The genre of cyberpunk is seen in a lot of sci-fi films. Generally, it’s described as a focus on technology within a futuristic society, examining how advanced tech can plumb the depths of humanity and bring out the worst of people. Corporate corruption, global culture, artificial intelligence, and huge class gaps are often the basis of cyberpunk, and often result in rebellion groups or detectives solving mysteries.
Cyberpunk also has a visual aesthetic that is inarguably “cool”, with neon lights, colorful billboards, and skyscrapers filling the screen while shadows creep in from the sides, combining the future with the aesthetic of film noirs from the 1950s. ‘The Batman‘s Gotham, despite being set in a more or less present-day, seemed to be inspired by the aesthetic of these futuristic societies.
Anon is set in a future where, in typical cyberpunk style, privacy and security has been replaced by government-mandated invasive technology that records everything everyone sees. When victims with deleted and tampered records show up dead, a group of detectives starts to investigate a tech wizard known only as Anon (Amanda Seyfried)–as they deal with their own memories being tampered with.
It’s certainly an interesting premise, with commentary on the importance of anonymity and the undeniable potential that technology like this could one day exist.
Total Recall (2012)
Based on a book by Philip K. Dick, the same author whose book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? inspired cyberpunk classic Blade Runner, the 1990 Total Recall was a landmark for its time, praised for its questions of identity and reality. In the remake, a construction worker in a dystopian world where false memories can be implanted struggles with whether to believe his memories of a separate life.
What follows is a story of deceit and distrust as Quaid learns more about the memories that have been installed into him and must choose what to believe. With themes of capitalism, false reality, artificial intelligence, and the dangers of implanted technology, Total Recall is a great movie to watch on a Friday night.
Altered Carbon (2018)
This miniseries, based on the 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, is set in a sci-fi future and combines cyberpunk with a murder mystery. Though it’s been canceled after only two seasons, reviews were pretty positive, praising the exciting pace and appreciating how shamelessly the show leans into its cyberpunk roots.
Though the murder mystery has been done better in other shows that focus exclusively on them, the show never slows down enough to get boring, and, if anything, it’s a fun watch for those in the mood for a creative homage to cyberpunk movies with a twist.
Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)
Known for its Academy Award for Best Cinematography, the sequel to the 1982 film Blade Runner was better than anyone expected. Set 40 years after the original, little has changed–a new corporation is churning out android “replicants”, and a replicant Blade Runner tracks down Rick Decker after evidence crops up that he might have a replicant child.
While not as engrossing or groundbreaking as the first, this sequel can stand on its own as a solid story, with just as great cinematography and performances, if not containing the same emotional depths as the original’s famous “tears in rain” monologue.
New Gods: Nezha Reborn (2017)
This 3D animated movie is set in a future city named Donghai which is a cut-and-dry cyberpunk city, from the billboards paneling building fronts to the neon signs lighting up the shadowy streets. Cyberpunk more in aesthetic than content, this futuristic action movie takes on fantasy elements, as the lead character, a smuggler, learns that he is the reincarnation of a Chinese deity known as Nezha.
With beautiful, vivid animation, interesting and creative mythology to its world, and a straightforward story that lets you sit back and relax, New Gods: Nezha Reborn is a great choice for a fun night.
Focused more on gene technology than computers, Gattaca is a stretch for cyberpunk, but since it does express the dangers of technology among humans, it counts. A society controlled by eugenics able to create perfectly engineered children drives a natural-born man to steal another man’s superior genetic material to gain a place among the ranks of astronauts.
A masterpiece of speculative fiction, Gattaca delves into a realistic look at what could happen if genetic technology becomes advanced enough to run society in the way it portrays–these ideas are made even more chilling in the light of how far reproductive technology has come since the film was released in 1997.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
As philosophical as it is action-packed, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a popular Japanese anime that follows mecha robot pilots as they fight for the survival of humanity. Merging practically sentient technology with questions of human nature, Neon Genesis Evangelion might lack some of the staples of most cyberpunk movies–no hardboiled detectives here–but in a few ways, it could be considered to reinvent the genre.
The struggles of humanity in a technological world–social class, culture, and individualism–as well as the philosophical underpinnings of those issues are explored in depth, along with psychological and religious questions. The mechas themselves are an example of futuristic tech that has the potential to fundamentally change the way humanity relates to itself, as are the cyborg enhancements featured in many characters.
Looper adds time travel to the cyberpunk equation, as people are sent into the past by their enemies to be killed by a hired assassin. After the assassin is hired to kill his future self, what results is a time loop as the two–older and younger–attempt to get rid of each other.
With hints of a classic cyberpunk aesthetic, Looper proves to be an even grittier look at the future. With visual references to other classics in sci-fi, Looper is great for aficionados. This is a clever, must-watch film, for those interested in time travel-based action thrillers.
Cowboy Bebop (1998)
A fusion of cyberpunk and a Western, Cowboy Bebop asks questions about the gritty reality of life, even if that life is hunting down criminals through techno-cities and dilapidated towns. While technically considered neo-noir, cyberpunk is definitely a close hit–major themes in the show target isolation, capitalism, and the impacts of future technology on society.
With beautifully animated visuals, Cowboy Bebop is a renowned anime credited with bringing more Western attention to the genre while also asking deep questions. The live-action adaptation, also on Netflix, leans even harder into the cyberpunk aesthetic, so it’s worth checking out!
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)
Potentially the very first example of cyberpunk in film, Ridley Scott’s masterpiece stars Harrison Ford as the cynical and weary cop, Rick Decker, and Rutger Hauer as the antagonist android Roy Batty. In a future Los Angeles, in which everything is corporate, and Eldon Tyrell owns a “replicant”-factory, “Blade Runner” Rick Decker tracks down and kills rogue replicants who have escaped illegally.
The film is a beautiful piece of cinema, with thoughtful reflections on humanity and sentience, as shown in Roy Batty’s final monologue before his death ruminating on the wonders he’s seen that even humans haven’t.
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