Science fiction movies like The Matrix: Virtual Reality in Film
Someone Enters a virtual space. This idea has fascinated mankind at least since the invention of the computer. Numerous filmmakers have tackled the subject – the cult film “The Matrix” is just one example of many films in which virtual reality plays the leading role.
World on a Wire (1973)
The first film to explicitly deal with Virtual Reality comes from Germany. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s two-part TV movie is about a government computer institute that runs an elaborate and unique VR simulation. When new director Fred Stiller takes up his post, he realizes that something is wrong. With the institute and his own reality.
World on a Wire is based on the science fiction novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye, which saw a reimagining with The Thirteenth Floor (1999).
The programmer Kevin Flynn wants to prove that a competitor has stolen program code by hacking into his computer system. In this attempt, he is completely digitized against his will and fed into a computer simulation, from which he must emerge alive.
The Disney film flopped at the box office, but its visual design left a lasting mark on the idea of virtual reality. Tron: Legacy, an entertaining sequel, hit theaters in 2010.
Total Recall (1990)
The film is based on a story by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick. The main character Douglas Quaid, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, wants to break out of his boring working-class existence.
He seeks out a company that promises to implant him with realistic memories. When the procedure goes wrong, the planes of reality get mixed up. Is what Quaid is experiencing reality or is it already part of the memory simulation?
Total Recall saw a remake in 2012 starring Colin Farrell. I recommend the original with Arnie.
The Lawnmower Man (1992)
The mentally handicapped Jobe is trained by a scientist via VR headset to become a superintelligence that can no longer be controlled and mutates into a serious threat to humanity. The sciencie fiction film debuted at the height of the virtual reality hype of the 1990s and raised high expectations for the technology, which VR headsets at the time (or today) could not live up to.
Interesting fact: The film features technology from the company VPL Research, which was co-founded by VR pioneer Jaron Lanier – Lanier made the term “virtual reality” popular in the 80s.
Strange Days (1995)
In the future, you can store streams of consciousness along with feelings and load these memories onto data carriers. The former policeman Lenny Nero deals with so-called “clips” of other people to solve crimes. When a clip of a politically explosive murder falls into his hands, he and his girlfriend Mace go in search of the truth and uncover a police conspiracy. The film is set in Los Angeles against the backdrop of the new millennium.
The Matrix (1999)
The cult film and virtual reality movie par excellence that set the box office ringing and left a lasting mark on Hollywood action cinema.
The programmer Neo feels that something is wrong with reality. A mysterious stranger leads him to Morpheus, who confirms his dark suspicions: Neo and his fellow humans are in a VR simulation controlled by intelligent machines, the so-called Matrix. Neo follows his destiny and confronts the artificial intelligence that has enslaved humanity and locked it in a simulation.
The sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were not so directional, but are still fun to watch. A collection of animated short stories set in The Matrix universe is also extant, and the series saw a reboot with a fourth feature film The Matrix: Resurrections in 2021.
In the future there are no more game consoles. Instead, you plug into virtual reality with a so-called bioport, an organic mass.
Allegra Geller is a world famous game designer and presents her latest VR video game “eXistenZ” at a conference. During the presentation, she is attacked and injured by one of the guests, but survives the attack and escapes with a journalist present. Thereupon, a story unfolds that takes on increasingly bizarre features and blurs the boundaries between real and digital reality.
David Cronenberg’s film was released shortly after The Matrix. If you like unusual and sophisticated films, you should definitely watch eXistenZ.
Paraplegic soldier Jake Sully receives an offer he can’t refuse. His consciousness transfers into the healthy body of a humanoid Na’vi alien and contacts the alien species on the planet Pandora, which is hostile to humans. If the diplomatic mission succeeds, he gets his ability to walk back.
When Sully falls in love with the Na’vi chief’s daughter and recognizes the destructive intentions of his clients, he sides with the aliens.
Avatar popularized 3D cinema and was even more successful than The Matrix. For ten years, it was the highest-grossing film in cinema history uncontested until Marvel’s Avengers: End Game. Expect four sequels with the first two hitting theaters in late 2022 and late 2024.
The Zero Theorem (2013)
The programmer Qohen Leth, played by Christoph Waltz, desperately searches for the meaning of life and works on a mathematical formula supposed to solve the riddle. When he falls in love with a mysterious young woman, his life finally comes apart at the seams.
The Zero Theorem falls into the same category as “The World on a Wire” and “eXistenZ” and can be classified as a sophisticated, philosophical science fiction film. Directed by Terry Gilliam (“Brazil”, “12 Monkeys”, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”), the film features a number of funny scenes in which Leth enters an eerily campy virtual reality world via a VR suit.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017).
Four teenagers find a magical game module that catapults them into the virtual reality adventure Jumanji and into new bodies. To find their way out of the dangerous jungle and into the real world, they must navigate their new roles, use their newly acquired talents, and work closely together.
The comedy starring Jack Black and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is peppered with allusions to video game conventions. The sequel Jumanji: The Next Level hit theaters in 2019.
Ready Player One (2018)
VR headsets, haptic suits, data gloves, and walking machines: Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel of the same name (Amazon link) lacks no VR paraphernalia.
The film paints a dystopian future in which the majority of people have turned their backs on the real world and hang out in a virtual reality world called Oasis. Its late creator, James Halliday, has hidden an Easteregg within the digital parallel universe. Whoever finds it will become immensely rich and gain control over Oasis. When young Wade Watts manages to unearth a first clue, a deadly competition begins that spills over into the real world.
Cover photo: Warner Bros. Pictures