuclear war caught the eye of then-President Reagan.

He asked his national-security advisers to find out whether the scenario could happen. The answer, per The New York Times, was jarring: "Mr. President, the problem is much worse than you think."

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