Virtual Reality is becoming a very real thing, but for years it was just a far-out sci-fi concept. In movies, it was a place for people to escape reality, and it was usually the thing that was destroying it. The films appear to a wide variety of people from the escapists to the conspiracy theorists. Regardless, it has made for some amazing storytelling over the years. Below is the definitive list of the Best Movies That Take Place in VR.
Gamer had a major plot twist in that the lead Gerard Butler was supposed to be the most bad*ss fighter in this VR game world, but he also happens to be controlled by a kid that happens to be the best gamer in the world. But forget all that. The directors of Crank brought this out-there futuristic sci-fi world to the big screen and we should thank them. The movie is a mess but it is half real-life first-person shooter and half real-world R-Rated Sims Game. Thanks Neveldine and Taylor for making this gem that just barely makes the list of the best movies that take place in VR.
#19 Total Recall (2012)
The man who brought the world Underworld, Len Wiseman, took an ambitious crack at remaking the cult classic Total Recall. He fell a little flat, but that’s what happens when you tinker with a classic hit. This time around it was Colin Farrell as the lead with Kate Beckinsale as the love interest. This paired with the amazing concept is enough to be worth a watch, but if your time is limited stick with the 1990 version with ARRRRRRNNNNOOLLD.
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#18 Dark City
In 1998, writer/director Alex Proyas (The Crow) hit the world with a very ahead of its time sci-fi-fi thriller in Dark City. The world has transformed into an endless sea of darkness where no one has a past. John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a hotel bathtub, suffering from amnesia. He is carted to a room with the gruesome murder of his wife and is forced to put pieces together to solve it. All while doing this, he needs to deal with a strange group of pale men in trench coats with a strange hidden agenda. This movie is out there but very much considered a cult classic in sci-fi in general, not just the best movies that take place in VR.
#17 The Zero Theorem
Director Terry Gilliam has brought the world a weird spectrum of films from Monty Python to Time Bandits to Twelve Monkeys. This one is no different. Christoph Waltz plays a computer operator that is tasked with solving a theory about life-ending. The result is this crazy drug-fueled world that is unlike anything you have ever seen. This was one of the less successful films on the list of best movies that take place in VR, but on sheer uniqueness alone it is deserving of a watch.
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#16 Ghost In the Shell
Ok, this one is not great, but it cost like $200 million dollars. That alone should earn them a home video watch. The world that was created was pretty fantastical. Scarlett Johnson was good too. It’s just that the story wasn’t good. Whoops.
#15 The Thirteenth Floor
This smaller budget movie flew relatively below the radar but that doesn’t make it any less special. Craig Bierko plays a scientist that is running a VR experiment. Things are going ok until his entire staff is murdered and he is painted as the prime suspect. You will be on the edge of your seat, and it keeps you guessing. Worth a watch.
#14 The Cell
The Cell was a very ambitious project of 2000 that starred Jennifer Lopez at the absolute top of her game. It was not a winner at the box office, but that doesn’t make it any less unique and revolutionary. JLo plays a social worker that is transported into the mind of a serial killer via VR technology. What she finds is a crazy terrain that is so out there, it could only be found in the mind of a serial killer.
Weird capitalization aside, eXistenZ is a good one. Starring Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh, a game designer on the run from assassins must play her latest virtual reality creation with a marketing trainee to determine if the game has been damaged. The film has style and it has edge. It is a little dated but worth your time.
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#12 Ender’s Game
Ender’s Game is basically Jumanji in space, but that’s ok. It is about a young boy who becomes an amazing spaceship captain who saves the world. There are certainly better films out there, but the cool futuristic vibe mixed with the great performances from Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld make it worth it.
#11 Spy Kids Franchise
Director/Producer/Writer Robert Rodriguez is known for his very adult fare like Sin City and Planner Terror. Well did you know that he also has one of the most successful kids franchises under his belt? He does in the very CGI heavy Spy Kids Franchise. There were four movies and they mostly involved a famous spy family that would go into a VR like world to stop terror. Cheesy and campy, but all appealing kids movies are. This one is solid enough for the whole family.
#10 Vanilla Sky
This one is a little different than the others on the list of best movies that take place in VR because it is more of a romantic drama. Tom Cruise is a playboy that gets in a horrific car crash and he is forced into a dream world to cope. The film is directed by Almost Famous’s Cameron Crowe and also stars Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz.
#09 Strange Days
Fun fact, the great James Cameron wrote this one that was directed by his then-wife and just starting out director Kathryn Bigelow. Nothing at the time, she would go on to win the Oscar for The Hurt Locker. This film is out there but very well done. It is about a hustler who through VR headsets, sells memories and experiences of real people. You can record or you can wear it. An evil plot is uncovered and obviously stopped in this very satisfying Sci-Fi tale that was ahead of its time.
#08 Johnny Mnemonic
John Wick himself Keanu Reeves makes a couple stops on the list of best movies that take place in VR. The first one is the 1995 Johnny Mnemonic about criminals that remove part of their brains so they can smuggle data in their head from point A to point B. Keanu kills it and the film is very ahead of its time. The film is a cult classic for a reason.
Sure they depict “hacking” as this magical numbers spinning VR thing, which is so not true, but oh man it is a fun one. It helps that it brought us the amazing newcomers Matthew Lillard, Jonny Lee Miller and of coarse, Angelina Jolie. A ragtag group of friends is being framed for launching a super virus and they must take down the real villain Fisher Stevens.
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Russel Crowe and Denzel Washington being pit against each other in a cat and mouse scenario, do I need to say more? Its the 90s and a VR world is loaded up with the personalities of all the world’s worst killers, so science can study them. In case you can’t guess, things go wrong and an amalgamation of these killers breaks into the real world in the form of Crowe. Denzel is an ex-cop who has a history with the main killer in his repertoire and must hunt him down.
#05 Total Recall (1990)
The original Total Recall is 17 spots higher on the list than the remake for good reason. This action sci-fi about a man who realizes he is actually an intergalactic soldier starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone was about as big of a blockbuster as you can imagine for the time. It was a sci-fi story that blew everyone away and it had arguably the best actors of the time. The movie is near perfect, every minute is meaningful and well done.
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#04 Lawnmower Man
If a film on this list would win an award for most dated, it would be this one. The effects look so old and not professional. But forget all that, the movie was revolutionary. Pierce Bronson plays a scientist that through VR has found a way to improve the brain. He finds a “simple” man who mows lawns and promises him the opportunity of a lifetime. It works and this now smart Lawnmower Man, who has been picked on his whole life, to turn evil and sick that on those who have wronged him. You will be on the edge of your seat the whole time.
#03 Ready Player One
Steven Spielberg makes the type of uplifting adventure films that everyone can enjoy and this film is no different. It is the Sims meets Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The film is fun, looks amazing, and has hundreds of pop culture references from your youth that will make you sick with nostalgia. While other films on the list of best movies that take place in VR are about partial VR worlds, this one is all about humanity being caught up in a world of warcraft/sims like virtual world.
#02 The Tron Franchise
The original Tron came out in 1982. Looking back, the graphics are so primitive, but the unique concept and effect it had on culture was lasting. So much so that they launched the sequel in 2010. The franchise centers around Jeff Bridges being sucked into a futurist video game where riding light cycles and throwing glowing discs was the norm.
#01 The Matrix Franchise
I think everyone will agree that The Matrix is the king of this world. The first film in the trilogy came out in 1999 and no film before or since was as revolutionary. New technique after new technique made this such a fantastical experience that set the world on fire. “Do you really think that’s air you’re breathing” became a normal question people would repeat. The virtual world stakes are also the biggest, all of humanity as we know it.