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Our top 10 techie characters from the movies

Doug Gross
  • South by Southwest profiles movies and technology this week -- and so do we
  • Here are our favorite techie characters from the movies, from hackers to gadget geniuses
  • Trinity was hacker first, love interest second; "Iron Man's" Stark is most at home in his lab

(CNN) -- When the South by Southwest Festival kicks off today in Austin, Texas, the cutting edges of technology and film will be on display.

Started as a music showcase, SXSW's interactive and movie portions have become equal partners in defining the festival (not to mention, in some small part, Austin itself).

Last year's festival prompted us to consider the precarious junction where music and geekery meet. This year, it's got us taking a look at those moments when technology hits the big screen.

Some of our favorite movie character throughout the year have been hackers, coders, gadget freaks and gamers. So, meet our Top 10 Movie Techies of All Time.

(Note: For consistency's sake, we stuck with fictional characters. So, no nods for Jesse Eisenberg's take on Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" or Anthony Michael Hall's Bill Gates in "Pirates of Silicon Valley." Don't feel too badly for Mr. Hall, though. He still made the cut.)

Who did we leave out? Lots of folks, we're sure. Let us know the error of our ways in the comments section.

Kevin Flynn, "Tron" (1982, 2010)

In the early '80s, who'd ever heard of a movie about a guy who owns a video arcade and programs his own games to boot?

He's cracking networks, hunting down stolen code and eventually battling it out with his own video-game creations (and those of his colleagues) after things go horribly awry.

Flynn was back in last year's "Tron: Legacy," although it was awful hard for some of us not to see him as The Dude gone high-tech.

Quote: On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.

David Lightman, "WarGames" (1983)

They tried to tell us computer games were bad for us.

David is superadept and way ahead of his time in his online gaming pursuits. So he cracks the password for what appears to be an awesome new game, "Global Thermonuclear War."


An arrest by the feds and one daring escape later, David manages to hunt down the creator of "Joshua," the military's nuclear war simulator and help fool it into abandoning the effort to launch the opening salvo in World War III.

If only World of Warcraft had been invented back then. David never would have been able to pry himself away long enough to hack a government database.

Quote: Is this a game? Or is it real?

Gary and Wyatt, "Weird Science" (1985)

They were the ultimate awkward teens in an '80s John Hughes universe comprised almost exclusively of awkward teens.

Gary and Wyatt live out their fantasy at a time when personal computers were just becoming common. By today's standards, the computing heft of those machines was incredibly limited. But a generation of future code monkeys were intrigued by their potential.

Mix a little Einstein and David Lee Roth with a Barbie doll, crank up a proto-modem, toss a bra on your head and ... voila! Kelly LeBrock.

Quote: That's not a bad idea. Making a girl. Actually making a girl. Like Frankenstein ... except cuter.

Lazlo Hollyfeld, "Real Genius" (1985, 2013?)

In a movie about some of the smartest people in the country, there was one guy who topped them all.

And he lived in a closet.

Lazlo is the kind of guy who other geniuses think is a genius.

And, hey, you score extra points with us if you use your mad geek skills to crack the "Frito Lay -- enter as often as you want" sweepstakes and build a roller coaster in your secret computer lair.

Quote: Did you wanna borrow my pajamas?

Ferris Bueller, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986)

Sure, the parade float, Cubs' game and cruise in the vintage Ferrari are the highlights. But it all started with a little computer geekery.

Ferris uses his computer (the internet tells us it's an IBM PC XT) to remotely clean up his school absentee record before coaxing Cameron and Sloane into a day of Chicago-centric fun.

He uses some early primitive sound files to cover his tracks. And, during his opening monologue, we see him using his PC for its most noble use in the world of the young American male -- looking at a naked woman.

(Yeah, it's a pixelated version of a Modigliani nude. But, hey ...1986).

We also see Ferris using one of those fancy "mouse" things -- not unheard of but definitely cutting-edge by the day's standards.

Quote: I ask for a car. I got a computer. How's that for being born under a bad sign?

Peter Gibbons, "Office Space" (1999)

A hero of the white-collar working man, Peter embodies the growing number of professional techies during the internet boom who went from being lavished with big bonuses and in-office massages to getting treated like taken-for-granted workplace drones.

But he triumphs (albeit, only before things go haywire) by using his tech skills to infect his office network and start siphoning off pennies.

We're not sure what it says that he ultimately chooses life as a construction worker, where nobody ever has a case of the Mondays, over professional coding. But who doesn't love a guy who gets a promotion for admitting he doesn't do anything, then tells the boss to get bent until he finishes his game of Tetris?

Quote: See? They wrote all this bank software, and to save space, they used two digits for the date instead of four. So, like, '98 instead of 1998? So I go through these thousands of lines of code and, uh ... it doesn't really matter. I don't like my job, and I don't think I'm gonna go any more.

Trinity, "The Matrix" (1999, 2003)

Yes, Neo was the star and became, like, Jesus-meets-Bruce Lee or something.

But Trinity is our favorite for a host of reasons.

Stomping on gender stereotypes in the mostly testosterone-soaked world of technology is apparently just as surprising in (and out of) The Matrix as it is in the real world.

And in the secretive world of hackers, it was Trin who earned legendary status by cracking the IRS network. She was a computer whiz first, a love interest second.

And, of course, she's there for every major step in the plot -- from being the first to tip Neo off that things aren't as they seem to accompanying him to this final showdown with The Machines (and all that entailed).

Quote: The answer is out there, Neo, and it's looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

Mr. Universe, "Serenity" (2005)

This is probably our most obscure member of the list.

He appeared in a cult movie and only made a brief appearance at that. But the reclusive techno-hermit, capable of hunting down and capturing virtually any electronic signal in the 'Verse, plays a huge role in bringing the movie (and the TV series, "Firefly," that spawned it) to its conclusion.

He revives the "Weird Science"-spawned computer-nerd-creates-dream-girl meme, living in apparent bliss with Lenore, his "love bot" wife.

Mr. Universe is also the source of a quote that has served as a rallying cry for years now for the Browncoats ... the devoted "Firefly"/"Serenity" fans who refuse to let love for Joss Whedon's space-Western die.

Quote: You can't stop the signal, Mal. Everything goes somewhere, and I go everywhere.

Tony Stark, "Iron Man" (2008, 2010)

He's a billionaire playboy with expensive toys.

But, in his heart, Tony Stark's a gadget geek.

For all the money, glitz and glamour, Robert Downey Jr.'s version of the comic-book legend is clearly never more at home, or more at peace, than when he's in his lab tinkering with his latest cutting-edge, high-tech gadgets.

If he happens to save the world along the way, all the better.

Quote: I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one. To turn over the Iron Man suit would be to turn over myself, which is tantamount to indentured servitude or prostitution, depending on what state you're in.

Lisbeth Salander, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and its two sequels (2009, 2010)

OK, so her Swedish may be a little hard to understand. But this tiny, tattooed and troubled computer hacker is one of the most compelling fictional characters of our time.

Salander, the titular heroine of Stieg Larsson's trilogy of thriller novels (actress Noomi Rapace in the movies), dresses like a Sex Pistols groupie but has a searing intellect and wields her laptop like a weapon.

You'll be seeing more of her soon. The Hollywood remake, starring Daniel Craig and "The Social Network's" Rooney Mara as Salander, is filming now.

Quote: I've never done this before. Hold still, or it'll get messy.

CNN's Brandon Griggs and Ann Hoevel contributed to this report.


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