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The best in surveillance cinema

Rest uneasy with ten of the most sinister 'somebody's watching' films

We recently published the winner of our surveillance short story contest. As cinema plays with the power of the gaze, it's proved ripe terrain for exploring fears of an all-seeing Big Brother in a world policed by technology. Here's our pick of the films in which being watched has sinister implications.

DECODER (1984)

In this German underground cyberpunk film, directed by Muscha, a burger-shop employee living in a repressive state of mind-control and surveillance discovers that by replacing the sedating strains of Muzak with industrial noise music, he can incite revolution. It's based on the writings of William S. Burroughs, who appears in it along with other counter-cultural figures such as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Christiane F.


Net pioneer Josh Harris's controversial Big Brother-style experiment Quiet: We Live In Public is documented in Ondi Timoner's film. More than 100 artists moved into an underground terrarium in New York in the late '90s, with webcams following their every move. It's an alarming portrait of what can happen when we're willing to trade off privacy for recognition. As we see, Harris himself broke down after living for half a year under 24-hour constant surveillance.


German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's taut Oscar-winning suspense drama, elegantly shot in oppressive greys and greens, captures life in a 1984 East Berlin under claustrophobic state surveillance through the state's attempts to break a playwright and his actress girlfriend. It shows what drove citizens to become informers – or to dissent.

HIDDEN (2005)

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke made his name through masterpieces of creepiness and bleak discontent such as Hidden – in which the lives if a Parisian family unravel after they start receiving surveillance tapes of the front of their home from an anonymous source.

LA ANTENA (2007)

The silent era inspired this unusual, retro-futuristic fairytale by Argentinian director Esteban Sapir about political oppression and resistance. In a surreal Buenos Aires where it snows, the citizens have been robbed of their voices by a dictator employing mind-control and surveillance – all except an elegant, hooded singer and her eyeless son who hold the only hope for liberation.


Shot on the night-time streets of Paris, Jean-Luc Godard's sci-fi noir 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 free thought, emotion and poetry.


Confined by a broken leg, a magazine photographer (James Stewart) takes to voyeuristically peeping through his window at his neighbours, becoming convinced he is watching a murder plot unfold. Hitchcock's classic suspense thriller about our neurotic urge for surveillance is one of his best.


This German doc-style film from director Marten Persiel is an engrossing and haunting portrait of ill-fated rebel Denis "Panik" Paraceck, who became a leading light of East Berlin's burgeoning skater scene in the '80s under the disapproving eye of the Stasi secret police.

GATTACA (1997)

In this biopunk vision of the near future genetic screenings are used as a surveillance mechanism. Aspiring astronaut Vincent (Ethan Hawke), who was conceived outside the eugenics programme, tries to fool the system so that he can realise his dream of travelling into space.


George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eight-Four is the ultimate, oft-quoted collective surveillance nightmare, with citizens controlled by the idea of an all-seeing Big Brother who can police their thoughts. Michael Radford's film adaptation paints London as post atomic-war husk of darkness.