We go through the top 7 cyberpunk movies of all time.
Science fiction is all the rage now thanks to the success of everything from Star Trek: Picard to The Mandalorian. However, despite the success of games like Cyberpunk 2077 and the anime based on that universe, we don’t get enough modern sci-fi movies that focus on the gnarly narrative possibilities of cyberpunk. This is a shame because many cyberpunk movies managed to predict the future to a downright eerie extent, and these are a few of our faves that not only predicted the future but changed cinematic history as we know it.
1. The Matrix (1999)
When The Matrix first came out, most fans were too busy getting excited about the gunplay and slow-motion kung-fu to really process the various philosophical concepts the Wachowskis were laying out. This is a shame because this film predicted the future in some very unexpected ways.
The most obvious way that this, one of the greatest cyberpunk movies, predicted the future is by showing us a world where everyone’s lives are dominated by virtual reality, which is what Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg is trying to make mainstream. Meanwhile, the film’s antagonists are basically evil AI agents, which rings true now amid our concerns about unethical programs getting people hurt or killed. And, for better or for worse, this film gave us the “redpill” meme that is used as a cultural shorthand for choosing potentially bleak reality rather than the comforting lies that everyone else has embraced.
2. Blade Runner (1982)
Despite being based on a Philip K. Dick novel, the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner ended up having far more of a cultural impact than the book. For one thing, this film cemented Alien veteran Ridley Scott as an all-time sci-fi director, just as it helped cement Harrison Ford as one of the greatest genre stars in the business. And, of course, like all the best cyberpunk movies, the movie predicted the future in some rather unsettling ways.
Some of what Blade Runner predicted is pretty mild, including the prevalence of video calls and the popularity of smart homes. But it also predicted some rather bleak things, including humanity devastating the planet to the point that everyone who can afford to has moved to Mars. And, of course, Ford’s character struggles with whether he is a human or a replicant, which is an interesting mirror to modern-day concerns over the seemingly fine line between human intelligence and artificial intelligence and what that means for the future of humanity.
3. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Any serious conversation about the best anime films or cyberpunk movies ever made simply must include the classic Ghost in the Shell. At the time the film was made, fans had no way of knowing how many future movies, TV series, and video games it would spawn. Similarly, they had no idea how correctly this movie would predict the future of our world.
Some of what the film got right includes cyber warfare becoming a top concern for various nations as well as the prevalence and popularity of the internet (which is doubly impressive since the film adapts a manga written way back in 1989). The movie’s signature technology, a kind of thermal camouflage suit, is something that has now been made into reality via retro-reflective projection. Mostly, though, this film anticipated how our reliance on technology not only makes us distance ourselves from others but leaves us vulnerable to getting hurt.
4. Akira (1988)
While Ghost in the Shell may appear in any discussion about the greatest anime films ever made or the best cyberpunk movies, it’s Akira that fans usually put at the top of the list. The film helped make anime a mainstream success among film lovers even before shows like Dragon Ball Z made the genre a breakout hit among younger fans. And, like our other favorite cyberpunk films, this movie predicted the future in some unexpected ways.
Some of these are just surface similarities, including the government focusing more on unethical experiments than educating the next generation. But one similarity that took the internet by storm was that the movie eerily predicted not only Tokyo hosting the Olympics (which happened in 2020) but that many people wanted them to “just cancel it,” which is what some graffiti reads in the movie. And the manga the anime is based on even included the World Health Organization recommending canceling the event due to an “epidemic,” which many believe effectively predicted COVID-19.
5. Upgrade (2018)
Upgrade is the most recent of the cyberpunk movies on this list by far. However, despite coming out only a few years ago, this movie (about a paralyzed man who is able to move his limbs thanks to cybernetic implants) still correctly predicted the future in a few different ways.
For example, the film shows the dangers of self-driving cars invented by Erron Keen, a technologist who seems to be a clear stand-in for Elon Musk (a man whose self-driving cars have proven far more dangerous than he claimed they would be). The movie also predicted our increased reliance on drones for things like gathering footage. And, of course, scientists are hard at work to this day using similar technology seen in the movie to help paralyzed people regain their mobility.
6. RoboCop (1987)
In addition to being one of the classic cyberpunk movies, the original RoboCop is possibly the best satire film ever made. In fact, the only thing that might top it is the futuristic Starship Troopers, another film directed by Paul Verhoeven. But RoboCop was pretty futuristic itself, especially when it came to predicting the coming decades.
While this film showed Detroit’s police getting a robot cop, cities around the world are now increasingly relying on robots to help patrol their streets, including Dubai developing actual android cops. Speaking of technology, the movie accurately predicted our reliance on things like facial recognition technology and GPS tracking. And, perhaps most tragically, this movie predicted our increasing reliance on privatized security forces rather than traditional law enforcement.
7. Total Recall (1990)
Like Blade Runner, Total Recall is another cyberpunk film based on a story written by Philip K. Dick. And like RoboCop, it’s a film directed by Paul Verhoeven. Still, this movie is nothing like those other cyberpunk movies except in one important way: it creepily predicted the future.
For example, this movie showed us a world where self-driving cars are commonplace and mankind has colonized Mars, two things we are actively working to make happen. Most horrifically, though, the technology used in this movie to record dreams and implant fake memories has been made into a reality, though the memory implants have so far been limited to lab mice. As Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s character might say, “See you at the party, critters.”
- GFR Score calculated using averages of audience and critical reactions across multiple platforms.