If you know me, you know that I love a good movie or tv show that covers one of my favorite subjects, especially if it is non-fiction. However, the selection of these types of movies and tv programs that cover the world of video game and computer history has never been very expansive. Sure, crappy movies based on video games are plentiful, but not films in which you might actually learn something useful about the subject. However, there are some good titles to find (and few to avoid). Below is a list we have compiled of everything that either exists today, did exist at some point, or one day will exist.
(Note: A couple Cambridge Educational Films were removed from this list because they are too expensive, too short, and are geared towards the education market only).
Our top picks are in red.
- Classic Computer Films (1956-1965): A set of of classic films about computers. A Computer propaganda film from 1965, an animated cartoon made by IBM for the 1958 World’s Fair, and a pure Cold War piece about computers and the role protecting freedom. Cheap and interesting and now on DVD. Link
- Hackers: Wizards Of The Electronic Age (1986): This short doc (26 minutes) was one of the first to cover the “hackers” and computer pioneers of the personal computer era. This one is short but fascinating as it captures some of these people long before the impact of their work would effect the general populace. Available on DVD. Link
- Triumph Of The Nerds (1996): Bob Cringley’s classic documentary about the “winners” of the personal computer revolution, based on his book Accidental Empires. While Cringley fails to note the significance of the 8-bit computers (Atari, Commodore) and the home market, the doc is still indispensable for the clarity it brings to the story of Bill Gates and the rise of Microsoft. It is nearly 3 hours long and available on DVD. Link
- Stella At 20 (1997): A video documentary taped at a reunion of Atari staff on the 20th birthday of the VCS. Features many rare interviews with Atari game designers and programmers. Part II exists, but it is now out-of-print. Link
- Nerds 2.0.1:A Brief History Of The Internet (1998) : A sequel (of sorts) to 1996’s Triumph Of The Nerds (also from PBS), this doc covers the creation of the internet and how it was built into the age of the World Wide Web. A Good doc, but maybe created a bit too soon as the crash was looming a couple years down the line. Link
- Pirates Of Silicon Valley (1999): Fictionalized account of the creation of Apple Computer and Microsoft. Mostly a disaster, but maybe worth a look just see Anthony Michael Hall play Bill Gates. Link
- Modern Marvels: Video Games – Behind The Fun(2000) : Modern Marvels is a good show, and this episode is no exception. It’s a bit old these days, but still worth a look. However the price may be too high compared to some of the other stuff on this list. Back in 2000, Game Critics liked it very much. Link
- Takedown (2000): An insipid fictionalized account of Kevin Mitnick’s arrest for computer crimes. I won’t say whether or not I believe Mitnick was guilty of anything, but I will say that as a movie with a mostly fictional story, this thing is guilty of sucking big time. Link
- The X Factor: Inside Microsoft’s Xbox: (2003) An episode of Discovery Channel’s “On The Inside” series. Includes many exclusive scenes from inside Microsoft. This seems to no longer be available. Link
- Hackers: Outlaws And Angels (2002): A Discovery Channel special no longer available save for a very expensive copy here. Still, this is worth trying to find on TV if possible, as it is one of the few shows to try to tackle this subject.
- G4: Game Makers (2002-2004): A flawed (mostly because of the short length of each episode) but ambitious series of short docs that focused on games, and game developers from the classic era to present day. G4 still runs this show on their network. Link
- In The Realm Of The Hackers:(2003) Fictionalized account of 80’s Australian hackers and how they invaded some of the world’s most sensitive (but not the most secure) computer systems. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1199631/
- Once Upon Atari (2003) : Howard Scott Warshaw (Atari VCS programmer of Yar’s Revenge among other (E.T.)games) produced this 4 part series about his time working for Atari in the early 80’s. Filled with interviews of Atari staff and insider info, this is a must for any student of video game history or fan of Atari. It’s available on DVD now. Link
- Revolution OS:(2003). An 85 minute documentary that covers open source software. Interesting if you are into that kind of thing. Link
- Video Game Invasion : (2004) A very good doc from GSN network on video game history. Narrated by Tony Hawk. Link
- The Video Game Revolution: (2004)A good overview of video game history by Greg Palmer that had made it’s run on most PBS stations.The tone is “light-hearted” so if you are looking for a an overly serious and academic study you might need to look else where.This one is available on DVD and the the site says the DVD has more footage than the show that aired. Link
- Inside Nintendo (2004): BBC documentary from the Outrageous Fortunes series. A very critical look at Nintendo. This one seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet. It’s no longer available from Google video and the links to the BBC site for it do not work any longer. Hmm… (GameSpot story link)
- BBS The Documentary: (2005) 5.5 hour documentary about the world of computer Bulletin Board Systems. Dozens of interviews, video and photos of major players in the world of the BBS. If you had a computer in the late 70’s through the early 90’s you’ll know what this one is all about. Currently available on DVD. Link
- Modern Marvels: The Creation Of The Computer (2005):Follows computer history from the 19th to the 21st centuries. A good overview of the subject. Link
- 8-Bit:(2006) Bills itself as a documentary about art and video games. This one is fully steeped in the world of 8-bit era (kind of like 8bitrocket.com).However, instead of covering things from corporate angle, it instead looks at the cultural impact of 8-bit on people and players. DIY, altered games, demos, chip tune music, etc. Here is great quote from the makers about their film:”8 BIT brings a global perspective on the new artistic approaches of the DIY generation which grew up playing Atari and Commodore 64.” . This is not currently available, but they have a nice web site dedicated to it here: Link
- Chasing Ghosts : (2006) This documentary had been making the rounds at film festivals but has yet to see a national or DVD release. This movie covers some of the same ground as King Of Kong, but it appears to be more of an overview than a character study. We here at 8bitrocket.com are awaiting any word of its release. Link
- Rise Of The Video Game: (2007) A multi-part, comprehensive documentary on video games from The Discovery Channel. The tone is much more serious than The Video Game Revolution. (below) This is not available on DVD (yet). Link
- King Of Kong :(2007) The “King” if you will of all video game documentaries. If you have not seen this one, then you need to get it and watch it as soon as possible. Word has come-out that some of the events depicted were time-compressed, and manipulated, etc. However the overall affect of the movie is not altered by any of this. As a study in obsession and of people protecting their own territory, the movie works brilliantly. Link
- Playing To Win: Inside The Video Game Industry: (2008) (CNBC). The most recent doc on this list. It covers less history and more of the business side and controversy of modern video games. It’s short at 42 minutes, but DVD is available and it’s the freshest item on this list (from a release date stand point). Link
- Get Lamp (In Development): An in-depth documentary about adventures games that is being developed by the maker of BBS The documentary. The web site shows interviews from nearly ever personality even remotely connected to the adventure game genre. Hopefully this will be out in 2008. Link
- “King Of Kong” feature film adaptation (In Development):A feature film version of the events depicted in King Of Kong. If done right, this could be great, but seeing how Hollywood handled the feature version of Dogtown and Z-Boys, don’t hold your breathe for anything worth seeing. Link
- Atari Movie (In Development):Nolan Bushnell centered movie about Atari announced in June of 2008 with Leonardo DeCaprio attached to play Bushnell. IMHO, 50/50 chance of being developed and released. Link
- Eniac Programmers (In Development): An in development movie about some of the first computer programmers (mostly women) who worked on the Eniac computer during WWII and the beginning of the Cold War. This one could be fascinating if handled correctly. Link
By the way, if we have missed something, please tell us so we can add it to our list.