The dawn of the internet and the creation of social media has forever altered the fabric of modern life, changing the way we communicate, entertain ourselves, worry, debate and much more.
Only now, almost 40 years since the invention of the internet do organisations and governments have a mere grasp of the impact of such technological advancement, and even then we’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg.
For a whole generation of young millennials, this invention is nothing new, in fact, it’s all they’ve known, with the digital spaces of TikTok, Facebook and Youtube playing host to a flurry of fervent emotion, whether this is expressed in the positivity of a viral dance or the anxiety of an unwatched vlog.
Creating an entirely new platform of life where anyone and everyone can interact under an unknown pseudonym, the internet largely runs by its own rules, operating as a version of real-life injected with a large dose of sensationalism and melodrama.
With many finding it hard to express the anxieties, fears and joys of living through such a perplexing time, the following ten films have made an effort to define this period, highlighting the flaws and success of the internet age.
The 10 best movies about the internet age
10. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle, 2015)
There are few icons as influential to the makeup of the 21st century as the Apple founder Steve Jobs. Brought to life by Michael Fassbender in this rousing biopic of the inventor’s life that explores the digital revolution at the dawn of the new millennium, director Danny Boyle does an excellent job in underlining the efforts of Jobs in sculpting what we now recognise as the home computer.
Joined by an equally impressive supporting cast that includes Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston and Sarah Snook, Boyle’s 2015 film captures the life of an icon with extraordinary scope.
9. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
If the shape of the genre in the 21st century has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need spaceships, aliens and ray guns to tell a science fiction story, sometimes all you need is a great story about people and relationships with modern technology suffused within. Representative of a burgeoning science fiction genre that focuses on the nuanced changes of everyday living, much like Netflix’s Black Mirror has done for years, Her by Spike Jonze is a pertinent cultural fable.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara and Scarlett Johansson, the film is a painful 21st-century tale following a man who falls in love with a charming AI, showing just how far technology has brought us whilst demonstrating just how much it’s holding us back.
8. Team Hurricane (Annika Berg, 2017)
If you want a truly authentic representation of life as a young teenager living through such confusing times in real life and in the digital space, look no further than Annika Berg’s 2017 gem, Team Hurricane. A vibrant, highly-stylised collage of a group of young girls who met entirely on social media, Berg’s film uses non-actors to tell a story that melds documentary and fiction, perfectly reflecting the confusion of life online.
Lovingly made, not only is Team Hurricane an essential insight into life for young people living in the age of the internet, but it is also an enjoyable representation of how friendship can bloom in the most unlikely spaces.
7. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (Jane Schoenbrun, 2022)
Part horror film, part insightful drama, Jane Schoenbrun’s magnificent enigma We’re All Going to the World’s Fair speaks of a dark truth to the reality of life online. Alone in her attic bedroom, the film follows Casey, a young teenager who becomes immersed in the world of a horror role-playing horror game that begins to manipulate her perception of reality making it impossible to discern between reality and fiction.
Touching on several insightful notes, Schoenbrun’s film is an exploration of how the human mind has become contorted due to the influence of social media, becoming isolated, confused and anxious.
6. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
The invention of social media is one of the most culturally significant moments in all of modern history, and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is one of the leading voices in this field, responsible for much of the madness we see on similar platforms. David Fincher’s fictional retelling of Zuckerberg’s life details the education of the Harvard student, creating the social media site on a whim one day as a result of his own social dissatisfaction.
Sacrificing friends, family and close relationships for the sheer pursuit of narcissistic economic gain, the rise of Mark Zuckerberg, both in reality and in David Fincher’s film is one of the greatest or the most tragic illustrations of the American dream. It depends on how you perceive the concept.
5. Catfish (Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, 2010)
This monumental documentary from filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost became such a pertinent commentary on modern life that its name has been adopted into the vocabulary of modern life. To ‘catfish’ someone is to pretend that you are someone else online, with the 2010 film being the first to coin this phrase in an entertaining exploration of identity and paranoia in the modern age of the internet.
In the film, brothers Nev and Ariel Shulman take up their camcorders to document their colleague’s budding online friendship with a young woman, only to uncover a peculiar truth.
4. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)
Having owned a YouTube account throughout his childhood, few people truly understand the construct of social media better than Bo Burnham, an individual who has long thrived under its wing. Whilst he dabbles in stand-up comedy and performance art outside of filmmaking, his 2018 movie remains one of the finest coming-of-age films of the 21st century, telling the story of Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), a young girl struggling to grow up with the overbearing demands of social media.
With its finger on the pulse of online life, Eighth Grade captures the heartache and elation of young life as well as the puzzling shadow of social media to which children are inextricably tied to.
3. Life in a Day (Kevin Macdonald, Loressa Clisby, Tegan Bukowski, 2011)
As one of the very first social media platforms, YouTube is, and always has been, a sharing site in which users create content for others all across the world. In a remarkable act of self-awareness, they released the noble film Life in a Day in 2011, a film that seems to exist in another universe altogether as it crafts a mosaic of modern life from across the world, with a remarkable lack of negativity, hatred and bitterness.
Serving as a time capsule of the date July 24th 2010, Life in a Day proves to be a valuable document just over a decade later, with life under the shadow of the internet changing dramatically.
2. Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (Werner Herzog, 2016)
Having long been concerned with the fabric of human existentialism and much more, Werner Herzog extended his documentary filmmaking to the subject of the internet in 2016 with his film, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. Explored with the same philosophical musings as the likes of Encounters at the End of the World and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog’s breakdown of life in the 21st century is truly fascinating.
In a human and sociological study, Herzog talks to the likes of Elon Musk and Lawrence Krauss in his pursuit of the truth, with his final film feeling like a profound, worthwhile investigation.
1. Inside (Bo Burnham, 2021)
Many video essays and online articles have gushed over the genius of comedian and filmmaker Bo Burnham, but it is his near-omniscient insight into the world of social media and internet culture that makes him such a sagacious figure, and his films such joys to consume. Perfectly toeing the line between tragedy and farce, his 2021 film Inside speaks of a plethora of modern troubles, from the isolation of the Covid pandemic to “that funny feeling” of existential crisis.
Having grown into his career as a result of his own social media presence, Burnham’s stance on the internet life is truly fascinating, criticising its pitfalls whilst lovingly singing its multiple, unifying praises. Through song, performance and monologue, Burnham has created an essential creative expression that speaks to the universal experience of life under the thumb of the internet.