16. The Social Network. (2010). This semi-historical film is about the Silicon Valley dream of creating a billion-dollar company. The movie is based on Ben Mizrich’s 2009 book, The Accidental Billionaires, about the founding of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg and his hapless cofounder Eduardo Saverin. Facebook didn’t participate in the film, which is critical of Zuckerberg’s backstabbing ways even as it depicts him as a technical wunderkind. Zuckerberg pretends to work with Harvard upperclassmen Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, but he creates his own social network instead, Thefacebook. Zuckerberg’s network succeeds, and he meets Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), a Mephistophelian character who helps turn the company into a Silicon Valley success. But Parker outlives his usefulness, and Zuckerberg cuts ties with him as he becomes a billionaire. The film is memorable for finding the Shakespearean drama in the betrayals.
17. Jurassic Park. (1993). Based on the Michael Crichton novel, Jurassic Park was a watershed of computer animation, action, and big budget production. Using Silicon Graphics super computers, Industrial Light & Magic created believable dinosaurs, brought back to life in the film through the miracle of genetic engineering. The dinosaurs were the star of the show, and they ran ramshackle over the belief that man’s technological and intellectual superiority would be able to keep the dinosaurs enclosed in an amusement park. The techno-optimism of the Jurassic Park creators was brought down by corporate greed and an inside job by an unhappy programmer. The T-Rex and the velociraptors were terrifying, and the combination of computer animation and animatronic visual effects made up for the bad acting. The most memorable line about unintended consequences is when Jeff Goldblum’s character says “Life finds a way,” meaning that the best-laid plans can’t get in the way of the forces of evolution.
18. WALL-E. (2008). In the year 2805, Earth is a garbage dump. The planet has been evacuated. Only WALL-E has been left behind to clean up the mess. WALL-E finds a living plant seedling, and he shows it to a lone visitor, EVE, a robot probe. The robot loves story takes us into outer space, aboard a space-based colony of humans, who have become obese due to their reliance on hoverchairs and constant TV entertainment. Without dialogue between its main characters, the movie delivers stinging critiques of consumerism, pollution, and poor waste management. The vision of compacted garbage stacked like skyscrapers on Earth is a haunting one, even in this light-hearted movie. It’s probably time we did something about that trash.
19. Iron Man. (2008). Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark, the industrialist and engineer who created Iron Man, made this film about a lackluster Marvel superhero into a must-see. On the geek side, it was also a great celebration of technological gadgets, from the Iron Man suit to the gesture-based computer that Stark uses to design his exoskeleton suit. Stark is a genius billionaire playboy who inherited the Stark Industries defense firm from his father. The film draws the tight connection between its celebration of geek tinkering, the escalation of creating better and better weapons, and the superhero that Stark becomes. He dons the suit to attack bad guys but finds he has to use it against those in his own company as they conspire against him. Stark’s aerial dogfights with missiles and jets make this into one of the finest displays of cool tech for geeks ever to hit the big screen.
20. Contact. (1997). Jodie Foster’s fine portrayal of Dr. Ellie Arroway brings some real emotion to this film about searching space for life. She works at the real-life Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program, which is strapped for funding, as Arroway’s boss seeks to pull the plug on the seemingly futile program. But Arroway discovers a radio signal repeating a sequence of prime numbers, sent from the star system Vega 26 light-years from Earth. The National Security Agency tries to take control of the project, as Arroway discovers a disturbing video of Adolf Hitler’s opening address at the 1936 Summer Olympics, which was one of the first strong TV signals to leave the Earth. Arroway receives funding from a billionaire to create a space travel machine, whose designs were spelled out in the signal from the alien planet. Arroway gets her chance to travel through the wormhole to Vega. The camera shot that shows the universe in Ellie’s eye is a great expression of the idea that we are just a mote in God’s eye.