Despite the fact that the use of surveillance is on the rise, the idea has been addressed in film and television for decades. From voyeurism to apocalyptic visions of the future seen in our selection of films and television shows, surveillance is explored in a variety of ways.
It’s a good thing that most of these surveillance scenarios are still in the realm of fantasy. We still have the luxury of a private life, so grab some popcorn and relax!
Top surveillance movies and shows
1. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
Because, of course, this is the most important surveillance-fiction novel of all time. The dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, often regarded as the originator of the genre, has only grown in relevance over time. For its universal themes of war, propaganda, nationalism, futurism, censorship, and surveillance, the book is studied around the world. “Big Brother,” “Thoughtcrime,” and “Newspeak” are just a few of the phrases that have been coined as a result of Nineteen Eighty-influence Four’s on dystopian fiction since its introduction in 1949.
Winston Smith, played by John Hurt, appeared in a 1984 Michael Radford-directed film adaptation of the novel. According to critics, the film is a faithful representation of both the book and its central concepts.
Thought Police in Oceania’s totalitarian superstate monitor every aspect of Smith’s life, just as they do for everyone else. There are telescreens in almost every home in Oceania, which are multipurpose devices that combine a television with a security camera and a recorder. To monitor and record everything at will, the government can utilize this technology against its own citizenry. Does this sound familiar to you? The devices like Google Home, Alexa and Siri are continually listening to you.
There is perpetual anxiety and citizens are encouraged to report any suspicious activity by their neighbors or compatriots.
2. Minority Report (2002)
Following the exploits of law-enforcement officer John Anderton (Tom Cruise) in 2054, this Steven Spielberg film is based on Philip K. Dick’s 1956 short tale.
As a captain in the PreCrime division of the Washington D.C. Police Department, Anderton works with “precogs,” persons able to foretell murders before they occur. Essentially, Precogs, and by extension the entire police department, are in charge of a decentralized surveillance state in which corporate and legal entities have complete access to the personal data of any citizen at any time.. Everything goes horribly wrong, and Anderton is the next person to be named as a suspect in a murder. In order to avoid being caught by retina scanners around the city, he has his eyes replaced while on the run, all in an effort to clean his name for a crime he hasn’t yet committed. The UK government, on the other hand, looked investigated the idea of launching a comparable AI-based initiative. It’s a good thing it didn’t happen.
Spielberg formed a think tank of futurists and experts throughout the film’s production to establish what the year 2054 would look like. Retina scanners, multi-touch interaction, driverless vehicles, gesture recognition, and targeted advertising were all accurately predicted by the think tank. He walks through an entire mall while having advertisements constantly scanning his eyes and then serving him customised ads—ones that literally call out to Anderton by name. This is one of the most iconic scenes in the film.” Former MIT researcher and film consultant John Underkoffler has stated that the objective was to portray a society where privacy “was definitely a thing of the past.”
While the film’s technological ramifications are still relevant today, the most essential issue is that of privacy and surveillance and how our personal information might be exploited against us. At its best, the film shows a world in which privacy is traded for security.
3. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Another Philip K. Dick story has been turned into a film. This one, on the other hand, takes us down a far more unusual route.
Future dystopias depict a United States administration that has failed its battle against illegal substances. Since the rise of Substance D, a network of undercover police agents has been set up to monitor and report on its spread across America. Drug D is a strong psychedelic with a significant potential for abuse.
Keanu Reeves portrays one of these policemen, Bob Arctor, the film’s protagonist. A “scramble suit” disguises Arctor’s appearance and voice, keeping his identity a secret. Arctor’s hold on reality has been shaky to say the least since he became addicted to Substance D while working as an undercover investigator.
Every member of their undercover team wears a scramble suit, and they refer to each other by their pseudonyms rather than their real names. “Fred” is Arctor’s alias. For whatever reason, Arctor is assigned to investigate Fred, which only serves to inflict even more damage on his psyche.
To paraphrase an old proverb, “Who watches the watchers?” is a good question to ask in this situation.
4. Gattaca (1997)
Your career goals, personal partners, and social status will all be decided by your genetics in a sleek but bleak vision of the near future. Natural-born people and those who have been genetically modified are two distinct groups in society. The only way to get to prominence in today’s society is to have your genes artificially boosted.
Ethan Hawke plays protagonist Vincent Freeman, a natural-born citizen who aspires to be an astronaut with the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. Freeman, on the other hand, has lived in servitude to individuals of a higher caste all his life since he is a natural-born human with a genetic tendency to heart failure.
After being disabled in a car accident, Freeman assumes the persona of genetically enhanced swimming sensation Jerome Morrow (played by Jude Law), who is now living a life away from the spotlight. Freeman meticulously collects Morrow’s genetic samples to mislead Gattaca’s genetic identification algorithms in order to perpetuate the illusion.
Genetic privacy and the consequences of genetic prejudice are examined in a harrowing way in the film.
5. Rear Window (1954)
Rear Window, by Alfred Hitchcock, is the oldest film on this list, but its critique of voyeurism and privacy is still pertinent today. Actor James Stewart plays a wheelchair-bound photographer named L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies in the film. As he gazes out of his apartment’s rear window onto a courtyard, Jeff observes his neighbors’ daily routines as they open their windows for fresh air.
Jeff hears a scream and glass breaking one night. Sleep comes easily to him as he goes off to sleep, not giving it a second thought. His neighbor Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) is seen packing a suitcase as he exits his flat shortly after he is awakened by thunder. On the next day, Jeff sees Thorwald scrubbing a knife and saw with soap and water. From here on out, things become weirder. The disappearance of Mrs. Thorwald, the death of a neighbor’s dog, and Mr. Thorwald’s increasingly suspicious behavior all point to a possible crime.
This film is mostly on the ethics of self-medicating, as Jeff has taken action based on his perceptions of a sequence of suspicious incidents, all of which are unsupported by any concrete evidence. Jeff sends his girlfriend, Lisa (played by Grace Kelly), into Thorwald’s unoccupied apartment to illegally acquire evidence. This is the clearest example of this predicament. During this time, Jeff is alerted to the fact that Thorwald’s downstairs neighbor, “Miss Lonelyhearts,” looks to be contemplating suicide and notifies the police—but relents when she appears to change her mind. When Thorwald arrives, he discovers Lisa at his apartment, where he had left her earlier. In a last-ditch effort to protect Lisa, Jeff calls the police and reports what he believes to be an assault in progress. Jeff’s voyeurism crosses the boundary between casual observation and intrusiveness. Perhaps the problem here is that monitoring and privacy breaches could be regarded subjective depending on our own judgment of immediate risks to our personal area of influence..
Consider this your current interpretation of the story. Check out Disturbia, which follows a similar, but updated, storyline.
6. The Dark Knight (2008)
“The Dark Knight” is an allegory about the war on terror—specifically, the usefulness of mass monitoring as a tool for society’s security.
While Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has a sonar network powered by all of Gotham City’s cell phones established at the end of the film. With the use of this network, Batman is able to observe and monitor anything and everyone, allowing him to hunt down the Joker, the evil mastermind (played by Heath Ledger).
Public safety takes precedence over personal privacy in this city-wide network. Lucius Fox, the CEO of Wayne Enterprises (played by Morgan Freeman), may have the best remark to express this sentiment:
“Beautiful. Unethical. Dangerous. As a result of your actions, every phone in Gotham now functions as a microphone. Because of your innovation, every phone in the city is now equipped with my sonar technology. You’ll be able to see all of Gotham if you had the sonar of half the city. This is not correct.”
7. Snowden (2016)
According to Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald, the NSA and other Fives Eves agencies were executing a global monitoring program in June 2013 when Snowden met with Greenwald to share 10,000 highly classified papers. The globe was shocked by the news. In Oliver Stone’s 2016 biopic Snowden, the real-life Edward Snowden is portrayed by Joseph Gorden Levitt, who goes on a personal quest to make the leaks public.
Security subcontractor Snowden learns about such privacy violations as putting malware on computers of U.S. allies in the event that those allies turn against the United States, and real-time surveillance programs that aid in drone strikes on suspected terror suspects while working as a security contractor.
Unlike the other entries in this list, Snowden is based on real-life events and is completely accurate. Despite the fact that this film is not a horror film, it is the scariest.
8. Enemy of the State (1998)
Iconic Will Smith takes a dramatic turn as a lawyer caught in the crosshairs of NSA operatives in Bobby Dean, hot on the heels of big hits Independence Day and Men in Black. The introduction of a piece of legislation that would improve the government’s power to monitor the people of the United States is an important component of the story.
NSA director Michael Vincent Hayden was unimpressed with the film’s portrayal of the agency after its debut. Public opinion has moved in accordance with the film’s fundamental theme following Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of global NSA espionage.
Enemy of the State, on the other hand, includes one of the worst surveillance analysis scenes in film or television history—though the CSI franchise could give this a run for its money. It’s best if you can really see it.
9. The Truman Show (1998)
The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey as a guy who has lived his entire life as the star of a reality television show, is one of the list’s “lighter” selections. The Truman Show has some disturbing moments, despite the fact that it is not an overtly dystopian film.
Truman does not realize that the town in which he lives is a massive film set, populated exclusively by actors and extras. Audiences throughout the world have been following Truman’s life from the day he was born. For the sake of ratings, situations are designed to elicit specific emotional responses.
When it comes to his personal life, Truman has little real control over his situation and nearly no privacy, as his every move is televised and filmed.
Because of its “prophetic” nature, wherein it unknowingly foresaw the rise of reality television and social media, this film has been referred to as a “classic” in the last two decades.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The First Avenger is followed up with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was released in 2011 as the eighth film in the MCU.
Captain America (Chris Evans) is a time traveler who finds himself in the past. Captain Rogers, a World War II veteran who was frozen for 70 years, was thawed in 2012 after a long sleep. A decade or more have passed since the events depicted in this movie’s prologue, during which time he has settled into his new role as a member of a secretive government agency known only as “SHIELD.”
Captain Rogers realizes that S.H.I.E.L.D. has an additional motive: to steal data from the ship’s database during a regular anti-terrorism mission to liberate captives aboard a hijacked vessel. As part of the “Project Insight” mass-surveillance operation involving Hellicarriers (flying aircraft carriers equipped with spy satellites), Rogers is informed of the program’s goal of preventing terrorist acts before they occur. Final scenes show a hack on a Hellicarrier that targets innocent individuals with its armed systems.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an astonishingly grounded political thriller with a believable concept, while taking place in a vast science-fiction and fantasy setting.
11. Mr. Robot (2015-2019)
Heard to be one of the most realistic depictions in the media today, Mr. Robot focuses on the life of cybersecurity engineer and vigilante hacker Elliot Alsderon (played by Rami Malek). Mr. Robot is not just a gripping computer thriller, but it also exposes serious issues related to cybersecurity and personal data protection. There are non-technical aspects to hacking and privacy concerns, such as social engineering and the generation of passwords, for example.
The show’s creators have gone to great lengths to portray actual code, tools, and operating systems that hackers would employ. Rather than relying on clichés and stereotypes, Mr. Robot has chosen to realistically showcase various hacking tactics, which makes sense given that the show’s hacking consultant is a cybersecurity specialist.
12. Black Mirror (2011-)
Black Mirror is an essential part of any list of surveillance-themed media. “Dystopian science-fiction anthology series” is commonly regarded as the natural successor to “The Twilight Zone” (we’re ignoring the 2019 version of the property) and “The Outer Limits.”
As an anthology series, each episode is produced and directed by a different crew, however the show’s creator Charlie Brooker is the primary writer. In spite of the variety of genres, each episode focuses on sociology and the effects of new technologies.