The best ways to get cyberpunk’d on streaming

These are the best cyberpunk movies and television shows you can stream in Australia.

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What is cyberpunk when it's at home? A genre of science fiction, typically featuring a lawless subculture in an oppressive society dominated by evil corporations and/or ill-advised advances in technology. Basically, the most awfully dark future folks 30 to 40 years ago could imagine for the human race. You know, a reality we're more or less living in right now, sans flying cars.

If that sounds like your kind of entertainment, and you want nothing better than to wet your beak in some bleak, the major streaming services can provide you with a few fixes. Here's a quick best-of list to get you started. So, make like Johnny Mnemonic and download these to your head storage with confidence...

1. Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams


Year: 2017
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Timothy Spall, Tuppence Middleton, Jack Reynor

You know what? If you want unadulterated cyberpunk, just go back to the source. Philip K Dick, along with authors William Gibson and Bruce Bethke, is widely regarded as one of the fathers of the genre. You may not know it, but you've sampled Dick's work before in films like Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly and Total Recall – and some of these are more bastardisations of the original source material than others. Electric Dreams is an anthology TV series that (more often than not) offers adaptations which are closer to Dick's greatest short stories. Unfortunately, the quality of the episodes in this 10-part series is very up and down.

The ones you need to beeline towards are as follows. “Real Life” (S01E01) is a fascinating look at VR, what constitutes reality and the human need to punish ourselves for our own sins, even when forgiveness has been given. “Crazy Diamond” (S01E04) is a kooky little number where Steve Buscemi tries to escape a dying island world by making shady deals with a replicant. Last but not least, you can't go past “The Hoodmaker”, the tale of a second-class telepathic citizen being paired with a hard-boiled cop, right as their two species are about to descend into civil war.

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2. Blade Runner


Year: 1982
Cast: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos

Come on. Was this ever not going to be on this list? Blade Runner is regarded as pretty much the archetypal cyberpunk film. It's a very loose adaption of Philip K Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and is known for its futuristic noir style, striking cinematography and an ambitious electronic soundtrack by Vangelis. Basically, director Ridley Scott changed the landscape of sci-fi with this landmark piece of filmmaking.

Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, the titular Blade Runner (think: a hard-boiled detective with a licence to shut down androids) and his mission is to hunt down a posse of rogue “replicants” led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). In an effort to get inside the mind of his quarry, Deckard interviews and establishes an emotional connection with Rachel (Sean Young), a legal replicant who, like the renegades, has a 4-year expiration date to worry about.

I won't spoil any more than that for you newcomers. Go in fresh and enjoy the post-credits' questions you'll ask yourself regarding mortality, synthetic organisms surpassing their creators and what it truly means to have a soul. Also, enjoy “tears in rain” – one of the best improvised speeches ever captured on film.

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3. Robocop


Year: 1987
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer

If you've yet to see this ultra-violent, darkly comedic Paul Verhoeven classic, I question your Prime Directives. Don't let its age fool you; Robocop is still a potent piece of filmmaking – I'd stream it for a dollar. If only to see how presciently it depicts Detroit as a dangerous hellhole and all-round failed capitalism experiment.

Not to worry, though. Mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products has an urban renewal plan for the city which, unfortunately, involves the privatisation of the outgunned local police force. This will be achieved by overworking and undersupplying said fuzz, at which point they'll be replaced by ED-209, a sociopathic robo-saurus thing that can walk a flight of steps about as well as Eddie Murphy's Aunt Bunny.

Our story centres on Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), a new cop on the block who wins the dead pool in record time, thanks to Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). He's the lapdog of one Dick Jones, an OCP VP who, after a corporate coup, is forced to green light Murphy as the first recipient of an experimental cyber-enhancement. While the cutthroat corporate culture grows worse at OCP, Murphy – now Robocop – becomes increasingly self-aware. Basically, you'll come for the righteous, punk-splattering revenge tale, but stay for the hilarious fake TV ads.

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4. The Terminator


Year: 1984
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Earl Boen

Interesting bit of trivia: James Cameron came up with the idea for this film during a high-fever dream (or rather a nightmare). “I was sick at the time,” Cameron says on the Blu-ray commentary track for the film. “I was just lying on the bed thinking and came up with all this bizarre imagery … I think also the idea that because I was in a foreign city [Rome] by myself and I felt very dissociated from humanity in general, it was very easy to project myself into these 2 characters from the future who were out of sync, out of time, out of place.”

From that weird experience spawned the tale of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a nobody hunted by a remorseless cyborg – all because she'll eventually give birth to a resistance leader who'll crush our enemies in a future war against AI. The only thing stopping her from being murdered by a T-800 infiltrator unit (that's also somehow an extremely conspicuous 260-pound Austrian bodybuilder) is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a time-travelling resistance fighter who's secretly had the longest of long-distance crushes on her. The Terminator may be a bit naff in terms of special effects, but there's still a lean efficiency to Cameron's storytelling which makes it an exhilarating and timeless classic as well as must-watch stuff.

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5. Blade Runner 2049


Year: 2017
Cast: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas

With Blade Runner the quintessential cyberpunk film, we highly recommend checking out the sequel as well.

The action centres on K (Ryan Gosling), an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. When he discovers a secret that could send his world into chaos, he goes looking for a former blade runner who has been missing for over 3 decades. You've guessed it – we're talking about Rick Deckard, with Harrison Ford reprising his role from the original.

Blade Runner 2049 is the rare sequel that isn't afraid to take its time and expand the original story, but also stands on its own as an achievement in both cinematography and storytelling. Your second visit to this rich and very cyberpunk universe will be just as satisfying as the first.

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6. Elysium


Year: 2013
Cast: Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga

This Neill Blomkamp extravaganza may eschew noir and the rainy neon city cliché, but it still wears a cyberpunk heart on its exo-suit sleeve. The year is 2154 and 2 classes of people exist: the absurdly wealthy, who live on an idyllic Club Med space station, and the rest, who subsist on a version of Earth that makes the one in Wall-E look like Switzerland. These terrestrial folk, including our protagonist, Max (Matt Damon), are desperate to escape the planet's crime and poverty, and there's also a critical need to use the state-of-the-art medical facilities on Elysium.

The slight problem standing in the way of their Medicare is the ice-queen administrator of the station (Jodie Foster) who's fond of using guided missiles against immigrants. Plus, when she learns that Max has located software he can use to slip past her security net (and has augmented himself with an exo-suit to see such a mission through), she engages the wet-work services of the similarly enhanced Kruger (Sharlto Copley). Admittedly, Elysium is what I'd call popcorn cyberpunk. That said, it serves as a more than competent gateway for newcomers into the genre.

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7. The Matrix


Year: 1999
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving

The Wachowskis went into full cyberpunk geek-out mode when they coded together The Matrix. Not only did they deliver an incredibly stylish and action-packed mind-screw, but this well-read writer/director team included an absolute smorgasbord of references to influential cyberpunk literature. Humankind is an unwitting prisoner in a neural simulation, controlled and bred for energy-leeching purposes by a race of futuristic AI entities who've won a civil war and now run what little remains of planet Earth.

Neo (Keanu Reeves) is a clock-punching slave who cottons on and starts tailing a group of “freed” hackers. This motley crew has escaped the clutches of the machines and are searching, from the outside in, for the digital messiah who was promised. Resistance legends state that the prophesied One will deliver humanity from bondage, and ye shall know him by his catchphrase of “woah” and yay, he shall doest much kung fu with guns (lots of guns). Aside from the chunky, click-open mobiles and the existence of payphones, this first Matrix film stands the test of time incredibly well. Technically, it's part of a trilogy and you could see how far the rabbit hole goes. But I suggest you take the blue pill now and stay blissfully unaware of the existence of Reloaded and Revolutions.

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8. Alita: Battle Angel


Year: 2019
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein

Based on Yukito Kishiro's manga series Battle Angel Alita, this movie is big, bold and fun to look at.

The action is set in a post-apocalyptic world, 300 years after Earth was ravaged by a devastating war. We meet Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a scientist who one day stumbles upon a disembodied cyborg with a perfect human brain. He attaches the brain to a new body and Alita (Rosa Salazar) is born. She awakens with no memory of her past, but is ready to go on a quest to find out more about who she is and explore this mysterious world she finds herself in.

Tremendous special effects and a solid performance from Salazar elevate Alita: Battle Angel, making it a must-see for cyberpunk fans. Critic reactions were mixed upon release, but the movie is a good time – a fact that the general audience wholeheartedly agrees about.

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9. Dredd


Year: 2012
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Rachel Wood


Set in a violent, futuristic city, Dredd follows policeman Dredd (Karl Urban) and psychic rookie Cassandra (Olivia Thirlby) as they investigate 3 brutal murders. Given the significant amount of serious crimes reported on a daily basis, Dredd has the power to act as judge, jury and executioner.

But when he attempts to get to the bottom of things, a powerful drug lord who will stop at nothing to protect her empire (Lena Headey) seals the building they're in. Mayhem ensues.

Dredd boasts excellent action sequences and enough violence to make the most squeamish of viewers look away. Headey is a fitting villain, with Urban a great choice for the title role as well. Thrilling from start to finish, this bloody sci-fi extravaganza will keep you glued to the screen.

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10. Altered Carbon


Year of Release: 2018
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Martha Higareda, Dichen Lachman, James Purefoy

Often confused with “Altered Cabron” – a Spanish indie flick about a cybernetic male goat – Altered Carbon is Netflix Original's answer to a Blade Runner replicant. Aesthetically speaking, at least. You get the same flying cop cars, the overlarge trench-coat collars and the steamy lower levels of a megacity stuccoed with retina-retarding advertising. Heck, Blade Runner's mythical horse fixation gets a big stinky wink, too, thanks to the odd inclusion of a bright pink Hello Unicorn backpack.

The source material, Richard K Morgan's 2002 novel, certainly reads like a love letter to Phillip K Dick, what with its hard-boiled investigator, Takeshi Kovacs, snooping through a neo-California where the uber-rich play God. But rather than anchor the drama on clones-gone-wild, Altered Carbon's future shock of choice is humankind's ability to digitally copy consciousness to host bodies, and the arrogance and depravity that comes with that man-made immortality.

Is it worth jacking into? Absolutely. Joel Kinnaman and Martha Higareda are solid leads as Kovacs and Detective Ortega, respectively. Just be aware that Altered Carbon is closer to sci-fi than true cyberpunk, what with its prefab dystopia that wants for proper world-building. You should also go in knowing its promising murder/suicide mystery runs out of steam before the end.

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