Hollywood has portrayed the “coder” and “hacker” character in movies and TV shows for years, but realism has never exactly been the operative word in their character descriptions. Most programmer characters are either rife with stereotypes or saddled with zero character development and a set of unexplained coding skills allowing them to hack their way into just about anything. Though of course that doesn’t mean they’re not supremely entertaining to watch.
We ranked each coder on a scale of 1-10 Gibsons (from the movie “Hackers”) from relatively believable to outlandishly ridiculous.
Theodore Donald “Rat” Finch, “The Core” (2002)
Actor: D.J. Qualls
Coder Skills: Hacks a cellphone for free long distance using only a gum wrapper, can “hack the planet” by keeping global disaster news off the Internet, hacks Project DESTINI mainframe, releases “Virgil” mission data to the world.
Quirks: Cannot code effectively without an unlimited supply of “Xena” tapes and Hot Pockets.
Best Quote: “One Zero One Zero Zero. With that I could steal your money, your secrets, your sexual fantasies, your whole life. Any country, any place, any time I want. We multitask like you breathe. I couldn’t think as slow as you if I tried.”
Plausibility Level: 3/10 Gibsons. Nowadays, any hacker who needs Xena to get in the zone is in serious trouble.
Stanley Jobson, ”Swordfish” (2001)
Actor: Hugh Jackman
Coder Skills: Infected the FBI with a computer virus, writes a worm that steals government slush fund money from a world bank, hacks a U.S. government system in 60 seconds.
Quirks: Likes leather jackets and outdated band t-shirts, forbidden from “touching” a computer as part of his parole, gets to see a topless Halle Berry.
Best Quote: “I’m happy with what I’m wearing, thank you.”
Plausibility Level: 2/10 Gibsons. Hugh Jackman has never and will never be a believable hacker.
The main dudes of “Silicon Valley” (2014-Present)
Actors (from left): Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, Thomas Middleditch, Zach Woods, T.J. Miller
Coder Skills: Compression algorithms, Java and Scala coding, and systems architecture.
Quirks: One of them is an illegal alien from Canada, one has a penchant for ‘shroom-fueled Vision Quests. They all live together in an “incubator” house.
Best Quote: “Steve Jobs was a poser. He didn’t even write code.”
Plausibility Level: 10/10 Gibsons. They’re socially awkward, wear hoodies and can’t talk to girls. Sounds about right.
Skye, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (2013-Present)
Actor: Chloe Bennet
Coder Skills: Hacked governments to publicly reveal classified data. Tracked Centipede financial transactions to locate the secret base where they held Agent Coulson. Various “hacking” and “encrypting” activities for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Quirks: May or may not be of Alien origin. May be in love with a Hydra operative.
Best Quote: “All right, All right. I get it. I didn’t go to your stupid S.H.I.E.L.D Hogwarts or whatever.”
Plausibility Level: 2/10 Gibsons. On top of never explaining how she codes or hacks anything, she may not be a human and is far too good-looking.
Neo, Trinity, Tank, Link, and pretty much every non-machine character from ”The Matrix” (1999), ”The Matrix Reloaded,” (2001) and “The Matrix Revolutions” (2003)
Actors: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, Marcus Chong, Harold Perrineau
Coder Skills: Thomas “Neo” Anderson is an infamous underground hacker before taking the red pill and being unplugged. As “operators,” Tank and Link navigated the Matrix, made objects appear out of thin air, and coded escape routes in the convoluted futuristic programming language that makes up the Matrix.
Quirks: Lived in an apocalyptic wasteland where machines have enslaved the human race in a virtual reality prison. Neo could fly and basically become a superhero within the Matrix. *Spoiler alert*: He also turned into a rainbow.
Best Quote: Trinity: “Where’s Neo?” Link: “He’s doin’ his Superman thing.”
Plausibility Level: 5/10 Gibsons. Yes, they can code things out of thin air in a virtual dystopian world. But given new wave of VR tech, their skills aren’t as implausible as they seemed 15 years ago.
Chloe O’Brian, “24” (2001-2010, 2014)
Actor: Mary Lynn Rajskub
Coder Skills: B.S. in Computer Science from UC Davis. A CTU analyst who over the course of the series has hacked, tracked, located, encrypted and coded Jack Bauer out of more tight spots than she can count.
Quirks: Notoriously snippy and snarky toward coworkers, but has a soft spot for Jack Bauer. She’s socially awkward, and since Jack went “off the grid” at the end of the series has become a punky London hacktivist.
Best Quote: “What’s with you and the breathing? Is that your solution to everything?”
Plausibility Level: 8/10 Gibsons. The unexplainable computer feats she accomplishes on a daily basis are shaky, but she backs it up with plenty of jargon and sarcastic retorts. A loyal, aggressively Type-A personality working in counter-terrorism.
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, “Iron Man 2,” (2010) “The Avengers,” (2011) “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
Actor: Scarlett Johansson
Coder Skills: Can hack anything with ease. Examples: Stark Industries secure servers, the S.H.I.E.L.D. mainframe.
Quirks: Former KGB operative, deadly assassin, likes tight leather suits.
Best Quote: “Can any of you boys direct me to the Smithsonian? I’m here to pick up a fossil.”
Plausibility Level: 4/10 Gibsons. If ScarJo wants to be a coder, not a software engineer on the planet would tell her no.
Digital consciousness of Arnim Zola, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
Actor: Toby Jones
Coder Skills: Coded an encrypted flash drive containing secret Hydra data that even Black Widow couldn’t decrypt.
Quirks: Former Hydra scientist, his preserved consciousness lives in a bank of 1970s supercomputers in a hidden underground bunker.
Best Quote: “Firstly, I am in fact Swiss. Secondly, look around you, I have never been more alive!”
Plausibility Level: 3/10 Gibsons. Like we said, digital consciousness of a 100 year-old mad scientist. If it couldn’t work for Johnny Depp, it sure won’t work for poor Toby Jones.
David Levinson, “Independence Day” (1999)
Actor: Jeff Goldblum
Coder Skills: An MIT graduate who planted a computer virus on the mothership of the alien horde attacking earth.
Quirks: Was working at a cable company before alien attack; has taken up cigar smoking.
Best Quote: Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith): “I ain’t heard no fat lady!”
Levinson: “Forget the fat lady. You’re obsessed with the fat lady. Just get us out of here!”
Plausibility Level: 6/10 Gibsons. Excluding the whole alien invasion thing, the guy was halfway believable.
Penelope Garcia, “Criminal Minds” (2005-Present)
Actor: Kirsten Vangsness
Coder Skills: Dropped out of Cal Tech; once on an FBI hacker list, she is now analyst for the F.B.I.’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. She finds information, digs through code and locates killers on a daily basis.
Quirks: Constantly changing hair color, throws out colorful one-liners, and is very into MMOs.
Best Quote: “Oracle of Quantico, speak if you deign to hear truth!”
Plausibility Level: 8/10 Gibsons. Given the people she works with, she’s probably the just the right amount of weird, which makes all her hacking feats seem eminently plausible.
Michael Bolton and Samir Nagheenanajar, “Office Space” (1999)
Actors: Ajay Naidu, David Herman
Coder Skills: Worked at software company Initech. Infected Initech’s accounting system with a program designed to divert fractions of pennies into their bank accounts.
Quirks: Michael is always confused with singer Michael Bolton. No one can pronounce Samir’s last name. Their mortal enemy is the copy machine.
Best Quotes: Samir: “No, not again. I… why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam? I swear to God, one of these days, I just kick this piece of %@&$# out the window.”
Michael: “You and me both, man. That thing is lucky I’m not armed.”
Plausibility Level: 9/10 Gibsons. See those faces? Most coders have made those faces more often than they care to admit. Preach, Michael and Samir. Preach.
!The Hackers gang, (1995)
The Hackers gang, “Hackers” (1995)
Actors (from left): Renoly Santiago, Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Matthew Lillard
Coder Skills: Crashed 1,507 computers in a day to tank the New York Stock Exchange. Broke into “The Gibson” supercomputer. Hacked pretty much every school, building or institution in the entire movie.
Quirks: Have hacker names like “Zero Cool,” “Acid Burn,” “Phantom Phreak” and “Cereal Killer.” They were hacktivists before it was cool.
Best Quote: “You wanted to know who I am, Zero Cool? Well, let me explain the New World Order. Governments and corporations need people like you and me. We are Samurai… the Keyboard Cowboys… and all those other people who have no idea what’s going on are the cattle… Moooo.”
Plausibility Level: 4/10 Gibsons. This movie is so painfully dated, and these “hacker” personas are simply too schlocky to take halfway seriously.
Hank McCoy/Beast, “X-Men: First Class” (2011) (and the forthcoming “X-Men: Days of Future Past”)
Actor: Nicholas Hoult
Coder Skills: Built the mutant locator device “Cerebro” (even though in previous movies it was said that Professor X and Magneto built it. Get it together, X-Men).
Quirks: Shed fur on the carpet (after turning into a giant blue beast).
Best Quote: To Raven “Mystique” Darkholme (Jennifer Lawrence): “You’ve got to see this. Your genes are extraordinary, you know that? Your cells age at the half the rate of a normal human. When you’re forty, you’ll still have the leukocytes of a teenager. You have the most incredible cell structure I’ve ever seen.”
Plausibility Level: 1/10 Gibsons. He’s blue, he’s furry, he codes an interface for a machine that has never and will never exist.
Milo Hoffman, “Antitrust” (2001)
Actor: Ryan Phillippe
Coder Skills: Stanford grad who left his startup to become a programmer at a big tech corporation. Traced fishy source code back to illegal surveillance operations. Hacked into the company database and exposed them to the world.
Quirks: A naive, pretty-boy Linux programmer who’s passionate about open source. Honestly, in the context of this list he’s rather dull.
Best Quote: “Human knowledge belongs to the world.”
Plausibility Level: 6/10 Gibsons. Idealistic coder. Big, evil tech company. Not altogether farfetched but hopelessly clichéd.
Professor Oak/Bill, “Pokémon”
Actor: Stuart Zagnit (voice of Prof. Oak)
Coder Skills: Oak created the Pokedéx Pokémon encyclopedia; Bill created the Pokémon storage system.
Quirks: Oak likes to send ill-equipped youngsters on long, dangerous quests.
Best Quote: To Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak: On the desk there is my invention, Pokédex! It automatically records data on Pokémon you’ve seen or caught! It’s a hi-tech encyclopedia! Ash and Gary! Take these with you! To make a complete guide on all the Pokémon in the world… That was my dream! But, I’m too old! I can’t do it! So, I want you two to fulfill my dream for me! Get moving, you two! This is a great undertaking in Pokémon history!”
Plausibility Level: 7/10 Gibsons. If there were Pokémon, it would stand to reason someone would code a program to catalog them. Good thinking, Professor.
Huck (left) and Quinn Perkins, ”Scandal” (2012-present)
Actors: Guillermo Díaz, Katie Lowes
Coder Skills: Huck and Quinn, aka Baby Huck, are master hackers who have broken into top government files, surveillance cameras and bank accounts.
Quirks: They take pleasure in killing and torturing people.
Best Quote: Huck: “Quinn, I know I’ve taught you lots of things, but you should try to be less like me.”
Quinn: “Job’s over. So right now you have to ask yourself if you’re a gladiator or if you’re looking for revenge, because the way I hear it, you can’t have it both ways.”
Plausibility Level: 7/10 Gibsons. While we’re pretty sure hackers can’t just go around kill people (especially with their bare hands), we are sure that they think they could under the right circumstances.
Dennis Nedry, “Jurassic Park” (1993)
Actor: Wayne Knight
Coder Skills: As Jurassic Park’s project supervisor and programmer, he engineered computer errors to bypass security and cover his tracks while he stole dinosaur embryos. Inadvertently took down the park security and lets all the dinosaurs loose.
Quirks: Secretly paid to smuggle dinosaur embryos off the island. Eaten alive by a dilophosaurus.
Best Quote: “I am totally unappreciated in my time. You can run this whole park from this room with minimal staff for up to three days. You think that kind of automation is easy? Or cheap? You know anybody who can network eight connection machines and debug 2 million lines of code for what I bid for this job? Because if he can I’d like to see him try.”
Plausibility Level: 5/10 Gibsons. Classic overweight, underappreciated IT guy…who runs and is secretly stealing from an island full of deadly reanimated dinosaurs.
Jack Stanfield, “Firewall” (2006)
Actor: Harrison Ford
Coder Skills: Chief of security at a Seattle bank, and a systems architect. Blackmailed into stealing $100 million from the bank by downloading the files onto his daughter’s iPod Mini. He coded a virus to crash the bank’s network and security systems. Hacked into the offshore bank accounts of the criminal holding his family hostage
Quirks: None. He’s an average middle-aged Joe who becomes an action hero to save his family.
Best Quote: “Change of plans, a-hole: You get the money when I get my family!”
Plausibility Level: 4/10 Gibsons. It would help if Ford looked halfway believable or at least like he cared talking about anything tech-related. Also, the movie wasn’t very good.
Dr. Rutledge, “Source Code” (2011)
Actor: Jeffrey Wright
Coder Skills: Designed the “Source Code” experimental device that Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) uses to experience the last eight minutes of someone else’s life.
Quirks: Maniacal bureaucrat who continually lies to Capt. Stevens about where he is and whether he can be disconnected after his mission.
Best Quote: “Source Code is not time travel. Rather, Source Code is time re-assignment. It gives us access to a parallel reality.”
Plausibility Level: 4/10 Gibsons. Rutledge is a one-dimensional antagonist and his inventive software is…abstract, to say the least.
Boris Grishenko, “Goldeneye” (1995)
Actor: Alan Cumming
Coder Skills: Russian computer programmer and hacker at the Goldeneye control center in Siberia. Helps steal and operate the Goldeneye satellite.
Quirks: Likes to click and twirl ballpoint pens. Pathological liar, arrogant, misogynistic. Escaped the Goldeneye satellite explosion only to die in a falling vat of liquid nitrogen.
Best Quote: “I am invincible!”
Plausibility Level: 7/10 Gibsons. If you’re going to hack into the NSA and MI6, you’re going to want a Russian to do it. Loses points for not also distributing warez around the world.
Kevin Flynn, “TRON” (1982)
Actor: Jeff Bridges
Coder Skills: Capable of creating games (and programs) that are both sentient and form the building blocks of an oppressive computer society
Quirks: Is turned into a program himself, allowing him to throw deadly discs at his enemies and hang out with actuarial programs.
Best Quote: “Games? You want games? I’ll give you games…”
Plausibility Level: 7/10 Gibsons. Many programmers already wish they were Jeff Bridges, especially 1980s Jeff Bridges. As for his actual programming abilities, it’s plausible that he could in fact whip up a bunch of games that are more challenging than average, and then have them ripped off by a larger company.