Futuristic Visions: The 15 Best Cyberpunk Movies Ever Made
And we’re not talking about something as obvious as Blade Runner here.
1. Hardware (1990)
Hardware is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film directed by Richard Stanley, which, despite its budget constraints, managed to create an atmospheric cyberpunk nightmare. This gruesome tale, was inspired by a short story in the 2000 AD comic series, follows a scavenger who gifts his girlfriend a robotic head he found in the desert, which turns out to be part of a dormant homicidal droid. It subsequently rebuilds itself using household appliances and goes on a killing spree. If that doesn't scream cyberpunk horror, I don't know what does.
2. Liquid Sky (1982)
Liquid Sky is about as bizarre as cyberpunk can get. The film, directed by Slava Tsukerman, is a unique blend of sci-fi, punk aesthetics, and New Wave sensibilities. It centers on a fashion model living in New York City who becomes a target for tiny, drug-loving aliens. The story takes a turn when these aliens start killing anyone who has sex with her. Liquid Sky boasts an impressive 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and offers a mesmerizing, hallucinatory vision of a world on the fringe.
3. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Based on a short story by William Gibson, the godfather of the cyberpunk genre, Johnny Mnemonic takes us on a ride through a dystopian 2021. Keanu Reeves plays Johnny, a data courier who transports sensitive information implanted in his brain. When he accepts a job carrying vital data that exceeds his storage capacity, he finds himself hunted by the Yakuza and other dangerous factions. The movie got a lot of flak for its cheesy dialogue and poor pacing, but it's worth noting that it features a cybernetic dolphin. Yes, you read that right.
4. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
Tetsuo: The Iron Man is the epitome of Japanese cyberpunk. Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, it's a film that throbs with the frantic energy of industrial machinery and bodily mutilation. The story follows a man who finds his body slowly transforming into scrap metal after a hit-and-run incident with a Metal Fetishist. Gruesome and surreal, Tetsuo is a testament to the versatility of the cyberpunk genre, pushing its boundaries into the realm of body horror. Tsukamoto was inspired to make Tetsuo after a nightmare where he saw himself becoming a rusty, metallic creature.
5. Strange Days (1995)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Strange Days is an often overlooked gem in the crown of cyberpunk cinema. The film blends a noir narrative with high-tech dystopian world-building. Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, a black market dealer of SQUID recordings, which allow users to experience other people's lives. When he receives a recording of a brutal murder, he's thrown into a whirlpool of conspiracy and corruption. Although it was a commercial flop, it boasts an impressive 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and offers a stark critique of voyeurism and police brutality.
6. Sleep Dealer (2008)
Sleep Dealer, directed by Alex Rivera, is a thought-provoking dive into the future of labor and immigration. The film's protagonist, Memo Cruz, lives in a future Mexico and works remotely for a construction company in the U.S., controlling a robot via a network while his body remains in his home country. Even though it has an 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it's surprising how this film hasn't received much attention, considering its unique perspective on the consequences of technology.
7. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly is a faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel and a unique entry in the cyberpunk canon. The film, made with a technique called interpolated rotoscoping, follows an undercover agent (Keanu Reeves) in a dystopian future where substance D, a powerful and addictive drug, has become an epidemic. As he descends into addiction, he begins to lose his identity. Reeves himself stated that making this film was the most challenging role of his career because of its complex narrative and unique animation style.
8. Cypher (2002)
Cypher, directed by Vincenzo Natali, is a stylish, cerebral, and unfairly underrated cyberpunk flick. The story revolves around Morgan Sullivan (Jeremy Northam), an ordinary man who becomes a corporate spy and gets embroiled in a world of deceit and corporate warfare. Lucy Liu plays a mysterious woman who helps him uncover his true identity. It's a twisted, brain-melting journey that you'll need to watch more than once to truly comprehend. Despite its relative obscurity, Cypher has won several awards, including the Grand Prize of European Fantasy Film in Silver at the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival.
9. Natural City (2003)
South Korea's answer to Blade Runner, Natural City, directed by Min Byeong-cheon, is a visually stunning exploration of what it means to be human. The film, set in a futuristic city, explores a world where cyborgs are an everyday part of life and centers on a cop who falls in love with a cyborg woman. Although it may be less known, it is a must-watch for its breathtaking visuals and emotional depth.
10. 964 Pinocchio (1991)
Shozin Fukui's 964 Pinocchio is not for the faint-hearted. It's an extreme, visceral journey through the underbelly of cyberpunk horror. The film follows an amnesiac cyborg sex slave thrown away by his owners and his quest for identity. The 964 in the title is the cyborg's model number, adding a dehumanizing aspect to this tragic character. The film's cybernetic twist on the classic Pinocchio story is a disturbing watch, but if you really appreciate cyberpunk genre, this is the one you just can't miss.
11. Nirvana (1997)
Nirvana, directed by Gabriele Salvatores, is an Italian cyberpunk film that explores the lines between virtual reality and consciousness. Christopher Lambert, of Highlander fame, stars as a game designer who must enter his own game to delete a self-aware character he created. It's a haunting exploration of the potential ethical issues of artificial intelligence. While lesser-known, it sports a solid 68% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
12. Alphaville (1965)
A Godard film in a list of cyberpunk movies? Surprising, isn't it? Alphaville, despite being a product of the mid-60s, wonderfully anticipates the tropes of cyberpunk: a dystopian city, an omnipresent computer controlling life, and a hard-boiled detective. Set in a futuristic city controlled by an AI called Alpha 60, a U.S. secret agent tries to destroy the computer and free the city's residents from its tyranny. This classic has a stunning 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
13. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Ghost in the Shell is such a monumental piece of cyberpunk media that it can't be left out of any list of cyberpunk movies. The anime film, directed by Mamoru Oshii, follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg policewoman, in her pursuit of a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master. This philosophical exploration of identity, consciousness, and the nature of humanity is cyberpunk at its best. It's also a visual treat, with an impressive 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Let's just pretend Hollywood remake starring Scarlett Johansson never happened.
14. Avalon (2001)
Another film directed by Mamoru Oshii, Avalon blends live-action with CGI to tell a haunting story set in a virtual reality game. The film's protagonist is Ash, a top player who risks everything to reach the game's highest level, known as Class Real. The film's desaturated color palette and slow-paced narrative create a uniquely atmospheric experience. Despite being relatively unknown in the West, it enjoys an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and totally worth checking out.
15. eXistenZ (1999)
David Cronenberg's eXistenZ is a fascinatingly grotesque dive into the world of virtual reality. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a game designer whose latest creation, a virtual reality game called eXistenZ, comes under attack by a group of fanatics. Jude Law co-stars as a security guard who gets caught up in the ensuing madness. A surreal blend of biological and technological horror, it's a mind-bending trip that has an 74% Rotten Tomatoes rating.