Dreaming in Digital
Shadowrun is unique in its juxtaposition of magic and technology, but as a setting it shares its place in genre with primarily cyberpunk titles. Cyberpunk is a deep and visually rich genre. I’m a huge fan of reading but there’s no proxy for being able to see this vision of the future with your own eyes.
This list suggests movies and television shows by title, and touches on what parts of Shadowrun and cyberpunk in general the title touches on. Not all of these are in the cyberpunk genre, but they do express ideas that are very “Shadowrun” nonetheless. This is a living list. Feel free to add to it.
The few italicized titles at the top are series I would consider necessary viewing, if one is going to watch any of these.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (tv series, 2002; IMDB)
The futuristic adventures of a female cyborg counter intelligence agent and her support team.
Themes explored: cybernetics, full conversion cyborgs, drones, megacorporations, “jacked in” virtual reality, digital consciousness and existence, hacking, technologically-induced illness, cyberterrorism, hacktivism, artificial intelligence
Note: The Ghost in the Shell series is one of the most accurate representations of the Shadowrun world (minus the magic). For a solid glimpse of what 2072 life is like, this series is very strongly recommended.
Ghost in the Shell (film, 1995; IMDB)
A female cyborg cop and her partner hunt a mysterious and powerful hacker called the Puppet Master.
Themes explored: cybernetics, full conversion cyborgs, drones, megacorporations, “jacked in” virtual reality, digital consciousness and existence
Blade Runner (film, 1982; IMDB)
Deckard, a blade runner, has to track down and terminate 4 replicants who hijacked a ship in space and have returned to earth seeking their maker.
Themes explored: genetic engineering, bioware, the question of artificial sentience, megacorporations, orbital expansionism, drones
Notes: Blade Runner offers perhaps the most accurate representation of urban sprawl ever put on film. The ingress of asian cultures, media and advertising saturation and the juxtaposition of high tech with low standards of living are all masterfully portrayed. The novel it is based on, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is also highly recommended.
A Night’s Work (short film, 1990; Youtube)
A trio of Shadowrunners race through the sprawl, face security forces and other challenges on their way to secure their paydata.
Themes explored: low budgets, low production values, Beefcake Sideskipper, a stripper looking to break into acting, an actress looking to break into stripping, CGI, big hair, production houses with more ideas than talent
Note: Just watch it.
Alphas (tv series, 2011; IMDB)
Dr. Lee Rosen leads a team of “Alphas”, (human beings with enhanced abilities) who investigate the death of a witness in a court case. They soon uncover more than they had bargained for.
Themes explored: adepts, technomancers, drones
Notes: The character of Gary Bell is one of the most accurate representations of a Technomancer currently in the media. The pilot is worth watching just for the demonstration of his powers.
Big Trouble in Little China (film, 1986; IMDB)
An All-American trucker gets dragged into a centuries-old mystical battle in Chinatown.
Themes explored: mages, adepts, criminal organizations, sprawl, barrens, paracritters
Bubblegum Crisis (tv series, 1987; IMDB)
A female mercenary team, armed with unique power armor suits, battle the forces of the corrupt mega-corporation, Genom in futuristic Tokyo.
Themes explored: sprawls, cyborgs, police state, drones, corporate enclaves
Burn Notice (tv series, 2007; IMDB)
A spy recently disavowed by the U.S. government uses his Special Ops training to help others in trouble.
Themes explored: infiltration, social infiltration, hacking, organized crime, how to use Contacts, Bruce Campbell
Notes: Seriously. It stars Bruce Campbell! What else do you need to know?
Continuum (tv series, 2012; IMDB)
A detective from the year 2077 finds herself trapped in present day Vancouver and searching for ruthless criminals from the future.
Themes explored: corporatocracy, augmented reality, advanced weaponry, cyberware
The Crow (film, 1994; IMDB)
A man brutally murdered comes back to life as an undead avenger of his and his fiancée’s murder.
Themes explored: organized crime, spirits, adepts, dystopianism, urban sprawl
Demolition Man (film, 1993; IMDB)
A cop is brought out of suspended animation in prison to pursue an old ultra-violent enemy who is loose in a nonviolent future society.
Themes explored: sprawls, police state, ecological destruction, corporate enclaves, dystopianism, virtual reality, adepts (Simon Phoenix is nearly adept-level)
Dresden Files (tv series, 2007; IMDB)
A Chicago-based wizard works as a private investigator.
Themes explored: modern day mages, spirits, paracritters
Equilibrium (film, 2002; IMDB)
In a Fascist future where all forms of feeling are illegal, a man in charge of enforcing the law rises to overthrow the system.
Themes explored: fascism, guns, gun modifications, barrens
Note: In Shadowrun, physical adepts who prefer guns, or “gunbunnies”, have a special niche. The character of Preston is a good illustration of what a gun-focused adept would likely look like. It also features the film equivalent of the fighting style Firefight (Arsenal, p 157).
Fifth Element (film, 1997; IMDB)
In the colorful future, a cab driver unwittingly becomes the central figure in the search for a legendary cosmic weapon to keep Evil and Mr Zorg at bay.
Themes explored: dystopian future, urban sprawl, magic, rockers, adepts, advanced weapons and mods, megacorps, metahumans
Fringe (TV, 2008; IMDB)
A television drama centered around a female FBI agent who is forced to work with an institutionalized scientist in order to rationalize a brewing storm of unexplained phenomena.
Themes explored: Illegal technology, perceptions of reality, fringe research, parazoology, harmful corporate experimentation
Notes: Not all episodes are created equal; some harken toward Shadowrun themes more than others. Episodes revolving around the company “Massive Dynamics” are generally more relevant than most.
Ghost Dog (film, 1999; IMDB)
A contract killer who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob.
Themes explored: Street Samurai, organized crime, racism, wetwork
Notes: This is one of my favorite movies. It’s very heady and very subtle.
I, Robot (film, 2004; IMDB)
In the year 2035 a techno-phobic cop investigates a crime that may have been perpetrated by a robot, which leads to a larger threat to humanity.
Themes explored: sprawls, drones, artificial intelligence, hi-tech gear
Iron Man (film, 2008; IMDB)
When wealthy industrialist Tony Stark is forced to build an armored suit after a life-threatening incident, he ultimately decides to use its technology to fight against evil.
Themes explored: cyberware, high-tech weapons, milspec armor, augmented reality, corporatism, artificial intelligence
Johnny Mnemonic (film, 1995; IMDB)
A data courier, carrying a data package literally inside his head too large to hold for long, must deliver it before he dies from it.
Themes explored: shadowrunners, sprawls, cyberware, VR/Matrix, Japanese culture, monowhip, yakuza, wired reflexes, cyberzombies, headware memory
Notes: Though dated and not that good, it’s based on William Gibson’s short story and carries hefty themes from Gibson’s groundbreaking work in cyberpunk literature.
Leverage (tv series, 2008; IMDB)
A crew of high-tech crooks attempt to steal from wealthy criminals and corrupt businessmen.
Themes explored: heists, infiltration, hacking, corporatism
Note: Though set in modern day, Leverage (particularly the pilot) shows a fairly true illustration of how Runs usually transgress. Assembling criminal specialists, legwork, research, intelligence gathering, infiltration and execution.
The Matrix (film, 1999; IMDB)
A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.
Themes explored: cyberware, virtual reality, Matrix, hacking, drones, ecological destruction, AI, Agent programs, emergent sapience, shadowrunning, skillsofts, adepts, dystopianism
Note: In the sequel, Reloaded, the main character of Neo is able to jack into the Matrix without the use of a datajack. He is also able to sense the Matrix and Matrix entities. This is functionally very similar to Technomancers in Shadowrun.
Minority Report (film, 2002; IMDB)
In a future where a special police unit is able to arrest murderers before they commit their crimes, an officer from that unit is himself accused of a future murder.
Themes explored: augmented reality, hi-tech gear, gridlink vehicles, urban sprawls, paracritters
Robocop (film, 1987; IMDB)
In a dystopic & crime ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg with submerged memories haunting him.
Themes explored: dystopian future, urban sprawl, badlands, full-conversion cyborgs, cyberzombies, privatized police
Strange Days (film, 1995; IMDB)
A former cop turned street-hustler accidentally uncovers a police conspiracy in 1999 Los Angeles.
Themes explored: virtual reality, augmented reality, Matrix, shadowrunners, sprawls, dystopian future, BTLs
The Transporter (film, 2002; IMDB)
A man whose job is to deliver packages without asking any questions. Complications arise when he breaks those rules.
Themes explored: shadowrunners/deniable assets, couriers, adepts, organized crime
Tron (film, 1982; IMDB)
A hacker is literally abducted into the world of a computer and forced to participate in gladiatorial games where his only chance of escape is with the help of a heroic security program.
Themes explored: hackers, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, Agent programs, megacorporations
Tron:Legacy (film, 2010; IMDB)
The son of a virtual world designer goes looking for his father and ends up inside the digital world that his father designed.
Themes explored: hackers, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, Agent programs, emergent sapience
Virtuosity (film, 1995; IMDB)
A virtual-reality serial killer manages to escape into the real world.
Themes explored: sprawls, virtual reality, Matrix, artificial intelligence, cyborgs, drones, police state
Wargames (film, 1983; IMDB)
A young man finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III.
Themes explored: hacking, artificial intelligence