Starting at the Beginning
This post is a continuation of the series called “A Beginner’s Guide to Cyberpunk”. For today’s post, we will be talking about the C-1 Era of Cyberpunk, or the early first two decades. More on why I divided Cyberpunk into these sections can be found in the first post here.
The C-1 Era
Neuromancer (1984) and Blade Runner (1982)
The first era covers the birth of Cyberpunk, which began with Neuromancer and Blade Runner, as I mentioned in Part 1. Neuromancer is currently only in book format, although a movie production of the book has been in the works for decades. Perhaps with the revival of the Cyberpunk genre, producers will finally get around to making it happen. As for Blade Runner, a sequel was just released in 2017, but I will be covering that in the C-3 era.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968)
So you’ve watched Blade Runner and then read Neuromancer. What next? You’ll want to read Phillip K. Dick‘s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, as your second Cyberpunk novel and an introduction into the very influential works of PKD, whose novels include The Man in the High Castle, A Scanner Darkly, We Can Remember it for you Wholesale, The Minority Report, and Adjustment Team (all of which were adapted or inspired films or tv series). PKD was a prolific writer with a dark and intriguing life, such as having paranormal experiences, five wives, drug abuse and a suicide attempt. His work often included his own life experiences and featured themes such as monopolistic corporations, authoritarian regimes, alternate universes, and altered states of consciousness. In 2005 Time named one of his novels, Ubik, as one of the 100 greatest novels published since 1923. In fact, the field of science fiction now has a pretty prestigious Phillip K. Dick award, funded by his trust fund and the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.
After this? Another movie, this time an anime movie called Akira. This movie inspired a lot of future cyberpunk media, including The Matrix, and its visual style is on par with the C-1 era. In fact, Akira was fairly advanced for the anime of the time, and set a new standard for what anime could do. It stands the test of time pretty well, I would say, but also I think I should warn you: Akira is not only cyberpunk, but what we call “bio-punk” as well. Biopunk is like cyberpunk but instead of mixing futuristic technology with punk elements, there is biological manipulations of bodies present (whether engineered or alien by origin).
Total Recall (1990)
Akira then would be a good segue into Total Recall, which also has biopunk elements in its cyberpunk style. Total Recall is a gory, over the top, and silly cyberpunk movie based on PKD’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale featuring none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, you heard right. The Terminator star is a big Cyberpunk style. But is that really surprising?
Anyways, after watching Total Recall, you’ll also want to watch Robocop. Robocop is also over the top gory and dramatic, directed by the same Paul Verhoeven, but without the biopunk elements. While Total Recall focuses more on reality and altered states of consciousness, Robocop focuses more on the distinction of identity between human and robot/AI. If you like action and funny one-liners, and can stand the 90s style gore, I think you might enjoy both movies, as they stand the test of time as well.
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
For another influential movie still in the C-1 era, I would strongly recommend watching Johnny Mnemonic–if you can get through the entire movie. Sadly, unlike the two Verhoeven films I mentioned above, this one did not age well at all. Starring Keanu Reeves as the titular Mnemonic, this movie is based on a short story by William Gibson of the same name. While based on a solid premise (Johnny is a data courrier, using his own brain as a vault to ferry information in the black market) this film is heavily based on virtual reality, something that relies heavily on special effects that might have been decent in the 90s but by our standards today are terribly outdated. Still, if you can get through it all, read Gibson’s excellent short story and see how the two compare. Also of note is that Molly Millions, the second main character from Neuromancer, is present both in the film and in Gibson’s short story.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Finally, to see virtual reality mixed with film noir, finish on a strong note with another amazing anime film: Ghost in the Shell. Released in 1995, this film still comes from the C-1 era, but has also had multiple series come from it in the C-2 era as well as a live-action remake in the C-3 era.
Once you get through all that, you’ve completed the C-1 era! If you want even more, some honorable mentions would be Hackers and Strange days. You may also want to consider the original Tron, Terminator, Lawnmower Man, and Judge Dredd.
So to recap, this is the order I would suggest:
- Blade Runner (1982)
- Neuromancer (1984)
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968)
- Akira (1988)
- Total Recall (1990)
- Robocop (1987
- Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
- Ghost in the Shell (1995)
The Final Word
Seen any of the movies above? What did you think? Feel free to agree/disagree with the ranking and comment below. To continue onto Part 3, click here.