Salary Survey Extra: Who is Hollywood’s best movie hacker?
Salary Survey Extra is a series of weekly dispatches that give added insight into the findings of both our annual Salary Survey and our smaller Salary Survey PLUS polls. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
In 2015, and really for probably at least the last 25 years or so, there’s a character in nearly every Hollywood thriller, caper, comedy, crime film or action movie who is basically Guy or Girl Who Can Do Computer Stuff. In the modern era, computers are everywhere and control at least some aspect of nearly everything, so people in movies who need to Get Stuff Done, especially if they are part of a team, are almost certainly going to need One of Those Guys (or Girls) who is the Computer Whiz.
Sometimes the Computer Whiz doesn’t have to do much more than zoom in on a grainy image to reveal a crucial clue, or copy some files to a flash drive before a door opens. That’s nice work if you can get it. In many films, however, the Computer Whiz is a key plot lynchpin, and sometime he (or she) is even the star of the whole rodeo. When the movie is about the Computer Whiz, however, the main character is almost always a hacker, someone who operates illegally and off the grid.
Bad boys get more dates in high school and hackers get the best Computer Whiz movie roles in Hollywood. These are the facts of life. The allure of that outlaw spirit is just too powerful. We hit on the idea of adding spice to our salary surveying earlier this year and first asked the question “Who is the most convincing Hollywood star as movie hacker?” in our Linux Salary Survey. You can see what the Linux eggheads thought here. Almost immediately, however, we realized that cybersecurity pros are much qualified to evaluate the merits of cinematic IT hackery than Linux people.
So when we conducted our recent Salary Survey PLUS about IT security certifications, we asked the question again. Which Hollywood movie star is the most convincing hacker? We created the initial pool of finalists, because it’s our survey. But then we left the ultimate determination in the hands of the more than 600 cybersecurity pros who participated in the survey. The following eminently qualified movie hackers (listed here alphabetically) made the ballet:
Matthew Broderick in WarGames
Sandra Bullock in The Net
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Fifth Estate
Hugh Jackman in Swordfish
Angelina Jolie in Hackers
Simon Pegg in the Mission: Impossible movies
River Phoenix (or Ben Kingsley) in Sneakers
So who’s got skills?
The Big Winner in our Hollywood Hack-aThon, the guy you’d want to have on your team the next time that you need to arrange a precision casino heist, or break into a secure government database, is also one of the first actors to ever play a hacker in a major Hollywood movie. Hear that, Hollywood? You got it right — or at least mostly right — the first time.
Big Winner: Matthew Broderick in WarGames (28.4 percent)
Broderick does it all in WarGames, hacking his high school, a travel agency, and (ultimately) a very special computer that belongs to the Department of Defense. The movie holds up remarkably well in 2015, and deserves bonus points for showing elements of hack work that don’t involve staring at a computer screen. How about a nice game of chess?
First Runner-Up: River Phoenix (or Ben Kingsley) in Sneakers (17.8 percent)
We’re guessing that the charmingly earnest Phoenix, who has the world in his grasp at the end of the movie and asks only for a pretty girl’s phone number, drew most of these votes. Sneakers is another gem that’s still surprisingly watchable, and also doesn’t limit its view of hacking to tapping on keys. Oh. It, uh … stopped. Sorry.
Second Runner-Up: Hugh Jackman in Swordfish (14.9 percent)
There are probably many different ways of determining the average hacker’s bona fides. Let’s just say that the test Hugh Jackman is given in Swordfish is probably not commonly found in the real world. Swordfish (the title is a reference to an old Marx Brothers routine) is not a great movie, but it does have a hilarious “hacking” montage. I just see the code in my head. I can’t explain it.
Third Runner-Up: Angelina Jolie Hackers (13 percent)
The star of Hackers is probably technically Jonny Lee Miller, presently featured in the “Sherlock Holmes of the modern day” series Elementary on CBS. It’s 19-year-old Jolie, however, in her first major role, who owns the movie and does most of the heavy lifting. Never send a boy to do a woman’s job.
Better Luck Next Time: Simon Pegg in the Mission: Impossible movies (11.1 percent), Benedict Cumberbatch in The Fifth Estate (8.7 percent), Sandra Bullock in The Net (6.3 percent)