Ten of the most mind-bending computer films

From Spike Jonze's Her to Aronofsky's Pi – geek out to our pick of the top ten trippy to terrifying cyber films

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The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz hits UK screens this week. Depicting the life of US net activist Aaron Swartz, the documentary tells the heavy tale of his draconian prosecution in the months leading up to his suicide for downloading academic articles for free was regarded by many as grossly disproportionate at best. In a nod to his tech genius we're geeking out with the best movies about computers.

PI (1998)

Paranoid number theorist Max realises that a 216-digit number generated by his computer Euclid may hold the key to not only stock market predictions but also the unspeakable name of God in this intense black-and-white mind-bender from director Darren Aronofsky. As Max's insights grow his cluster headaches worsen, leading to a shocking finale that brings a whole new meaning to the notion of cerebral pursuits.

 

COMPUTER CHESS (2013)

The idea of a machine that could beat a human at chess captivated the earliest pioneers of artificial intelligence. Mumblecore originator Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha) goes retro for a low-fi, hilariously odd portrayal of a 1980 tournament for chess software developers in the US, using a cruddy video-shot look to evoke a pre-digital era of cumbersomely-sized tech.

CATFISH (2010)

After an eight-year-old prodigy in Michigan sends New York photographer Nev Schulman a painting they become Facebook friends – a connection that extends to the rest of her family, including her half-sister Megan, who Nev starts a long-distance romance with. After he plans a surprise meeting he finds all is far from what it seems, in this engrossing and alarming documentary directed by his brother Ariel Schulman and friend Henry Joost.

ALPHAVILLE (1965)

Shot on the night-time streets of Paris, Jean-Luc Godard's sci-fi noir (the working title of which was Tarzan versus IBM) sees a trenchcoat-wearing private eye called Lemmy Caution on a mission to destroy Alphaville, a dictatorship ruled by a sentient computer system that has banned emotion and poetry.

HER (2013)

Samantha is an advanced operating system with Scarlett Johansson's husky voice. Office-worker Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who’s going through a messy divorce, starts to wonder if despite her not having a body she might just be the perfect romantic partner. The feeling seems mutual, but Samantha’s capacity to rapidly evolve presents as many problems as it solves in Spike Jonze’s recent mind-bender, set in an LA of the near future.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

While Samantha doesn't lack for attractive features in Her, sentient spacecraft computer Hal in Stanley Kubrick’s classic sci-fi epic is nothing if not a real asshole. He jeopardises the lives of the astronauts bound for Jupiter by acting out and blaming his actions on “human error” – causing the crew to consider disconnecting him.

ELECTRIC DREAMS (1984)

Steve Barron branched out from directing music videos with this MTV-influenced rom-com with a twist. A love triangle between beautiful cellist Madeline, her nerdy architect neighbour Miles and his home computer Edgar, who refers to him as “Moles” because of a set-up typo, gets messy as the jealous PC (who has become sentient through a freak reaction with spilt champers) wreaks havoc.

EXISTENZ (1999)

David Cronenberg’s darkly twisted sci-fi is set in a near future in which virtual reality game pods are plugged into the spines of players. A game designer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is on the run from assassins with a young marketing trainee (Jude Law), and needs to test her new game programme to determine whether or not it’s damaged.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)

Jesse Eisenberg stars in this scathing take on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the genesis of the social networking site out of a Harvard campus website for rating the attractiveness of female students. Directed by David Fincher, the dynamic film finds the drama in the business venture that for better or worse has transformed daily human interaction.

PULSE (2001)

More likely to make you never want to log on again is Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s terrifying cult J-horror about the alienation caused by modern technology, which sees young residents investigate a series of unexplained deaths linked to strange net interactions. It positions the internet as a portal between computer monitors in Tokyo and the afterlife, where ghostly apparitions are hellbent on re-entering the world of the living. 

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