TIME FindTheBest

The Top 10 Tech Movies of the Millennium

It’s time. Fourteen years into the millennium, the top 10 tech films need to be crowned.

“Tech” Movies

I’ll admit: this list is more “mainstream tech” than “geeky tech.” Think super hero, special agent and space exploration (though we’ll still get a little computer hacking and time travel for good measure).

This Millennium

Sorry 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Tron (1982). This is for post-2000 flicks only. Keep in mind that late-90s favorites like The Truman Show (1998) and The Matrix (1999) also miss out.

Methodology for the Overall Score

Picking candidates for this list was always going to be subjective (who’s to say what’s “tech” and what’s not?). But with that little task out of the way, we turned to the numbers to assign an overall score for each film.

64% Ratings and Awards

We awarded points based on Oscar nominations for best picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress, plus awarded bonus points if the film went on to win the category. We threw in the Golden Globe’s best picture nominees and winners as well. Finally, we awarded points for appearances at America’s top film festivals.

34% Popularity

We incorporated over two dozen top lists, including AFI’s top films and the late Roger Ebert’s picks. We also factored in Facebook fans and Facebook shares for each film.

2% Financial Performance

We gave a small bump for films that did well at the box office.

See the scores for over 150,000 films, plus a more detailed guide on the methodology.

Dishonorable Mentions

Antitrust (2001) – Released shortly after the dotcom bust, Antitrust premiered with promise, sporting a relevant subject, trendy political vibe, and cast of hot-and-young-twenty-somethings. The only problem? The film itself is bland, predictable, formulaic garbage.

Source Code (2011) – With a snappy premise, a half-shaven Jake Gyllenhaal, and a vaguely-tech-friendly title only Hollywood could have devised, Source Code seemed destined to become the next cult-favorite tech flick. Unfortunately, the film’s ending is so bizarre, not even Mr. Gyllenhaal’s deep, dreamy eyes can save it.

Looper (2012) – Another good premise gone dull, Looper builds a fascinating world of time travel, wonky tech, and moral choices before running off the rails of logic in its final hour.

10. Iron Man (2008) – 87/100

The Premise

Sometimes-scientist and full-time womanizer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) demos a fancy “Jericho missile” in Iraq, then gets ambushed. The attack leaves our hero imprisoned, full of shrapnel, and more handsome than ever before. With the help of a fellow soldier, Stark builds an electromagnetic suit, designed to keep all those lethal metal shards from piercing his heart. In a lucky turn of events, the suit is also ideal for fighting crime. A feature-length film ensues.

The Verdict

Between all the tech jargon and Robert Downey, Jr.’s snark, the film is probably twice as verbose as it needs to be. Still, Iron Man represents something special among the saturated superhero genre: a popcorn blockbuster that actually cares about the science behind its technology. High-fives for 13-year-old boys and computer science professors across America.

Tech Smart

Experts praise the suit’s science—from its lightweight design to strength-increasing powers—as reasonably accurate.

Technically Incorrect

While the suit’s flying capabilities aren’t wholly absurd, the g-forces from the fast speeds and quick turns would kill the man, turning Stark to slop. Yes, even his gorgeous face.

9. Skyfall (2012) – 88/100

The Premise

James Bond (Daniel Craig) gets sniped off of a moving train, then whines about it for months while sleeping with gorgeous, semi-anonymous dirty-blondes. Meanwhile, M (Judi Dench) gets hacked by a cyber-terrorist, then grumbles about it while memorizing the complete poetic works of Lord Tennyson. Bond might be getting a little too old for this, but he nonetheless returns to save the very people that abandoned him.

The Verdict

Formulaic but fun, Skyfall is a return to classic Bond, neither as ambitious as Casino Royale nor as disjointed as Quantum of Solace. The basic plot might be used 19 times every summer (jaded white male hero must save girl and/or city who misunderstands him), but the jokes tend to land and Dench brings a heap of gravitas typically missing from modern Bond films.

Tech Smart

When the new Q (Ben Whishaw, geeky and goofy) chastises Bond for expecting more than a basic gun and tracking device, Skyfall says more about modern technology than most of Iron Man. Sometimes, simple is best.

Technically Incorrect

Q’s “hacking interface” near the end of the film is pure Hollywood, a colorful extravaganza caught halfway between a 3D brain model and Windows Media Player music visualizer. A simple command line would have been much more accurate.

8. Minority Report (2002) – 92/100

The Premise

It’s the year 2054, and the law has finally found a way to stop murders before they happen. John Anderton (Tom Cruise) specializes in putting together clues to predict murders, then crashing the future murderer’s pad and yelling loud Tom Cruise things while performing an arrest. It’s only when Anderton discovers that he himself will commit the next murder that the true trouble begins.

The Verdict

With an absorbing premise and smart attention to detail, Minority Report’s opening act is flawless. Then, as though out of ideas, the film cruises its way to an underwhelming finish, with predictable surprises and a Tom Cruise desperate to keep things interesting. Oh well. No one can say he doesn’t try.

Tech Smart

The clue-gathering interface—complete with pinch-to-zoom and swipe to close—seems positively prescient in today’s world of smartphone apps and Xbox’s Kinect. Plus, those iris-enabled, personalized ads (“Hello Mr. Yakamoto and welcome back to the GAP.”) feel exactly like where Google will be in a decade or three.

Technically Incorrect

Unlike the swiping gestures and ocular ads, the video holograms are a ways off—at least the sort that will render a 3D model perfectly from any angle.

7. Primer (2004) – 94/100

The Premise

A festival darling, Primer attempts to play out the logical ramifications of time travel, to a dizzying degree.

The Verdict

The film deserves credit for taking time travel’s many, many (many) logical complications so seriously. Primer is a PhD thesis next to the high school papers of Hollywood’s standard back-to-the-future fare. Unfortunately, Primer is so committed to its philosophical exploration that the film itself suffers. It’s just too damn dense for its 77-minute runtime.

Tech Smart

It’s the one movie on this list that takes its science 100% seriously.

Technically Incorrect

I really can’t comment because it’s too confusing.

6. WALL-E (2008) – 94/100

The Premise

Years in the future, Earth has been reduced to rubble, and Pixar has long, long since stopped making Oscar-winning films. The animation studio shows off what it can do without words for the first half, then flies us to a space station, where we find the human race has turned lazy, self-centered, and addicted to small-screen devices.

The Verdict

A triumph of animation and serviceable environmental brochure, WALL-E is among Pixar’s best feature films. The non-verbal elegance of the first half has rarely been replicated, and even if the PowerPoint-style second half is too blunt, the animation itself is still superb.

Tech Smart

The benignly self-centered, small-screen-obsessed humans are all too real. To Pixar’s credit, the movie is pleasant, creepy and clairvoyant, all at once.

Technically Incorrect

Pixar probably intended to emphasize its message by making all the lazy humans overweight, but the film oversteps a bit here, underscoring a link between lazy and fat that science says is more tenuous than we think.

5. Inception (2010) – 94/100

The Premise

Inception raises a tantalizing question: What if we could convince a person of something by infiltrating their dreams? Energy tycoon Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Dominick “Dom” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) to convince Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to sell his father’s company. Dom and his crew develop a scheme to invade Fischer’s dreams in order to plant the key information deep in his brain.

The Verdict

DiCarprio mesmerizes as Cobb, mixing lost love, boyish intrigue, and overconfidence in a performance a notch or two better than the genre requires. Ellen Page plays the precocious youth as well as always. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Well, we all love Joseph.

Tech Smart

Inception plays with the concept of lucid dreaming, where the sleeper can take control of her dreams because she knows she is asleep. Science says a limited version of this is actually possible—some people can do so naturally, while others can learn and improve.

Technically Incorrect

While scientists have learned to inject very basic signals into dreams, they’ve never come close to actually creating thoughts from scratch. Inception does technology reasonably well—just suspend disbelief for the central premise.

4. Her (2013) – 95/100

The Premise

Greeting card writer and hipster-clad fashionista Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his new operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). He goes on to learn a little bit about life, a little bit about love, and a few other things that earn the film a best picture Oscar nomination.

The Verdict

Smarter and more believable than it looks, Her is a surprisingly touching love story. Phoenix pouts more convincingly than an 8-year-old ballerina, while Johansson delivers her best performance to date—using only her voice.

Tech Smart

Refreshingly, Her’s operating systems speak with human inflection and aren’t bent on world domination, more realistic than the thousand Terminators and I, Robots of evil-AI past.

Technically Incorrect

If Her takes place several decades in the future, then why does everyone in the film dress like they live in modern-day Portland or Seattle? The film nails the technology, but the fashion is too hipster for its own good.

3. Avatar (2009) – 95/100

The Premise

See Disney’s Pocahontas. Then add blue skin and tails in post-production.

The Verdict

While the overriding plot may not be all that original, Avatar is one of the few modern films that fully justifies 3D technology. The movie is gorgeous, imaginative, and as it turns out, unbelievably profitable.

Tech Smart

Scientists say all the space travel, floating land, and magnetic fields are reasonably believable, given the rules the film establishes. Plus, the interplanetary imperialism will ring true for anyone who’s read a history textbook.

Technically Incorrect

Biologically, Avatar leaves its firm (but floating) ground. In reality, the blue Na’vi people are far too similar to humans. The odds of finding such similar beings would be astronomical. Here, James Cameron (director) went for audience-appeal over accuracy.

2. The Social Network (2010) – 96/100

The Premise

Dancing from deposition room to a (fake) Harvard campus to an Appletini dinner, The Social Network tells the story of Facebook’s inception, from the original idea to the friendships and Shakespeare-worthy betrayals.

The Verdict

David Fincher nearly directs The Social Network to death, but his tight control ends up being one of the film’s greatest strengths. Each scene sparkles with Fincher’s precision, and the opening bar scene is worthy of London’s best stage productions. If you never liked The West Wing, you’ll have to get past Aaron Sorkin’s too-smart-by-half dialogue, but regardless, The Social Network is one of the finest films of the last 14 years. (And yes, it’s better than The King’s Speech.)

Tech Smart

The depiction of Facemash.com’s creation—from Mark’s on-a-whim decision, to the code used, to the traffic it received—is all spot on. You can even hear Jesse Eisenberg describe a “Perl script” in his best attempt at engineering geek-speak.

Technically Incorrect

Facemash may or may not have crashed Mark’s own computer, but it certainly wouldn’t have crashed Harvard’s network. This was pure invention, a little like half the statuses we see on Facebook these days.

1. Gravity (2013) – 96/100

The Premise

Surprisingly attractive astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) make gradual, seemingly arbitrary repairs on a space station while laughing about stories that are only sort of funny. Soon, however, space debris flies in, destroying their shuttle and sending our heroes hurtling into space. Will they survive?

The Verdict

Poetic, poignant, and gripping, Gravity succeeds with a simple plot and stunning visual effects. While some have criticized the film for being too shallow, Gravity presents a compelling metaphor about depression, loss, and sheer force of will.

Tech Smart

Gravity constructs each space vessel—from the buttons to dials to design—with admirable accuracy.

Technically Incorrect

Gravity takes several liberties in order to tell a more exciting story. From the speed of the space debris (it’s still too slow in the film), to the mysterious momentum (why is Kowalski being pulled away from Stone while they cling to a rope?), to Bullock’s beautiful, airbrushed body (she wouldn’t look like that after removing her suit), Gravity takes a few shortcuts.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser