As it turns out, there are more than enough candidates to make a viable list of the best cyberpunk movies of all time.
One of the problems with folks like Aldous Huxley and George Orwell? Smart guys, but they didn’t fully appreciate just where we would be with technology by the 21st century. Until cyberpunk became an acknowledged genre in the 1980s, with its roots going back to New Wave science fiction in the 1960s.
Rough concepts of cyberpunk were explored as far back as films like Metropolis, released at the height of silent film’s popularity. The genre arguably hit its peak in the 1980s, with a few more notables in the first few years of the 1990’s. This list of the best cyberpunk films will certainly reflect that opinion.
Yet cyberpunk as a genre has not only endured, influencing stuff like steampunk, but it perhaps more popular than ever.
You can find the aesthetics almost everywhere these days. They’re showing up in films. You can also find the characters and concepts defined by any basic cyberpunk definition in comic books, novels, video games, and certainly in several genres of music. The band Gunship certainly seems to be taking some of their visual and sonic cues from classic cyberpunk movies.
Cyberpunk has enjoyed a resurgence because, obviously, we’re close to that sort of society than ever before. The greats of science fiction and fantasy got a few things right in describing our current and ongoing hellscape. Cyberpunk filled in the gaps, and here we are.
The films featured on this best cyberpunk movies list cover several decades. One of the most interesting things about cyberpunk film history is in seeing how the genre itself has benefitted from technology. Stories with an emphasis on technology using technology that could certainly be described as cyberpunk unto itself.
Things are only going to get weirder from here. For now, we can only hope the next wave of great cyberpunk films will be able to keep up with the times.
Note: This is not a ranked list. It is organized chronologically.
The 15 Best Cyberpunk Movies Ever
1. Metropolis (1927)
Director: Fritz Lang
Metropolis is most certainly a cyberpunk film. Obviously, this was not intentional on the part of director Fritz Lang, or with anyone else who worked on this visually splendid classic. The term wouldn’t come along for another 50+ years.
At the same time, there is no question that the futurism and bold science fiction values of this story, which details a traumatic love story during a revolution of the working class against the ruling class, would go on to influence a plethora of writers, directors, artists, and others.
I guess the question stands at: If Metropolis had never been made, would cyberpunk have existed later on?
Watch if: You want to see, probably, one of the best silent films of all time. Avoid if: Silent films give you gas. Or you want your cyberpunk to be textbook.
2. Blade Runner (1982)
Director: Ridley Scott
Perhaps, with the exception of 1995’s Ghost in the Shell, no other movie has had more influence on cyberpunk cinema.
The Phillip K. Dick story upon which it is based was written before the concept of cyberpunk came along. Yet the movie was made at a pivotal point in the history of the genre. The result is something that helped establish aesthetics and other qualities. Certainly, technology, thrown together with elements of noir, are big components to the big, fascinating monster that is Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece.
Outside of all that, Blade Runner also has great performances from Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Rutger Hauer, and Daryl Hannah.
Watch if: Your favorite movies are the ones where it never stops raining. Avoid if: You want something with wall to wall action.
3. Tron (1982)
Director: Steven Lisberger
While some of the style of this film is only sparingly cyberpunk, the themes and content certainly are. Tron was unremarkable at the box office upon release in 1982. Mixed reviews didn’t help either. The movie spent years after that building a cult following, while being occasionally referenced as a punchline for weird movies no one asked for.
Even if the film’s visual touches weren’t currently in vogue, Tron still offers an appealing story, engaging characters, and even a sense of optimism that is fairly lacking from most of the entries on this best cyberpunk films list. Despite what some might say, the sequel is worth a watch, too.
Watch if: You want to see an 80’s video game come to life. Avoid if: The above sentence made you flinch.
In addition to also being the name of a fictional bar in the film, Tech Noir has also gone on to become something of a genre unto itself. Unfortunately, few have ventured into two film types that work beautifully well together. The Terminator is also particularly interesting when compared to its numerous sequels, which emphasized action over all else with increasing fervor.
The first Terminator is rich in cyberpunk visuals, which are often expressed with a brand of bleakness that feels wholly unique to the 1980s. It is also sort-of a slasher movie. The Terminator has Arnold Schwarzenegger in his most iconic role.
Also highlighted are notable performances from Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton (as well as Lance Henriksen, who was director/co-writer James Cameron’s first choice for the T-800). The Terminator is intense and riveting in a way that would never be duplicated again, not even by the arguably super T2.
Watch if: You want to see one of the scariest science fiction movies of all time. Avoid if: You’re scared of large Austrian men.
5. Robocop (1987)
Director: Paul Verhoeven
As violent as it is relentless in its critiques of society, Robocop is an intense experience for a first-time viewer.
Nothing quite like it had ever been seen, when the film opened in theaters in July 1987, becoming a massive hit from the word go. The humor expressed throughout, often in the form of commercials that are just barely parodies of the real thing, is one of the film’s enduring elements.
However, Robocop is also anchored by amazing performances. Most notably, Kurtwood Smith as one of Robocop/Alex Murphy’s main enemies, Miguel Ferrer as a shady executive of the company that buys Detroit’s police depart, Ronny Cox as another antagonist, and Nancy Allen as Murphy’s partner. Of course, Peter Weller is impressive in the title role.
All of these elements are thrown into a fascinating cyborg story that continues to stand as a definition of cyberpunk cinema.
Watch if: You want to see one of the best movies of the 1980s. Avoid if: You don’t want to see anyone get shot in the junk.
While not quite the spectacular hit and influence that Akira would prove to be, Neo Tokyo is nonetheless a beautiful, thrilling example of anime and cyberpunk.
The two genres are made for each other. This trio of shorts, each brought to life by a different director, only suffers from the forgivable sin of being much too short.
Much like the middle story Running Man, centered around a death race set in what appears to be a pretty bleak, futuristic society, Neo Tokyo is fast-paced, violent, and offers gritty, relevant visual charm.
Watch if: You’re always in the mood for a good anthology. Avoid if: You can’t accept animation that’s admittedly a little crude by today’s standards.
Featuring a reputation big enough to swallow your ability to watch the movie at all, Akira is enduring because it’s still really damn good.
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, from a screenplay he co-wrote, based on a manga he created, Akira is an epic that moves at a blinding pace. At 124 minutes, that remains impressive now as much as it did then. Akira is also at its heart a spectacular death and rebirth story, while throwing around appealing social commentary jabs and generous servings of violence and horror.
It was a hit in 1988 because no one had ever seen anything quite like it. There still really isn’t anything quite like it, a wholly different version of Neo-Tokyo. This version of Neo-Tokyo continues to drive a fascination with cyberpunk aesthetics.
Watch if: You want to see one of the best anime films ever. Avoid if: You can’t keep yourself from coming to this 1988 film’s visuals with 2019 expectations.
8. Cherry 2000 (1988)
Director: Steve De Jarnatt
Barely released to theaters, after numerous delays, and then dumped into the home video market, Cherry 2000 is the best cyberpunk move you possibly haven’t seen.
This cyberpunk post-apocalyptic story has a man (David Andrews) hiring a bounty hunter (Melanie Griffith, in one of her better roles) to save his companion robot (Pamela Gidley). It’s a reasonably silly story, but the performances match the stylized tech noir to perfection.
Cherry 2000 has an offbeat, sometimes humorless tone that makes it hard to appreciate. Some will get it though. Barring that, everyone will appreciate the architecture, attitudes, and slow-burn techno Armageddon vibes inherent in these stories.
Watch if: You don’t mind a so-so story, as long as everything else is on-point. Avoid if: Sex robots freak you out. Or you need at least one likable character.
9. Total Recall (1990)
Director: Paul Verhoeven
While not a cyberpunk writer, author Phillip K. Dick’s stories and novels certainly seem to hold a significant place in cyberpunk history. While this 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger hit takes some broad liberties with Dick’s story, there is something to be said for the odd fluidity of the science fiction writer’s works.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven (same guy who did Robocop), Total Recall is a commercialized reimagining of Dick’s work in a way that removes subtlety and other elements, but retains and messes with others in admittedly interesting ways.
You also get some, well, athletically unique alien ladies. That part isn’t in Dick’s story, but that’s okay. Neither was a cut Austrian we seem to never get tired of.
Watch if: You’re in the mood for a Schwarzenegger action movie with lowkey cyberpunk atmosphere. Avoid if: You love the original story, and wouldn’t want to see it tampered with in any way.
Whether you watch the 158-minute version or the 295-minute version, Until the End of the World is guaranteed to be a weird afternoon from start to finish.
Director Wim Wenders, who also made Wings of Desire, is considered one of the great road trip filmmakers. Many of his movies are either built around road trips, or feature them prominently in the plot.
Until the End of the World is technically another of Wenders’ road movies. It flings its three main characters to various cyberpunk-styled cities and destinations, before dropping them off in the middle of nowhere in Australia. Then something happens to the world.
A lot happens in this movie. With good performances by William Hurt, Sam Neil, and the late Solveig Dommartin, Until the End of the World is an extraordinarily ambitious movie. Its depiction of the future, which includes a star-heavy soundtrack that tried to imagine music at the time the movie is set (1999), is fascinating to behold.
Choose the running time that suits you best. I could personally spend hours with these characters and settings.
Watch if: You want to see a road movie set in a singular time and place. Avoid if: Either of those running times fill you with dread.
11. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Director: Robert Longo
If this were a list of the best cyberpunk novels, writer William Gibson would dominate. Unfortunately, Gibson’s brilliant novels and ideas struggled to work in decades where filmmaking technology wasn’t quite there. At least, as far as live action stuff was concerned.
Based on his novel and screenplay, the U.S. cut of Johnny Mnemonic is a mixed bag for fans of cyberpunk cinema. It has grown in stature over the years, with at least a little more affection from a younger generation, currently smashing cyberpunk concepts into a host of other genres and mediums.
Keanu Reeves’ performance holds up much better than critics gave him credit for in 1995, and he leads one of the most unique casts ever assembled, including the legendary Takeshi Kitano, in one of his few American ventures. The sets and dystopian future touches are on point, but the message and story still get muddled at times.
Still, a fascinating misfire with more good points than bad.
Watch if: You want to see what is arguably the underdog for this list. Avoid if: You still can’t stand that Keanu kid.
12. Strange Days (1995)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Strange Days did so poorly at the box-office in 1995, it almost wiped out the careers of virtually everyone who came into contact with it. Most of all, for director Kathryn Bigelow, who wouldn’t direct again for five years.
Thankfully, Strange Days is another movie to benefit from the kindness of time chugging along. For those who want a little more meat to the stylized energy of this genre, Strange Days will accommodate you.
Its story of black-market VR experiences that take you inside the memories of others, and how that connects to the murder of a prostitute, has teeth for story, and arms long enough to embrace action and strong characterizations.
Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett center the more fantastic elements of this story with decidedly human performances and motivations.
Watch if: You’re always in the mood for a strange day. Avoid if: You prefer cyberpunk movies that deal in the condemnation of humanity.
While the 2017 remake features some of the most breathtaking live-action cyberpunk visuals ever committed to film (and another great Takeshi Kitano performance), Ghost in the Shell is still a story best expressed through its rougher, more sincere animated original.
A cyborg federal agent goes after a criminal figure who screws around with cyborg-human hybrid brains. Things get a little convoluted from there, but Ghost in the Shell is still a stark, intelligent masterpiece that still says more about humanity than any of its sequels or other follow-ups.
It also features one of the best, bloodiest action sequences at the start of any movie.
Watch if: You want to start with the most haunting entries on this list. Avoid if: You still don’t have any patience for older animation.
14. Dark City (1998)
Director: Alex Proyas
The way this list of the best Cyberpunk films worked out, we have to pit The Matrix and Dark City against one another for a spot among the 15 we can write about.
Both are influential epics that not only benefitted from cyberpunk cinema, literature, and art, but added plenty of ideas on their own. However, while The Matrix is ultimately more influential on movies as a whole, Dark City tells a slightly more satisfying cyberpunk story.
An amnesiac (Rufus Sewell) has to figure out his role in a murder, while being pursued by a mysterious group known as The Strangers. Dark City has a simple plot that spirals into something so deep, so fascinating, the movie creates a certain kind of quiet madness within the viewer.
Dark City is also one of the most visually potent science fiction neo noirs of all time, with a city steeped in shadows that may or may be powered by technology. Few movies combine such a bizarre spiritualism with machinery and mystery.
Watch if: You want to see a true classic, plain and simple. Avoid if: You need movies to at least partially resemble reality as you know it.
15. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Director Denis Villeneuve brought us back to the world of Blade Runner in 2017. The result is one of the most sprawling, fascinating, and overwhelming movies of the 2010s. If our world can survive the next few decades, chances are we’re still going to be talking about Blade Runner 2049.
On the cyberpunk side of things, Blade Runner 2049 takes the cityscapes and technologies of the first film, as well as many of its ideas about human beings, machines, and a future that allows them both to endure, and presents them on a scale that is somehow evocative of and grander than the first movie. It isn’t superior to the 1982 classic, but it is an essential continuation.
It helps to have Harrison Ford (and the great Edward James Olmos) back, proving that he hasn’t lost a step for action or surreal intrigue. Ryan Gosling as a new blade runner is a perfect blend of the first film’s ideals, and what this next chapter tries to convey.
It is a dizzying ride of special effects, constantly set against the ongoing battle between hope and comprehensive destruction. You will need to watch it at least twice.
Watch if: You want to see a sequel that celebrates and messes with your sense of nostalgia at the same time. Avoid if: You don’t want anything, even a good movie, to complicate your fond memories of the first Blade Runner.
Cyberpunk in film is a deeper genre than it gets credit for. To be sure, there are some glaring omissions among the 15 we can write about. Hopefully, if one of your favorite cyberpunk movies was left out, it made it over here, which is a list presented in no particular order
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1993) The Matrix (1999) Screams of Blasphemy (1991) Looper (2012) The Fifth Element (1997) Videodrome (1983) Gattaca (1997) 12 Monkeys (1995) Dredd (2012)