10 tech dramas that Hollywood should turn into movies

Forget Silicon Valley. Never mind Halt and Catch Fire. The history of technology provides ample source material for your next big-screen blockbuster.

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With HBO’s Silicon Valley capturing Emmy nominations and AMC’s ’80s-set computer drama Halt and Catch Fire having just wrapped up a 10-episode season, the tech world is proving to be an incredibly fertile orchard from which Hollywood can pluck plot lines. It’s hardly a new phenomenon: Tech types from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg to Kevin Mitnick have already had their life stories adapted for the silver screen. But the compelling true stories don’t stop there. Here are 10 true-life dramas that have unfolded since the dawn of the computer age that we’d fork over our $12 to see.

tech movies napster

Napster demolishes the music business

The Plot: No industry has been disrupted quite so quickly and as thoroughly as the music business has. And it was all one company—and essentially one man—who dealt the blow. Shawn Fanning’s Napster operated for only two years, from 1999 to 2001, causing hellfire to rain down on the industry as we know it. This is a drama that ultimately played out in the courts, with the Recording Industry Association of America suing nearly everyone, successfully shutting down the company, but only after it was too, too late.

The Title: Face the Music

The Hook: It’s the classic tale of a man who robs from the rich and gives to anyone with a peer-to-peer connection. Plus, it’s a chance for Justin Timberlake to recreate his portrayal of Napster co-founder Sean Parker from The Social Network. Who plays Lars Ulrich, though?

tech movies morris worm

Robert Morris opens Pandora’s box

The Plot: 1988 was a watershed year for the tech world, as it saw the release of the Morris Internet worm, widely considered the first piece of computer malware to cause actual damage. And what damage it caused! Morris, then a grad student at Cornell, developed the worm to be harmless, but—as is often the case with these things—it got out of hand, infecting an estimated 10 percent of all computers connected on the pre-Web ARPANET and prompting an estimated $10 million cleanup. Morris was one of the first people convicted of a federal computer crime.

The Title: The Worm Turns

The Hook: Think horror movie in which a seemingly unstoppable force wreaks terrible havoc. And since Morris would go on to found Y Combinator, one of the tech world’s most important startup funds and accelerators, you can tack on a happy Hollywood ending.

tech movies my space

The rise and fall of MySpace

The Plot: In its heyday, there was one name synonymous with social networking: MySpace. Reportedly developed in the space of a week to compete head-on with Friendster, company president Tom Anderson quickly became the man with more than 100 million friends. After its acquisition by News Corp., MySpace ultimately hit a value of $12 billion and was the darling of the entertainment world, a magical place where regular folks could interact with musicians, actors, and everyone else. But not for long: Bungling by management, MySpace’s lost tech team, and Facebook’s rise all conspired to kill MySpace by 2010, turning what remained into a pop culture joke.

The Title: How to Lose 100 Million Friends

The Hook: It’s a wacky comedy featuring out-of-touch management and one blunder after the next—sort of an Office Space, without the red Swingline stapler.

tech movies osbourne

Osborne Computer: The tech world’s first flameout

The Plot: Adam Osborne was a writer and book publisher who sold his business and found himself flush with cash in 1979. His next move: Build his own low-cost computer, complete with bundled software right in the box. The formula was a hit, and Osborne became a big industry player within months. Competitors noticed, but Osborne was the one who did himself in: He started demoing the Osborne 2 while thousands of Osborne 1s were still on backorder. After seeing the hot next gen, everyone canceled their Osborne 1 orders, leaving the company with no cash flow and no way forward. Osborne disintegrated, and the tech world’s culture of secrecy was born.

The Title: Borne to Lose

The Hook: It’s a gritty drama with an unlikely hero who seems poised to succeed, only to have victory snatched from his fingertips in the eleventh hour: Wall Street meets Hamlet.

tech movies compaq ibm

Compaq challenges IBM—and wins

The Plot: In the early 1980s, IBM was synonymous with the computer industry. Without exception, the business world ran on IBM computers. Upstarts came and went, but none gained traction… until Compaq. Born in 1982 from the minds of several Texas Instruments refugees, the Compaq Portable made its mark not only because it was fully compatible with the IBM PC, but it also came in a design you could take with you (provided you had a strong back). Compaq thrived, and by the end of the ’90s, Compaq and its fellow upstart competitors were the ones creating the standards of computer design. It was IBM that had to play follow the leader.

The Title: The Rat Paq

The Hook: It’s what Halt and Catch Fire should have been: a David-vs.-Goliath tale with David soundly victorious.

tech movies consoles

Nintendo vs. Sega: Gaming’s biggest slap fight

The Plot: Forget Apple vs. Microsoft: One of tech’s biggest head-to-head dramas involves the battle that played out in the 1990s between Nintendo, which utterly dominated the video game world, and Sega, a scrappy upstart which grew out of a company that once built slot machines and jukeboxes. Sega gave Nintendo a real run for its money, though today, neither company wields the power it once held. (But that can wait for the inevitable sequel about Sony and Microsoft.)

The Title: Player vs. Player

The Hook: Never mind our idle speculation: This movie could actually happen. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are adapting a book about the feud called Console Wars into a script, reportedly a “business thriller.” Think Superbad only with more Mario Bros.

tech movies spacex

SpaceX privatizes the space race

The Plot: The Right Stuff showed us that only the toughest guys could make it into space. Decades later, it would be private corporations that underscored one of the memorable lines from that movie: No bucks, no Buck Rogers. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been taking to the heavens step by step, becoming the first private enterprise to orbit a rocket around the Earth and the first to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. It’s now working on the Mars Colonial Transporter, which is exactly what it sounds like.

The Title: Rocket Man

The Hook: If Robert Downey Jr. ever gets tired of the Iron Man franchise, perhaps he could play the real Tony Stark.

tech movies tesla

Tesla Motors hits the road

The Plot: Give enough money to a dedicated man with a dream and he’s liable to do something incredible. (Say, we could use that on the movie poster.) Tesla Motors, the all-electric-auto brainchild of Elon Musk, has seemingly done the impossible, not only founding a new American automobile company but doing it during a period when the domestic car industry has been in massive retreat.

The Title: Rocket Man II: The Long Road

The Hook: Imagine Tucker: A Man and His Dream, but with way cooler gadgets.

tech movies macafee

John McAfee goes rogue

You’re a tech genius whose name is synonymous with computer security. What do you do for your next act? Blow all your money on bad real estate deals, move to Belize, go off the grid, communicate only through numerous aliases, and get mixed up in murder charges that end with your fleeing to Guatemala and being deported back to the U.S… where you escape prosecution and start a new tech company.

The Title: Mad Mac

The Hook: A character drama with Oscar written all over it. It’s the part Crispin Glover was born to play.

tech movies snowden

The Snowden affair

The Plot: One of the biggest political stories of the decade is more than ripe for the movies. The dramatic tale of Edward Snowden’s leaking of the NSA’s incredible domestic surveillance program is almost too crazy to believe, and yet it really happened. Or rather, it’s still happening.

The Title: Snowfall

The Hook: It’s a story without an ending—Snowden is still in hiding in Russia—but this one’s already on its way. Oliver Stone announced in June that he would turn Snowden’s story into a film.

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